Journal #47 (in which Brian finishes his sentence)

fault. 

After a brief stint in the ER, at the doctor’s recommendation, his parents had him committed to a hospital closer to home. I never saw him. Though his parents kept me in the loop for a time — no lasting damage was done, they told me, that when all is said and over he’d be okay — eventually they told me nothing at all. They stopped calling. Or I stopped calling back. I can’t remember.

“When all is said and over…” that’s what they told me. And when exactly would that be? I wanted to ask. When is anything over?

“You should see him,” they said to me.

“He doesn’t want to see me.”

“You know that’s not true.”

I didn’t believe that either.

I was stuck in Southern California. I hated being here, but I couldn’t leave. At least if I stayed in the same state as him, I could claim I never actually abandoned him — visiting him would still be a possibility. I knew if I left California I would never go back. So I stayed put. In California.

In a minivan that belonged to him. In a minivan filled with all of his stuff. His laundry, his notebooks, his laptop tucked away under his mattress. Why did he bring his laptop? In the state he was in, what could he have possibly needed it for?

Annie still messaged me of course. Hey you, she’d say.

And I’d say nothing.

You okay? she’d ask, hours later.

And hours later I’d say nothing.

His notebooks were filled to the endpapers, most of it illegible. They too were tucked away, strapped together by several rubber bands. Except for one. This one was lying open and face down between the front seats. It was just about halfway full, the pages bent and stained where he left off. I brushed off what I could, flattened out the folds, and started reading.

Yo you there? Annie would text me two days later.

What’s going on? she’d text me on the next.

Dude talk to me wtf

Seriously?

You’re going to ignore me?

Fuck you

And then nothing.

And then I’d say nothing.

I read his notebooks back to front, starting from the last things he’d written toward older, cleaner pages, tracing every thought he documented in reverse. Many lines, pages even, were crossed out. There were notes between the lines and in the margins, edits to his thoughts and edits to his edits. I kept flipping back, deciphering what was decipherable, marking pages I felt were important.

You could have at least told me you were leaving

And then I’d turn off my phone.

At first I thought I was having deja vu. Didn’t I read this already? Didn’t I read this exact same thought pages ago? So I’d flip forward, to the pages already read and — yes, there it is, the same but polished — flip back to the raw thought. I’d flip even further back and come to the original thought, the first scattered observations he’d use to build later entries. Notes in real time. Fuller entries later. And I noticed a trend, a specific motif popping up again and again.

Tinder. He kept coming back to Tinder.

Yes, we’d been on Tinder often, of course he’d write about it. But this repetition seemed more than that, as if everything centered around it. Tinder was the focal point, the weight, it focused his thoughts and kept his writing grounded even when he wasn’t. If he strayed too far, Tinder would reign him back— and then it hit me.

Jesus. Was he still writing this? Was he still posting all of this to his blog?

Merry fucking Christmas

And also fuck you

And I’d think: I thought I turned you off.

MAN WITHOUT A TINDER. Yes, that’s what he had called it. I remember when he first came to me with the name, asking me what I thought. I thought it was good and told him so. MAN WITHOUT A TINDER. A blog about a man who most definitely has a Tinder — sure. I reached under the mattress for his laptop and opened it. His browser was already open, and so was WordPress, his only open tab.

39 posts. That’s how far he’d gotten. The last one posted just after our arrival in Orange. There was another in his drafts folder — making 40 — and for some reason I went ahead and posted it. I’m not sure why, but it seemed like something that needed to be done.

Happy New Year!!!! 🎉🥂💋

Sorry that was meant for someone else

Burn in hell

I went back to the beginning. I remembered the first four or so, I think, I definitely didn’t remember the stuff about Tom. Did I tell him all that? He had shown me the first few, before he posted them, and asked me for my thoughts. He prefaced this by telling me they were fiction, though obviously they weren’t. He claimed Brian wasn’t me, though obviously he was. He claimed the thoughts of the narrator weren’t his own, and that was debatable. But the starting point was irrelevant. Fiction or nonfiction, the story was pulled forward by his life, our life at the cottage and everything that happened after. I had to laugh. All this time he’d been writing about all this?

