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)