We were never meant to be friends. I don’t think we even meant to be friends. Living on the same street, working for the same bookstore — though he’d eventually work at the location opening in Lynberg — it just happened. We spent all of our evenings together. Usually walking. Or staying up late, holed up in one of our rooms and writing. That fall and winter he was all I had.
There was never anything between us. I wasn’t interested, though sometimes I wondered if he was interested in me. He never showed it if he was. It was just me, wondering.
Though maybe it wasn’t just me, because there were rumors at the bookstore, others wondering — what’s going on there? there must be something going on, absolutely there’s something going on. Brian and I knew about this, we laughed about this, but there was nothing we could do about this. Denial would only fuel them.
“He’s smitten with you,” my housemate Samantha once said to me.
“He likes you.”
She smiled, as if in her middle-aged wisdom she knew these things.
“No,” I said again.
I think it was around Christmas — Samantha was gone for the holidays, I was alone for the holidays, Brian was alone for the holidays, so I had Brian over for the holidays — Brian and I were on the couch, the gas fire was lit, we’d just finished watching In Bruges, and the two of us sat there side by side with our laptops out and stalking each other’s Facebook. The further back I got in Brian’s chronology the stickier my mouth became, my throat closed up and I was very silent, clicking, clicking — and I think Brian noticed this. He was gorgeous. If I had known him then, when he was in high school, when he was in college and still called Brianna, when he still wore short dresses, when he still wore a push-up bra, when he still had that mid-length sweep of auburn hair, or the hacked off blue manic-pixie-dream-girl hair that followed, I would’ve been in love with him. I looked up at him now — he was staring at me — but there was none of that left. It was gone. It was just Brian.
“What is it?” he asked me.
I said it was nothing, and went back to clicking. I was very uncomfortable.
Every now and again Brian would chuckle, having come across some awkward gem from my early years, but the thing about my early years is that they’re the same as my later years. Nothing had changed.
But his photos, in the coming weeks I couldn’t stop thinking about them, I couldn’t reconcile them with the person he was now. There was nothing feminine about him, nothing left of those—
I wasn’t attracted to Brian, but I’d think about those photos when I’d masturbate.
We often spent late nights writing, Brian propped up in my bed, me at my desk, sometimes we’d read to each other what we’d written. Both of us wanted to be writers. Anyway this one night, while I was working on a story about a girl I once knew and her obsession with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Brian was doodling an intricate pattern-work of dicks and mouths and pussies, or he had been at least, because I realized he was asleep. The legal pad was on his lap, his chin was tilted into his chest, and sometimes a staccato snore would escape him. I tried to keep writing, tried to remember the girl, the band, the lyrics, but I grew irritated. I wanted to sleep. This was my bed. I absolutely could not sleep in the same bed as him. I very loudly got up, very loudly brushed my teeth — the bathroom shared a wall with my bedroom — and very loudly spat. He didn’t wake. I stood over the bed and kicked it. When that didn’t work I poked him, then pretended I didn’t. He woke, startled, wiped the drool from his cheek.
“Oh— shit. Going to bed?”
“Yes,” I said, casually. “I think it’s that time.”
“Sorry,” he said, and climbed off the bed.
I slipped under the covers, pulled the comforter up to my chin, and watched him collect his things — his books, his pens, his folders and notebook — and stuff them into his bag. He lived only three houses down, but still I felt guilty. My heart beat too fast for its heaviness.
“If you want to stay,” I said. “I don’t care if you can stay.”
He looked at me, unsure of what I was saying. “You sure?”
“It’s late,” he said. “If I stay I’m not leaving. You know that right?”
He put down his stuff. I knew the look on his face. He wasn’t sure if something was about to happen. He also knew if something were to happen, something else would be over.
We stared at the ceiling, side by side in the dark, neither of us saying a word, both of us thinking the same thought— Should I? At least that’s what I thought. I assumed he could feel my pulse through the sheets. I assumed—
But he rolled away, I could hear him snore, and I knew the danger had passed.
