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.

🌎

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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 #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 #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 #34 (in which said man walks among giants)

Walking under the shade of the redwoods, their trunks rising into high canopies where the sunlight ribbons in to the ferns below, even someone such as Myself can feel small, inconsequential. How many times have I lived and died with these same trees still standing? My dreams of the cross, dying there some 2000 years ago, some of these trees may well have been standing then. I touch the trees, the bark turning my fingertips the color of rust, and wonder if they know who I am.

And I realize — Of course they don’t. To them I am nothing. These gods among trees, among men, they could care less about what I’m here to do. What I’ve been sent here, again and again, life after life, repeatedly, to do. The ground mist has long since burned away. The air is cool, wet, if a bit dusty. I wipe my hands on my jeans.

What I’m here to do.

What am I here to do?

My mind stalls on the question. The weight of it halts the wheels, the cogs, everything stops. Sweat seeps into my clothing even as the air grows colder. The blood leaves my face. I stagger. I swim through the falling light, the strips of tree shadow. What I’m here to do. What am I here to do? I’m here to kneel. To fall into the red dirt and kneel, to buckle over and bow, and heave, heave — echh

“Let it out,” Brian says, patting me on the back. “There there.”

My stomach collapses to the size of a clenched fist, but there’s nothing to let out. I dry heave into the ferns, coughing, spitting — there’s a darkness beneath the leaves and I stare into it. Above me, I feel the weight of the trees.

Keeping my eyes closed I roll onto my back. Brian sits in the dirt beside me. I take a deep breath. Smoke trails from the joint between Brian’s lips, floods my senses and empties them of anything else. Air that tastes like earth. My heart beats to a slow, steady. Step. I open my eyes to the light angling down through the trees, and the dust of the world shines in this light like a spell.

Suddenly outside myself, I see myself whisper but can’t hear what it is that I say.

“What was that?” Brian asks.

“I see men as trees, walking.”

“Mm.” Brian takes a drag from his joint and nods. “Mark 8:24, yes?”

“Hm?”

“Mark 8:24,” he says again, but I don’t know what he’s talking about.

I take his joint and place it between my lips. I breathe in and let what’s inside burn what’s inside me. I hold in the smoke and search for the answer to the question I’ve been asking.

What am I here to do? All these lives, what have I been missing? What have I been doing wrong?

Why must I die again and again while these trees persist? Why must I keep coming back?

As the sun descends, its light angles upward, almost horizontal now in the highest branches, leaving all undergrowth in shadow. Brian takes back the joint, crushes it out in the dirt.

The morning after the whiskey night, Brian knew right away that I’d been drinking. He didn’t even have to ask what happened to the whiskey. The smell when he found me passed out in the car must’ve been tremendous, the air warm and dank, the mattress soaked in vomit. I barely registered him.

“Brian,” I moaned into the wet mattress. “Briiaaannnnnn.”

“Okay,” he said. “Okay.” He opened all the doors and sat in the front to smoke a quick cigarette. When he was done he said, “Okay. You’ll be okay.” And he went to work — making sure I was clean of whiskey and vomit and piss, sliding the sheets out from under me, throwing them and the blankets into a trash bag, washing it all at a nearby laundromat he found, all the while letting me sleep off the whiskey night. He stayed with me in the van the next night, and the night after that. I kept mumbling how sorry I was, that it wouldn’t happen again, and he told me not to be sorry, don’t be sorry, and that he couldn’t care less if it happened again or not. And although I was telling the truth that the whiskey night was a one time thing, the resolve wouldn’t last. The drinking took me again, and again, and soon after that, the smoking followed too. Brian never offered his drink or his weed — I’m guessing because he didn’t want to feel responsible — but he never said no when I took it from him.

Crossing into California, an event that should’ve felt momentous, didn’t feel like  anything at all. I still felt no closer to finding Annie. She was nowhere to be found on Tinder, and away, bigger questions, questions much larger than Annie plagued me. What was I here to do? What was I here to say? I smoked to find the answer, I drank to forget the question. In this haze, Annie’s role started to drift, her face receding into a cloud of smog.

But here, lying under the redwoods with Brian, the question lingers. It’s always there—

What am I here to say? What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

“Nothing,” says Brian. “There’s nothing left to say.”

I’ll “plagiarize” the gospels, usually the Sermon on the Mount, and Brian will say, “Matthew 5:44, or John 7:13.”

I’ll tell him not to dwell on the past, nor dream of the future, but to concentrate on the present moment, and Brian will say, “Now you’re ripping off Gautama. Already done.”

