Journal #50 (in which said man finishes this)

There’s a campsite on Baker Lake that Brian told me about, some time ago now — he’d said out of everywhere he’s been, everywhere he’s traveled, this was his favorite spot. There was something about the place, he told me, something unique that he couldn’t quite describe. The campsite is right on the western edge of the lake, one of several free sites on the road between Boulder Creek and Panorama Point. I’m driving this road now, looking for this spot because—

Maybe Brian is there.

I think the owners of the farm were relieved when I told them I’d be moving out. When they first rented the room to me, I’m not sure they understood how little I’d be leaving the room. My presence was heavy, constant, and little by little I noticed them spending less and less time at the house.

Though spring had finally come, the relief of the sun seemed weeks away. I spent all my time writing, yet no matter how much I wrote, nothing seemed to work. I couldn’t figure out how to end this story. My mind wasn’t moving the way it used to. Thoughts were slow, a viscous sludge, sometimes never quite reaching their—

It took me awhile to realize I couldn’t end the story here, shut off in this room, away from the world. I would have to leave. It was the only option.

Somehow telling the owners I’d be leaving gave me the strength to practice. Leaving, I mean. I ventured into town, I revisited the bookstore, found nobody there whom I recognized or who recognized me. I ate alone in cafes, went on long walks, and all the while I’m thinking, all there was in my head was how to end this.

I considered drifting into the past, back to when I first met Brian, and staying there. I’d write about our early days, I’d write about the blog. I’d write about writing the first post, posting the first post, then my last post could simply be a reposting of this first post. Yes, Brian would like that. Because everything is cyclical, everything returns to its source, nothing changes, etc. But—

Why then does everything feel so different?

It was no good. All my ideas were copouts, try-too-hard-literary and lazy and shit. But also, I didn’t care how it ended as long as it was over.

I find the spot, and it appears he was just here. That’s how I know it’s the spot. There’s a dirt pull-off on the right and two steep paths down through brush to where the brush opens out to two empty campsites, a fire pit between them and the lake beyond them. I recognize a used-up joint, several actually, roaches surrounding the pit. Brian’s handiwork. Back up at the pull-off I see the tracks of another van in the dirt — Brian’s van. But the van tracks could be the tracks of any van, Brian may not have been here for some time. It’s only a feeling I have.

I don’t have a tent but I do have a hammock. I string it between two trees on the lake.

I wait. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for. I might just be waiting for the feeling to go away.

Before I left the farm, I ran into Jane at a cafe back in town, though “ran into” is probably the wrong expression. I was eating alone when I saw her there, also eating, but not alone. She was with some guy. The guy looked nervous, young. He was thin, one hand was on his knee, the other to the right of his plate as if he’d carefully planned it that way, but expected it to look different, more natural. This was a first date, I knew. Good for her. I felt nothing. I couldn’t eat. My stomach didn’t want the food. I got up and left.

Though maybe it wasn’t Jane. Maybe it was only someone who looked like Jane, and I was projecting, if only to tie up her loose ribbon, wrap her story up in a bow. I don’t know. It could’ve been her. Her hair was dyed something else now, but under it — maybe — I could see the lavender it used to be. When it still fell over my ears.

I had next to nothing to pack. Just my duffle and my sleeping mat and one trip to the van was all I needed — the room was empty. And the van next-to-empty. I felt weightless. The clouds were thin and the sun rolled through, light touching my skin.

There really was nothing left for me here. There was only the road now, the straight road, the mythology of greener pastures on the other side of the horizon where the horizon is anything but green.

After Baker Lake, I don’t know where I’m going.

The days are getting longer, the sun arcs wide in the sky. Long after the sun is gone the light lingers. I collect firewood, I stack how I’ve seen firewood stacked, how I’ve seen Brian and Tommy do it, but without proper tinder I can’t light it. I can’t keep away the bugs.

I throw on a jacket, it grows colder. The light shifts but I can’t see it getting darker. The wind picks up, coming in off the lake, then it dies. There’s a brief manic blast of rain, then it dies. The sky clears again, and there’s a changing in the light. The eastern sky grows navy above the mountains and washes out its paler shades. The air is still, the lake is still. And except for its changing, the sky is still.

I stamp my feet. I pace the campsite. Brian should be here. It’s the feeling, I tell myself. The feeling that says Brian should be here. The water laps the shore, the floating logs sounding hollow. Headlights filter through the trees along the road, but they never stop here. I stand on the shore as the night grows darker. The mountain across the lake grows black, as does its reflection in the water. They look like lips, I tell myself. The mountain and its reflection. Dark, full lips. The mouth of god. I shudder. Still the sky grows darker, but never as dark as these lips, and there where the eyes should be, the first pinpricks of stars open themselves — the eyes of this ancient, primitive goddess — and still darker grows her flesh, more faraway eyes revealing themselves and watching me, this many-eyed spider giant, her hair the leaves hanging over me. Where are you, Brian? Are you seeing this? All those eyes, those mountain lips— I don’t think it’d be a stretch for them to open up and devour me. It would only take a shrug of the earth, a splitting where water meets mountain and I’d be gone.

But in the morning I’m still here, the lips are gone and all I see are the mountains, the lake, the pale white sky touched with pink and the lavender clouds sifting across it. I drop a pill into my palm and swallow it. Before long I’ll forget what I saw, unfeel what I felt until there’s nothing left in me to forget. These moments’ll become fewer until all trace of the divine is gone. Driving east, I’ll fade into the surface of the world. I’m a hunk of meat surrounding a worm, coiled up inside me, driving east in a machine. Everything is surface except for the worm.

It’s the road. It’s the long road and the trees, the mountains, the pasture, the farmlands, the flatlands, all somehow soggy and still thawing after the long winter.

I remember wanting a better ending than this.

To what you’ve read. To what you haven’t read. To what happened in San Francisco. Brian told you the aftermath, but there was still the thing that happened. I can’t write about it because in a way it wasn’t real. What happened really happened but it was two other people who made it happen. We were both other people, tired and deranged from the road and willing to try anything to wake ourselves up. I wanted to wake up, Brian wanted to wake me up. He’d been pulling me further and further into the dream, trying to wake me up. I’m not sure he realized he was dreaming too.

The “DREAM” — I remember enough of it. The fog coming in off the Pacific, the silence as it surrounds us, closing us off, letting us know it’s just us now, that we really are who we say we are — and somehow we believed that. It’ll be okay, I remember him whispering to me. I can be someone else if you want me to be. I couldn’t believe what he was saying — What? I want you to be Brian, I told him. He looked at me, tilted his head. He knew what I was saying, I didn’t. He lowered himself — himself — onto me. Himself. He wasn’t being himself. I couldn’t breathe, the meaninglessness of it, of lips on lips and meat on meat and the despair one feels when it means nothing, does nothing, until later you realize — no, you already knew — it meant everything because it destroyed everything.

But who gets everything?

Brian, are you still reading?

There are other things.

There are birds.

There are power lines that, when looked at the wrong way, could be crosses.

There are songs and there are prophecies.

There are eyes.

There are voices in the dark.

There is the blue car on the horizon, might be following.

The same car that — the light hitting it the right way — could be green.

But there are also the pills, and these add distance. What’s out there can’t affect you because there is distance.

Even so, with the blue dot — the maybe green dot — always on the horizon, you have to wonder.

But it’s nothing more than wonder.

There’s always the next stop, the next nightfall. Swallowed pills and sleep. It’s gone, everything falls away and you forget there’s anything else but this. This place within you that nothing can touch.

