I don’t want to talk about San Francisco. Nothing happens in San Francisco.
join man next week for journal #37 (in which said man finds himself back home)
I don’t want to talk about San Francisco. Nothing happens in San Francisco.
join man next week for journal #37 (in which said man finds himself back home)
Of course, throughout all of this, we are still being followed. By a man in a car. By a man in blue Honda. You know the one.
We stick to the coast, southbound on Highway 1. The dark expanse of ocean threatens on our right, tumultuous under low hanging clouds. Wind sweeps in off the waters and pulls the meadow grass down low. An occasional break in the clouds will turn gray water to green water, but these moments of light are brief. Mostly we drive through an onslaught of muted colors.
My hope is the coastal roads will make it harder for us to be followed. With its winding curves, with its cliffs, hills, and bridges, there is no horizon for the blue Honda to balance on, no easy vantage point from which the aforementioned man can watch us.
Sometimes I’ll pull over and wait for the cars to pass, to see if I can recognize the one who follows. My senses heighten in these moments. A warning tightness in my chest. I watch the cars pass, scrunched down in the driver’s seat. But the man never passes. Suddenly, my senses abate, my heart slows, and a calmness sweeps over me that borders on coma.
I ask Brian for a joint. And a light. I crack open the window — opening the interior to the sound of the waves, the passing cars, the brush of wind against a beard — and I light the joint. Breathing in the smoke, its taste of earth, gives me a sense of oneness with this earth, and it’s this oneness that I tune into. The man waits somewhere behind. He’s tuned into what I’m tuned into now.
Somehow, we’re connected.
He knows where we’re heading. He knows what we’re up to. Shake him or not, he’ll still find us. I pull back onto the road and drive.
Though welcome, there’s another benefit to taking Highway 1 that I did not intend: Brian can find no place to stay on Tinder and therefore has no choice but to stay in the minivan with me. The reception is shoddy, and when he does manage to make a connection, it doesn’t last. This lack of technology on the northern coast feels backward, unsettling. Though we know where we are, we often find ourselves lost. The fog rolls in from the ocean and takes the road. Windswept trees claw inland like skeletal hands.
We drive slow. It’s been over an hour since we’ve seen another car. Brian grows restless next to me, constantly checking his phone for a signal but failing to find one. Neither of us want to stop, neither of us want to get out of the car in fear we’ll lose ourselves to the mist.
A sign tells us we are now
ENTERING SALT POINT STATE PARK.
Our eyes grow weak in the dimming twilight, the headlights doing nothing to break the fog. Another sign, this one for Gerstle Cove Campground. We take this offshoot into the park, follow a short road to the campground loop and drive slow through the fog, looking for a vacant site. Little fires burn around us but fail to illuminate the silhouettes that surround them. It’s too early for a campground to be this quiet.
We pull into a secluded site, complete with picnic table and fire pit, but we don’t leave the car. Mist creeps along the windows. Condensation drips from the high trees against the roof. Brian checks his phone. Still no service.
It’s been four nights since he’s found a place to stay. Four nights since either of us have gotten any sleep.
“I’m cold,” he says, and gets out of the car. He sits at the table, facing the fire pit, and throws up his hood.
“We have wood,” I say, following him out.
He says nothing.
In the pit I stack the firewood into a house, like I’ve seen Brian do. I can’t find kindling so I take my journal and tear out the blank pages, crumpling them up and lighting them before throwing them into the little wood house. The wood doesn’t catch. Brian watches but doesn’t seem to care whether it catches or not. He doesn’t seem to expect it to.
Drops continue to fall from the trees. Slowly, the lights from the surrounding camps go out. Our firewood never catches, downgrading it to just wood. Dejected, I sit next to Brian. “Well—”
Brian says nothing.
Back in the van I lie across the sheets. Darkness spreads through the fog like ink, pressing itself against the windows. Brian is still out there, at the table, I haven’t heard him move. It must be well past midnight when I do hear something. Footsteps passing the car then growing distant.
I pull aside the hanging tapestries but see nothing. There’s no one out there. I slip on my shoes, open and close the sliding door as quietly as I can.
Far away footsteps. Where?
It would’ve been impossible to follow him if it wasn’t for the blue light of his phone. Every now and again he’ll raise it up as if searching for a signal. I use these beacons to track him.