I’ll tell him that only by abandoning his learning will he be free of his sorrow, and he’ll say, “Tao Te Ching, verse 20.”

I’ll change tactics, from the inner to the outer, and say maybe it’s all about the abolition of private property.

He’ll just smile and say, “Now you’re sounding like me.”

No matter what I say, no matter how I say it, Brian always knows the source. He throws my words back at me, in their truer, more original form. Marcus Aurelius, he’ll say. Plato, he’ll say. Thich Nhat Hanh.

“He who knows does not speak,” he says. “He who speaks does not know.”

“Who said that?”

“Lao Tzu said that.”

“So what am I supposed to say?”

“What I’ve been saying,” he says. “There’s nothing left to be said. It’s all been said. It’s all been said and turned into something else and said again.”

But I don’t believe him. I know somewhere, deep within me, if I stay still enough, if I stay silent enough, if I destroy my senses and self I will find the answer to the world.

“Now you’re talking about suicide,” he says.

I lift myself back to my feet. With the weight of everything, how have these trees remained standing for so long? Even after death, with their burnt, hollowed out corpses, they remain standing like dark pillars as if nothing changes, nothing happens, as if these tree gods are above the tide of time and the world falling away.

“But everything changes,” I whisper to myself. “Change is the only truth.”

“Heraclitus.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

The trail dumps us back onto the main road. We walk south along the road to where the forest opens up to meadow, where our van is parked against the roadside. The sun sets over the redwoods to the west. East of us, the redwoods grow dark. Black daggers against a navy sky.

Brian has a friend he wants to visit in Arcata, about 45 minutes south of us. Someone he knew from high school. The scenic parkway merges again with 101, and after meandering through more forest, 101 swings us back to the coast, again away from the coast, straying east with farmland growing to the west of us, 101 opening up to three lanes and before us the beaten down suburban sprawl of Arcata approaches. Low hanging clouds reflect the lights of the city, giving a feeling of dusk though dusk has long since passed.

Turning into the neighborhood where Brian’s friend lives, who I’m learning now is named Angela, I feel suddenly self-conscious of my appearance. Outside of Brian and the occasional store clerk, I haven’t interacted with anyone since leaving for the road. I haven’t showered in — how long has it been now? I feel thin, fragile, as if just introducing myself to another would break me. What would I say? Would I tell them my name? Or should I tell them my Name?

“I think this is it,” Brian says as we pull into their steep drive, dipping down behind their house to a dirt lot in the backyard. No fences, just more redwoods or Douglas firs — in the dark I can’t tell the difference — rising to give the properties some semblance of separation.

I wipe my hands against my jeans. Dirt peels off like dead skin.

Angela’s waiting of us at the top of the drive. She waves us over and Brian squeals — uncharacteristic of Brian — as he runs over to her. They tell each other how different they look, how good they look, and as I approach I can’t help but notice Brian’s voice, an octave higher than the voice I know.

Angela speaks steady and slow, she uses the word “yeah” a lot, “yeah,” and she’s always smiling. She has dirty blonde hair that might just be dirty, pulled back and dried into dreads, and a bandana wrapped around her forehead. When her eyes fall on mine, her smile twitches, but manages to stay up.

“Hi,” I say, holding out my hand.

She holds out her hand too, as if to mock me.

“Hi,” she says.

The house belongs to her father, though he lives somewhere down south. She rents out the extra rooms to a couple of friends, and following her inside, it’s clear they’ve made it fully their own — a typical college student house where none of the residents still go to college. Bongs and pipes and grinders scatter the resin crusted coffee table, a fifth of rum lies on the stained carpet. On some nature channel, an episode of Australia’s Deadliest plays on mute, though nobody watches. From the couch, a bulldog pup scampers toward us. It jumps up at me and barks.

“Hey, hey there,” she says, her voice slow and glazed. “These are friends. Friends,” she repeats. The dog doesn’t believe her either.

She gives us a quick tour of the house, shows us the empty room where we’ll be sleeping — Kai just moved out last week — and then she takes us to the laundry room where she shows us her plants.

Back in the living area, Angela sits on one couch with her pup lying across her lap, while Brian and I sit on the other. The TV still plays on mute, something about poisonous spiders. Brian and Angela talk about people they once knew, people they still know, people they don’t, mostly they talk about themselves. I nod every now and again, but say nothing.

For some reason Brian is holding my hand, his thumb caressing the back of my knuckles.

“So,” Angela asks. “Where are you guys going?” The question must be directed at me, an opening for me, because Brian doesn’t answer.

