Hills that were once a faded brown, dusty in the pale but thick summer light, now burst forth in green. Even through the rain lashing against the passenger window of the Prius, my head resting against its glass, the green shines bright.
Her eyes on the road, unaffected by the swing of the wipers, the spray of faster cars, my mom tells me what’s been going on at home, what’s been going on with dad, my brother and my sisters, but I’m not listening. I nod, I “mmhm” politely, I close my eyes and listen to my skull against the glass, rattling.
We pull into the drive. Instead of dashing inside to avoid the rain, my mom comes around to the passenger side to give me another hug, the third since picking me up from the place.
“Home sweet home,” she says. She actually says that.
My van is parked in the driveway. Peeking inside I can see it’s been emptied and professionally cleaned. The mattress has been removed, the seats have been reinstalled, a pine tree air freshener hangs from the rearview mirror.
Inside the house, in my bedroom, all my belongings lie in neat stacks. Brian must’ve been here. He came all this way, dropped off the van, dumped my stuff, yet didn’t so much as say hello. He left me nothing unless it was already mine.
My parents insist on having “family” dinners again. I put family in quotes because the rest of my family isn’t here. It’s just me and them, the three of us eating alone. It’s been a week of these dinners now and much of the conversation remains the same. My mom discusses the rain, how they’re saying the drought is over. My dad says he simply cannot accept it’s over just because they are saying it’s over. Not now, not after he’d torn out all the grass. My mom wants the grass back. When they talk about the weather, politely at dinner, this is what they’re talking about. They’re fighting politely about the grass.
I can’t stay here. I know that right away.
I go through all of my things, keeping only what can fit into one duffle. Clothes, toiletries, a few books, my laptop. I burn all of my journals.
Though they’re worried, my parents know this is for the best. After all, the doctors say I’m better, I say I’m better — so, what can they say?
They’re standing at the top of the drive, their arms around each other’s backs.
“Call us every day,” says my mom.
“Or if you need anything,” says my dad.
“I love you,” says my mom
“Take care of yourself,” says my dad.
I nod, I hug them both and remind them that I’m okay.
I start the car. Though he must know Mom’s already done the same via an online bank transfer, my dad leans in through the window and slips me a couple hundreds. Mom blinks and turns away, Dad places his arm back around her. The last thing I see before I turn the corner are the two of them, waving, but my dad’s eyeing the dirt where the lawn used to be, and my mom’s ignoring it.
At first I sleep in the back of the van at rest stops along I-5, but this is no good, I quickly realize I’m too open to the world. The outside darkness has too many unknowns and in its sleeplessness, its snapping branches and creaking footsteps, it becomes much more than the wind it probably was. I can feel it happening, my imagination getting the better of me. These first nights on the road I hold tight to a bottle of olanzapine — or it could be the fluoxetine — tempted to take one, just one, but there’s a schedule to these things. I must wait for daylight.
The following night I check into a Motel 6 and sleep with the lights on. I dream of the Motel 6, and in my dream I’m sleeping with the lights on in this Motel 6, dreaming of an identical Motel 6. Nothing happens. No footsteps, no shadows, only the faint hum of a far off generator as I spread myself thin across dreams.
The further north I drive, the colder it gets. Sleeping in the van would be impossible. Ice crusts the roads, cold winds skim it smooth, and in some stretches driving becomes impossible too.
Still, I pass into Oregon. In a motel just off the interstate, surrounded by high evergreens, I dream of snow. I can’t sleep in my dream and wander outside. Flakes drift past the street lamps, wetting the pavement before finally sticking. The clouds hang low while the freshly fallen ground raises itself, inch by inch, and a claustrophobia takes me. Standing there in the cold, somehow sweating, I wake myself up to a place where I’m buried in blankets. The hum of the motel calms me, reminds me where I am. I pull aside the curtains — everything is white. Snow covers the parking lot, undisturbed but for one lone track of tires heading out toward the interstate. Even there, all is still. The snow settling into itself, the silence of that is like no other silence. Even a clump of snow, sliding from a branch into snow, equals silence. Even the hum of the motel adds to this, these evergreens, tipped and spattered with white, frozen in their long sleep but still dreaming of clouds.
I use my jacket to clear the snow from the van windows, then lay it out to dry in the back. Lacking a jacket, I layer myself with the remaining clothes I packed and throw the next-to-empty duffle onto the passenger seat. I continue north through snow. Slowly. Towels wrapped around my hands. It takes maybe an hour for the heater to get going, yet even then the warmth is fleeting — it never sticks. You feel yourself warming but never warm.
The snow’s gone by the time I arrive in Portland, though ‘arrive’ is the wrong word. I drive through Portland without realizing I’m driving through Portland. I only realize I’ve reached Portland after Portland is behind me, and I’m in Washington.
I do stop in Seattle though.
My brother lives in Seattle.
When I call him there’s little surprise in his voice. “It’ll be good to see you,” he says.
“Yes,” I say.
I suspect Mom must’ve told him I was coming. When I called her this morning and told her I’d be passing through Seattle, she insisted I go see my brother.