But the pills do their work, and when you wake you forget about this place too.

And move through a world that means nothing.

🌎

Journal #49 (in which said man finds what Brian left him)

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.

“Smitten?”

“He likes you.”

“No.”

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?”

“Yes.”

“It’s late,” he said. “If I stay I’m not leaving. You know that right?”

“Yes.”

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.”

What.

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.

Brian.

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.

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)

Journal #48 (in which said man writes about before he starts writing again)

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.

“Hey, Brian?”

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.’”

“Did you?”

“Yeah.”

“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?”

“No.”

“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?”

“What?”

“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)

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)

Journal #45 (in which Brian goes undercover)

I should preface this with something [said man] said to me during the early stages of his madness, before I knew what it was, that has stuck with me all of this time and is likely the best explanation for why I joined him (encouraged him even, nudged him out the door) on this road trip. He told me how in some primitive cultures, when a child began to hear voices or see visions or dream dreams of a certain variety, the shaman of the tribe would take the child under his wing and lead the child through the experience, not away from it, sometimes isolating the child in the wilderness so the child could confront the “madness” which was then seen as the divine. And the child would be okay. After confronting the experience, the child would return to society and, in time, become the new shaman. What was once seen as a gift is now seen as an illness, something to be suppressed and medicated.

Though there are some schools of thought that still believe in this approach — allowing the “madness” to run its course while guiding the patient inward toward its root — mostly it has fallen away in favor of mind-altering medication and the belief that something is wrong.

Which brings us, in a bit of a skip, to Annie. I didn’t tell you that she messaged me, maybe a week after I was notified of our match. This is likely an important detail, but honestly I don’t remember if this was before or after I picked up [said man] and drove him south through the desert and into the City of Orange. Anyway, I didn’t respond to her until a day or two after our arrival. I wasn’t sure I was going to, but for some reason I thought it important not to lose her.

I’ve deleted Tinder since, so I don’t have the conversation verbatim, but she opened with something in the vein of, “so what.. you going to say hello or hi or what.

Of course she was messing with me, I knew that, but given the number of matches she must get any given day, I also knew that her picking me to mess with meant something. For some reason she picked me. I didn’t know how to tell [said man] this. Seeing how fragile he was, how quick he was to lose it in either direction, I was careful with him to the point of ignorance.

In the meantime I had to respond to Annie. I had to keep her interested in this interaction. Later I would figure out how to tell [said man]. Later we could decide how to end this.

I would have to meet Annie. It didn’t take long to arrange this. You could tell she was the kind of woman who knew what she wanted. She chose me, she wanted me, that was easy to tell. She wasn’t one to play hard to get. She didn’t need to, so she didn’t. I couldn’t tell [said man] this either. What would I say? The longer I went without telling him, the worse I knew it would be.

But I was doing this for him! Surely he would see that. But also, I was flattered. She chose me. Surely he would see that too.

No, I couldn’t tell him.

The idea was we’d meet up for coffee. She lived close, in Orange actually (if she ever moved to LA like he claimed, she moved back). There was a little cafe across the street from the university and she suggested we meet there. By this time, Tom was with us, so I felt okay leaving [said man] in the In-N-Out parking lot.

I arrived early, about 25 minutes. As she chose the place, knew the place, I needed any advantage I could get. I told the barista I was waiting for a friend and sat down. The place was small, half-full with college students working on homework. Classical music played from an old stereo behind the counter, a soft, calming melody, but still I felt on edge. Like I was being watched. I looked around the place, hunched low over my table, when I saw her, watching me from an elevated booth in the back corner. She smiled at me, but she didn’t get up. She wasn’t about to give up her high ground.

Approaching her, I asked, “Annie?”

She smiled and said, “Yes, I was wondering how long it would take for you to notice me.”

There was a familiarity in the way she spoke to me, as if she didn’t need to break any ice. Either there was no ice or she liked ice, I couldn’t tell. She was comfortable in her corner. I grabbed the both of us some coffee though she didn’t, I noticed later, touch hers at all.

“What brings you to Orange?” she asked.

“What makes you think I’m not from here?”

She smiled at that, and suddenly I became self-conscious of my appearance. The boots, the paint-splattered jacket, the hair that hadn’t been cut in I don’t know how long, the facial scruff that was there but refused to grow. I knew I didn’t fit in here, proud that I didn’t fit in here, but for her to notice was something else entirely.

“No,” she clarified, as if reading my mind. “You were 1000+ miles away when we matched, now suddenly you’re here. You didn’t come all this way for me, did you?”

I froze. The air grew stagnant and hot beneath my jacket. Why was I still wearing a jacket? My pits streamed. My stomach closed in on itself.

She smiled.

OH. She was messing with me.

“Of course not,” I said, forcing a smile. “Just tramping around. Not sure where to.”

She was so calm, barely breathing, my own calm seemed to evaporate before her.

It suddenly hit me what would happen if [said man] saw us here. What if he found her on Tinder. What if he saw how close she was and used her distance to triangulate and approximate her location. Probably impossible, but still, it seemed like something he would do. And he knows the area. He could get lucky.

I should say something, I told myself, I should tell her why I’m really here.

“You look nervous,” she said.

“No, sorry. It’s the heat,” I said, looking over my shoulder.

“It’s not that hot.”

“Not for you.”

“Take off your jacket.”

“I’m okay.”

We did the usual small talk and slowly, a cautious kind of calm took over. Eventually I did take off my jacket, draping it over the back of my chair. She was very open, she told me how she went to school here for acting, how she’s given that up though. Now she writes screenplays.

“You write?” I asked.

She nodded, but didn’t elaborate. She spoke of her college years here and I listened intently, hoping for any mention of [said man], but she mentioned nothing about him. She fell in love with this area, she said, only living in LA for a year after graduation. She couldn’t handle all the rejection so she moved back to Orange to pursue writing.

“Writing is still a lot of rejection though,” I said.

“Different kind of rejection.”

“How so?”

She shrugged. “Writing isn’t you. When you audition and are rejected, it feels like they’re rejecting you, the way you look, the way you speak, but writing… you can hide behind words.”

“But having your thoughts rejected must feel deeper, like a rejection of the soul.”

“No. Maybe I haven’t reached my soul yet. I imagine when I do, I won’t be rejected. So I won’t have to worry about that.”

I nodded. She smiled. And we sat in comfortable silence for some time.

And in the silence I watched her, the way she brushed the hair from her eyes and over her ear without any sign of being insecure. She smiled at me. I smiled back. I remembered him. What the fuck was I doing? I have to come clean, I have to tell her about—

“You want to get out of here?” she asked me.

“Yes.”

Her place wasn’t far, and uncomfortably close to the In-N-Out. Walking out into the cafe parking lot, I made for another car I insinuated was mine, but luckily she offered to drive and said she could drop me back here later. “My car” would be fine here. She lived in a two-bedroom apartment off Tustin St. Her roommate was always gone, she said, at her boyfriend’s place in the city. Moving into the kitchen, she opened a bottle of wine, poured two glasses, and without asking if I wanted any, handed me one. I sipped at it, and followed wordlessly to her room at the end of the hall.

She wasn’t thin, but she was by no means fat. I couldn’t help but watch her walk, her firm curves, her black hair falling down her back.

She sat down on the bed right away. I remained standing. I wandered the small room, looking at the bare white walls, her desk covered in notepads and screenplay pages, the window overlooking an alley.

“I keep meaning to decorate, but…” she trailed off.

I nodded, took another sip of wine.

