Journal #30 (in which said man hits the road with Brian)

I don’t know how it reaches us, but a letter reaches us on the road. I find it tucked within the pages of Brian’s battered copy of Infinite Jest. It’s an envelope without a stamp, without a postmark, addressed to BRIAN, SOMEWHERE ON INTERSTATE-5, and inside that is a newspaper clipping from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Brian’s hometown paper. Sweat damaged from too much handling, the clipping tells of a string of murders in the greater St. Louis area, linked to a few more out of state. All victims were of the name Jonathan Johannesson, the name of the second person who raped Brian. Though no real suspect has been named, many of the Jonathans died during or shortly after a Tinder date, all with the same person, known only as Tammy, 23. The clipping includes a picture of this Tammy— pale skin, flowing red synthetic hair, and a darkness to the cheeks only I see as stubble. No such Tammy has been found.

I also receive a letter, also without a stamp, also without a postmark, but instead of Brian’s name is my name. I find it tucked under the driver’s seat. When I ask Brian about how this could possibly have reached us, he plays dumb. When I ask him about the handwriting, he claims ignorance. When I question him about the letters he’s received, he says he doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t open the letter addressed to me, SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF THE OREGON BORDER. The letter carries too much weight to open it, thick it is with who knows how many pages. I stuff it in the glove compartment and forget about it.

But I don’t forget about it—I’m haunted by the question of how it reached us. This comes first before any curiosity of what may be inside. Because I remember clearing out the van before we left, taking out anything expendable. I emptied all pockets, cleared all nooks, all cupholders and crannies, wiped all surfaces clean before we (Brian) built the platform to support the mattress in the back, before we stuffed our entire lives into this van, the contents crammed tight and spilling into the other’s. I remember all of this, and there was no such letter.

Before we left, long before the letters, Brian didn’t ask many questions. He seemed resolved to keep his mouth shut and his mind clean of whatever was/is contaminating mine. But as our departure loomed, and having found himself in the wake of his break with Tommy, Brian’s silence came undone. Outside the cottage I find him in the van, seated on the raised mattress in the back, and he’s smoking a cigarette.

“What is it?” I ask him.

He shakes his head.

I’m about to shrug it off, just walk away, when he asks, “Who are you? Who are you really?”

I tell him.

“No shit,” he says. “But who are you?”

“I don’t know what you’re asking.”

“You’re leaving because of who you are. And I’m coming with you, leaving everything too. So I need you to tell me straight, who do you think you are?”

I—

“You wrote about it, you showed it to me, and I know who you were then. But who are you now?”

I tell him I’m the Christ. It sounds weird saying it out loud.

Brian relaxes, places the cigarette back between his lips as if he expected this.

“And what are you here to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“The road trip, what are we doing?”

“Finding Annie. You know this.”

“And when we find her, what are you going to do? Will you do what needs to be done or will you do nothing? Do you even know what you’re supposed to do?”

I tell him I don’t know.

“Well you need to figure that out,” he says.

I nod.

“That’s all,” he says and then waves me off with his cigarette as if excusing me from his office.

That was then.

And so it goes now, we go, we go, the road unfurling before us, leading us downward along the northwestern coast of America. We pass cities and towns, farmlands and brown rivers. A homeless man gives me a thumbs up, and I give him a thumbs up too.

We take the wheel in shifts. We stop often. We pee often. We sleep less than I’d like to, though I try. I try so hard, but I can’t get a wink of it with Brian sleeping next to me. I think he’s awake too. His breathing is awake breathing, not sleep breathing. We’re not even outside Washington.

He seems to want to take his time. My time. Most days we go nowhere.

His eyes. They’re irritable.

“Wait,” he says somewhere far south of Seattle. “Stop the car.”

I stop the car. We’re stalled on the side of the interstate. We sit there silent and listen to the

tick

tick

tick of the engine cooling.

“How are we going to find her?” he asks.

“Annie?”

“Annie.”

“In LA.”

“Where in LA?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know. All you say.”

“I don’t though.”

Brian pulls in his bottom lip, rolls down his window. The scent of tire and tar fills the van like pudding.

“We’ll find her,” I say confidently. Though thinking about it, I’m not confident about it at all.

“Facebook?” Brian asks.

“She’s not on Facebook.”

“Or she blocked you.”

I say nothing to that.

Brian rests his arm where the window used to be, raps his finger on the door.

Cars scream on by. The minivan shakes at their passing.

Brian pulls out his phone, flips through his open apps, opening new ones, closing old ones. His eyes don’t leave the screen, and I realize he’s right. How am I supposed to find Annie? What exactly was I expecting?

The road is still. What was once mania begins to peak, then pause, then slide toward it’s inevitable descent. Tick.

Ticktick.

 

Tick.

 

Tick.