“Home,” I lie.

Angela looks to Brian, then back to me. “Yeah? Where’s that?”

“Sunnyvale. Just a little south of San Francisco.”

“Okay. Yeah. Yeah. I think I’ve passed through there. Tech companies and strip malls, yeah.”

“Yeah.”

“Family visits are nice,” she says.

“Yes,” I say. “They are.”

It’s not long before I excuse myself saying I’m beat and need to get some sleep. Both Brian and Angela feign disappointment but don’t object when I insist. Brian says he’ll follow me down in a bit.

I set up my mat in the corner of the empty room that still smells like Kai — it smells exactly how you’d imagine a Kai to smell — and bury myself in blankets and wait. I listen to their hushed voices upstairs, and then more voices. Doors opening, closing, footsteps beating against the hardwood, laughter and delights, a bottle breaking and music turned up and blaring and here I am, all alone in an empty room that smells like Kai, I don’t even know Kai, and above me music RUMP RUMP RUMP‘s the walls. Brian is drunk and laughing.

The noise doesn’t let up. I toss and turn and rehearse the speech I’ve prepared for Brian in my head, the one about this loneliness and abandonment, and then try to forget it because it sounds so stupid. Why am I so stupid.

Someone stumbles into the room, someone with a ponytail. When he sees me he says, “Oh. Sorry. I thought this was the bathroom,” and closes the door but the door doesn’t latch, it opens back up, and I hear him doubling over as he climbs the stairs.

Enough! I’ve had it. I’ve had enough. I take my blankets, wrap them around myself like a robe, like a cape, and rise into the noise, the people, the smoke. I stand at the top of the stairs, but nobody sees me. The way to the front door is blocked by people and in my mind, I part them, I part them like Moses parts the sea. My heart pounds at my ribs, I step forward. One by one the people step aside for me, but none seem to notice I’m there. I glide through them, parting the way one step at a time. When I reach the door, the two separate halves of the party become one again, and I close the door behind me.

The van is cold, quiet. I crawl into myself and fall asleep.

Brian is in the passenger seat when I wake up. He’s drinking coffee and looking at nothing in particular. I watch him for awhile, he doesn’t realize I’m watching him until I prop myself up on the mattress.

“Hey bud,” he says. “You okay?”

“I’m okay,” I say, but I can’t stop shaking. “I’m okay.” No matter how many times I say it I can’t convince either of us that it’s true. It’s so cold.

It’s not until Arcata is behind us that I start to feel better, that I start to feel more like Myself now that there’s nobody around to remind me that I’m no one. There’s something about people that makes me feel inhuman. Like I’m not one of the people.

And then I remember, it’s because I’m not. I’m not one of them. I’m here to save them but I’m not one of them. Only when I’m by myself do I remember this. Brian doesn’t count. When I’m with him, I may as well be alone. He’s good like that.

After Eureka, 101 pulls away from the coast and doesn’t come back. It’s not until Leggett that we switch to the 1, which after a dizzying, winding drive takes us back to the ocean. Following the claustrophobia of the inland, of the relentless trees and nonexistent skylines, the openness of the ocean is a relief. We stop at the very first pull-off, and just about every pull-off after that, the swift cold ocean air forcing breath back into our lungs. Though it’s always the same ocean, there is always a new feeling to it that brings you back to the same feeling — this feeling of oneness, of crashing stillness. Of the return of all things. We’re at one of these pull-offs now and I think Brian feels this too. His gaze is locked on the horizon where everything converges into a blue haze.

Staring at this open mouth of the ocean, sitting at its very lips, something rises from my center, reaches up to my own lips, something original, something profound, something that’s never been said. Something that would impress even Brian.

My jaw hangs there, gaping, filling in with wind off the ocean, my mind a blank. What was it? What was I about to say?

Without a word, Brian pushes himself up, and walks back to the car.

🌲😶🌲

join man next week for journal #35 (in which said man finds himself in Salt Point Park)

Journal #33 (in which said man runs out of gas (and whiskey))

We meant to fill up the tank in Yachats. The gas light had just gone on in San Marine, past the last of their stations. We’ll get the next town, we agreed.

Yachats. A small four pump station on an otherwise vacant lot. Only when we pull into the station do we get the sense that something is wrong. Glass crunches under the tires. Plastic tarps hang before the mini mart windows. Hoses dangle from the kiosks but there are no pumps.

“It looks closed,” I say.

“You think?” Brian says.

The 76 logos are cracked and faded. At the side of the building a black pickup truck sits on blocks, a bearded man and his dog sprawled in the back. Neither of them move.

