Journal #40 (in which Brian comes back)

In bed, in the half light glow of scattered clocks, my mind feels itself, runs its fingers under my skull, over my brain membrane for the—

Tonight, the night that Brian arrives, my mind fingers find nothing — no crack, no tear, no fragile flesh or bone — that could make easy an escape for what I’ve buried there.

I don’t know that Brian is on his way.

The windows are open. Cool air circles the room and chills my scalp without penetrating it. I pull the many quilts up to my chin. I turn to my side. Outside, a car rolls down the cul-de-sac, turns at our dead end without stopping, headlights making striped shadows of the blinds and sliding them across the far wall of my room. The car retreats back up the—

Sleep is an impossibility.

Because there’s a beat to the night you’d have to be dead to hear. It’s impossible to hear it over the beat of your heart. But you can feel it. A low—

I’m sweating now because I know he’s out there. I throw off the quilts and swing my legs over the bedside. I grab a shirt from the floor and put it on. I don’t bother with pants or shoes. I leave the house barefoot.

He’s sitting in the driver’s seat of my minivan and staring at the windshield. The green glow from the dashboard reflects off his face. His hair is longer, wild now, and only blue at the tips. Dark bags hang below his eyes, which scare me. From inside, soft music plays, the imperceptible—

I open the passenger door and a wall of sound hits me. The music is blaring. I sit down and shut the door behind me.

Brian doesn’t look at me. I notice my keys dangling from the ignition. I’m not quite sure how—

“Brian, what are you doing here?”

He doesn’t answer.

“You shouldn’t be here.”

He doesn’t respond.

“BRIAN!”

Finally, he looks at me. Into my eyes, as if he’s been afraid to look to see what he’d find there.

As for his own eyes—

*—scritch—*

“What are you doing here?” I ask him.

“I…” He searches my eyes. His lips part, but strands of saliva pull them back together.

Something is bothering me. I focus on the music. What the music is say—

*—ssscritchh—*

Ouch.

In the back of my mind, there’s a thump, a flutter, a flap. A blur of blue wings.

“Are we okay?” he asks me.

“What?”

“Are we okay?”

“Yes. I don’t see why not.”

He doesn’t take his eyes off me now. He’s really looking into me.

“But I took you here,” he says.

“And you were right to.”

“Was I though?”

“Yes.”

He looks away.

As if he can’t look at me anymore.

“What is it?” I ask him.

He doesn’t answer.

“If you’re looking for forgiveness, you already have it. You were right to take me here. You can go.”

“Are you happy?”

“I’m better.”

He takes his wrist and cracks it, puts his hands back on the steering wheel. The music still plays, it crawls over my skin but doesn’t penetrate any deeper. Just an uncomfortable feeling, like dry wind hitting from all directions. Sanding my skin—

*—ssssccritchhh—*

Down.

Blood on a window. Jesus saluting before crowds, crowds saluting back. An empty cove at night and someone sobbing.

“Turn this off,” I tell Brian.

Brian doesn’t turn it off.

I reach for the dial, but Brian stops me. He turns up the volume. The speakers distort the bass, rattle within, there’s a growing scream and a ring in my ears.

I close my eyes. Breathe, I tell myself. Just breathe. It’s only—

I feel CD cases beneath my feet and open my eyes. At the top of the pile is an album with the cover art of an upscale LA pool, the pool full of orange-fire clouds, and the sky an empty expanse of technicolor waves.

The music bumps against me.

Trying to get in.

“Get your things,” Brian says. “We’re leaving.”

“Where?”

“You know where.”

“Why?”

“You know why.”

I look at Brian. I look at the album cover. I look back at Brian.

“Don’t come back here,” I say. I get out of the car and slam the door behind me, effectively shutting the music down to a barely audible thump. The sky is clear, the stars are out, a gentle breeze sweeps in from the far end of the—

Back inside the house, I tiptoe past my parents room and back into my room. I lie down. I get back up. I lie down again. He’s still out there, I know. I still hear — no, feel — the faint bump of music. I bury myself in blankets. I twist myself in blankets. I free myself of blankets. I pace the room. From a plastic vial on the dresser I throw back a couple of pills without water. I sit down on the bed. The nerve of him, coming back here. What does he think—

*—ssssccritchhHH—*

A turntable turning. A white record sleeve of a housefly atop a pill. Black hair falling over black—

I look at the clock by my bed, the one clock labeled: “this time.” It says this time is just past midnight.