At the other end of the loop there’s a trail that leads away from the campsite, away from the main road. I’m careful to keep a good deal behind, but even more careful not to lose him. The low thunder of waves grows louder. I can taste the salt of the sea. I see nothing. I’m utterly reliant on the brief moments of light from Brian’s phone — illuminated trees between shifting darkness, a Rorschach test with Brian’s silhouette always at the center.
Then the lights stop. I’m groping for a trail but there’s nothing. The winds rush at me from all sides. I bundle myself against myself, but I don’t seem to be all there. I stop walking, listen to anything beyond the wind, beyond the waves that could be coming from anywhere. Had I been walking uphill or downhill? The trees creak against the weight of the fog.
Suddenly, a great swinging glow from beyond the trees, brighter than any phone, any star, any sun, making shadows of the trees and moving them slow and synchronized across my feet. Then the unmistakable roll of tires on gravel. A car door slam. Now the lights are red and receding into the night.
I follow the spots in my eyes toward their origin — a slight downhill grade, the trees opening up — and I come out onto a dirt road.
The trail is here, it ends on one side of the road and continues on the other where there are no trees, just silver grass shuddering in the wind. Beyond that, the ocean. The air is so wet. The moon slides above through a rare break in clouds. I make my way toward the meadow.
Everything is black and gray, but with a tinge of technicolor blue. Only barely though. The light is much more mute than that.
“Brian?” I call out into the wind. “Brian!”
I don’t believe my voice carries beyond me, but instead is swept back with the wind behind me. I climb the sandstone that rises from the meadow before dropping into the ocean. There’s something there, on the wind, something other than the waves. A soft sob, yes, that’s the sound.
Below me to the right is a little cove, and on its beach I see a shadow sitting, hunched in the sand. I call out to him but he doesn’t answer, doesn’t even look up. Using the many pits, divots, and ridges — carved like honeycomb into the stone — I make my way down toward the beach and drop myself onto the wet sand.
The hunch of the figure is familiar, and I know I know him. He hears me coming and looks up.
His voice startles me. I search the darkness for his face, his faded features. Oh.
“Sorry, I thought you were Brian.”
“I thought you were Brian too.”
I sit next to him in the sand and its moisture seeps from my jeans to my underwear.
“Where do you think he went?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think he’ll come back?”
“He always does.”
I burrow deeper into myself, into the cold sand, and everything is so cold, even myself. I take myself into myself and tell myself everything is going to be alright.
“Are you sure?”
“I don’t know.”
The tide crawls up from the deep, lapping once at our shoes before scuttling back.
“We should probably be getting back,” I say.
“Yes. Yes we should.”
“I’m glad I have you,” I say.
“Me too. It’s not always so easy to find one’s self.”
The two of us climb back up to the meadow, find the trail where the road cuts through and follow it back toward the campsite. I can barely see myself in the dark, but I’m not all that hard to follow.
“Where have you been all this time?” I ask.
I seem to think for a bit, search my mind for the answer before giving it. “The greatest hazard of all,” I say, “losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly. Any other loss — an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. — is sure to be noticed.”
“Who said that?”
“You said that.”
“But who said that first?”
“I don’t know.”
“Brian would know.”
“But doesn’t that make you suspicious, how much Brian knows?”
“I never thought—”
“He knows too much. Where do you think he goes to at night?”
“I don’t trust him.”
“Because you don’t trust him.”
“Yes. I never thought of it like that.”
“You don’t think enough.”
“You’re supposed to help me.”
“I’m not the one who lost me. That was your doing.”
“What do I call you?”
“You can call me whatever you want to call me.”
“But what do you call yourself?”
“I call myself many names, but you’ve called me Knight, you’ve called me Ranger, you’ve called me man in blue Honda, you’ve called me Walker.”
“You’ve been following me.”
“You’ve been following yourself.”
I don’t remember much else of the conversation. How it ends, who leaves whom, which one of us I am when I wake in the morning. I’m left with myself. That’s all I know.
Opening my eyes, I feel full. Stronger, that’s the best way to describe it. The mist still moves through the trees but the rising sun gives it a wet, golden glow. Families are packing up their coolers, breaking down their tents. No one comes to collect payment as our presence here seems to have gone unnoticed.