We don’t talk much, he makes dinner as I sit in the living area where a basketball game plays on TV. I don’t know where his roommates are, if they’re out or just avoiding me. Other than the squeaking of sneakers on the TV and the crackle of bacon in the kitchen, I hear nothing. He comes in with two plates — scrambled eggs, bacon, jam on toast — hands me one and sits on the adjacent couch. He mutes the volume as we eat. We talk about everything on the surface. Like the weather, like the the snow, but we go no deeper than that. Before long we’re just listening to ourselves chew, so my brother turns back up the volume on the game.
Later in his room where’s he setting up a place on the floor for me, I tell him, “I wasn’t trying to, you know. It looked bad but it was really nothing.”
He stops what he’s doing and turns to me. He’s taller than me, but now I look down on him.
“I wasn’t trying anything,” I go on. “I was just drunk.”
“I believe you,” he says.
“Okay,” I say.
He sits there for awhile, I stand by the door, and after it’s clear neither of us has anything more to say, he says, “This going to be okay here?” He means the bedding on the floor.
“Yeah, this is great.”
In the morning I eat a quick breakfast of milk and cereal and leave. The city roads are slick with morning ice, but once I’m back on I-5 the driving is fine. I know this road. I’ve driven it many times. The city falls away to the forested suburbs, then just forest until the forest opens back up to farmland, frozen gray with patches of lingering snow. The forest takes the horizon again, until there is no horizon because now the trees are everything, high walls of evergreens and this lone highway threading through them.
I arrive in Bellingham just after noon.
Although Brian’s the last thing on my mind, I see reminders of him everywhere — the corner store, the tracks, the marina, the long road that leads to the cottage — and a familiar claustrophobia takes me. Low clouds, high trees, the mountains to the North, the South, the East, and out west across the bay the islands close the circle.
Within this circle there’s nothing that doesn’t remind me of him.
I stay at the Coachman Inn off Samish Way for the first few nights, though of course I can’t stay here forever. I look for a more permanent place to stay, but nothing too permanent. Most places I find are either too expensive or require the signing of a one-year lease. Neither are acceptable. Even a moderate, month-to-month deal falls through because it’s too close to the street Brian and I both lived on before we became friends, as we became friends, before we moved into the cottage.
We’d both moved here to Bellingham around the same time — Brian from Missouri, me from California — and found ourselves hired by the same bookstore, training for the same sales clerk job with several others. He made me uncomfortable. He was loud, he smelled of cigarettes, I had no idea if he was a boy or girl. I avoided pronouns around him. He was cocky, he was arrogant, he was far too political for my taste. One day while touring the bookstore with the other new hires, I referred to Brian as a “she,” on accident, on instinct, and everyone went quiet. I knew then, of course, that I’d made a mistake, that I’d fucked up — but also I was angry. How was I supposed to know? He has breasts! Right? How am I supposed to know a goddamn thing?
The following day he made an announcement to the staff, at least to us new hires and whoever else happened to be around, that he was transgender — no, he hadn’t mentioned it yet — and questioning, but that he preferred the pronouns he/him. I said nothing. Though this announcement wasn’t directed at me, I knew it was directed directly at me and I hated him for it. I was flooded with hate. Somehow it was just us at the end of the shift, clocking out at the same computer, and he nodded to me before turning away. What did the nod mean? I caught up to him just outside the bookstore.
He was taking out a cigarette at the crosswalk and looked up at me.
I went on. “Hey, I’m sorry about the other day.”
“What are you talking about?”
“When I said ‘she.’”
“Honestly didn’t notice.” He lit the cigarette and stared at me. “Anyway I wasn’t talking about you, you know. Do you know how many people here have referred to me as a she?”
“How many people work here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, that many.”
I forced a laugh. He was polite enough to blow the smoke away from me, though he kept staring at me as if trying to figure me out. Neither of us said anything, if we did say anything it wasn’t important.
“Well I should get going,” one of us said.
“Yeah,” said the other.
We said goodbye, said we’d see each other tomorrow, then proceeded to walk off in the same direction. I kept expecting him to branch off, go his own way, but he never did. It was a twenty minute straight-shot walk back from the bookstore to the place I was renting, and Brian was next to me the entire way. Once he even stopped to light another cigarette, and not wanting to be rude, I stopped with him. If he was uncomfortable, he didn’t show it. If he was comfortable he didn’t show that either.
We reached my house. “Well this is me.”
Brian laughed. “This is you?”
“That’s me there.” He pointed to a few houses down from mine.
I didn’t know what to say. I said goodbye again and went inside as quickly as possible. We lived on the same street? We lived on the same street.
Later in the evening he knocked on the door. I knew right away it was him. Maybe it was the way he knocked, the loneliness of that knock, or the fact that someone was knocking at all because nobody knocks here.
“Can you come out to play?” he said when I opened the door. He said it sarcastically and I knew it was to hide the fact that, for all of his confidence, he was lonely here too. So I came out to play.
join man next week for journal #49 (in which said man finds what Brian left him)