*—ssssccritchhHHHH—RIP—*

No.

No. No. No.No.No.NoNoNoNoNo—

NO.

I open my closet and take out clothes, shirts, shorts, underwear, socks, and stuff it all in a duffle. I throw on a jacket and pants and, outside once again, I throw the duffle in the back of the van.

I sit down in the passenger seat.

Brian nods to me. I nod back. I can barely hear him start the engine over the music. The music which reaches inside and sings—

“Destruction leads to a very rough road

 But it also breeds creation”

—and it’s pulling at my lungs.

We back out of the driveway, Brian leaving the headlights off until we round the corner. The house, my home, the cul-de-sac disappears behind—

Sleeping houses, dormant streets, a stray cat prowling the night. I roll down the windows and the cool air slides right through us. My elbow on the sill, I drink in the night that suddenly, I realize, finally tastes like—

“And earthquakes are to a girl’s guitar

 They’re just another good vibration

 And tidal waves couldn’t save the world

 From Californication”

—autumn.

Though it’s long been autumn.

We roll out onto the 85, an empty highway of minimal lights, cutting through the rich suburbs of Cupertino, Saratoga, Las Gatos, and finally San Jose where 85 ends and drops us on the 101 heading south. The wind rips through the windows but I don’t roll them up. Low dark hills on our left, telephone polls and starlit lowlands on our right, and behind us the music trails—

“Dream of Californication

 Dream of Californication”

The scent of garlic hits us. We get off the 101 for Pacheco Pass Highway which takes us east, first through farmlands, then winding mountain roads, first climbing, then gliding though still winding, and through the breaks in the hills a black reservoir opening up on our right, the road flattening out—

Ahead, the roar of semis pummeling through the night, passing north to south and south to north, a slow curve pulling us up onto this flatland, this flat stretch of Interstate-5 with nothing in sight but the blurred brights of passing headlights, red taillights in the distance.

The road is straight, the straight road is—

*—scritch—*

Her hands, her nails chewed raw by her teeth. Blood in a sink and eyes like night.

This is the straight road, truly straight, unbearably straight, pulling us straight toward—

Lights behind us, following us. Raccoon eyes, following us. A beheaded rat on a back.

—the mountains. Rising in the South. Rising out of the darkness into a darkness of stars. A line of little lights below, moving, leading into them, the mountains.

I lean out the window and eye the horizon. A sudden wall of rain hits the windshield, my face, and then it’s gone. The sky is clear but for one cloud, now far behind us.

Lights behind us, following us. Raccoon eyes—

No. I think we really are being followed. There really are lights behind us.

Our own lights tear through the dark. Road signs for Grapevine. A climbing road interrupting the straight road. We rise into this winding road, passing semis on our right, climbing, climbing, gears grinding, peaking—

Then the gliding fall with swinging curves, and then there it is. You see it.

The valley of lights.

And we’re falling into it.

“It’s the edge of the world

  and all of Western civilization.

  The sun may rise in the East,

  at least it settles in the final location.

  It’s understood that Hollywood

  sells Californication”

*—scritch—*

*—ssscritchhh—*

*—ssssscccritchHHHHH—*

*—RIP—*

The lights. The bright scattered sea of lights. Falling into these—

Annie.

—scattered lights.

We don’t stop in Los Angeles. We don’t stop at all because I have to see it.

Annie.

I have to see the place where all this started.

Annie.

Also, we’re definitely being followed. No italics. It’s not me, I swear.

Annie.

The blackness turns a smoky gray, red light rises like distant fire in the East, palm trees emerging as black silhouettes. The western sky is still dark, but changing.

Through downtown LA. Through Anaheim. We take the 22 into the City of Orange. Down Glassel Street. Through—

Brian pulls over.

“This it?” he asks, both of us looking right.