“What kind of stuff do you write?” I asked her.

“It’s all over the place.”

“Well what are you working on?”

She hesitated. “Well,” she said. “It starts as a kind of love story. A young woman and a young man who meet in college. He’s quiet, still waters run deep, you know the type, and the young woman falls for him right away. They’re friends and nothing happens, but there’s a tension there. She knows he wants her too, but she does nothing. It starts out like this, your standard boy meets girl story, but then something happens, there’s a shift in the boy and the sexual tension strains into a sharper kind of tension. The girl pushes away and the boy begins to stalk her. She shuts herself off from him altogether and of course that only makes things worse. It becomes a sort of dark psychological thriller.”

“So what happens?”

“He kills her? I don’t know. One of them dies, I think. I haven’t gotten that far yet.”

I finished the rest of my wine and set down the glass. “So what’s the killer’s name?”

“I haven’t figured out his name.”

“What are you calling him?”

“Just ‘Man.’”

“Oh. ‘Man’ is a good name.”

“Is it?”

“As long as you eventually give him a name.”

She set down her glass on the bedside table, the rim of which I realized her lips haven’t so much as touched. She patted the bed beside her. My mouth was sticky, a deep pounding resounded throughout my entire body. She would destroy him, I thought. And then the thought was gone. I sat down beside her.

She turned to me and leaned in to kiss me. Her breath was roses, mine was all wine. I leaned back, she pulled off my top, kissed my chest, my stomach, undid my pants and slid them down. She paused before my open crotch, breathing heavily, and sat back up.

“Sorry,” she said.

“What?” I said, almost annoyed.

She took a huge gulp of wine. “Sorry. I’ve never been with a woman before—“

I gave her a look.

“No, sorry. Right, I—”

I could see her coming undone. Her display of grace and confidence shedding and falling off all around her. She took her glass of wine and took a large gulp. And another. She was shaking. Her skin was at her feet.

“What I mean is I’m used to dick. That’s all. I’m sorry.”

I should’ve gotten up, it should’ve irked me more than it did, but I couldn’t look away, she was self-destructing and I didn’t have to do a thing. She sat back down, took a breath, and without looking at me, leaned into my legs. There was something timid and inexperienced about her tongue that turned me on, I didn’t expect this, and I had to shut down all other feelings. She didn’t make me cum, not this time, but when she backed away, picking a hair from her teeth, I knew I wanted to make her moan. I looked into her and she knew, I saw right through her. She pulled off her top and fell back. I crawled over her, unclipped her bra, kissed her breasts, kissed her stomach, lifted her skirt and pulled down her panties, I didn’t need my toys to show her how it was done.

It didn’t mean anything to me. Really, it didn’t. Sex isn’t to me what it is to most people, and especially not what it is to [said man]. It’s more like a handshake between two people getting to know each other, who want to know if they want to know each other better. Still, knowing what it would mean to him, I felt guilty. I shouldn’t have done this, of course I shouldn’t have done this, and I got up to leave. It was half past two. Annie propped herself up, her skin pale even in this darkness, and asked where I was going.

I didn’t have a good answer to that. Certainly I couldn’t go back to the In-N-Out parking lot, back to the van. I couldn’t face him like this.

She watched as I paced the room. I told her I couldn’t sleep, would she mind if I played some music?

No, she said. She didn’t mind.

I plugged my phone into her desktop speakers. Remember why you’re here, I told myself. Remedy this. I found the “I’m With You” album on Spotify, asked her if she liked the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I heard her breath catch. “They’re okay.”

“Great,” I said, and pressed play.

I lay down next to her, and she was so stiff, her eyes elsewhere as the music played.

“What is it?” I asked her.

“Nothing.”

And she said nothing else. I could feel her pulse grow frantic though she didn’t move at all.

When “Annie Wants A Baby” came on, she got up and asked if I wouldn’t mind us listening to something else. Something calmer, maybe?

I said sure, I guess, but was impassively passive aggressive about it.

She changed the music to something else, something calm, might’ve been Blind Pilot, then she lay back down beside me, pressed herself up against me, and after a few songs she smiled, she was back to herself. She kissed my ear, bit it, whispered, wondered if I would fuck her again.

I told her yes, and that’s what I did. I fucked Annie again.

🍷

join Brian next week for journal #46 (in which nothing is Brian’s fault)

Journal #44 (in which Brian takes over)

We were in San Francisco when I found her. The two of us, [said man] and I, were both in the back of the minivan and leaning against its opposite sides as we scoured the Tinderverse for her. Outside it was black and a rare summer San Francisco rain came down drumming the roof. Though I wasn’t swiping nearly as fast as [said man], the longer we sat there the closer I came to matching his almost manic pace.

Suddenly I had to pause, my thumb twitching over the screen. I refocused my eyes and stared at her.

“What did you say she looked like?” I asked him.

He went on to list her traits: her black hair, her pale skin and her full, always pursed lips—

But I wasn’t listening. I was going through her photos, this Annie, age 25, black hair, black eyes, pale skin, full pursed lips… of course it was her.

“Why do you ask?” he asked me.

I shook my head. The possibility of succeeding only now struck me as impossible, just now as the impossible became possible. I looked closer at her photos, one in particular, the second to last standing out. She’s as Disneyland. She’s younger. But it’s not complete, the photo is definitely cropped. Someone had been standing next to her. You could see his chin in the upper left hand corner and it’s his, albeit beardless, but definitely his. It’s crooked and uncertain, and from it you could paint the rest of his face, five years younger but still his face.

“Wait, did you find her?” He was staring at me, and I was afraid to look up. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t prepared for her eyes. Those eyes would destroy him. Already have destroyed him. Suddenly I wondered if this was a good idea. She became real just then, no longer the fantasy he conjured, but a real and breathing woman being and what was I supposed to do? I know now, of course, what I should have done, but that’s easy to see now, isn’t it? Knowing everything that’s happened.

I backed out to her bio which read:

“Beware of false men who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”

A chill ran through me. You will know them by their hunger.

“Give me that, what is it?”

He took a swipe at my phone, but I held it away. “It’s nobody,” I told him.

“If it’s nobody then let me see.”

He made another grab at it. I fell back onto the mattress and he on top of me. His chest pressing against my chest, my arm outstretched, us breathing against each other, and suddenly he had it, my phone in his hand.

My heart thumped as I pushed myself back up, watching his face. His face fell, disappointed, and he handed the phone back.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought…”

“It’s okay,” I said.

I looked down at the phone, and where once was Annie was someone else, some thin blonde, in the struggle I must’ve swiped her left or right; anyway, it didn’t matter because she was gone and no match came. Still, her eyes were lodged in mine, gazing up at me from inside. I kept swiping to keep up the charade, but he knew something was up, he must’ve seen the change in me, that I wasn’t really searching.

He put down his phone and watched me. It didn’t matter that he saw “the proof” that I’d been telling “the truth,” he knew that I couldn’t be trusted. His eyes appeared to have a conversation with themselves, with some “other” that wasn’t there, and his distrust for me only grew. I’m not sure how long we were in San Francisco, maybe a week, but by the end he wasn’t talking to me. I disappeared as usual, there was only so much I could take. His presence was heavy, like there were two of him, and so he outnumbered me. I played it calm, but inside I was a mess. Some other side of him was taking over, this blank coldness in his eyes, and I began to doubt our mission. Especially after finding Annie on Tinder and losing her, I didn’t know what the hell we were doing. This was supposed to help him.