I’m sitting out the open back of the van, smoking a cigarette from the pack Brian left in the front cupholder. I’m smoking it just like Brian smokes his, looking cool, looking collected, when Brian himself comes strolling down the campground loop smoking a cigarette too. He looks rested, he looks smug, and I realize I was right — he knows too much.
“Hey you,” he says, and sits down next to me.
“Where were you?”
“Walking. Thought you lost me?”
I shrug, as if it doesn’t matter. “The greatest hazard of all,” I say, “losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly. Any other loss — an arm, a leg, five dollars,” I look at him here, “a friend, etc. — is sure to be noticed.”
“Yes,” I say. “But who said it first?”
Brian blows a plume of smoke into the fog. His eyes narrow, his eyebrows shrug, when he looks at me.
“Me,” I say. “I said it first. I said it last. Everyone else, they’re saying my shit.”
He crushes out his cigarette, apparently calm, but his firmness in crushing it says this new revelation has upset him in some way. His eyes don’t quite meet mine when he looks up at me again.
“I am the Alpha,” I say. “I am the Omega. I am Everything that’s ever been said.”
“Well said,” he says.
“So. Shall we?”
We leave the mists behind. And the coast, this California coast, grows golden. The sun is out, high and hot, and it beats down on the hood of the car with such metallic force. The future blinds, there’s a glare. Open the windows, a grit to the air. It’s like black sand in the lungs.
join man next week for journal #36 (in which nothing happens in San Francisco)
Walking under the shade of the redwoods, their trunks rising into high canopies where the sunlight ribbons in to the ferns below, even someone such as Myself can feel small, inconsequential. How many times have I lived and died with these same trees still standing? My dreams of the cross, dying there some 2000 years ago, some of these trees may well have been standing then. I touch the trees, the bark turning my fingertips the color of rust, and wonder if they know who I am.
And I realize — Of course they don’t. To them I am nothing. These gods among trees, among men, they could care less about what I’m here to do. What I’ve been sent here, again and again, life after life, repeatedly, to do. The ground mist has long since burned away. The air is cool, wet, if a bit dusty. I wipe my hands on my jeans.
What I’m here to do.
What am I here to do?
My mind stalls on the question. The weight of it halts the wheels, the cogs, everything stops. Sweat seeps into my clothing even as the air grows colder. The blood leaves my face. I stagger. I swim through the falling light, the strips of tree shadow. What I’m here to do. What am I here to do? I’m here to kneel. To fall into the red dirt and kneel, to buckle over and bow, and heave, heave — echh
“Let it out,” Brian says, patting me on the back. “There there.”
My stomach collapses to the size of a clenched fist, but there’s nothing to let out. I dry heave into the ferns, coughing, spitting — there’s a darkness beneath the leaves and I stare into it. Above me, I feel the weight of the trees.
Keeping my eyes closed I roll onto my back. Brian sits in the dirt beside me. I take a deep breath. Smoke trails from the joint between Brian’s lips, floods my senses and empties them of anything else. Air that tastes like earth. My heart beats to a slow, steady. Step. I open my eyes to the light angling down through the trees, and the dust of the world shines in this light like a spell.
Suddenly outside myself, I see myself whisper but can’t hear what it is that I say.
“What was that?” Brian asks.
“I see men as trees, walking.”
“Mm.” Brian takes a drag from his joint and nods. “Mark 8:24, yes?”
“Mark 8:24,” he says again, but I don’t know what he’s talking about.
I take his joint and place it between my lips. I breathe in and let what’s inside burn what’s inside me. I hold in the smoke and search for the answer to the question I’ve been asking.
What am I here to do? All these lives, what have I been missing? What have I been doing wrong?
Why must I die again and again while these trees persist? Why must I keep coming back?
As the sun descends, its light angles upward, almost horizontal now in the highest branches, leaving all undergrowth in shadow. Brian takes back the joint, crushes it out in the dirt.
The morning after the whiskey night, Brian knew right away that I’d been drinking. He didn’t even have to ask what happened to the whiskey. The smell when he found me passed out in the car must’ve been tremendous, the air warm and dank, the mattress soaked in vomit. I barely registered him.
“Brian,” I moaned into the wet mattress. “Briiaaannnnnn.”