I don’t nod. He knows this is it. The white pillars of the University touched red in the light of the rising sun. The grounds still covered in shadow.

Behind us, somewhere, another car pulls to the side of the road and waits.

“Keep going,” I say, finally, to Brian.

“Where?”

“Anywhere.”

So he keeps going.

And the car behind us, too.

“And if you want these kind of dreams

 it’s Californication”

I think, finally, it’s time for another song.

I click NEXT.

🔂

join man next month for the final part, the final season, the thrilling final stretch of MANWITHOUTATINDER

Advertisements

Journal #39 (in which said man retreats further into himself)

My first word was “fuck.”

Now granted, what I was trying to say was undoubtedly truck, what came out at the time was definitely “fuck.” At least that’s what my parents tell me. Why I bring this up now, why this comes back to me — a memory that’s not really my memory at all, just someone else’s memory that involves me and was told to me — is hard to say. It could be because I’m struggling for words now, sitting at the same table where I once said my first word, and my parents are sitting here too and none of us are saying anything. There’s only the clanking and scraping of silverware against plates, the slow chewing of food. This silence at dinner isn’t unusual exactly, at least not for my family, only now it strikes me as mildly uncomfortable. Because here I am, a grown man eating with his parents, and it seems nothing has changed since the moments before I said my first word all those years ago. Except maybe there was hope then. Also, I’m older.

Growing up in a family of introverts was always an easy thing, it was never necessary to talk if you didn’t want to talk. I have three siblings — I realize I’ve never written about them here, probably because they never played into this story, and they won’t be playing a part now as far as the story goes, but maybe it’s important to bring them up if only to give you a better sense of things. I have an older sister, a younger brother, and a younger sister — I’ll leave their names out of this. My younger sister still goes to school, in San Luis Obispo, my brother works at an architecture firm in Seattle, and my older sister still lives at home though right now I don’t know where she is. I haven’t seen much of her since I wound up back here.

What I’m trying to say is, growing up, it wasn’t just me and my parents. But we were silent, all of us. We kept to ourselves. And this allowed for my thoughts to grow in any direction they wanted, and solidify there. Reality was no hindrance. I gave things names that weren’t their real names. I gave things meanings that weren’t their real meanings. I had my own internal language, my own internal set of rules I didn’t realize was internal. Nobody could tell me otherwise because I never spoke to anyone about any of this.

Then there were the voices, not heard, more felt as a cool draft in the back of my head. There were reoccurring nightmares of black-haired demons shapeshifting into black-haired cats. There were all the Bible stories from Sunday School compiling, taking on too literal of a history in my mind. And then there was the belief that all birds were angels, guardian angels to be more specific, that every person was assigned one, and that mine was a particular Blue Jay — though I just called him Blue — who often visited our backyard.

Blue would screech, not sing, in the cluster of trees by the fence. It sounded more like someone screaming. Trying to watch TV, my dad would inevitably get fed up and storm outside to throw rocks at the trees until Blue shut up, or disappeared (my dad even amassed a collection of rocks outside the door for this purpose). On other days, Blue would fly straight into the living room window — we’d always know by the hollow THUMP and rattle of windowpane you could hear from anywhere in the house. And sure enough, there he’d be, lying motionless on the back patio only to shake himself up, un-ruffle his blue and white feathers, give us a quick look with crazed eyes before taking off in whatever direction he saw fit. Sometimes right back into the window.

This was my guardian angel. I told no one this. Probably because I was ashamed of my guardian angel.

Blue stopped showing up around the time I went into high school. By college, I didn’t so much think he was dead, I’d simply forgotten he’d ever existed. Still, all of this remained — the voices and demons and Bible stories and the bird — though buried, hardening within me like cement and expanding. All it needed was a little nick, a slight crack in the skull to escape into the conscious mind.

So after the inevitable first crack came and I was forced to drop out of college, move back in with my parents to seal the crack back up, imagine my surprise when I hear that familiar THUMP against the living room window. I’m home alone at the time, it’s early winter, and who’s out there but little Blue, now gray, lying on the patio and struggling for breath. I recognize him immediately. A smudge of blood on the window where he hit. I crouch over him, watch his feet twitch, his little eyes open wide and eyeing me from their side as if to say, it’s your turn now, it’s your turn to take care of me. And I say, of course, little Blue, I’ll take care of you.