I pored through it, every post. In the back of his minivan, camped out 100 miles east of Orange at Joshua Tree, reading this was my only comfort. And then the story stopped. It just ended without an ending. So how—

Right.

I closed the laptop and tried to shut it from my mind. I fell back on the stripped mattress and tried to shut it from my mind. Closed my eyes and tried, desperately—

I’m sorry

Please just let me know how you’re doing?

Immediately I’d throw the phone against the window. The window would crack, the phone would be okay.

—But nothing was over. The stalled story kept moving whether it was being written here or not. This was still going. We could end this, I thought. We could still finish this. Again I went through his notebooks, his more recent ones, this time copying out what was both legible and comprehensible. I compiled his notes. I rearranged them obsessively. Here in the desert, in the back of his van, the days and nights were nothing. I kept at it until I had something resembling a story. The flow around me was no longer stagnant. Something was moving again.

In the end I came up with enough material for three posts (see #41, #42, and #43) and posted them. But it didn’t solve the cliffhanger. If anything the cliffhanger was worse — it still needed an ending. I don’t give a crap if nothing ever ends, I thought, this has to end. I am so sick and tired of this story and it has to end. And there was the way he portrayed me, while not inaccurate, I came off as cold and a bit of a dick. Certainly I should at least explain myself? I had that right, hadn’t I? Yes, I told myself, I had that right. So I wrote it all down, everything I had. I explained myself. I excused myself. Yes, that’s what I was doing. I was making excuses.

But to whom was I making these excuses? Did anyone actually read this? No? So to whom was I talking? Though the answer should’ve been obvious, the answer didn’t come to me right away — Of course, I was talking to you.

You. You know who you are.

I can only hope you’ll come back to this when you get out, that you’ll read this, that you’ll see that although I never came to visit you, I never stopped thinking about you. Though I couldn’t bring myself to see you in that place, I had to somehow tell you everything. This isn’t about some story. This is about me and you and how fucking sorry I am. I fucking failed you and I’m fucking sorry.

I once told you that you were my ride or die — fuck Tom, fuck everyone else — it was always you and me till the end. If there’s one thing I regret from reading your posts, it’s how little you thought I thought about you. I never forgot you then, and I haven’t forgotten you now. It doesn’t matter if you never want to see me again, it’s still you and me until the end.

But maybe the end has come and gone for you, and I’m stuck here in this desert reading over and over again a story without an ending, highlighting the truth that nothing ends here, nothing begins, in this godforsaken place where it never rains — though can you believe it? It’s raining. Actually it’s been raining all the time. From inside your minivan I can hear the others out there, eternally tan and happy, say this is the worst winter they’ve ever had. Those assholes, they don’t know what winter is.

I’ve now posted three of these “journals” to your blog, excuse the rambling, and will be posting this one shortly. I don’t know what comes next. I suppose I’ll be driving north to your home, I know you’re still in the hospital there, but I’m not coming to visit you. I’ll drop off your car, your clothes, your notebooks, this laptop, I’ll leave it all for you in the hopes you’ll have the strength to finish this, but more importantly I hope you’ll have it in you to forgive me (that would be an okay ending, wouldn’t it?). Tom’s gotten back in touch, says he has one last letter for me, says he can pick me up in Sunnyvale after I drop off your belongings. He sends you his wishes (and insists I add — his kisses). He misses you too.

I never did text Annie back. Until today that is. I’ve sent her a link to your blog so she knows. I haven’t heard back from her. I don’t expect I will.

👋

join man next week for journal #48? (I don’t know, but I hope so…)

Journal #46 (in which nothing is Brian’s fault)

I thought he’d smell her on me when I returned to the van, or see in me what I’d done. But he saw nothing, he smelled nothing. Honestly, I was disappointed.