“Okay,” he said. “Okay.” He opened all the doors and sat in the front to smoke a quick cigarette. When he was done he said, “Okay. You’ll be okay.” And he went to work — making sure I was clean of whiskey and vomit and piss, sliding the sheets out from under me, throwing them and the blankets into a trash bag, washing it all at a nearby laundromat he found, all the while letting me sleep off the whiskey night. He stayed with me in the van the next night, and the night after that. I kept mumbling how sorry I was, that it wouldn’t happen again, and he told me not to be sorry, don’t be sorry, and that he couldn’t care less if it happened again or not. And although I was telling the truth that the whiskey night was a one time thing, the resolve wouldn’t last. The drinking took me again, and again, and soon after that, the smoking followed too. Brian never offered his drink or his weed — I’m guessing because he didn’t want to feel responsible — but he never said no when I took it from him.
Crossing into California, an event that should’ve felt momentous, didn’t feel like anything at all. I still felt no closer to finding Annie. She was nowhere to be found on Tinder, and away, bigger questions, questions much larger than Annie plagued me. What was I here to do? What was I here to say? I smoked to find the answer, I drank to forget the question. In this haze, Annie’s role started to drift, her face receding into a cloud of smog.
But here, lying under the redwoods with Brian, the question lingers. It’s always there—
What am I here to say? What can I say that hasn’t already been said?
“Nothing,” says Brian. “There’s nothing left to say.”
I’ll “plagiarize” the gospels, usually the Sermon on the Mount, and Brian will say, “Matthew 5:44, or John 7:13.”
I’ll tell him not to dwell on the past, nor dream of the future, but to concentrate on the present moment, and Brian will say, “Now you’re ripping off Gautama. Already done.”
I’ll tell him that only by abandoning his learning will he be free of his sorrow, and he’ll say, “Tao Te Ching, verse 20.”
I’ll change tactics, from the inner to the outer, and say maybe it’s all about the abolition of private property.
He’ll just smile and say, “Now you’re sounding like me.”
No matter what I say, no matter how I say it, Brian always knows the source. He throws my words back at me, in their truer, more original form. Marcus Aurelius, he’ll say. Plato, he’ll say. Thich Nhat Hanh.
“He who knows does not speak,” he says. “He who speaks does not know.”
“Who said that?”
“Lao Tzu said that.”
“So what am I supposed to say?”
“What I’ve been saying,” he says. “There’s nothing left to be said. It’s all been said. It’s all been said and turned into something else and said again.”
But I don’t believe him. I know somewhere, deep within me, if I stay still enough, if I stay silent enough, if I destroy my senses and self I will find the answer to the world.
“Now you’re talking about suicide,” he says.
I lift myself back to my feet. With the weight of everything, how have these trees remained standing for so long? Even after death, with their burnt, hollowed out corpses, they remain standing like dark pillars as if nothing changes, nothing happens, as if these tree gods are above the tide of time and the world falling away.
“But everything changes,” I whisper to myself. “Change is the only truth.”
The trail dumps us back onto the main road. We walk south along the road to where the forest opens up to meadow, where our van is parked against the roadside. The sun sets over the redwoods to the west. East of us, the redwoods grow dark. Black daggers against a navy sky.
Brian has a friend he wants to visit in Arcata, about 45 minutes south of us. Someone he knew from high school. The scenic parkway merges again with 101, and after meandering through more forest, 101 swings us back to the coast, again away from the coast, straying east with farmland growing to the west of us, 101 opening up to three lanes and before us the beaten down suburban sprawl of Arcata approaches. Low hanging clouds reflect the lights of the city, giving a feeling of dusk though dusk has long since passed.
Turning into the neighborhood where Brian’s friend lives, who I’m learning now is named Angela, I feel suddenly self-conscious of my appearance. Outside of Brian and the occasional store clerk, I haven’t interacted with anyone since leaving for the road. I haven’t showered in — how long has it been now? I feel thin, fragile, as if just introducing myself to another would break me. What would I say? Would I tell them my name? Or should I tell them my Name?
“I think this is it,” Brian says as we pull into their steep drive, dipping down behind their house to a dirt lot in the backyard. No fences, just more redwoods or Douglas firs — in the dark I can’t tell the difference — rising to give the properties some semblance of separation.
I wipe my hands against my jeans. Dirt peels off like dead skin.
Angela’s waiting of us at the top of the drive. She waves us over and Brian squeals — uncharacteristic of Brian — as he runs over to her. They tell each other how different they look, how good they look, and as I approach I can’t help but notice Brian’s voice, an octave higher than the voice I know.