Then he dies.

I’m pretty drunk at the time, so I don’t feel much, drinking being a strict part of my regimen to seal the crack. I just hover over him, and stagger back. His feathers quiver but it’s only the wind. Only later, long after burying him in the stretch of dirt behind the basketball hoop, do I feel something. A brief moment of sober clarity before falling asleep. For the first time, I realize, I’m truly alone.

“Fuck,” I say to myself now, years later, here again, recovering from the second crack.

My parents look up from their plates, mid-chew.

“What was that?” my dad asks.

I feign a cough, shake my head, and that’s the end of that. We all go back to eating.

I’m working hard to seal this second crack up for good, and not just seal it up, but reinforce it with everything I’ve got so it never comes re-cracked, undone — whatever — again. This time I avoid booze, I avoid weed, I run like my life depends on it. And I’m afraid it does. I’m desperate for that hit of high, when the body feels like lead but the mind flies. Without it I sink, keep sinking. These “family” dinners are also part of the regimen, a suggestion from my parents to reintegrate a level of normality and routine back into my life.

And at night when I’m alone, I check the cracks, see what’s still there, what’s still getting through—

The bird was just a bird. Annie was just Annie. The man was just myself. Good. And Brian— well, who was he? My heart sinks. I turn off the light and my heart sinks deeper. Let it sink, I tell myself. I’ll seal my heart up too.

In the morning I run harder, sweat harder, read the papers over breakfast, and reaffirm this as reality. The rise and fall of Trump in the polls, the inevitability of another Clinton in the White House, etc.

I let the *scar tissue* crawl over the split, the tear in my mind, again and again, the *scar tissue* webs itself over—

But just then there’s a little rip, a tear in the

*scar tissue*

scar tissue that I wish you saw

sarcastic mister know it all

close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, cause

with the birds I’ll share—

I need to be more careful with my word choices, my thought choices, because there are still things out there, outside of myself, that can reach the things inside myself, and by connecting what’s inside to what’s outside, it doesn’t matter how much scar        

*AHEM* — reinforcement I’ve put up, what’s inside will always be inside and could at any time come spilling out. At any time.

So I avoid radios, I avoid thinking about radios, I avoid anywhere where radios play, which, it goes without saying, could be anywhere. Naturally this gets in the way of my return to society. I can’t leave the house in fear I’ll overhear a certain song, a certain voice, and all this work will have been for naught. My parents want me to get a job. I’m all for it, I tell them. Unfortunately the only jobs I’m qualified for are in retail or restaurants, places where the radio always plays. I try to explain this to them, my parents, and they’re kind enough to nod, to say they understand, but when suggesting that I should try it anyway and see how it goes, I see they don’t understand at all. It doesn’t matter though, they stick to their hands-off approach and their suggestions remain just that, suggestions.

After one particular visit to the grocery store — a poor decision on my part — I tell myself I can never set foot in a grocery store again. While I ‘d been checking out, a song by that band came down from the overhead speakers—

with the birds I’ll share this lonely viewin’

with the birds I’ll share this lonely viewin’

—and I felt myself waking from some dream, dark smoke pushing, rising, pulsating against the scar *stuff* of my mind, and standing there I knew that if I didn’t leave now all would be lost. I left the groceries with the cashier, and walked out without saying a word.

I cradled myself in the car, humming the song, trying to turn the tune into a different tune. I was unsuccessful.

It’s weeks before I leave my house again. And when I do, it’s to stand in the backyard. Listen to the birds — just birds. Back inside. I form a bubble in my room. I hope that maybe, when this red hot summer is over — though surely summer must be over? — I can safely make the trips outside, when the radios have finally had enough of

that band.

I don’t leave my room. I don’t go on my phone. Though Brian and I would text at first, sometimes he’d even call, our correspondence slows the way most distanced correspondences do. He’s on his way to becoming an old friend, and from there — a forgotten acquaintance. I’ve deleted Tinder, though I’m still charged $9.99 a month for the Plus upgrade because I failed to unsubscribe before deleting the app. I don’t care. I won’t touch it. I’m afraid of getting too close to it again, that somehow it’d draw me back in and I’d stumble across someone’s eyes and said someone’s eyes would wake me from this little cave I’ve created beneath the crack.

