Journal #32 (in which said man upgrades to Tinder Plus)

It’s not the unlimited Likes or the bonus Super Likes or the Last Swipe Rewind that attracts us to the upgrade — after all, what use are any of these when you’re only looking for one person? — but the Passport feature. “Match with people all around the world,” claims Tinder Plus. “Paris. Los Angeles. Sydney. Go!”

It’s the Passport we need. It’s the Passport we subscribe to. We’re only in Oregon, but on Tinder, we could be in Los Angeles right now. Right now we could be looking for Annie.

What I wasn’t expecting — what I should have been expecting — was the sheer number of people on Tinder at any one time in Los Angeles. While in Bellingham it wouldn’t take long to run out of people near you, in Los Angeles the well never dries. Though this depth is daunting at first, drowning even — what if Annie never comes across my screen, what if I never come across hers, what if, it only hits me now, what if Annie isn’t on Tinder at all? — I quickly rid myself of any doubt, of any question. If there was one thing I knew about Annie from the year I knew her, it was that she would be on Tinder now. Her antisocial, shadow-like behavior. Yet her constant need for validation. To watch without being seen. To be seen without showing yourself. To hide behind yourself.

Yes, she was made for Tinder.

It’s like what Joseph Campbell says of the acorn— “What is the cause, though, of the growth of an acorn? The oak that is to come! What is to happen in the future is then the cause of what is occurring now; and, at the same time, what occurred in the past is also the cause of what is happening now. In addition, a great number of things round about, on every side, are causing what is happening now. Everything, all the time, is causing everything else.”

This moment at the center of everything. I’m on Tinder for a reason. She’s on Tinder for a reason. Everything — a great number of things round about, on every side — is causing us to be on Tinder. Our future has been pulling our pasts together for so long. The sky lifts us toward itself, we reach out with straying branches, but our trunk is straight, at our center what we must become remains true.

Still, despite the certainty, uncertainty is also a certainty. I have to put down my phone. The brightness of the screen, the eyes of the LA girls, it’s all starting to get to me. I see spots.

I have to blink several times before Brian’s silhouette comes into focus. We’re both in the back of the van, propped up on opposite sides of the mattress, thick tapestries draped down all around us. Turning off my phone has left us in complete darkness. Brian asks if he can turn on a light.

I say okay.

He turns on a lantern. He’s half-naked, just pink panties and a white tank top and through it I can make out the shape of his breasts, the dark size of his nipples. His tin Batman lunchbox sits open before him, its contents strewn across the mattress. He draws testosterone from a vial into a syringe and places the tip of the needle to his thigh. He doesn’t look at me as he presses it in, a dimple forming where the needle disappears.

Outside, waves crash against the rocks, the wind blows sand against the windows. The occasional car passes, headlights playing patterns across Brian’s face. His unkempt hair falls before his eyes but he’s unable to sweep it away.

And just like that it’s over, he takes the needle out. No blood trails from the puncture wound I hesitate this time to even call a wound. He disposes of the syringe into a thick red plastic container and places the rest back in the lunchbox. He stuffs it under the mattress, atop his laundry, turns off the lantern and without a word lays himself back. Outside the ocean still beats itself upon the land.

I crawl under the sheets, my face near Brian’s feet, and turn back on my phone. I continue swiping through girls some 900 miles away. My phone dies as the sun rises, a pinkish glow seeping through the tapestries. It’s cold. I burrow deeper under the blankets, bury my face and curl into the corner behind the passenger seat. I shut my eyes just to keep them warm.

When I wake Brian is gone. Every part of my being feels thin, not quite there. But there’s a heaviness there too. I’m dragging it as I pull myself up. I give the sliding door a firm tug and wind whips the tapestry into my face. I pull it aside and tuck the bottom corner up behind the pinned top. Brian is leaning against the wooden fence that separates the pull-off from the short drop to the beach. He’s smoking a cigarette.

“Morning,” he says as I get out of the car. “Sleep well?” he asks.

I blink the sun from my eyes. “What time is it?”

He points to the sun, as if that means anything to me.

The camp stove is out and his percolator bubbles on top with the scent of coffee. He pours me a cup before removing his pan from under the mattress, and eggs and sausage from the cooler. All the ice in the cooler is melted, the sausages drip as he throws them in the pan and the pan throws back steam.

“Those okay to eat?” I ask.

“What do you mean?”

“The cooler is all water.”

“If you’re suggesting we waste food…”

I sip my coffee, and say nothing. He pokes the sausage with a spatula.