“We should go,” I say, more to myself as I pull out of the station. “We’ll get the next town.”

Only it seems there is no next town. After Yachats, 101 winds upward into a mass of forested headlands. The road climbs, juts out west past the trees. All we see are bluffs and peninsulas and black rock formations rising from the waters. No civilization in sight. I watch the miles click upward. How many miles have we driven since the gas light went on? Why didn’t I check? Well, I didn’t know there was no next town, I tell myself. How was I supposed to know? There’s always a next town. I ask Brian to check his phone, to tell me when this next town is, but he says he has no service.

“Check mine,” I say, handing him mine.

“No service,” he says.

I begin to sweat. The blood drains from my face and I know I could faint at any moment. This breathtaking, endless, perpetual, never-ending Oregon coast. This two lane highway cutting through spruce, Douglas-fir, and hemlock, opening back up to this breathtaking, endless, perpetual, never-ending Oregon coast we later find out is aptly named Cape Perpetua, albeit for altogether different reasons. Neither of us are paying any attention to any of this however, because our eyes are glued to the gas light.

“All things must pass,” I say to Brian. “This too shall end.”

“Not now,” he says to me, as if silence will help the tank to carry us further. We’ve long since turned off the radio and have been driving in silence for some time.

So I mumble it to myself, “This too shall end.”

The coast doesn’t come to an end. The gas in our tank does. The minivan quakes, then sputters, the pedal stops responding, and we roll to a stall, a line of honking cars building up behind us. I’m frozen. I don’t know what to do. What do I do? Brian has to tell me what to do.

“Put it in neutral,” he says.

“Then what?”

“We push it to the side of the road.”

When finally we get it to the pull-off, cars pass us and honk at us and flip us their fingers. My only solace is in knowing that when the end times come I’ll remember their faces, and I’ll point to their faces and theirs will be the faces that burn and then they’ll know who I am.

We lean against the hood of the van, no reception, no gas, the sun low in the western sky. Brian shields himself from the wind and lights a cigarette, moves to the side of the van looking out onto the waters below. We’re so far above the waves we can’t hear them. Only the passing of cars.

I cut up a box of Cheerios, turn it into a makeshift sign that reads: GAS FOR JESUS? PLEASE?

No one stops.

Once they see you, their eyes pretend they don’t see you, and focus back on the road.

This too shall pass, I say to myself. This too shall pass.

Before long I’m talking about the cars. This car too shall pass. This car too. But this moment will never pass. This moment will last forever. I begin to pity my children, who won’t so much as stop for their own Father. Tears stream down my cheeks, not for my children, but for Myself.

This world, I don’t belong here.

Brian finishes his cigarette and comes around to my side of the car where I’m balling now, frantically wiping away my tears.

“Hey,” he says. “Jesus… c’mon. Don’t cry.”

“I’m not crying.”

“Hey.” He takes the sign from me. “Let me give it a try. Hey.”

I give him the sign but say nothing.

On the other side of the van, I curl my knees into my chest and watch the waters move toward the coast, momentum turning them white before breaking against the shore. I try to smell the ocean but I only smell gas, or what used to be gas. Exhaust. Smog in the wilderness. Not even three minutes pass before a pickup stops for Brian and offers him a ride down to the next town. I’m listening to this and waiting for Brian to mention I’m there too. They look surprised when I peek up from the other side. A couple of hairy guys in flannel and their dog.

“That sound okay?” Brian asks me.

I nod and offer to stay with the car, but later in the evening, long after Brian left in the back of their truck, I’m not sure I even offered at all. Brian left me here. He finally did it.

Night seeps in from the trees and falls on the horizon. Stars poke through the darkening blue, slowly at first, until their numbers are so great I’m not sure there’s room for more. I curl up into my mattress corner, bury myself in sheets and wait, but I know nobody is coming. I replay the moment in my mind — the tipping of the driver’s cap as he pulls away, the relief in Brian’s eyes, the ease in which he left me — and I know he’s not coming back.

Fewer and fewer cars pass on the road. I’m scared. I’m embarrassed. Mostly, I’m furious. The slugging of blood against the inside of my skull works to numb me. I lie there unmoving, unfeeling, until finally, thank God, one slug of blood knocks me unconscious.

I wake to a light tapping on the window. I don’t move. It’s still dark. The tapping is too light to be Brian, too patient to be a cop. A tick tick that’s more of a tap tap.

Taptaptap.