Anything to stay safe. To stay sane.

Anything to keep the *crack* closed.

Once again, my mom has to deliver my food, and leave it at the door.

Every now and again I’ll hear a THUMP.

A THUMP THUMP from the living room window but I don’t get up. I can’t let any light through the crack. Not until I’m sure it’s closed for good. For good. Cause with the birds I’ll share—

No. Enough.

Stop that.

—this lonely view. Little Blue.

Stop.

ANYWAY.

Anyway. This is my state. This is where I’m at when Brian decides to come back.

👌

join man next week for journal #40 (in which Brian comes back)

Journal #38 (in which said man revisits the one-armed Jesus)

We sit at the edge of the bed for some time without either of us saying a thing. I can tell there’s something else he wants to say but he’s not saying it. Or he hasn’t quite figured out what he needs to say, if he needs to say anything at all.

I’m still naked. Nothing on but a towel.

“Are you going to open the letter?” I ask him.

“I don’t know. Yes, eventually.”

“What do you think it says?”

“You know what I think it says.”

I nod.

“Is it helping, what he sends you?”

Brian shrugs.

“A little,” he says. “But mostly, no.”

“Will you tell me what this one says?”

“It depends on what it says. Do you want to know?”

“I don’t know. I won’t know till I know what it says.”

“I know what you mean.”

He gets up.

“You will tell me though, won’t you?” I ask.

“I’m glad to see you’re doing better.”

“Am I better?” I ask him. “I really can’t tell.”

“You’re different, that’s for sure.”

“Where are you going?”

“Out.”

“Will you be back?”

“Yes. I’ll be back.”

And he does come back. Often. Over the coming days, and weeks, he stops by to check up on me, to see how I’m doing. Neither of us seems to know if I’m getting better or if I’m getting worse, we only know that I’m changing. I definitely feel different — sedated, in the moment, but only because I have no hope for better moments. I take every day, day by day, and I’m in the moment because I’m terrified to look at my future, even more ashamed to look at my past. Brian will sometimes bring over a movie, this is when I can tell he doesn’t want to talk, and usually I’m okay with that. One morning he brings Scarface and we watch that. After the movie he asks me, “You like that movie?”

“Not really.”

“Oh.”

We stare at the credits and then the DVD menu when the credits are done. And then he leaves.

Sometimes he doesn’t bring a movie over, and I’m okay with that too, because it means we get to talk, even if all the talks are the same, even though I can tell he’s just trying to confirm that I’m really okay so he can leave for good and wipe his conscience clean of me.

“My parents suggested I see someone,” I tell him.

“Do you want to see someone?”

“No.”

“But do you think it would help?”

“I don’t know.”

He nods.

“I don’t know what I’d say,” I go on. “Also, I’m embarrassed.”

“About what?”

“About the person I thought I was.”

“So you don’t think you’re that anymore.”

“Yes? I don’t know. No. It’s not that though.”

“So what is it?”

“I know who I am, I know who I was, but I’m not sure it means anything anymore. Or I wasn’t Him at all. I don’t know. If I’m Him or I’m not Him, it doesn’t matter because I’m just me, and I’m outdated — He is outdated. I have nothing to say, nothing to do. If there is a God, he’s abandoned me. If I am God, I’ve abandoned myself. Does that make sense?”

“It does.”

“Anyway, I’m not sure telling anyone this would make any difference. Crazy or not, I know what I saw, I’ve seen the interconnectedness of meaningless things, and I can’t unsee that. The feeling will always stick with me. They can put me on medication, they can try to rewire my mind, correct incorrect imbalances, but no amount of dopamine or serotonin, or whatever they deem as the culprit, can make me forget that I’ve seen the interconnectedness of meaningless things. When you’re there, when you feel yourself at your very center, you see it all spreading out and colliding away from you, everything you do affecting everything else and it never ends, nothing ever ends, meaning it goes on forever in an endless cycle, on and on and back around again, every possibility playing itself out, so — mathematically — nothing you do matters. You will always end up where you are. Both of us will always end up here.”

