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
You’re going to ignore me?
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—
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—
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…)