During our last night in San Francisco (we didn’t know it was our last night), I woke up to him whispering to himself and watching me. I could see only his silhouette and his eyes, and the glint of something in his hands, turning. My waking had no effect on him, he just kept whispering, whispering, watching me without seeing me.

“Put down the knife,” I said to him, but my voice didn’t register. He only watched me as I watched him. I said his name. I said his name again.

Suddenly he started shouting, I couldn’t understand what, it was like some primitive language he made up, just shouting, no emotion in his voice. Then he lunged at me. If the action was honest I’m sure he could’ve ended me then, but just as fast as he lunged, he dropped the knife and collapsed into the mattress and started to cry. I hid the knife away under the passenger seat. I thought I could hear him whispering I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m so sorry through the sobs.

I don’t like writing this. I don’t like telling you this. It paints a much different picture of the man you’ve come to know, because this couldn’t possibly be the man you’ve come to know. And it isn’t. It isn’t the man I know. This was a man taken by a madness, much more serious than his own writings made it out to be, whimsical and mystical and magical (I’m sure it was to him), but outside of him it looked like something else. The reality was worse.

It wasn’t always like this San Francisco night though, sometimes I felt as if he were close to something, something bigger, some great truth that only the mad are graced with. Maybe if he reached this everything would be okay, maybe he could benefit from this in the end, maybe we both could. I hoped that in allowing his delusions to play themselves out, he would find himself, he would come back into himself and find himself stronger. I didn’t want to see him medicated, to see him lose the light in his eyes that first drew me to him, but I was as naive and misguided as he was.

He became unresponsive during the sobbing fit in the van and the only thing I could think to do was to take him home, to his parents’ home. I knew we were close, they lived just south of here, so I took him home.

Honestly I don’t know if he remembered that night, he never wrote about it, and I’m fairly certain he was referring to something else when he wrote, repeatedly, that “nothing happened in San Francisco.” Something else happened between us, it seems unreal to me now but it did. I wouldn’t be surprised if he blocked it all out though. The “other” within him grew to be too much, and he shut down. When you become someone else your mind has to kill what it can, and memory is often the collateral damage.

I despise California. I hate being here. Every time I’m here, I find myself weary, there’s no other way to describe it. A fatigue buried in a place where simple exhaustion can’t reach. But after taking him home, I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I felt responsible for what happened, of course I did, I was frivolous with someone who was mentally ill, call it a distrust for doctors, I don’t know, but I’m certain I made it worse.

Tom was always close behind us. I told him what happened and where I was, he came to meet me, and I stayed with him during the first weeks of [said man]’s stay at home. The place was heavy, Sunnyvale I mean, a perfect suburbia so perfect it bordered on a prison. We never felt at ease here, parking on of the side streets, main streets, anywhere. Everything here was clean, well-ordered, so we stuck out like dog shit in a museum. Tom wanted to go, for us to move on and leave [said man] be, but I couldn’t leave him. I’m not sure if it was guilt that kept me around, that kept me checking up on him, or if it was something else.

I’m not sure I really believed this was the end.

Visiting him in his parents’ home grew tough, I never could accept it as his home. He was calm, he was taken care of, and if it wasn’t for the failing light in his eyes, I would’ve believed he was okay. I couldn’t watch this. I didn’t want to be there when the light was finally gone, knowing I was responsible. I had to let him go. He knew this too. So I let him go.

Tom picked me up and we went away, booked it as far away from California as we could go. We took I-80 through Nevada, into Utah, its endless white nothing the perfect cure for California’s never-ending everything, and reaching Salt Lake, switched north to I-15 into Idaho and I believe this was where we were when Trump was elected, though I can’t be sure where we were when any of this happened. This story isn’t about that. We protested, we burned shit, we headed further east as the world fell apart, but this story isn’t about that.

[Said man] no longer texted. He drifted from my thoughts, from my reality, and though he’d crop up there from time to time (I had to wonder if he knew what was going on, if he knew the state of the world, and if he did, if he even cared, if it mattered to him), mostly he was gone.

I do know we were in DC when my phone buzzed, I remember this very distinctly, and since I was with Tom at the time, I thought it must be [said man], but it wasn’t. It was Tinder.

I had a new match.

I knew it was Annie before I even opened my phone. I looked at her but did nothing. I couldn’t look at her, I couldn’t make room to think about her. I closed the app, put my phone in my pocket and tried to think of other things. More important things. Like what Tom and I were trying to do here. But there [said man] was again, back in my thoughts, back in my reality, this story we started and failed to finish.

But I was right to take him home, wasn’t I?

Yes, you were right to take him home, Tom would reassure me. He wasn’t well.

Right, I would say. He wasn’t.

My thoughts strayed from what we were doing here. What we were doing here felt increasingly like nothing at all, burning things that couldn’t burn, touching things that couldn’t be touched, screaming at the inevitable tide of history as it slipped in on itself.

I thought about him. What I did to him. How I left him there alone. How if there was one thing in this world I could change, one way I could make a difference…

“I have to go back,” I told Tom.

Tom nodded. He knew where I was talking about, to whom I was talking about, and without hesitation he told me he’d take me. And in a manic-light-blinding-quick-pissing-caffeine-headache-dreamless-sleepless three days, he drove me the whole way.

Beyond going back, I had no plan. I debated on whether or not to tell him about Annie, that I had found her (she was here! on my phone! we can finally end this!), but when we arrived back in Sunnyvale, I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t approach him.

Tom dropped me off, told me he’d stay close, to text him if I needed anything. And I nodded, said okay, now go.

I watched the house. His room was dark, no movement there. I waited at the open end of the cul-de-sac and felt eyes on me from other dark windows, but I didn’t move. Three nights I spent like this before I saw anything, and it wasn’t much, just a shadow at his bedroom window as his blinds flitted open, closed, and open again. When the shadow was gone I crept to the window and peered inside. A car rolled down the cul-de-sac, its windows open, its driver tossing newspapers deep into driveways. I stayed low as the headlights sprayed shadows across the bedroom walls. When the car turned the corner, I peeked in again. Except for his slow breathing, he hadn’t moved. He slept how normal people sleep. He breathed how normal people breathe. But whether this normality was normal or something else, dormant, I couldn’t know.

Passing by his minivan in the driveway, I noticed it was unlocked. I don’t know why I got in, maybe it was for old time’s sake, my way of saying goodbye for good without saying a thing, but I got in. Coming here was a bad idea. Maybe he really was better. I sat there in the driver’s seat and put my hands on the wheel. The wheel was cold, dusty and unused. Below it was a glint dangling in the dark. His keys, just hanging from the ignition. I laughed to myself then. No, he was not okay. He was not okay at all.

I toyed with the keychain, felt it with my fingers, up to the inserted key, and turned it a notch.

No, he was not okay at all.

From the stack of CDs on the passenger side floor, I picked one up from the top and slipped it into the slot. At first it was silence. Then bass static. Then guitar static. Guitar screaming. CLASH! Singer screaming. CLASH! Funk beat— CLASH!CLASH!CLASH!

And I sat there, listening, waiting, waiting, waiting…

Just waiting.

💿

join Brian next week for journal #45 (in which Brian goes undercover)

Journal #43 (in which said man runs out of people, finds himself alone)

Brian is gone.

[…]

Brian is gone.

[…]

Brian left, came back, but Brian is gone again.

[…]

I don’t know where Brian is.

[…]

Brian is gone.

[…]

If my memory has served me, and I’m not sure it has, Tommy still owes Brian one more letter.