I hold my breath. I pretend to be dead. If I pretend long enough, maybe… maybe…

When the tapping ends I hear no footsteps, just the wind coming in off the ocean and colliding with the trees. After enough time has passed in pretend death, I pull aside the tapestry and peek out the window where the tapping sounded, but there’s nothing there but my tired ghost reflection. I see nothing beyond the glass, beyond the—

smudge.

The smallest smudge of a finger on the glass. The print of a fingertip tip, the last remains of the now mute taptap

tap

more of a tick

tick.

I don’t pull aside the tapestry again.

In the morning Brian is banging on the hood and screaming, “We got gas! We got gas!” He’s in an unusually good mood and offers to take the wheel to the next town, which is Florence, which is really not that far away at all. I don’t bring up the tapping.

We fill up the rest of the tank at the first gas station we find, which is in a Fred Meyer strip mall along 101. While Brian waits for the attendant to fill up the van, I search the Fred Meyer for a bathroom. Only once I’m alone, sitting in the stall with my jeans at my ankles, do I realize how badly I’ve had to go. The relief floods through me, my body involuntarily quakes, and suddenly — with no warning whatsoever — I start to cry. A sob rises up and I’m struggling for breath, trying to hold myself together, trying to hold in the breath I’m at the same time struggling for, trying to muffle the squeals. Then it’s over. Somewhere a toilet flushes, a man coughs. I wait until I’m sure the bathroom is empty, the last man has washed his hands and left, and then awhile longer, before I pull up my pants and leave.

Outside Brian leans against the hood of the van. He’s on his phone, Tinder I’m beginning to suspect. I didn’t see it then but I see it now, the sex in his eyes, the sex in his sweat, the sweat that covers him but doesn’t belong to him.

Though it’s still morning, he suggests we stay in the Fred Meyer parking lot for the night. Just after dark however, Brian gets a call. “Hey,” he says. “Okay.” Hangs up. Outside, a Subaru waits for him. Brian makes no secret of it this time — he won’t be back until morning.

It’s happening just like the last time, this growing divide between Brian and myself. Last time it was the close confines of the cottage that did it, this time it’s the van. We drive, we stop — usually when Brian suggests it — Brian disappears and reappears in the morning, rested and less irritable. Though rare, there are the nights when he finds no one to stay with on Tinder, and he’s forced to stay with me. Neither of us able to sleep, I continue my search for Annie, he continues his search for the next town.

The thing about Brian’s type is that they’re everywhere. Repeat after me: alcoholic, anarchist, deadbeat.

______, _______, _______.

Good.

There’s a little of Brian’s whiskey tucked under the mattress. On the nights he’s gone, it taunts me, tells me one drink will put me to sleep, one drink will make it all go away. One drink, all of this will make sense.

No, I tell the whiskey. It won’t. I can’t.

And the whiskey only smiles, knowingly.

The beaches of Oregon pass us by, those little beach towns so meaningless when compared to the endlessness of this road. The people there, I can’t believe they actually exist. We don’t stop at the Dunes, but from 101 just before it strays several miles from the coast, I see the sands spilling over a forest of trees, little treetops poking from the sand like much smaller trees, though these trees must be immense, wind skidding off them and threatening to bury the towns too. None of this was meant to exist.

Brian disappears in state parks, campsites, vista point pull-offs, and gas station bathrooms. Before long he’s having me drop him off at the places he’s staying. I feel like his chauffeur. I wonder if he even remembers what we’re doing, where we’re going.

What are we doing, Brian? I want to ask him. What are you doing?

“This is it,” is all I say.

“It’s for the best, you know,” he says getting out of the car. “This way we both can get some sleep.”

So he’s noticed too.

He looks up and down this nameless residential street in this nameless residential town and says, “You can park out here if you want. I’m sure they won’t mind.” He walks up to the house and knocks, the door opens and a nameless shadow lets him inside.

I pull the van to the curb and crawl into the back.

The loneliest part of living in your car is when you have to go to the bathroom at night. You can’t leave the car, in fear you’ll be found out, so you must hold it, or go inside the car. There’s an empty gallon jug between the front seats, in case you must go with the latter. Not enough room to stand, you prop yourself up on your side, stick yourself into the opening, and do your best not to spill. Sometimes you spill. You screw back on the lid, tuck it back between the seats, and attempt sleep in this car that now smells like piss.

I try to roll away from the smell, but there’s nowhere to roll that doesn’t smell like piss.

“What’s up?” says the whiskey.

Nothing.

“Hey,” says the whiskey, its voice sounding like whiskey.

Not now.