My housemate Samantha, who was also my landlord, told me I’d have to move out by the end of February. She was selling the house, moving back to Canada. At first I was distraught. Where would I go? But then I thought of Brian and asked him if he’d want to find a place with me, we could live together.
“In a heartbeat,” he said. I remember those three words specifically.
We found the cottage at the edge of town, and on the first of March we were living there. That must’ve been when it all started to fall apart — the initial frustrations with space, the disillusionment, the first disappearances, the following disappearances, the discovery of Tommy on Tinder — yes, this is when it all collapsed.
I distracted myself by writing, I tried to finish the story about the girl, but I made no headway, it was a story without an ending. That’s when I had the idea for the blog. Maybe by writing about the present I could control it. Maybe by writing about Brian I could keep him from disappearing. I even read the first posts to him, stressing they were fiction. He laughed, he gave me notes — once again it was the two of us at our best — he said I should keep going with them. So I did.
But that didn’t stop him from disappearing.
I could write this:
“…the love isn’t real, I know that. I’m in love with Brianna, not Brian, and Brian has made it incessantly clear that he is, indeed, a Brian.”
And I could delete this:
“I’m questioning myself, who I am, what I am, what it would mean if I did love him; but more so I’m questioning Brian, who he is, what he is, if he really is what he says he is.”
But for all my thoughts, and all my tinkering with these thoughts, I couldn’t rewrite the truth that we were never meant to be friends to begin with.
How do you end a story with a beginning like that?
Telling it truthfully? Honestly, you can’t.
I’ve finally found a place where little reminds me of him. It’s north of Bellingham, north even of Ferndale — though still “in” Ferndale if only by address. Here, it’s strawberry country. The room I’m renting is on a small organic farm, about five acres, but nobody’s farming. It’s March and it’s snowed again. The fields are white, the trees are draped in white. From my room I can hear cars and trucks on the main road, passing through salt and slush, but between their passings everything is silent. There are no birds, no creatures crawling though snow — there are the chickens, yes, but they’re quiet and huddled close in the coop.
Here, I have nothing but time. I think of the cottage days, of the blog—
Did I actually believe it was fiction? Was the goal to delude Brian or was it to delude myself?
I open my laptop — I haven’t used it since before the hospital — and click open the tab where my blog lives. MAN WITHOUT A TINDER, there it is. Just as I left it.
Though, I realize, it’s not how I left it at all. Where I thought I left off it keeps going. A new narrator breaks in—
“The man you know as said man is no longer fit to write this.”
This new narrator pieces together fragments of my last writings, preserving here the journals I’ve since burned. For three posts he does this. When he has nothing left, he keeps going, keeps rambling on, and I read this and I’m crying. Brian. To see myself, it’s too much. To read what he did—
But I can’t stop myself. When I reach his final post, when I reach its end—
“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.”
—I snap the laptop shut.
I’m not sure if I’m angry or grateful.
Did he have to go into so much detail?
It’s dark outside. Through my bedroom window the porch light flickers, the hum of the house cuts out. Wind rips through the trees, a roar of warm air sweeping the farmland from the coast. It sounds like rain but the sky is dry. It’s raining from the bushes, the trees, the awnings. The rest of the night, through early morning, all I do is listen to this rain that’s not really rain, just rapidly melting snow. Then the real rain comes and washes the remaining slush away. The air is damp, the earth soggy. Pacing the long driveway that leads to the road, trying to keep my mind off what I’ve read, mud seeps through the fabric of my shoes. The morning air is uncharacteristically warm, but the mud still feels like ice.
It just keeps going doesn’t it? I try to stop short the pull of time, but still nothing ends, nothing is over. Even if I did end things, other things would keep going. Brian would keep going.
Why did I come back here? It wasn’t to find you, was it?
Of course you wouldn’t be here. Did I really expect you to?
Yes, I did.
Nothing is over. Nothing ends.
But this has to end. If you were right about one thing, it was that this has to end.
Inside my room, huddled in my bed as the rain whips itself against the windows and drums the roof, as the walls brace themselves against the wind, I take out my laptop. I will finish this.
join man next week for journal #50 (in which said man finishes this)