[…]

Though Tommy never leaves my side, our little “van mansion,” it’s clear he lives in his own world. There’s always been a disconnect between us, a divide too wide to cross, but now it’s widening.

[…]

It’s a matter of story, I think. We live in different stories. I remember he’s a man on the run and his story is consumed by crime and the avenging of what happened to Brian back then. It’s easy to forget this, how his view of reality must be colored by this. This other color is in his eyes.

Sometimes our stories bleed together, his coloring mine and mine coloring his, but the colors never mix. My story isn’t his story. His story isn’t my story.

[…]

With Brian gone most of the time, Tommy becomes consumed with the fourth letter. Maybe if he finishes the fourth letter, Tommy thinks, Brian will stop disappearing.

[…]

I’ve seen the list posted on the ceiling of the DREAD NAUTILUS, right above the corner where he sleeps. On the list are three names crossed out, and one that is not—

“No Last Name Danny”

Tommy is trying to find Danny.

And this Danny has no last name.

He makes phone calls, he scours the internet, he rips through phone books from states away (how did he get these???), he doesn’t sleep. Maps cover the mattress, the tapestries, the ceiling — cities crossed out, cities circled and crossed out again. If I crawl to his side of the “van mansion,” he ignores me. If I linger too long, he gives me a look. Gone is the sympathy he had for me. Gone is the place behind his eyes. Suddenly getting Brian back takes priority over helping me find Annie.

[…]

It stings for him too, I realize, Brian leaving. It’s hurting Tommy too.

[…]

[Meanwhile,] Annie is nowhere to be found.

[…]

While Tommy searches for No Last Name Danny, I search for Annie. But there’s nothing. I’ve changed locations on Tinder, every godforsaken place in LA and surrounding, widened my search radius to its limit. I’ve tried Hollywood. Nothing. Studio City. Nothing. Pasadena. Nada.

Glendale Santa Monica Inglewood Burbank El Monte Beverly Hills Culver City Hawthorne Huntington Park South Gate Whittier Hacienda Heights.

Nothing, nothing, etc. Nothing.

[…]

What if I missed her? What if she changed her name? Her hair? Her nose? But I’ve been looking for her eyes! Just her eyes!

[…]

No, I couldn’t have missed her.

[…]

But what if I missed her?

[…]

Pooping is no longer a problem. I haven’t been eating. I’m not sure Tommy’s been eating either.

[…]

A cop taps on our window, tells us to move on. We say, yes, officer, absolutely, officer. His radio crackles, he tells us he’ll be back, we better not be here when he is, then he’s gone. We move our “van mansion” one parking lot row closer to the 24-Hour Fitness.

[…]

At night the vagrants come out. Gunshots echo from the East. The low dark mountains.

[…]

The cop doesn’t come back.

[…]

Tommy crawls to my side of the van. Through the opening I see his maps folded up, everything tucked away. His eyes look calmer, but steeled for something. He asks how I’m doing. I tell him I’m okay. He sits next to me and takes out his phone. He’s on Tinder and once again looking for Annie. But I can see his eyes, he’s not really looking.

[…]

[Later] I hear the shredding buzz of clippers, smell burnt hair flying next door.

[…]

[Later] I hear Tommy snoring.

[…]

Tommy is gone. He left during the night. A breeze sweeps in through the open side door to let me know it’s just me now. The planks lie on the parking lot pavement where the DREAD NAUTILUS had been. I close the door and lie down and think.

[…]

Nothing to do. Flipping through older notebooks. Come across a quote from Fitzgerald. Wrote down page 72, though not sure from what book. “…one is not waiting for the fade-out of a single sorrow, but rather being an unwilling witness of an execution, the disintegration of one’s own personality…

Good. Use this somewhere?

[…]

Annie watches me write. In a nearby cafe across the street from the university. It’s a screenplay I’ve agreed will be for her. It’s called Suicide Blonde, about a woman who picks up suicidal men at a suicide hotline, her own dating service for lonely, desperate, sensitive men. I will not sell the screenplay unless Annie’s attached as the lead. I’ll only write for her. In turn, all her acting will be for me. She’ll perform only my words, my work. We need each other, we tell each other.

[…]

LA was always where she was heading, but she never needed me to go to LA. I’m the one who needed her.

[…]

If Tommy had redirected the energy and resources he used in finding “No Last Name Danny” into finding Annie, we would have found Annie a long time ago.

[…]

I won’t find her cooped up in this van. I won’t find her in Orange, on Tinder, Passport location set to LA. No, if I’m to find her, I have to go into LA.

[…]

Nighttime. Brian knocks on the window. At first I think it’s the cop again, but seeing it’s Brian I let him in. He flops on the mattress and says nothing about Tommy’s disappearance. He says nothing about anything. He doesn’t want to look at me.

“Where have you been going?” I ask him.

He takes a breath, his eyes roll up as if to find the answer there. “I’m trying to help you.”

“How?”

“Just know I’m trying to help you.”

He’s trying to convince himself, not me.

“If you want to help me, then help me. Come with me to LA tomorrow. Help me find Annie.”

Brian doesn’t say anything. He closes his eyes. At first I think he’s asleep — he’s not moving — but his breathing isn’t sleep breathing.

“Why are we here then?” I ask him. “Isn’t this why you took me here? To find her?”

“Here was beside the point,” he says. “I just couldn’t leave you there.”

“Thanks.”

“Do you really think Annie will save you?”

“She’s the only way to end this.”

“Only you can end this.”

“I’ve tried to end this. I was going to end this and then you came back, took me here, and stopped any possibility of ending it myself.”

“But—” he sighs. “You must see that’s why I had to take you here.”

“Well, we’re here. So what the hell. What’s the big next—”

“SHE’S NOT IN LA!” he shouts at me.

“How do you know?”

“Because she doesn’t exist.”

“What do you mean? Of course she—”

“That’s not what I meant — sorry — but she’s not the person you think she is, I’m sure of it. She’ll destroy you.”

“Maybe I need to be destroyed.”

He sits up, buries his eyes in his hands.

“I don’t know.”

“Are you coming tomorrow or not?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then I don’t know what we’re doing here. What you’re doing here.”

“I don’t know either.”

[…]

Brian is gone.

[…]

I start the car just as the sun rises.

[…]

I will find Annie today.

[…]

Traffic is slow. Sky a bluish gray, but at least you can see it. A good omen, seeing the sky. I will find Annie today.

[…]

LA skyline approaches. Gray stacks against gray.

[…]

One hand on wheel. The other on Tinder. Tinder set to “current location.”

[…]

Horizon, gone. Sun, gone. Stuck in the shadow of high buildings. Traffic at a standstill.

[…]

Haven’t moved in 25 minutes.

[…]

An hour. I can see where I was an hour ago.

[…]

The sun moves faster than this.

[…]

Looking around, I realize, I don’t know this place. I don’t feel anything toward this place. Keep eyes peeled for a familiar exit.

[…]

There is no familiar exit.

[…]

I don’t know this place.

[…]

Traffic moving again, steady. Must get off Tinder. Must put down notebook.

[…]

The unthinkable. The skyline south of me now. Pulled off on the side of I-5, Tinder tells me — “There’s no one new around you. Use Passport to choose a new location.

[…]

In LA?

[…]

I choose a new location. Every location imaginable, in LA and surrounding. Tinder tells me the same thing — “There’s no one new around you. Use Passport to choose a new location.”

[…]

My van shakes at the passing of cars heading for the northern mountains. I look back toward the city.

I don’t know this place.