“You’re so close though,” Brian says.

“Close to what?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “I never got there.”

“Where?”

“I was hoping you could tell me when you got there.”

“And then you took me here.”

“And then I took you here.”

🌘

A couple of blocks away from my house — there’s no question now this’ll always be my house, there’s no escaping it — there’s a church. In front of this church there’s a statue of Jesus, arms outspread like most statues of Jesus, only here his left arm is silver while the rest of the statue is bronze. This is because, back when I was in middle school, some of the kids had stolen the left arm as a prank. Nobody knew who had done it or why, but the result was that the statue became known as the “Hitler Jesus,” because with only one arm raised, it looked as if he was saluting, palm out, much like Hitler.

At the time, this meant nothing to me — it was just a stupid joke, calling this Jesus the “Hitler Jesus.” It wasn’t until years later, long after the arm was finally replaced with the silver one, that I saw the meaning in it, its careful foreshadowing of my own life. Because late in the first madness, I became convinced that in my cycle of death and rebirth, that every nine lives I was reborn as the antichrist. This came out of necessity, because the only way to create something was to destroy something. Not only was I the reincarnation of Jesus, I was the reincarnation of Hitler.

I had to come to terms with that. I was God. I was a mass murderer. Creating life necessitated killing it.

When, because of these thoughts, I dropped out of college and moved back in with my parents the first time, I had to wonder if the subconscious memory of the “Hitler Jesus” was the root of these delusions, if they were delusions, or instead confirmation of my enlightenment. Whatever the connection, there was a connection between Jesus, Hitler, the statue, and me — that I knew.

When I now talk about the interconnectedness of meaningless things, this is what I’m talking about.

All things are connected and none of it means anything.

Though everything changes, nothing changes at all.

🌒

Brian starts showing up less and less and I feel the time approaching when he’ll show up no more. California is not home to him, neither is Washington for that matter, and I’m surprised he’s lasted in either place for so long. Though he doesn’t say anything, I know one of these visits will be his last and I won’t have it in me to follow him.

I can’t forgive him for bringing me here because I forgave him a long time ago. I almost wonder if I knew this was where the road would end. My road is straight. My road has always been straight. Yet home was always where the straight road ends.

On Brian’s last visit — I know it’s his last visit because in his silence I know he’s trying to tell me something, and whether I’m better or worse than before, we both know I’ve reached the end of the road where better or worse ends — I suggest we go for a walk. He looked uncomfortable sitting there on the couch and maybe I was uncomfortable too. We walk along the perfectly white sidewalk squares and, before long, come across the statue once known as the “Hitler Jesus.” I have to wonder if this was the plan all along, to take him here. We sit on the stone bench beneath the statue.

“Why did you take me here?” he asks me.

I don’t have an answer to that.

He looks around and, confirming nobody is around, lights a cigarette. Even Brian must feel it, a devout atheist like him, he feels the sacredness of this place. He takes a drag from the cigarette and blows a plume up toward the statue.

“Why is his arm a different color?”

I tell him.

I tell him in all seriousness what I’ve told you.

When I’m done telling him, all he says is—

“Jesus.”

And then he bursts out laughing. He laughs and coughs and laughs some more. He wipes a tear from his cheek, pinches the rest from his eyes. “Oh god,” he says and takes a quick drag from his cigarette to steady himself. Once steady, he looks up, almost in awe at the statue, as if he’s been converted into something other than what he is.

“So somewhere out there, he has a third arm, just lying around?”

“Yeah? I guess so.”

“Shit,” he says, though I’m not sure why. “A third arm. Shit.”

He gets up from the bench, stares a long time into the bronze eyes of the statue, and then walks away. I follow him.

When we reach my house, though he still says nothing, I know this is goodbye. You don’t have to be omniscient to know I’m never going to see Brian again.

He says goodbye like all the other times, but this goodbye feels different. The breath in my own goodbye tastes different.

“We’ll always have San Francisco,” he says.

“What happened in San Francisco?”

“You don’t remember?”

