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)