I don’t like this place, but it’s only a place. I don’t know it.

I see that now.

[…]

My profile picture pulses on the screen. There is no one new around you.

[…]

I shouldn’t be here.

[…]

“…an unwilling witness of an execution…”

[…]

I need to leave.

[…]

“…the disintegration of one’s own personality…”

[…]

I look to the mountains. I could go home. This road, the straight road, would take me there.

[…]

I drive north only to take the first exit, turn around, and drive south.

[…]

None of us should be here. This place was meant to be a desert.

[…]

I’ve looked everywhere for [Brian]. I’ve waited in the parking lot, I’ve driven around the still fading streets, I’ve called [his] phone but it goes straight to voicemail.

I feel sick.

I need to write all this down.

There’s a park here, nudged up against the 22. I’ve pulled into the park drive and stopped. I need to write all this down.

[…]

“Why did you drop out of college?” people used to ask me.

“I hated LA.”

[…]

“Why did you stop screenwriting?” people used to ask me.

“I hated LA.”

[…]

And I’ve internalized the lie.

Because LA never had anything to do with me.

LA never wanted me.

No, I don’t hate LA.

[…]

But I fear it. It represents everything I couldn’t be.

[…]

I feel sick.

[…]

I need to write this all down. But I can’t see it. My thoughts are gone. The crack is wide open, but I’ve never felt more [sane?]. The delusions recede, the visions and voices recede — yes, this is what it feels like to be “an unwilling witness to an execution, the disintegration of one’s own personality” — leaving me alone in this world. My head is a vacuum. I hear only the scraping of the pen on paper, forcing out thoughts that aren’t even mine.

I need to write this all down. To get it back? No. Everything is too far away, my [interior?] has escaped the crack leaving me with nothing. I feel so terribly “sane” that I’m afraid I’ll forget what this feels like, if I ever lose it again, I want to remember how this feels.

I need to write this down. “Sanity” is the real loss, everything is surface, the real losing of things. I need to remember this. If I ever lose it again, stay down there, stay lost because then at least you won’t feel this [illegible—

The last half of this sentence is a rough scrawl. You could see his eyes drifting, catching something outside of himself as he wrote this, which incidentally became the last thing he wrote. You can make out an “L” but the rest is impossible. I’ve gone over it I don’t know how many times. I can’t make it out.

He saw something. After what he saw it’s hard to believe he’d care to write much of anything again. He put the notebook down, where it slid to the place between the seats, face down across the floor, the open pages bent and stained with dirt where he left off.]

📓

join Brian next week for journal #44 (in which Brian takes over)

Journal #42 (which brings the second coming of Tommy Tinder)

I must admit there is some guilt in posting the writings of [said man] without [said man]’s approval, but seeing the way he’s been writing about me all this time, invading my privacy, I feel okay about it. 

I have the “privilege” now of having access to all of his notebooks and papers and, comparing them against his final posts, can see that he cut very little. He cut for brevity and tone, sometimes entire pages of impenetrable rambling slashed out, but he never cut (or so it seems to me) to hide anything; I believe he wanted to be as honest as possible. Any liberties taken I find have more to do with simplifying certain events and delusions rather than falsifying them; the essence of what happened remains much the same.

One omission does stand out however, and that is what happened in San Francisco. He never wrote it down, never mentioned San Francisco until later pages of his notebook (dated during the stretch he lived at home) which are smothered repeatedly with the same line: “nothing happened in san francisco. nothing happened in san francisco. nothing happened in san francisco. nothing happened…” As it’s clear he didn’t intend what happened there to be posted here, I will honor that and write nothing.

As for what he did write of our time south of LA, I can only assume he planned on posting it anyway. I should have no qualms. I have no qualms.

I have no qualms.

Of course it was Tommy who’s been following us. That should’ve been obvious from the beginning. Maybe it was.

[…]

Brian wakes before I can scroll through his messages to see just how long Tommy’s been following us, if they’ve been in cahoots this entire time.

“Hey,” Brian says, before he sees I have his phone.

“Hey,” I say, holding his phone.

Then he sees I have his phone. It takes him awhile to realize what this means.

[…]

[Later I’ll] remember the relief in his eyes when he saw the screen. There was also shame, apology, anger, but mostly what I saw was relief.

[…]

Brian gets out of the van and slams the door behind him. He’s out there for some time, in the parking lot, in his tank top and panties, talking to Tommy on the phone and giving Tommy directions. To here. Which I find odd because hasn’t Tommy been following us? The conversation ends but Brian doesn’t come in right away. He leans against the passenger door and lights a cigarette. Inside the van is stifling. I pull on some jeans. Brian flicks the cigarette into the pavement and joins me back in the van.

“That was Tommy,” he says.

“I know.”

“He’s on his way.”

“I know.”

[…]

[Later I’ll] think he wanted me to say something more, for me to get angry, upset, anything really. But I didn’t. I wasn’t angry. Which I could tell disappointed him because now he couldn’t explain, defend himself against anyone but himself.

[…]

Tommy arrives. The DREAD NAUTILUS pulls up beside us, that wind-worn, sun-faded green Honda Odyssey. Smoke rises from the exhaust, from the cracked windows. His eyes are bloodshot when he exits the car. His hair is long, filthy, and his beard is a mess. But his legs are shaved clean, smooth as any legs I’ve seen.

Brian and I get out of the car. Brian and Tommy look at each other but don’t say anything. Brian sits on the hood of the van — my van — and lights a cigarette. Tommy and I are at a standoff. Staring at each other. Then we’re both staring at our feet.

[…]

“Hi,” he says.

“Hi,” I say. When I look up, he’s grinning.

[…]

He walks toward me in a graceful, sensual way — those legs, my god — but from the waist up he’s haggard, caved in and jagged. He could be homeless. He is homeless. Except for the legs. He wraps his arms around me as if to tell me everything is going to be okay. But isn’t it? Isn’t everything okay? I feel okay. Though the delusions are still here, at least I know they’re delusions, and anyway they’re getting further away, drifting from me in widening spirals. Tommy reeks of alcohol and deep mud and I know he’s as real as anything. My arms crawl up his back and I hold him too. All of a sudden I’m crying into his shoulder and he pats my back and says, “There, there.”

“There there,” he says.

The moment’s over. His hands on my shoulders, he holds me back to look at me, picks something out of my beard — a cheerio? — though I haven’t had Cheerios since I was home. “We’re going to figure this out,” he says. And I believe him, though for a second I don’t know what we’re talking about.

[…]

We’re driving into Los Angeles and Tommy is with us.

[…]

Traffic is at a standstill. Fumes rise skyward, though there is no “sky.” The thick gray air around us simply merges with the thick gray air above us. I reach out the window and I’m touching sky.

[…]

Brian takes his foot off the brake, we crawl ten yards, he puts his foot back on the brake. He lights a cigarette, takes a drag, lays his arm out the window, and stares ahead at the brake lights in the smog.

[…]

Tommy and I are on Tinder.

[…]

“Is this her?” he asks me.

“No.”

[…]

“Is this her?” he asks me.

“No.”

[…]

“Is this her?” he asks me.

“I’m sorry it’s not.”

“Shoot.”

[…]

We crawl under an intricate network of onramps and offramps and overpasses under even higher overpasses. No one is moving. Music comes from all directions. Windows rolled down. Air bumping. Someone singing along to someone else’s music.

[…]

I don’t look up from my phone. I’m afraid to look up from my phone.

[…]

“Is this her?”

“It’s not.”

[…]

Not even close.