The waves sound just as violent as during the night, but when heard in this light, the violence seems inconsequential against the vastness of ocean and sky. The sun rolls above us, but the wind off the water keeps us cool. We eat leaning against the fence, watch as tourists pull over to take selfies, sometimes to climb down and walk barefoot in the sand to take selfies there.

Lincoln City is just north of us. To the south, more beach towns like it. We pass through these towns, shops painted in pastel shades of blue and pink and teal. Signs touting salt water taffy, fudge, caramel corn. Between the towns, road signs warn us when we’re entering and exiting tsunami hazard zones. Blue arrows to evacuation routes. West of the beaches, rocks rise from the water, the ocean breaking against them. Even further west, surfers lay in wait.

When we stop, Brian will bum cigarettes from the bums. He always knows where to find them. They’re not hard to find. I stay in the van during these daytime excursions, and his occasional nighttime excursions too. At a pull-off that may as well be the same as the last, I open up Tinder and once again start swiping. The sun drips down the sky and pools on the horizon. The orange lavender light bleeds through the tapestries until there’s not enough light to do so. Brian is still out there. Darkness again. Except for the light of my phone, I see nothing. Nothing but these LA girls. Names like Iris and Carina and Inga and Delaney and Bianca and Rianne and Shealyn and Blaire and Celery and I’m flying through them because there’s no need to look at photos or bios when you’re only looking for a name as simple as Annie’s. Still, the eyes get to you. The dark mascara and liner rimming them like bruises, empty in the middle, sun bleached blonde or hair dyed dark, features so perfect they look manufactured — might be manufactured — and everyone dressed up for this dreamy nightmare wonderland stage they’re living on. They’re all trying so hard to play the part, spines straight, shoulders back, stomachs clenched, painted lips. They come from all over — Paris, Prague, New York, Chicago — they’re all trying so hard but they don’t realize they don’t need to try anymore. The smog is already there in their eyes, caked over their blemishes as blush and well, what does it matter—

None of them are Annie.

Though there was one that looked like Annie. Same black hair, same black eyes, same fake nose though this one wasn’t broken. I have to stop on her, give her a closer look — Marilyn. All of her photos are the same, or may as well be the same. Selfies from around the city, not an acquaintance in sight, one on the beach, all with the same expression of pouted lips the same way Annie would pout her lips — no, purse her lips. Annie would purse her lips. Pouting gives away too much and Annie gives nothing. I’m focused so much on her lips that I almost miss her bio—

Beware of false men who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.

I scroll down but there is nothing. Common interests? Nothing. I scroll back up to her photos, back down again to her one line bio. I whisper it to myself, and finish the thought—

“You will know them by their hunger.”

Now her eyes really— no, it’s her lips that get to me. Her pursed lips — no, puckered lips — almost mock me, barely parted but not enough to let out her secret. She knows my hunger.

My forehead drips, my fingers tremble, my stomach’s growl tears through me. For the first time since Jane, I swipe someone right.

Outside, cars no longer pass. It’s the nothing hours between night and morning when nothing happens, nothing exists. Even the ocean is silent, the wind is dead. Brian however, is still out there. And though I have the entire mattress to myself, I curl up into my corner where the passenger seat meets the sliding door.

In the morning you have to wonder if it was a dream, I always do and always seem to figure it out. But this time I can’t. I remember Annie’s face, but the face from last night I can’t remember. I’m rested, I’m reasonably awake, but my thumb aches as it’s never ached. Endless eyes, dark lashes, rise to my consciousness. I taste smog. We’re only in Oregon and already I taste the smog.

🌆

join man next week for journal #33 (in which said man runs out of gas)

Journal #31 (which begins a red hot summer)

This is not your average Christ-goes-on-a-road-trip love story. You’re probably imagining a 1970s convertible, top down, faded and peeling SECOND COMING bumper sticker, Jesus and Judas cruising down the highway drinking wine from a bottle in a bag, endless stretches of desert and sand and Toby Keith on the radio, robes and Jesus hair flailing and trailing in the ripping wind.

First of all, Toby Keith? No.

It’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the new stuff not the old stuff. And it’s constantly on repeat.

Seat belts? Check.

Engine? Rumbling.

Cupholders? Rattling.

Road? Ready, paved, and waiting.

“Excellent,” he says.

Queue the music, I say to him. The road trip songs, the Creedence, the Dylan, the B-B-B-B-Benny and the Jets.

“Let’s listen to the radio.”

“Fine,” I say to him.

His hand on the dial— static.

Music? No, still static.

Then comes the radio voice—

—ISTENING TO WORLD FAMOUS CFOX—RED HOT SUMMER—NEW MUSIC BY THE CHILI PEPPERS, COMING UP NEXT—

And we’re not driving through desert but down the Western Coast. From Bellingham, WA to hellfire down south. The burning hills of Southern California. We’re looking for a girl. We’re taking my minivan and Brian—not Judas—is at my side.