I open up Tinder and start swiping but only make it through four LA girls before I have to stop. I take a breath. What am I doing? What are we doing here? I look back at my phone, tap into settings and change the location. I only have to type in three letters before auto type fills in the rest.

It’s refreshing, seeing again the girls with the homier outfits, the frumpy sweaters and hipster glasses, the hikers, the bikers, the climbers, the mousey poets, girls that feel like home, girls that once made me feel so miserable but now comfort me in their more familiar loneliness. I don’t know what I’m looking for really, I’m not swiping anyone right. I’m not sure if I even plan on going back. I realize that now — I don’t think I’m ever going back — but I keep swiping until I find the one I didn’t realize I was looking for.

I’d recognize her freckles anywhere. Her lavender hair, her toothy smile.

It wouldn’t be right to say that my stomach drops, that there’s a weak feeling to the pit of my stomach, because though it feels this way at first, it’s not entirely accurate. It’s everywhere else that feels sick, weak, shaky. The pit of my stomach actually feels pretty nice. Numb. I want nothing more than to curl up and retreat there.

Jane. She’s using the same photos as before, as if I never passed through her life at all. As if I never existed, she starts over again. I swipe her right.

Of course, nothing happens.

I don’t know why I did that. Stupid.

She’s gone. A new girl gazes up at me.

I stare up at the ceiling of the van I’ve come to know so well — beige, tattered felt, crusty in spots. I can just make out Brian’s low, sensual moans coming from the house. Nothing special, not this time. It means nothing.

Jane.

Brian.

Annie.

Brian.

Annie.

Brianna.

Annie. Annie. Ann—

“Yo,” the whiskey whispers. “You okay?”

I answer by shutting the whiskey up for good. I drain that whiskey of its golden blood, and for the first time in three years my breath tastes like fire, my stomach feels like fire, my blood like gold, and my mind slows to the beat of my soul.

No, Whiskey, I am not okay. I am not okay at all.

Later in the night I throw Whiskey’s bloodless corpse across the street and it shatters the quiet. Lights go on. Dogs bark and I’m so silent. I’m so silent. I smile. Here in my van, no one knows I’m here. You fuckers, you don’t know I’m in here. Being silent.

🚽

join man next week for journal #34 (in which said man walks among giants)

Journal #30 (in which said man hits the road with Brian)

I don’t know how it reaches us, but a letter reaches us on the road. I find it tucked within the pages of Brian’s battered copy of Infinite Jest. It’s an envelope without a stamp, without a postmark, addressed to BRIAN, SOMEWHERE ON INTERSTATE-5, and inside that is a newspaper clipping from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Brian’s hometown paper. Sweat damaged from too much handling, the clipping tells of a string of murders in the greater St. Louis area, linked to a few more out of state. All victims were of the name Jonathan Johannesson, the name of the second person who raped Brian. Though no real suspect has been named, many of the Jonathans died during or shortly after a Tinder date, all with the same person, known only as Tammy, 23. The clipping includes a picture of this Tammy— pale skin, flowing red synthetic hair, and a darkness to the cheeks only I see as stubble. No such Tammy has been found.

I also receive a letter, also without a stamp, also without a postmark, but instead of Brian’s name is my name. I find it tucked under the driver’s seat. When I ask Brian about how this could possibly have reached us, he plays dumb. When I ask him about the handwriting, he claims ignorance. When I question him about the letters he’s received, he says he doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t open the letter addressed to me, SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF THE OREGON BORDER. The letter carries too much weight to open it, thick it is with who knows how many pages. I stuff it in the glove compartment and forget about it.

But I don’t forget about it—I’m haunted by the question of how it reached us. This comes first before any curiosity of what may be inside. Because I remember clearing out the van before we left, taking out anything expendable. I emptied all pockets, cleared all nooks, all cupholders and crannies, wiped all surfaces clean before we (Brian) built the platform to support the mattress in the back, before we stuffed our entire lives into this van, the contents crammed tight and spilling into the other’s. I remember all of this, and there was no such letter.

Before we left, long before the letters, Brian didn’t ask many questions. He seemed resolved to keep his mouth shut and his mind clean of whatever was/is contaminating mine. But as our departure loomed, and having found himself in the wake of his break with Tommy, Brian’s silence came undone. Outside the cottage I find him in the van, seated on the raised mattress in the back, and he’s smoking a cigarette.

“What is it?” I ask him.

He shakes his head.

I’m about to shrug it off, just walk away, when he asks, “Who are you? Who are you really?”

I tell him.

“No shit,” he says. “But who are you?”

“I don’t know what you’re asking.”