Angela speaks steady and slow, she uses the word “yeah” a lot, “yeah,” and she’s always smiling. She has dirty blonde hair that might just be dirty, pulled back and dried into dreads, and a bandana wrapped around her forehead. When her eyes fall on mine, her smile twitches, but manages to stay up.
“Hi,” I say, holding out my hand.
She holds out her hand too, as if to mock me.
“Hi,” she says.
The house belongs to her father, though he lives somewhere down south. She rents out the extra rooms to a couple of friends, and following her inside, it’s clear they’ve made it fully their own — a typical college student house where none of the residents still go to college. Bongs and pipes and grinders scatter the resin crusted coffee table, a fifth of rum lies on the stained carpet. On some nature channel, an episode of Australia’s Deadliest plays on mute, though nobody watches. From the couch, a bulldog pup scampers toward us. It jumps up at me and barks.
“Hey, hey there,” she says, her voice slow and glazed. “These are friends. Friends,” she repeats. The dog doesn’t believe her either.
She gives us a quick tour of the house, shows us the empty room where we’ll be sleeping — Kai just moved out last week — and then she takes us to the laundry room where she shows us her plants.
Back in the living area, Angela sits on one couch with her pup lying across her lap, while Brian and I sit on the other. The TV still plays on mute, something about poisonous spiders. Brian and Angela talk about people they once knew, people they still know, people they don’t, mostly they talk about themselves. I nod every now and again, but say nothing.
For some reason Brian is holding my hand, his thumb caressing the back of my knuckles.
“So,” Angela asks. “Where are you guys going?” The question must be directed at me, an opening for me, because Brian doesn’t answer.
“Home,” I lie.
Angela looks to Brian, then back to me. “Yeah? Where’s that?”
“Sunnyvale. Just a little south of San Francisco.”
“Okay. Yeah. Yeah. I think I’ve passed through there. Tech companies and strip malls, yeah.”
“Family visits are nice,” she says.
“Yes,” I say. “They are.”
It’s not long before I excuse myself saying I’m beat and need to get some sleep. Both Brian and Angela feign disappointment but don’t object when I insist. Brian says he’ll follow me down in a bit.
I set up my mat in the corner of the empty room that still smells like Kai — it smells exactly how you’d imagine a Kai to smell — and bury myself in blankets and wait. I listen to their hushed voices upstairs, and then more voices. Doors opening, closing, footsteps beating against the hardwood, laughter and delights, a bottle breaking and music turned up and blaring and here I am, all alone in an empty room that smells like Kai, I don’t even know Kai, and above me music RUMP RUMP RUMP‘s the walls. Brian is drunk and laughing.
The noise doesn’t let up. I toss and turn and rehearse the speech I’ve prepared for Brian in my head, the one about this loneliness and abandonment, and then try to forget it because it sounds so stupid. Why am I so stupid.
Someone stumbles into the room, someone with a ponytail. When he sees me he says, “Oh. Sorry. I thought this was the bathroom,” and closes the door but the door doesn’t latch, it opens back up, and I hear him doubling over as he climbs the stairs.
Enough! I’ve had it. I’ve had enough. I take my blankets, wrap them around myself like a robe, like a cape, and rise into the noise, the people, the smoke. I stand at the top of the stairs, but nobody sees me. The way to the front door is blocked by people and in my mind, I part them, I part them like Moses parts the sea. My heart pounds at my ribs, I step forward. One by one the people step aside for me, but none seem to notice I’m there. I glide through them, parting the way one step at a time. When I reach the door, the two separate halves of the party become one again, and I close the door behind me.
The van is cold, quiet. I crawl into myself and fall asleep.
Brian is in the passenger seat when I wake up. He’s drinking coffee and looking at nothing in particular. I watch him for awhile, he doesn’t realize I’m watching him until I prop myself up on the mattress.
“Hey bud,” he says. “You okay?”
“I’m okay,” I say, but I can’t stop shaking. “I’m okay.” No matter how many times I say it I can’t convince either of us that it’s true. It’s so cold.
It’s not until Arcata is behind us that I start to feel better, that I start to feel more like Myself now that there’s nobody around to remind me that I’m no one. There’s something about people that makes me feel inhuman. Like I’m not one of the people.