Brian reaches for the dial but I say don’t you dare. Don’t you dare touch the dial. Brian backs off.

We’re shooting down I-5, the one road, the straight road, exhaust rises behind us into the bright white summer sky. I’m all too aware of my heart, my veins, my sweat, the radio crackling with a new beginning—

Quick staccato guitar plucking— rurururrurururururur

And then some piano— na nana nanana na nana nanana na nana

Slowly, the drums.

The build up.

The bass. The funk beat bass! The funk clap! CLAP!

“coming on to the light of day, we got many moons that are deep at play, so I keep an eye on the shadow smile, to see what it has to say”

His voice rips through me, familiar—

“you and I both know, everything must go away, what do you say”

—but I don’t recognize these lyrics.

“you don’t know my mind you don’t know my kind, dark necessities are part of my design”

What else? My hair isn’t quite where it should be yet. It’s curling out rather than Jesus down. I’m skinny, I’ve been “fasting” if you can call it that, but I just haven’t been eating. Can’t get a bite down.

I turn up the volume.

Brian crosses his arms and slides deeper into his seat. The lead singer’s voice—Anthony’s voice—now five years older, sounds exactly the same.

“any way we roll, everything must go away, what do you say”

Some days we go nowhere. When we do go somewhere, it’s not far. It may as well be nowhere. Nix the endless road. We see only a couple miles at a time.

I listen for anything about Annie. Anything about anything in Anthony’s lyrics—

“turn the corner and find the world at your command,

playing the hand”

—but there’s nothing about Annie, nothing about anything of any relevance. The lyrics don’t make sense like the last time, like their last album.

This is not your average Messiah story. It doesn’t look like one and it doesn’t feel like one. No one is saved. Nobody is brought back from the dead.

The next song on the radio might as well be silence. We’re pulled off at the side of the interstate, the engine still going. I’m not sure where we are. I’m shaking. Brian is staring at me and he whispers, “We should go.”

“We should go,” I say, as if Brian said nothing. I pull back out onto the road.

It begins with eyes, Annie’s eyes, and a song.

It’ll end how all things end. Oblivion. Not the end of everything, but when there’s nothing left to be written there’ll be nothing left to write. Life might go on, but here, for you, there’ll be nothing.

I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m writing to you from before the end, I haven’t reached the end yet. As much as I’d like to foreshadow the end, I can’t.

Brian doesn’t ask about the music and I don’t talk about it, though I know he notices me turn up the volume whenever they come on the radio. No matter where we go, Red Hot seems to be the theme of the summer, the Chili Peppers with near constant airplay, their classics mixed with a steady rotation of their new stuff: “Dark Necessities,” “The Getaway,” “Go Robot.” Everything else is filler. Their new stuff plays so often it’s not hard to memorize the lyrics after two days on the road.

“everything must go away everything must go away everything must go away what do you say”

There are pieces I don’t have, other songs I need. Somewhere along the way we make a pitstop at an Everyday Music to buy the album. Brian says nothing when I put it on an endless loop in the car. He says nothing when we’re parked, and I sit there staring at the album cover: a painting of a young girl strolling in step with a raccoon and a bear with a raven leading the way. He says nothing when he’s trying to sleep, and I’m lying beside him in the back of van, mouthing the words by memory, trying to find its meaning but finding nothing. Nothing sounds in the dark but my sticky lips.

Though there are moments when I’m close. Close to finding the why to it all. We’ll be on the road, a lyric will come up, and for a moment I’ll see her, I’ll see Annie, and everything seems to slow down before us, the cars and mountains and breeze coming to a standstill before us, memories rushing at us like black hair in a night breeze and the smell of her smoke and those eyes opening up like burnt black dahlias in bloom and—

“Lookout!”

A horn screams and fades behind and Brian lets go of my wheel.

“Jesus, watch the road.”

“The road is straight,” I say.

“Then drive fucking straight.”

Brian’s already back on his phone, though I know he’s actually watching the road.

We sleep in the parking lots of Walmarts. I’ve already mentioned how we don’t drive everyday, well, some days we don’t even leave the lot, and most days I don’t even leave the car. These parking lots all look the same, the Walmart bathrooms all smell the same. And the people, their eyes I’m telling you, they’re all the same too. It’s like we’re being followed by different people but they’re all the same because they all have the same eyes. Tired, dead eyes. They don’t look at you even when they’re looking at you, so how can they be following you? Doesn’t matter, I tell myself. Some days I fear the outside world. I stay in the back of the van. Doesn’t matter where we are, I don’t know where we are. Forests and farmlands and parking lots. The days go by all the same. Our odors permeate the confined cave of the van, and then it becomes home. You grow used to the smell. You can no longer smell the smell. Brian hangs up tapestries as curtains with pins around the inside perimeter. Hanging layers of them works to block out the light. Some days pass as night.