“No,” I say.

“Oh. Nothing happened in San Francisco.”

Then he walks away, his duffle slung over his shoulder. He leaves me the keys to the minivan, which at first I find to be a touching parting gesture until I remember it was my minivan all along.

I watch him disappear around the street corner. I thought maybe he’d turn and wave when he got there, but he didn’t. He just vanished without so much as a glance back.

Nothing else moves on the street. The trees are still. The air is stagnant.

I go back inside.

⛪️

join man next week for journal #39 (in which said man retreats further into himself)

Journal #37 (in which said man finds himself back home)

I don’t know how it reaches us, but a letter reaches us at my home — or my parents’ home, I should be calling it.

My room has been converted into a “crafting” room, though it’s clear no crafting happens in this room. There’s a sewing table set up under the window — likely giving the room its name — but it’s covered in dust. Boxes line the walls: clothes, books, CDs, shoes, junk that has no place anywhere else. Unusable pottery fills an otherwise empty closet. On the walls, only one poster still hangs from my younger years here — Scarface, though I’ve only seen the movie once and am not sure I actually liked it (I liked the poster though). The edges are ripped at the corners as if someone had tried to take it down, but gave up, having found the adhesive backing too strong. The rest of the walls are bare.

Of course my bed is gone too, a futon replacing it. It’s folded out into a bed now and lathered in quilts, far too many for this hot, dry, California summer. I drop my bags and collapse into this bed, not my bed, and bury my nose in the pillows. Musty, spicy, floral — like Grandma’s. Suddenly it hits me that my mom is old enough to be a grandma. I’ve failed her there.

Anyway, the letter. The letter arrives the night before we arrive, in the middle of the night, and like the others there’s no postage, no return address, just Tommy’s scrawl that reads—

FOR BRIAN

My mom taps on the door. I roll over and groan something.

“What?” she says, quietly from the other side of the door.

“Come in!”

She comes in, with the letter in her hand, says a letter came for Brian, she had forgotten about it, is Brian still around? Have you seen— him? The letter is for Brian.

I take the letter. No, Brian is not here. I don’t know where he is.

She seems completely unperturbed by the lack of postage and its mysterious arrival in the middle of the night. She seems more perturbed by my own arrival, no warning, no heads up, nothing. The minivan clanking, grinding down the cul-de-sac, and smoking to halt behind the Prius and Avalon in the driveway. I’m pretty unwell at this point, pretty weak and beaten down, so Brian has to just about drag me to the door.

“Am I okay?” I ask Brian, barely able to stand without his weight under me.

Brian rings the doorbell.

“Do they know?” I ask. “Will they see it in my eyes?”

“See what?” he asks, shifting himself under my weight.

“Myself.”

Brian doesn’t answer. He rings the bell again again-again-againagainagain. It’s 6:30 in the morning.

My dad opens the door, still tightening a robe around himself. He says nothing, but his face says he smells us, the reek all over us.

“Dave?” my mom calls from their bedroom. “Dave, who is it?”

My dad looks to Brian, who then nods to my dad, which causes my dad to sigh. He steps out, feeding an arm under mine, and the two of them help me into the house and lay me on the living room couch, where I’m quick to close my eyes.

I’m consumed by the familiar smell of the house, which no longer feels familiar because I can smell it.

“Oh dear,” I hear my mom say. And then I hear nothing. And then I hear whispering in the kitchen. A lot of whispering in the kitchen. And I hear them — my parents — thank Brian for bringing me home. Home, they say.

Brian doesn’t say anything, but I imagine he nods, or something. Everything about this feels wrong. Like betrayal.

“Do you need a place to stay?” my dad asks Brian.

“I’m okay,” Brian says.

More whispering, jangling of keys, and then the door slams and Brian’s scent leaves the scent of the house, which leaves me with just the scent of the house, which I find suffocating now. I’m sweating. Everything is spinning. I’m at the center, and everything around me spins. Or I’m spinning and everything else is still. My eyes are closed so I can’t tell.

Outside, the van starts up, and then I can’t hear it at all.

“She seems nice,” my mom says from the kitchen.