And then I remember, it’s because I’m not. I’m not one of them. I’m here to save them but I’m not one of them. Only when I’m by myself do I remember this. Brian doesn’t count. When I’m with him, I may as well be alone. He’s good like that.
After Eureka, 101 pulls away from the coast and doesn’t come back. It’s not until Leggett that we switch to the 1, which after a dizzying, winding drive takes us back to the ocean. Following the claustrophobia of the inland, of the relentless trees and nonexistent skylines, the openness of the ocean is a relief. We stop at the very first pull-off, and just about every pull-off after that, the swift cold ocean air forcing breath back into our lungs. Though it’s always the same ocean, there is always a new feeling to it that brings you back to the same feeling — this feeling of oneness, of crashing stillness. Of the return of all things. We’re at one of these pull-offs now and I think Brian feels this too. His gaze is locked on the horizon where everything converges into a blue haze.
Staring at this open mouth of the ocean, sitting at its very lips, something rises from my center, reaches up to my own lips, something original, something profound, something that’s never been said. Something that would impress even Brian.
My jaw hangs there, gaping, filling in with wind off the ocean, my mind a blank. What was it? What was I about to say?
Without a word, Brian pushes himself up, and walks back to the car.
join man next week for journal #35 (in which said man finds himself in Salt Point Park)
We meant to fill up the tank in Yachats. The gas light had just gone on in San Marine, past the last of their stations. We’ll get the next town, we agreed.
Yachats. A small four pump station on an otherwise vacant lot. Only when we pull into the station do we get the sense that something is wrong. Glass crunches under the tires. Plastic tarps hang before the mini mart windows. Hoses dangle from the kiosks but there are no pumps.
“It looks closed,” I say.
“You think?” Brian says.
The 76 logos are cracked and faded. At the side of the building a black pickup truck sits on blocks, a bearded man and his dog sprawled in the back. Neither of them move.
“We should go,” I say, more to myself as I pull out of the station. “We’ll get the next town.”
Only it seems there is no next town. After Yachats, 101 winds upward into a mass of forested headlands. The road climbs, juts out west past the trees. All we see are bluffs and peninsulas and black rock formations rising from the waters. No civilization in sight. I watch the miles click upward. How many miles have we driven since the gas light went on? Why didn’t I check? Well, I didn’t know there was no next town, I tell myself. How was I supposed to know? There’s always a next town. I ask Brian to check his phone, to tell me when this next town is, but he says he has no service.
“Check mine,” I say, handing him mine.
“No service,” he says.
I begin to sweat. The blood drains from my face and I know I could faint at any moment. This breathtaking, endless, perpetual, never-ending Oregon coast. This two lane highway cutting through spruce, Douglas-fir, and hemlock, opening back up to this breathtaking, endless, perpetual, never-ending Oregon coast we later find out is aptly named Cape Perpetua, albeit for altogether different reasons. Neither of us are paying any attention to any of this however, because our eyes are glued to the gas light.
“All things must pass,” I say to Brian. “This too shall end.”
“Not now,” he says to me, as if silence will help the tank to carry us further. We’ve long since turned off the radio and have been driving in silence for some time.
So I mumble it to myself, “This too shall end.”
The coast doesn’t come to an end. The gas in our tank does. The minivan quakes, then sputters, the pedal stops responding, and we roll to a stall, a line of honking cars building up behind us. I’m frozen. I don’t know what to do. What do I do? Brian has to tell me what to do.
“Put it in neutral,” he says.
“We push it to the side of the road.”
When finally we get it to the pull-off, cars pass us and honk at us and flip us their fingers. My only solace is in knowing that when the end times come I’ll remember their faces, and I’ll point to their faces and theirs will be the faces that burn and then they’ll know who I am.
We lean against the hood of the van, no reception, no gas, the sun low in the western sky. Brian shields himself from the wind and lights a cigarette, moves to the side of the van looking out onto the waters below. We’re so far above the waves we can’t hear them. Only the passing of cars.
I cut up a box of Cheerios, turn it into a makeshift sign that reads: GAS FOR JESUS? PLEASE?
No one stops.
Once they see you, their eyes pretend they don’t see you, and focus back on the road.
This too shall pass, I say to myself. This too shall pass.