Tom knew something was up. He could see in my eyes this disappearance was different from the others. And instead of confronting me about it, he drew closer to [said man] and ignored me completely. They sat together, side by side in [said man]’s van, and absolutely ransacked the Tinder-verse for her. Tom knew it was hopeless but he did it anyway. How much he figured out I couldn’t be sure, but he figured out enough.

Left to myself, I imagined confessing everything. I’d swear to Tom I’d never see her again, I’d tell [said man] how sorry I am, I’d never see her again. We’d fight, we’d make up, there’d be tears, they’d both tell me they forgive me, that they understand, there’d be a big group hug and everything would be okay. But of course this was all only in my head. I told Tom nothing. I told [said man] nothing. No one forgave anyone.

Annie messaged me the next day. I wasn’t surprised. What did surprise me was the relief. There were none of the games on our second date, nor were there any on the third, the fourth, etc. Though initially we went out in public spaces (dinner, movie, Disneyland, even mini-golf), we quickly realized that neither of us wanted to do these things, all we wanted to do was stay in and get high, get drunk, and play in bed.

I still rationalized this as undercover work, I was always looking for an opening, a way to bring [said man] back into this, until I found I wasn’t thinking about [said man] at all. Annie’s head on my chest, her thigh across mine, a silence would take us and lay bare the truth of what I was doing — namely, I wasn’t doing anything. I’m not sure how I expected this to end. Maybe I expected him to give up, that being here in Orange would make him realize the solution lay within him. Surely he would see that Annie wasn’t the way. I grew almost angry with him. With his sadness, his ignorance, with how he couldn’t see what I was doing, how he could just let this happen. I hated him. I was responsible for him, he wasn’t okay, but it wasn’t my fault! But also it was. He had been recovering, sort of, and then I took him here.

Every time I came back from seeing Annie I could never look [said man] in the eyes, so I didn’t see what was going on there. I didn’t realize there was such a steep descent happening, because it must’ve already been happening. What he saw in the end couldn’t have been enough, it was already there. I have to tell myself that. To remember that.

One evening when I came back to the van (Annie had a closing shift that night), he asked if I would come with him to LA the next day. He was still convinced Annie was in LA and that he wouldn’t find her unless he went there, not on his phone, not on Tinder, but really went there. It was his final test, he said. I tried to tell him she wasn’t in LA, but I couldn’t tell him how I knew. I was vague, he wasn’t listening. I left him there. It didn’t even strike me as odd that Tom’s car was gone. Tom was gone, [said man] was alone, I didn’t see the danger in this. I never looked him in the eye, so I couldn’t see the danger in this.

The sun dropped below the sky, winter was fast approaching, though I’m not convinced winter every really arrives here. I walked aimlessly that evening. It could just as easily have been a cool summer night back in Washington (if you withheld everything but the weather). I didn’t have any cigarettes on me, I think I left my wallet in the van. I felt faint, I felt nauseous, I couldn’t approach anyone for a cigarette because I couldn’t speak. I just kept walking, thoughtless — not the thoughtlessness that implies something else (i.e. Insensitivity), I was simply without thought. But I was thoughtless too. That was also true.

Even the way I thought was starting to mimic his. A blank space rising, a pursuing shadow made known only be the stabbing paranoia at the back of my neck. I’d turn but there was never anyone there. There was no one anywhere. Why was everything so empty?

I found myself at Annie’s apartment complex. Of course she wouldn’t be off until much later, but I didn’t care. I had nowhere else to go. Then there were the cats. Not just any cats, but kittens, an entire sea of them, squirming over me as I sank into their bottomless depths of claws and little teeth and dirty black fur. Annie nudged me with her foot. I’d been sleeping, curled up against her door. Self-conscious, I pushed myself up and wiped the string of drool from my chin.