 

“Tinder?”

 

“What was that?”

“Tinder,” Brian says again. “Find her using Tinder.”

“Using Tinder.”

“Yeah.”

I can tell by his voice he knows it sounds stupid too, but what else about this hasn’t been completely, altogether downright—

“Tinder,” I say with almost a laugh. “Well…”

And instead of peaking, my mind continues it’s ascent.

TICK.

TICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICK—

And I start the engine.

Everything comes to life.

As I glance in the rearview mirror and pull back onto the road, Brian’s still on his phone and he’s on Tinder, swiping, swiping, relentlessly swiping and I see that devilish smile of his creep back through the corners of his lips for the first time since we left, since he left Tommy.

Interstate-5 pulls back under our wheels, ripping that horizon toward us. Jagged evergreens salute as we pass, as the road whispers: Prepare ye the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.

The road is straight.

My road is straight.

Behind us, the dome of the world falls away.

Eventually I do open that letter from Tommy. If just to taunt me, the glove compartment seems to rattle more than usual, until everything is rattling: the cupholders, the seats, the rearview mirror. Even when I’m not driving, even when I’m in the back trying to sleep, I dream of that glove compartment and it’s rattling, jamming itself against its lock. When I wake the glove compartment is open and inside is the envelope sticking out like a tongue. To shut it up, I tear out that tongue and slit it open and of course, this is unmistakable, vintage Tommy, classic Tommy-Tinder-style, saying so much with so little. This is what he says:

☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠…

This goes on for 39 pages.

I read it twice. It kills me, it really does.

💀

join man next year for PART IV of MANWITHOUTATINDER. Coming in January.

Journal #29 (in which Brian leaves Tommy, finally)

Brian is still awake when I get home. He’s curled up under my desk, buried in blankets, and he asks me how she took it.

I tell him she took it just fine.

“Fine?”

“She’ll be fine.”

He nods, rolls onto his back and crosses his arms.

“How’s Tommy?” I ask.

“Fine.”

“He took it okay?”

“I haven’t told him.”

“But you’re going to tell him.”

“Yes. I’m going to tell him.”

“How are you going to tell him?”

“I’m going to tell him,” he says, and rolls away from me.

And Brian does tell him, but he doesn’t tell him right away. It takes awhile. He goes through the motions with Tommy, prepping for their tramp trek across America, all the while Tommy unaware that Brian is prepping for his own trip down the coast to California with me. If I wasn’t so happy about this, I would have seen this as cruel.

And unusual.

Punishment, really.

I don’t know what happened on the dead-cow-night, when Brian and Tommy broke into the house of Mother and Father Tinder, all I know is that Tommy has money again. All of it going to beer, and weed, and a new tattoo: this one of Brian’s vagina in the cave of his armpit. He shaved his armpit for the occasion, then let it grow back wild, staying true to Brian’s vagina. Hairyhairyhairy. Of course it is.

I’d like to think that they found Mother and Father Tinder asleep in their separate beds, unsleeped them, and ushered them to the garage where they tied the two down surrounded by Father Tinder’s paintings of the burning world: signs that scream REPENT OR BURN! and then there’s Lucifer covered in Christ’s blood. I’d like to think they gagged them, and robbed them of the money that was rightfully Tommy’s plus interest, but I really don’t know. I’m not sure Tommy would’ve had it in him.

To make their life on the road more comfortable, Tommy wants them to trade in their two cars for a minivan. Brian pushes this off as long as he can, until he can’t, and they trade in their two cars for a minivan. A green Honda Odyssey which Tommy dubs the DREAD NAUTILUS.

Still, Tommy isn’t stupid. He sees the change in Brian, in that when they fight, the fights don’t last long. Brian lets Tommy win. It’s as if Brian doesn’t care. Tommy finds me at the bookstore and in tears asks me if I know what’s going on with Brian, but I tell him that I don’t know. I don’t know Brian anymore, I tell him. Who can say what’s going on in Brian’s head.

Which isn’t a lie. I really don’t know what’s going on in Brian’s head. Although I know that Brian plans to accompany me to California in my quest to find Annie, I don’t know why he’s doing this. I don’t know why he’d throw everything away just to help me. I have my theories, but they all conflict. None of them hold up against the others.

Brian loves me.

Brian hates me.

Brian is bored.

Brian is impulsive.

Brian is the Devil leading me to the Devil’s daughter.

Brian wants to see me destroyed.

And as much as I don’t know why Brian is joining me, I don’t know why I’m joining him. This was, after all, his idea. I know I need to find Annie, but to what end? I don’t know what’s going on any more than you do. My mind cycles through its identities— I am the Father, I am the Son, I am the Holy Ghost, I am the One.

One last identity— I’m fucking losing it.