Before long I’m talking about the cars. This car too shall pass. This car too. But this moment will never pass. This moment will last forever. I begin to pity my children, who won’t so much as stop for their own Father. Tears stream down my cheeks, not for my children, but for Myself.
This world, I don’t belong here.
Brian finishes his cigarette and comes around to my side of the car where I’m balling now, frantically wiping away my tears.
“Hey,” he says. “Jesus… c’mon. Don’t cry.”
“I’m not crying.”
“Hey.” He takes the sign from me. “Let me give it a try. Hey.”
I give him the sign but say nothing.
On the other side of the van, I curl my knees into my chest and watch the waters move toward the coast, momentum turning them white before breaking against the shore. I try to smell the ocean but I only smell gas, or what used to be gas. Exhaust. Smog in the wilderness. Not even three minutes pass before a pickup stops for Brian and offers him a ride down to the next town. I’m listening to this and waiting for Brian to mention I’m there too. They look surprised when I peek up from the other side. A couple of hairy guys in flannel and their dog.
“That sound okay?” Brian asks me.
I nod and offer to stay with the car, but later in the evening, long after Brian left in the back of their truck, I’m not sure I even offered at all. Brian left me here. He finally did it.
Night seeps in from the trees and falls on the horizon. Stars poke through the darkening blue, slowly at first, until their numbers are so great I’m not sure there’s room for more. I curl up into my mattress corner, bury myself in sheets and wait, but I know nobody is coming. I replay the moment in my mind — the tipping of the driver’s cap as he pulls away, the relief in Brian’s eyes, the ease in which he left me — and I know he’s not coming back.
Fewer and fewer cars pass on the road. I’m scared. I’m embarrassed. Mostly, I’m furious. The slugging of blood against the inside of my skull works to numb me. I lie there unmoving, unfeeling, until finally, thank God, one slug of blood knocks me unconscious.
I wake to a light tapping on the window. I don’t move. It’s still dark. The tapping is too light to be Brian, too patient to be a cop. A tick tick that’s more of a tap tap.
I hold my breath. I pretend to be dead. If I pretend long enough, maybe… maybe…
When the tapping ends I hear no footsteps, just the wind coming in off the ocean and colliding with the trees. After enough time has passed in pretend death, I pull aside the tapestry and peek out the window where the tapping sounded, but there’s nothing there but my tired ghost reflection. I see nothing beyond the glass, beyond the—
The smallest smudge of a finger on the glass. The print of a fingertip tip, the last remains of the now mute taptap
more of a tick
I don’t pull aside the tapestry again.
In the morning Brian is banging on the hood and screaming, “We got gas! We got gas!” He’s in an unusually good mood and offers to take the wheel to the next town, which is Florence, which is really not that far away at all. I don’t bring up the tapping.
We fill up the rest of the tank at the first gas station we find, which is in a Fred Meyer strip mall along 101. While Brian waits for the attendant to fill up the van, I search the Fred Meyer for a bathroom. Only once I’m alone, sitting in the stall with my jeans at my ankles, do I realize how badly I’ve had to go. The relief floods through me, my body involuntarily quakes, and suddenly — with no warning whatsoever — I start to cry. A sob rises up and I’m struggling for breath, trying to hold myself together, trying to hold in the breath I’m at the same time struggling for, trying to muffle the squeals. Then it’s over. Somewhere a toilet flushes, a man coughs. I wait until I’m sure the bathroom is empty, the last man has washed his hands and left, and then awhile longer, before I pull up my pants and leave.
Outside Brian leans against the hood of the van. He’s on his phone, Tinder I’m beginning to suspect. I didn’t see it then but I see it now, the sex in his eyes, the sex in his sweat, the sweat that covers him but doesn’t belong to him.
Though it’s still morning, he suggests we stay in the Fred Meyer parking lot for the night. Just after dark however, Brian gets a call. “Hey,” he says. “Okay.” Hangs up. Outside, a Subaru waits for him. Brian makes no secret of it this time — he won’t be back until morning.
It’s happening just like the last time, this growing divide between Brian and myself. Last time it was the close confines of the cottage that did it, this time it’s the van. We drive, we stop — usually when Brian suggests it — Brian disappears and reappears in the morning, rested and less irritable. Though rare, there are the nights when he finds no one to stay with on Tinder, and he’s forced to stay with me. Neither of us able to sleep, I continue my search for Annie, he continues his search for the next town.