Now they’re back in the hall, watching me. I think they think I’m asleep, holding myself in my sleep even though the whole house spins itself around me. They say nothing. They go back to their room and back to sleep.

A few days later I move from the couch to the craft room which used to be my room, dragging the bags that Brian left for me in the entry way. Other than delivering water and soft foods, my parents don’t say much to me. They seem to be taking a hands off approach like the last time. I’m not confident, however, that it’s even an approach at all — more just a case of not knowing what to do.

If I had any strength to leave I would. Also, Brian is gone and he took the van.

Anyway — sorry — the letter. I don’t open it. Holding it in my hands, weighing it in my hands, turning it in my hands, I can only imagine what’s inside. I place it on the pillow next to me, turn to my side, and stare at it.

I wonder if this was the plan all along, that this was always the end of the road, or if it only became the end of the road after what happened in San Francisco.

Nothing happened in San Francisco.

What?

Nothing happened in San Francisco.

Right.

What happened in San Francisco?

Nothing happened in San Francisco.

Good.

I’m not even convinced San Francisco exists. I doubt I could find it on a map. I’m not even sure I could find Bellingham on a map. All my memories of the last five years are becoming dreams. Brian, a dream… Jane, a dream… Mags, a nightmare. Brianna? A dream within a dream.

Did any of the past five years even happen? Jesus, it’s still 2011, isn’t it? Nothing has changed. Nothing has…

No. Because this bed is not my bed. This room is not my room — it’s a craft room.

I don’t open the shades and I don’t leave the room except to go to the bathroom. My only contact with the outside world is my phone, but I’m only using it to text Brian and Brian isn’t responding. I avoid Tinder.

Time passes in alternating graynesses and blacknesses, and in the blacknesses comes the glow from several unwanted alarm clocks keeping me awake, none of them keeping the same time.

I label the clocks to make sense of them. This here is the time in Paris. This is the time in Tokyo. This is the time in 2011, this is the time in AD 36. A broken clock — the time it’ll be when I’m finally dead.

I don’t know how many nights pass this way. The days are just as hard to count.

My recovery shows signs of recovery when I get up in the mornings to sit on the front porch and watch the sun rise. I don’t stay out long though, because it gets too hot too quickly, the air too dry to breathe. Later, I start taking walks at night, going nowhere in particular, just walking around the block barefoot. The cool cement feels sharp beneath my feet. I watch my feet. Besides my feet, I don’t look at much else.

All the lawns are dead, some flaunting signs that say, GOLD IS THE NEW GREEN, and by gold the signs really mean brown, because there’s nothing gold about dead things. Only one lawn on our street is green as opposed to brown, and this house is for sale.

My house — I’m guessing I’m calling it my house now — sits at the end of the cul-de-sac, and my dad went as far as tearing out all the grass with the intent of replacing it with bark or something drought-friendly like it. The thing about drought-friendly things is that they’re usually dead things. Or cactuses.

This is Sunnyvale, California.

This place reeks of death. I take long showers to wash it away, but they’re never long enough, there is never enough water. If I was better I’m sure my dad would say something about my water usage, but since I’m not, since I’m considerably unwell, he says nothing. This day coming out of the shower — relieved to see the mirror is fogged so I can’t look at myself — I smell something besides my house, which just means I smell something other than nothing, since at this time I no longer smell my house at all.

My heart pounds. I lean over the sink and wipe an arc across the mirror with my hand. I see my face. I regret it immediately.

I follow the new smell to my room, towel at my waist, and pause before stepping inside. And then I step inside.

“Brian,” I say.

“Hey,” he says. He’s holding the letter addressed to him.

“You got mail,” I say.

He nods and places an unlit cigarette in his mouth. He tucks the letter away without opening it.

“How’re you doing?”

“Okay,” I say.

I lean against the doorframe, and neither of us say anything for some time.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“I know.”

“This wasn’t the plan,” he says.

“I know.”

Again we’re both silent for awhile, and then he says, “Shit,” as if looking at me for the first time.

“What?”

“Your eyes.”

“What about them?”

He shakes his head.

I sit down beside him, and he looks away.

🏡

join man next week for journal #38 (in which said man revisits the one-armed Jesus)