Tired, dead eyes.

I don’t realize my eyes are the same until I’m staring at myself in a bathroom mirror. There’s a fat man in a blue vest standing behind me, waiting, and I see his eyes, and my eyes and his are identical. I splash water over my face, rub the peeling, dry skin from my nose and cheeks. No matter how vigorously I scrub, my skin keeps peeling. The fat man will wait a long time.

I haven’t been sleeping. I’m not sure how anyone sleeps in these parking lots. These RVs, those vans, those trucks—when I peek out at night across the lots, lit by grainy blue lamplights, I can’t imagine how anyone sleeps, but they are asleep. Asleep in the Toyota, in the Odyssey, the Accord, the many Subarus, the blue— wait, no, the man in the blue Honda isn’t sleeping. He’s sitting up in the front seat, his windows down, and his pale eyes watch me. I dip down below the window and lie back beside Brian who I know isn’t sleeping either. I can tell by the way he breathes.

My heart pushes my veins to capacity.

I whisper to myself, “You and I both know, everything must go away, everything must go away, everything must go away…”

Brian groans and rolls away from me.

“What do you say.”

The first time I wake up without Brian is in a Walmart lot just outside of Portland, which shocks me because to wake means I was actually asleep. I stretch out across the mattress before the panic sets in—BRIAN??? Cars are parked tight around the van, it must be a weekend, and I have to stand on top of its roof to see across this vehicular sea. I see no one. By that I mean there are plenty of people, but no one of any importance. No Brian. No man in blue Honda.

I shout to Brian from the rooftop. I call Brian’s phone but it goes straight to voicemail, and his voicemail isn’t set up. I check the bathrooms, the boys and the girls, I wander the Walmart aisles but Brian is nowhere to be found. I return to the van but Brian isn’t there. I curl up in the back and whisper to myself, I sing to myself that everything is going to be okay, I sing the Chili Peppers—

“Do you want it all the time? But darkness helps us all to shine… do you want it? Do you want it now?”

Later, late in the afternoon— a tapping on the window. Outside, a figure leans against the back. I smell smoke.

I open the side door and crawl out. Brian peeks around the back, a cigarette hanging from his lips as if nothing happened.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” I say.

We both sit down on the mattress, our legs hanging out the open door. He falls back and spews smoke throughout the van. I do my best not to cough.

“Where were you?”

“Couldn’t sleep. Went for a walk.”

I nod.

But I don’t believe him. I smell the sleep all over him. Oh you slept, you slept all right, I want to tell him. Your eyes are too rested, too calm. And so are mine, for that matter, because without you here, I slept too. I eye the phone in his hand.

“Ready to go?” I ask him.

Brian sits up. “We need to get off this road,” he says.

I look around us. We’re surrounded by roads. “What road?”

“I-5.”

Brian is already on his way to the driver’s seat. When he looks at me his eyes are so rested and content, I can’t bring myself to argue.

“C’mon. Don’t you want to see the ocean?” he asks. “Let’s see the ocean.”

I’m afraid to leave this road, the straight road, but there is someone following us and I suspect Brian knows this too. It’s that blue Honda, that blue dot always balanced on the horizon but never falling away. We take the 26 out of Portland till we reach the 6, drive southwest to and through the Tillamook Forest. Brian snakes the road like a devil, but that blue dot is always there. If a curve swallows it, that curve spits it back out. Douglas-firs tower over us, block out all horizons. Brian blows smoke out the window, I turn up the volume and blast the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Getaway album, and take solace in that it’s trying to tell me something—it must be telling me something, a new album, now? as all this begins again?—though no matter how many times I spin it in my head, none of it makes sense. I find no depth in the lyrics. There’s nothing there.

The forest opens up to farmland just as the sun loses itself to the horizon. Everything fades to silvers and blues, little lights flickering. We reach the 101 and the 101 takes us down, down, still inland until Oretown where beyond the road an emptiness opens up to the West—an infinite blackness of night upon night. We find a pull off and stop. Headlights pass on the left. Waves pound to the right. Brian gets out of the car.

The ocean.

It’s as empty and lonely as I’ve ever seen it. The air, the little that got in from Brian opening the door, is alive with sea and salt. I don’t leave the car. Outside, Brian struggles with his lighter in the wind.

🌊

join man next week for journal #32 (in which said man upgrades to Tinder Plus)