The thing about Brian’s type is that they’re everywhere. Repeat after me: alcoholic, anarchist, deadbeat.
______, _______, _______.
There’s a little of Brian’s whiskey tucked under the mattress. On the nights he’s gone, it taunts me, tells me one drink will put me to sleep, one drink will make it all go away. One drink, all of this will make sense.
No, I tell the whiskey. It won’t. I can’t.
And the whiskey only smiles, knowingly.
The beaches of Oregon pass us by, those little beach towns so meaningless when compared to the endlessness of this road. The people there, I can’t believe they actually exist. We don’t stop at the Dunes, but from 101 just before it strays several miles from the coast, I see the sands spilling over a forest of trees, little treetops poking from the sand like much smaller trees, though these trees must be immense, wind skidding off them and threatening to bury the towns too. None of this was meant to exist.
Brian disappears in state parks, campsites, vista point pull-offs, and gas station bathrooms. Before long he’s having me drop him off at the places he’s staying. I feel like his chauffeur. I wonder if he even remembers what we’re doing, where we’re going.
What are we doing, Brian? I want to ask him. What are you doing?
“This is it,” is all I say.
“It’s for the best, you know,” he says getting out of the car. “This way we both can get some sleep.”
So he’s noticed too.
He looks up and down this nameless residential street in this nameless residential town and says, “You can park out here if you want. I’m sure they won’t mind.” He walks up to the house and knocks, the door opens and a nameless shadow lets him inside.
I pull the van to the curb and crawl into the back.
The loneliest part of living in your car is when you have to go to the bathroom at night. You can’t leave the car, in fear you’ll be found out, so you must hold it, or go inside the car. There’s an empty gallon jug between the front seats, in case you must go with the latter. Not enough room to stand, you prop yourself up on your side, stick yourself into the opening, and do your best not to spill. Sometimes you spill. You screw back on the lid, tuck it back between the seats, and attempt sleep in this car that now smells like piss.
I try to roll away from the smell, but there’s nowhere to roll that doesn’t smell like piss.
“What’s up?” says the whiskey.
“Hey,” says the whiskey, its voice sounding like whiskey.
I open up Tinder and start swiping but only make it through four LA girls before I have to stop. I take a breath. What am I doing? What are we doing here? I look back at my phone, tap into settings and change the location. I only have to type in three letters before auto type fills in the rest.
It’s refreshing, seeing again the girls with the homier outfits, the frumpy sweaters and hipster glasses, the hikers, the bikers, the climbers, the mousey poets, girls that feel like home, girls that once made me feel so miserable but now comfort me in their more familiar loneliness. I don’t know what I’m looking for really, I’m not swiping anyone right. I’m not sure if I even plan on going back. I realize that now — I don’t think I’m ever going back — but I keep swiping until I find the one I didn’t realize I was looking for.
I’d recognize her freckles anywhere. Her lavender hair, her toothy smile.
It wouldn’t be right to say that my stomach drops, that there’s a weak feeling to the pit of my stomach, because though it feels this way at first, it’s not entirely accurate. It’s everywhere else that feels sick, weak, shaky. The pit of my stomach actually feels pretty nice. Numb. I want nothing more than to curl up and retreat there.
Jane. She’s using the same photos as before, as if I never passed through her life at all. As if I never existed, she starts over again. I swipe her right.
Of course, nothing happens.
I don’t know why I did that. Stupid.
She’s gone. A new girl gazes up at me.
I stare up at the ceiling of the van I’ve come to know so well — beige, tattered felt, crusty in spots. I can just make out Brian’s low, sensual moans coming from the house. Nothing special, not this time. It means nothing.
Annie. Annie. Ann—
“Yo,” the whiskey whispers. “You okay?”
I answer by shutting the whiskey up for good. I drain that whiskey of its golden blood, and for the first time in three years my breath tastes like fire, my stomach feels like fire, my blood like gold, and my mind slows to the beat of my soul.
No, Whiskey, I am not okay. I am not okay at all.
Later in the night I throw Whiskey’s bloodless corpse across the street and it shatters the quiet. Lights go on. Dogs bark and I’m so silent. I’m so silent. I smile. Here in my van, no one knows I’m here. You fuckers, you don’t know I’m in here. Being silent.
join man next week for journal #34 (in which said man walks among giants)