“What time is it?”

“Late.”

She was still in her work clothes: a stained black polo, black pants. She hadn’t even bothered to take off her apron. I could tell she was tired, but she was also happy to see me. Inside now, she untied her hair, shook it out, and let it fall over her shoulders. I could see why he loved her, I thought, but quickly pushed the thought from my mind as it involved him, and the growing possibility that I loved her too.

“You okay?” she asked me.

“Yes.”

But really I was so filled with hate I didn’t know what to do with myself.

In her bedroom, at her desk, she ground up some weed and sprinkled it across some rolling paper. She rolled it, she licked it, she twisted one end to a point and handed it to me. Lying back in her bed, I lit up and took a drag. She opened the window and switched on the fan. There was nothing sexual about the way she took off her clothes — shirt off, bra off, pants off, etc. — but watching her I felt my testosterone-enlarged clit grow hard and chafe against my underwear. She lay down beside me and I handed her the joint. Except for the hum of the fan, everything was quiet. Our breath disappeared with the smoke.

I don’t remember the last time I cried, but that night with Annie, I was close. I felt like crying but I didn’t. Because that would be selfish, I told myself. I wasn’t the one I was hurting.

“You sure you’re okay?” she asked me.

I nodded, holding my breath and my eyes.

She fell asleep with her arms around me. Meanwhile I didn’t sleep at all. It’s the cats, I told myself. I don’t want to dream about those cats.

Annie called in sick the next day. She knew something was up and wanted to keep me company. She made breakfast, nothing special, just milk and cornflakes and diced-up fruit from a prepackaged container, and brought it to me in bed with coffee. We spent the rest of the morning there. What remained of the day we spent at the park.

There she asked me if I planned on staying.

“What do you mean?”

“Do you like it here? In Orange?”

“It’s okay.”

“It’s weird to think you could just disappear at any time.”

What she was saying made me uncomfortable. All of this was making me uncomfortable. The calling in sick. The breakfast in bed. The wondering if I’d stay.

“I don’t belong here,” I told her.

“I know.”

It’s now or never, I thought. I have to tell her I don’t care about her, that I’ve been—

“I’m feeling things for you,” she said.

I forced a laugh. “That’s a bad idea.”

“And?”

I said nothing to that. She leaned in for a kiss and I didn’t stop her, but I didn’t add anything to it, I didn’t close my eyes. It was late in the day now and the same paranoia from the night before grew in me. We were sitting in the grass, in the open, I couldn’t help but feel we were being watched. I looked around but there was no one. Clouds covered the sun, shadow covered us, Annie burrowed into me and said, “Rain’s coming.”

Madness is contagious, I thought.

Then the rain came.

We went back to her place, we slept together, I felt nothing. It meant too much to her. When I left the following morning, I swore I’d never go back. I wonder if she felt this, seeing me off at her front door she held me a beat longer than usual, and a little tighter. I would cut myself off from her, I told myself. Now I understood, the madness, the contagion, wasn’t from [said man], but from her. She was the hooks of fate, the Santa Ana winds. There was nothing I could’ve done.

The minivan was still there in the In-N-Out parking lot, baking in the rising sun, burning up with the wet pavement. If he ever did go into LA, he parked in the same spot as before. I tapped on the window, but there was no answer. He must be asleep. The door was unlocked and sure enough there he was, deep in sleep, the warm reek of vomit wafting out. “God damnit,” I said, but had to smile, turning to breathe in anything other than the smell. It was just like in Oregon, I thought, when he drank himself to sleep and I was left to clean up the mess, tend him back to health. I didn’t mind though, this way I could feel as though I was actually helping him.

But first I needed a smoke. I opened all the doors and windows, let the air out and sat in the front seat where I lit a cigarette. There was no longer any trace of the rain, the last puddles had vanished, the scent of rain replaced by tarmac. I took a couple drags, careful to breathe the smoke out the open door.

