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)

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