[…]

“Are we there yet?” Tommy asks.

“No,” Brian says.

I haven’t looked out the window but I know we’re not even close.

[…]

We turn around before reaching the city. I’m not sure who’s idea it is. There’s a collective sigh, and we turn around.

[…]

The sunset is a blood-red that recedes across the sky into dusk. All color washes to the West, where presumably, there is an ocean.

[…]

Only back in the safety of the In-N-Out parking lot does Brian take out his phone. Tommy is asleep in the van “next-door.” Outside, drunk college students crowd the In-N-Out entrance. A long line of cars threads into the drive-thru.

[…]

Brian is outside smoking a cigarette. I go out to join him.

“May I?” I ask him.

He nods, hands me one after lighting it.

I breathe in smoke.

“Doing okay?” he asks me.

I nod. The In-N-Out has locked its doors. Inside someone mops the tile.

A couple of vagrants sit on the drive-thru curb. One makes eye contact with Brian. Brian makes eye contact back. The vagrant gets up, I steel myself for confrontation, but the vagrant doesn’t even notice me. “Cigarette?” the vagrant asks. Brian nods and hands him a cigarette. It’s like I’m not even there. Like the vagrant knows I’m not one of them. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or offended. I pride myself on not being one of them, but I’m offended.

[…]

There’s of course the issue of pooping. Living in a strip mall parking lot, we have to time our bowel movements outside of closing hours. Though Brian is comfortable squatting in the palms, I’m not, making sleep an impossibility when I have to poop.

Daylight brings different poop problems. We have to space our poops, from business to business, in order not to arouse suspicion. Though Brian gets in and out with ease, my anxiety draws attention to itself. A clerk asks if he can help me, I say I need to use the bathroom, he says it’s for customers only, I say I just need to use the bathroom, he raises his arms as if I’m being difficult, and I go ahead and use the bathroom. I remember the unease I’d feel, so long ago now, when I’d be eating in a restaurant, a paying customer, when a drifter, a hobo, a vagrant, would come in to use the bathroom. My heart would race and I’d lose my appetite and wonder — my god, what are they doing in there?

Now I know, they were going to the bathroom.

Watching Brian sleep, desperately needing to poop, this is what I’m thinking about.

[…]

Brian is gone. He must’ve left after sunrise, in the afternoon actually, after I finally pooped and got some sleep.

My first thought is that Tommy must’ve taken Brian from me again, this was inevitable after all, but the Honda Odyssey is still there I see, and Tommy is sleeping inside.

I wake him.

“Brian is gone.”

He rubs the crust from his eyes and smiles. “Oh?”

“He’s gone.”

Tommy gets up and looks around. Though he’s not frantic like me, I believe him when he says he doesn’t know where he is, that Brian told him nothing.

[…]

It takes the sting off, knowing that it’s not just me he’s abandoned, but Tommy too. It helps knowing I’m not the only one.

[…]

Note to self — Tommy seems unaffected.

[…]

It’s a long night, waiting up for Brian. The vagrants are back but still they don’t see me. Eye contact is impossible because they won’t look at me.

[…]

Brian is back. He’s silent, he’s showered — for a second there I can’t smell him, I panic, but then there’s a whiff of shampoo — and it doesn’t take a genius to understand where he’s been.

[…]

Brian is gone again. Likely another Tinder excursion. This time I don’t wait up for him, but that doesn’t mean I sleep.

[…]

Tommy has the idea of turning our minivans into one big “Van Mansion,” as he calls it. He finds some plywood, scrapped by some dumpster somewhere, and with our two minivans parked side by side and the adjacent sliding doors open, we lie the planks across. He throws a tarp over the passageway, we pin aside the curtains, and our two vans become one.

[…]

Van Mansion… Vansion? No, never mind. Stupid. Stick to Van Mansion.

[…]

The company is nice, the extra room is nice, though we mostly keep to ourselves.

[…]

Brian is [still] gone.

[…]

I’m writing in my notebook when Tommy crawls through the passageway to my side of the “Van Mansion.”

“What are you writing about?” he asks me.

“Nothing. Just stuff.”

“Weren’t you writing a blog once?”

A fear rips through me.

“I haven’t read it,” he says.

“Oh.”

“Brian mentioned something once. That was a long time ago though.”

“Oh.”

“I didn’t think you were still writing.”

“I’m not.”

[…]

[Another time] he asks me about Annie. It’s weird hearing her name come out of his mouth. He asks me what I expect to get from Annie. What I’m going to do if I find her.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. And I don’t. Honestly I hadn’t thought that far ahead. If I had, it was under a different mind, a different perspective. I have to think about it now. All I can come up with is that she’s the key to something.

“A key to what?” he asks.

“A lock.”

“A lock to what?”

“I don’t know. I’ll know when she unlocks it. She’ll unlock something and I’ll know.”

[…]

I don’t completely buy what I told Tommy earlier. The question rocked me. Everything is different now. Everything is drifting further away. I have days when I see nothing, feel nothing. When everything is gone, will Annie mean anything?

I try to focus on her. Every detail. Her black hair across her back. Her makeup. Her splotchy skin without makeup. I try to summon her back. Her eyes, the whites of her eyes. Her fingernails chewed by teeth. The silence between us as we walk the dark campus. Something stirs. The way she looks at me. The way she doesn’t look at me. What’s going on in her head. She wants me. She doesn’t want me. In the darkness something stirs. Above the “Van Mansion,” above the light snoring of Tommy in the next room, a wind brushes the fronds of the high trees. My blood moves faster. My heart beats  even faster. My mouth is sticky. She takes off her top, she unclips her bra and — no, she never did this, not for you — SHUT IT, it doesn’t matter. She takes off her top, she unclips her bra and lowers herself onto me. Kisses my neck—

[…]

I tug at myself but not too hard. I must not shake the van, I must not wake Tommy. I close my eyes and grip harder, but I won’t stay upright. The images recede and no matter how hard I try I can’t bring them back. She lowers herself onto someone else, she kisses someone else, I let go of myself and feel nothing.

🚗

join man next week for journal #43 (in which said man finds himself alone)

Journal #41 (in which the beginning of the end takes place mostly outside an In-N-Out Burger)

The man you know as said man is no longer fit to write this. Shortly after arriving here, he lost himself again. His writings grew scattered and disjointed and he never had those moments of clarity (and if not clarity, then at least stability) that allowed him previously to step outside of himself and compile his notes and observations into comprehensible journals that he would then, unbeknownst to me, post here. This gave his writings an omniscient, almost hyper self awareness, as he would be editing and posting journals weeks after they were originally written. He was only barely able to piece together the last one, after which he continued to write, but as I’ve said his illness prevented him from posting anything more. By the time there was any “clarity,” he was already gone and writing would mean nothing to him. Los Angeles did something to him; I did something to him too. I will take some blame for what happened, but I cannot in good conscience take it all.

I’ve taken it upon myself to go through his notes and make sense of them, to compile them here to the best of my ability. I’ve allowed myself to correct typos and errors in grammar, but I am not adding anything he did not write. Having said that, what follows may be more claustrophobic than what you’re used to. Apologies.

His journals recommence with the two of us in Orange, California, shortly after our arrival…

The beginnings of things escape me. We’ve been in this [In-N-Out Burger] parking lot since we got here. When we got here, I think it was morning, we slept through the day and the following night as well. At least I slept. I can’t speak for Brian. He was here when I woke up anyway.

[…]

My head hurts. The wind hurts it. Everything is so open even the wind hurts it.