Then I saw the note, a folded receipt taped to the wheel. My heart pounded as I took it, and opened it, and read what it said on its back:

I saw you.

And that was it. I turned it over but there was nothing but a credit charge for Jack Daniel’s. I felt like throwing up. He saw us. He meant us. I looked back at him. He hadn’t moved. I couldn’t even hear him breathe. I hopped out of the car and ran to the side. I couldn’t hear anything. Then I saw the blood, not a lot, just dark traces spotting the sheets, little nicks on his wrist as if he wanted to but couldn’t. He was never good with blood. Thank god he was never good with blood. But there were pills— no, an empty bottle of pills near an empty bottle of whiskey. I shook him but he didn’t move. He didn’t move. I screamed his name. I screamed his name. I screamed his name because I was so angry with him. How could he be so stupid.

There were people watching me now. Sirens ringing out in the distance but I couldn’t remember calling anyone. A screaming pulse growing louder and louder until I realized it wasn’t screaming till now — now that it was deafening. His skin was cold. Flashing lights. EMTs rushing to the minivan. I moved to the curb. He was breathing, they said, not to me but to each other. I was on the outside of all this, one with the onlookers who were building up around us, or them — I wasn’t one of them. They lifted him onto a stretcher, into the ambulance, and then they were gone, he was gone, I was alone, with this van that reeked of piss and vomit and him.

Reader, are you reading this? Did you really want to know this? If you are reading this, I’m sorry. This wasn’t meant for you.

There are conversations that play on repeat now, nonstop through every hour of the night. One I remember from when I’d visit him at his parents’ house, during his earlier recovery, the recovery I so thoughtlessly interrupted, and he said he was writing again.

“What are you writing?” I asked him.

He took a slip of paper from his pocket and handed it to me. It was a poem.

my life is a drop

always am I falling

soon I will join the sea.

I was shocked. It wasn’t very good, he was better than this, but I nodded.

“Does it help you?” I asked.

“The writing?”

“No, knowing you’re a drop.”

“Should it?”

“I think so.”

“How is it supposed to help me?”

“Stop fighting the fall and fall already, you fall regardless.”

And then another, even earlier, conversation:

I asked him why he dropped out of college, the real reason, and he told me he’d already been to college, a long time ago. I asked him why he stopped writing and he told me he’d already lived a life of words. I asked him why he stopped trying, why he stopped doing anything, and he told me he’s already done everything, there was nothing left to do. And now you, selfish reader, want to know why he decided to stop living? Well, I suppose he’d tell you that he’s already done that too. Too many times, and he was tired.

But I know that’s oversimplifying it.

Also, I fear the truth might be even simpler.

Going through his notebooks, trying to find any clue to the “why” behind it, anything to push the blame off myself, I found something he wrote, something that I had originally missed within one of his longer and more incomprehensible passages:

“When you realize you’re nothing but that drop that has dropped many times before, you welcome the fall, only now you wonder how to keep yourself from falling ever again, so that when you become the sea, you stay the sea and the sea stays you. And calm. And in this calm you realize that all things must pass, even the sea. A weightlessness takes you, you rise and again find yourself the sky, suspended there as a thin mist condensing into thin clouds into dark clouds holding larger and heavier drops and you wonder, just before you feel yourself fall, how to keep yourself from falling ever again.”

I could be projecting now that I know what I know, but this fear of falling was in his eyes. He believed he had done this before, had lived this life countless times, believed he was god, told other people he was god, and died like a god because nobody believed he was anything but a mortal. So what’s the point of trying, for wanting to believe we’re anything more than what we are — namely, the dust of the earth, waiting for the wind. Well, too often the wind is a long time coming. He just decided to find it faster.

Because this wasn’t my fault. This wasn’t my fault. This wasn’t my fault. This wasn’t my

🌧️

join Brian next week for journal #47 (in which Brian finishes his sentence)