“You’re leaving because of who you are. And I’m coming with you, leaving everything too. So I need you to tell me straight, who do you think you are?”

I—

“You wrote about it, you showed it to me, and I know who you were then. But who are you now?”

I tell him I’m the Christ. It sounds weird saying it out loud.

Brian relaxes, places the cigarette back between his lips as if he expected this.

“And what are you here to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“The road trip, what are we doing?”

“Finding Annie. You know this.”

“And when we find her, what are you going to do? Will you do what needs to be done or will you do nothing? Do you even know what you’re supposed to do?”

I tell him I don’t know.

“Well you need to figure that out,” he says.

I nod.

“That’s all,” he says and then waves me off with his cigarette as if excusing me from his office.

That was then.

And so it goes now, we go, we go, the road unfurling before us, leading us downward along the northwestern coast of America. We pass cities and towns, farmlands and brown rivers. A homeless man gives me a thumbs up, and I give him a thumbs up too.

We take the wheel in shifts. We stop often. We pee often. We sleep less than I’d like to, though I try. I try so hard, but I can’t get a wink of it with Brian sleeping next to me. I think he’s awake too. His breathing is awake breathing, not sleep breathing. We’re not even outside Washington.

He seems to want to take his time. My time. Most days we go nowhere.

His eyes. They’re irritable.

“Wait,” he says somewhere far south of Seattle. “Stop the car.”

I stop the car. We’re stalled on the side of the interstate. We sit there silent and listen to the

tick

tick

tick of the engine cooling.

“How are we going to find her?” he asks.

“Annie?”

“Annie.”

“In LA.”

“Where in LA?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know. All you say.”

“I don’t though.”

Brian pulls in his bottom lip, rolls down his window. The scent of tire and tar fills the van like pudding.

“We’ll find her,” I say confidently. Though thinking about it, I’m not confident about it at all.

“Facebook?” Brian asks.

“She’s not on Facebook.”

“Or she blocked you.”

I say nothing to that.

Brian rests his arm where the window used to be, raps his finger on the door.

Cars scream on by. The minivan shakes at their passing.

Brian pulls out his phone, flips through his open apps, opening new ones, closing old ones. His eyes don’t leave the screen, and I realize he’s right. How am I supposed to find Annie? What exactly was I expecting?

The road is still. What was once mania begins to peak, then pause, then slide toward it’s inevitable descent. Tick.

Ticktick.

 

Tick.

 

Tick.

 

“Tinder?”

 

“What was that?”

“Tinder,” Brian says again. “Find her using Tinder.”

“Using Tinder.”

“Yeah.”

I can tell by his voice he knows it sounds stupid too, but what else about this hasn’t been completely, altogether downright—

“Tinder,” I say with almost a laugh. “Well…”

And instead of peaking, my mind continues it’s ascent.

TICK.

TICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICK—

And I start the engine.

Everything comes to life.

As I glance in the rearview mirror and pull back onto the road, Brian’s still on his phone and he’s on Tinder, swiping, swiping, relentlessly swiping and I see that devilish smile of his creep back through the corners of his lips for the first time since we left, since he left Tommy.

Interstate-5 pulls back under our wheels, ripping that horizon toward us. Jagged evergreens salute as we pass, as the road whispers: Prepare ye the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.

The road is straight.

My road is straight.

Behind us, the dome of the world falls away.

Eventually I do open that letter from Tommy. If just to taunt me, the glove compartment seems to rattle more than usual, until everything is rattling: the cupholders, the seats, the rearview mirror. Even when I’m not driving, even when I’m in the back trying to sleep, I dream of that glove compartment and it’s rattling, jamming itself against its lock. When I wake the glove compartment is open and inside is the envelope sticking out like a tongue. To shut it up, I tear out that tongue and slit it open and of course, this is unmistakable, vintage Tommy, classic Tommy-Tinder-style, saying so much with so little. This is what he says:

☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠…

This goes on for 39 pages.

I read it twice. It kills me, it really does.

💀

join man next year for PART IV of MANWITHOUTATINDER. Coming in January.

Journal #29 (in which Brian leaves Tommy, finally)

Brian is still awake when I get home. He’s curled up under my desk, buried in blankets, and he asks me how she took it.

I tell him she took it just fine.

“Fine?”

“She’ll be fine.”

He nods, rolls onto his back and crosses his arms.

“How’s Tommy?” I ask.

“Fine.”

“He took it okay?”

“I haven’t told him.”

“But you’re going to tell him.”

“Yes. I’m going to tell him.”

“How are you going to tell him?”