[…]

The In-N-Out reminds me of her. There’s a picture I remember, I might still even have it somewhere, of the two of us sitting on one of those white and red plastic benches and Annie has the straw of a milkshake lodged between her lips and she’s starting at the camera. I’m sitting next to her, hands in my jacket pockets, staring into the distance, but this can’t be true because within an In-N-Out there is no distance, just white walls and counters and the hallway leading to the bathrooms. I don’t remember who took the photo.

[…]

East of the college, down Chapman Ave and just past Prospect, the In-N-Out shares its parking lot with a 24-Hour Fitness, making it an ideal place to park overnight.

Across the street is another strip mall. I don’t think we’re the only ones living out of a car.

[…]

Brian goes inside to order. I give him my order first because I refuse to go inside myself. We eat both lunch and dinner in the car. Breakfast is leftovers, stale fries. We don’t talk. He won’t let me in. I’m not sure he knows what he’s doing any more than I know what he’s doing.

[…]

Palm trees spray up from the parking lot islands like geysers petrified in time. Clouds sift across the sky without a horizon. The world keeps going, forever flat in this desert of strip malls.

Sometimes it rains, but not often. When it does, everyone seems surprised.

[…]

I’m afraid to venture up into Los Angeles. Orange is as good of a place as any to camp out, to steel ourselves for our search for Annie. But I can’t bring myself to search for Annie. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? I want to ask Brian but I fear he’ll think the question is stupid. He’ll say something vague like, you know why we’re here, and I’ll be left where we were before I asked the question. Only now I’ll be feeling pretty stupid.

[…]

When we get restless, we drive. Brian always driving. We’ll wind through the backstreets, the suburbs, the Chapman campus, and sometimes Brian will venture onto the 22 heading west, then northwest on I-5, but never far enough north to reach LA. Which I’m grateful for.

I’m afraid of LA.

[…]

A lustful kind of fear.

[…]

Short pale-pink tank top, slim midriff exposed, pierced bellybutton, one arm resting on the black purse hanging low from her shoulder, her free arm swaying lazy on the other side. High waisted jeans. I watch her walk away.

Another. In the grass. A smear of dirt over her left shoulder. A mess of auburn hair falling across her back. Tired eyes drift open and closed. A Scottish Terrier nuzzles into her side. She rolls onto her back, sits up. She looks at me and I have to pretend I wasn’t watching her all this time. Suddenly I’m self-conscious — my skeletal arms, caved in cheeks evident through my unkempt beard. And my eyes—

[…]

There’s a romantic urgency to the city — any beautiful girl, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see her again. Very much unlike smaller towns where, chances are, you will.

Small towns breed romantic procrastination. Cities breed a lustful kind of fear.

[…]

Dreams of San Francisco, again. Revolves around something vague. There’s a center at the center of it that I’m missing. Clouds roll in from the ocean, erasing the bridge in their haze. The waters grow gray, the sky and water exponentially reflect each other until everything is black rather than gray. The wind sweeps in off the beach. It’s too cold to stay here. The sun is still in the sky, though muted, and feels more moon than star. I walk toward the center but I never reach it.

[…]

They’re just dreams. I tell myself that. There’s nothing there.

[…]

The van is so goddamn hot. So hot god-damn-it all, all the time.

[…]

I pace the parking lot. A breeze picks up, the palm trees bend. Fuck me, it’s cold.

[…]

In Southern California there’s nowhere to escape. Nowhere to be alone. Every person who sees me seems to take a piece of me with them, and I’m slowly drawn back into their world. People going to work, coming home from work, riding the bus, drinking in bars and talking about the surface. Suddenly I find that I’m lacking.

[…]

The crack is there. Everything inside me is open for the world. But there’s so much that’s escaped the crack — still escaping the crack — that there’s nothing to latch onto, none of the images take hold. I’m at the center of the delusions, watching the delusions, listening to the delusions, but I’m not part of the delusions, so I’m able to recognize them as what they are.

I’m grounded. I’m at the center of them. My fear is not in being taken by them — there’s just too many of them — but instead in losing sight of what’s real. Because from where I’m standing, I’m at the center of reality too. With all the images and voices flitting in and out of eye and earshot, I’m not sure of what’s really there. I have wondered, several times actually, if Brian is really there. Here. Since he hasn’t been too open, willing to talk, he’s more of a shade of what he once was. You could see that when he lured me from my parents’ home. He was different. He wasn’t all there. Something was wrong or something was missing or he wasn’t Brian at all.

[…]

But Brian proves himself to be real. The realization was simple — he smells. Though many of the images feel and sound real, they lack smell. Brian smells, of sweat and warm stagnant air, and this grounds him in the land of the real.

It’s when I can’t smell him that I begin to worry.

[…]

We drive through the drive-thru, only to park again in the parking lot to eat. I don’t have an appetite, so I sip at the milkshake but touch nothing else. Brian devours his burger, the last of his fries, he wipes the sauce from his lips and says to me, “We should get started.”

I tell him I think he’s right. We should get started. It’s understood we’re talking about Annie. He doesn’t elaborate, but it seems there’s something else he wants to say, something he needs to tell me, but I’m not [illegible handwriting]

I wonder it has something to do with the person who follows us. I haven’t forgotten about this. The presence of this pursuer is always there, though I’m still working out whether or not this pursuer is part of the “crack escapees,” or one of us, part of the land of the real. As the pursuer is always too far away for me to smell, there’s nothing to ground him in either world. The only thing that sway the pursuer to this world is the suspicion that Brian is also aware that he is there.

Brian is aware of many things but he can’t see the birds, the crosses, the dead baby cows, and the dreams of dead men that surround me, circling me, drifting further and further away. No, if Brian is aware of the one who follows, the one who follows is very real.

If I could just smell him.

[…]

I’m hesitant to take out Tinder again, but I do. I’m back at it. Swiping everyone left. I don’t see anyone. I can’t tell you about people I don’t see. My only hope is that when Annie comes across my phone, I’ll see her. And see her in time.

Names blur. Combine with other names. Every face becomes the same face. The One Face.

Brian’s swiping too. But sometimes he’s typing and I wonder to whom, we’re supposed to be looking for Annie, only Annie. Nothing else is important.

I keep swiping.

Outside, the palm trees are high and quiet. The last workers have left the In-N-Out. Brian is asleep. I want to fall asleep too, but my eyes are flooded with

[…]

I must’ve fallen asleep.

I wake with the first sifting of the light through the hanging tapestries. There’s the drone of cars passing but not much else. There’s the chirp of birds, but those might be imaginary. Music playing from somewhere. I sit up. Brian is still asleep, his phone hanging from his limp hand.

His phone buzzes, nudges itself from his hand. He doesn’t wake.

Two minutes later, it does it again.

I pick up his phone. It’s a text from someone named “T.”

I try to open it but the passcode screen comes up, and asks for five numbers. I take a wild guess, spelling out a name I once knew, a name that starts with “T.”

86669 is sufficient to spell it out. The phone opens, my stomach constricts, I open the messaging app where the recently arrived message reads—

“Good morning! Kisses, lol was pooping and cops were investing a crime. 100% ok, i wasnt who they wanted! Just interesting”

I look to Brian, who scratches himself in his sleep.

Of course.

I type in a response to the text—

Hi.”

Hi,” he types back.

You know who this is?

Yes,” he types. “I know who this is.

Then he adds a smiley face.

That’s Tommy for you.

😐

join man next week for journal #42 (which brings the second coming of Tommy Tinder)