Maybe if I just see Annie, tell her I’m sorry, that’ll snap me back into place, the place I was between this madness and the last.

That last madness made sense, it had purpose and drive and meaning up until the very end. This current madness, however, is diluted with the sanity that ended the last one. Or maybe the sanity was actually a madness between two sanities, and in that case this returning sanity is diluted with that madness (see sanity).

In the five-year period of sanity (or madness) that split the two madnesses (or sanities), I read up on delusions of grandeur of the Christ variety, of those other poor souls who also thought they were Gods among men, and I found plenty. The affliction is not uncommon. This disheartens me for two reasons: either we’re all crazy fucks, or my dreams back then were true—the dreams of me on the cross 2000 years ago and knowing I’ve failed, having succumbed to the temptation, having slept with Magdalene the Slut and thereby trapping the blood of the one God on Earth—and all of these crazies, these schizophrenic megalomaniacs, are all my descendants who see the truth. They have these dreams too. We’re all God after all, there’s just more than one of us.

But we’re blind to this: the plural God. Our ego convinces us that this racing lightness we feel belongs to us, and us alone. Instead of enlightenment, realizing we all carry this seed of God, our ego tells us we’re the only one, the center of everything.

I try to crush my ego, push it to the depths of myself, the place between and behind my eyes I cannot see, until my self is gone and all purpose of my mission fades along with my will to live. Even food and water seem an addiction created by this world of things. So I stop eating and allow the waking dreams to come of the Earth eroding all around me and my stomach that consumes itself, caves in on itself, when the addiction to everything has been conquered. There I am outside of myself, watching my skin turn to the color of nothing and flake away, fall into the dirt, and from my bones the mud and green grass rises and dies with the seasons and still I am watching until even my bones are gone and only then am I free— one with the shit of maggots and the breath of the world.

But I never get that far, because with the first pangs of hunger, my ego kicks back in and says enough, you are enough, you are here to save, but first you must save yourself. So I crawl back from my depths, Brian holding my hand and feeding me soup and placing tea to my lips, and I see it in Brian’s eyes, that he’s been here too. The memory of his light is there, I see it like you can still see a star that’s long since died, but his light is gone, someone crushed it, and Brian wants to believe that although his light is no more, my light can go on. This, I believe, is why he helps me. He fans the flame of my light, and with the growing fire, so does my ego grow and grow until once again I am the Christ and he is nothing, and not just nothing, he is less than nothing, he is the Devil leading me back into the world of things and sin when really I should be dying, becoming nothing myself to become one with everything. Again I stop eating.

The cycle goes on like this.

Moments of sanity (or madness) sprinkled within its opposite.

And there’s still Tommy, whom I pity as I pity all sentient beings, but especially Tommy because Tommy loves Brian. They’re down the gravel drive, just out of earshot, and I see Brian whispering to Tommy. He’s saying what must be said. It’s not just Tommy’s weakened posture, even the light in his eyes seems to go out—a sacrifice that must be made for my own light. I’m then distracted by the wind combing the grass and the birds twitching the trees and I’m in awe by all I’ve created. A quiet settles in, as if to say SHHHHLISTEN, but I’m not listening to anything outside of myself, my beautiful thoughts. I don’t see the paper that Brian slips Tommy, I don’t see the kiss he plants on his cheek, I’m ignorant of everything until I hear the word “FRIEND” spit straight at me from Tommy’s lips. From the back of the DREAD NAUTILUS Tommy grabs his masterpiece, his manuscript of yellow faces, and throws it at my feet. He lights it on fire and tells me it doesn’t mean anything, it never meant anything. The pages burn, turn black before my eyes. The ungrateful little shit, after everything I did for you, after I created you, you destroy the one thing left in this world that still had any beauty, the one thing you’d ever given back to me.

And like that Tommy is gone, he takes the DREAD NAUTILUS and drives away. I’m on my knees before what Tommy’s burned and Brian is right there, staring at me. He’s wondering, he must be wondering, I feel like I’m reading your mind, Brian, you’re wondering: My God, what have I done. And you see me for what I am, the maggot shit of the earth, and you turn around and disappear into the cottage. When I follow you inside you’re curled up under my desk but I don’t hear you breathing.

When I dream that night, I dream of my birth and Annie is my mother and when she screams lightbulbs shatter and I’m my father watching this mess, my arrival into this world, and I take my shit-covered self into my hands, look into my eyes.

It’s not my wailing that wakes me, but Brian standing over me, silent, nudging me with his foot.

“It’s time to go,” he says, and he says this with words that feel like the final spadeful of dirt on my grave.

“Okay,” I say. “Okay. I’m up. Let’s go. Let’s hit the road.”

And honest to Myself, I can’t for the life of Me remember why.

🚗

join man next week for journal #30 (in which said man hits the road with Brian)