“I’m going to tell him,” he says, and rolls away from me.

And Brian does tell him, but he doesn’t tell him right away. It takes awhile. He goes through the motions with Tommy, prepping for their tramp trek across America, all the while Tommy unaware that Brian is prepping for his own trip down the coast to California with me. If I wasn’t so happy about this, I would have seen this as cruel.

And unusual.

Punishment, really.

I don’t know what happened on the dead-cow-night, when Brian and Tommy broke into the house of Mother and Father Tinder, all I know is that Tommy has money again. All of it going to beer, and weed, and a new tattoo: this one of Brian’s vagina in the cave of his armpit. He shaved his armpit for the occasion, then let it grow back wild, staying true to Brian’s vagina. Hairyhairyhairy. Of course it is.

I’d like to think that they found Mother and Father Tinder asleep in their separate beds, unsleeped them, and ushered them to the garage where they tied the two down surrounded by Father Tinder’s paintings of the burning world: signs that scream REPENT OR BURN! and then there’s Lucifer covered in Christ’s blood. I’d like to think they gagged them, and robbed them of the money that was rightfully Tommy’s plus interest, but I really don’t know. I’m not sure Tommy would’ve had it in him.

To make their life on the road more comfortable, Tommy wants them to trade in their two cars for a minivan. Brian pushes this off as long as he can, until he can’t, and they trade in their two cars for a minivan. A green Honda Odyssey which Tommy dubs the DREAD NAUTILUS.

Still, Tommy isn’t stupid. He sees the change in Brian, in that when they fight, the fights don’t last long. Brian lets Tommy win. It’s as if Brian doesn’t care. Tommy finds me at the bookstore and in tears asks me if I know what’s going on with Brian, but I tell him that I don’t know. I don’t know Brian anymore, I tell him. Who can say what’s going on in Brian’s head.

Which isn’t a lie. I really don’t know what’s going on in Brian’s head. Although I know that Brian plans to accompany me to California in my quest to find Annie, I don’t know why he’s doing this. I don’t know why he’d throw everything away just to help me. I have my theories, but they all conflict. None of them hold up against the others.

Brian loves me.

Brian hates me.

Brian is bored.

Brian is impulsive.

Brian is the Devil leading me to the Devil’s daughter.

Brian wants to see me destroyed.

And as much as I don’t know why Brian is joining me, I don’t know why I’m joining him. This was, after all, his idea. I know I need to find Annie, but to what end? I don’t know what’s going on any more than you do. My mind cycles through its identities— I am the Father, I am the Son, I am the Holy Ghost, I am the One.

One last identity— I’m fucking losing it.

Maybe if I just see Annie, tell her I’m sorry, that’ll snap me back into place, the place I was between this madness and the last.

That last madness made sense, it had purpose and drive and meaning up until the very end. This current madness, however, is diluted with the sanity that ended the last one. Or maybe the sanity was actually a madness between two sanities, and in that case this returning sanity is diluted with that madness (see sanity).

In the five-year period of sanity (or madness) that split the two madnesses (or sanities), I read up on delusions of grandeur of the Christ variety, of those other poor souls who also thought they were Gods among men, and I found plenty. The affliction is not uncommon. This disheartens me for two reasons: either we’re all crazy fucks, or my dreams back then were true—the dreams of me on the cross 2000 years ago and knowing I’ve failed, having succumbed to the temptation, having slept with Magdalene the Slut and thereby trapping the blood of the one God on Earth—and all of these crazies, these schizophrenic megalomaniacs, are all my descendants who see the truth. They have these dreams too. We’re all God after all, there’s just more than one of us.

But we’re blind to this: the plural God. Our ego convinces us that this racing lightness we feel belongs to us, and us alone. Instead of enlightenment, realizing we all carry this seed of God, our ego tells us we’re the only one, the center of everything.

I try to crush my ego, push it to the depths of myself, the place between and behind my eyes I cannot see, until my self is gone and all purpose of my mission fades along with my will to live. Even food and water seem an addiction created by this world of things. So I stop eating and allow the waking dreams to come of the Earth eroding all around me and my stomach that consumes itself, caves in on itself, when the addiction to everything has been conquered. There I am outside of myself, watching my skin turn to the color of nothing and flake away, fall into the dirt, and from my bones the mud and green grass rises and dies with the seasons and still I am watching until even my bones are gone and only then am I free— one with the shit of maggots and the breath of the world.

But I never get that far, because with the first pangs of hunger, my ego kicks back in and says enough, you are enough, you are here to save, but first you must save yourself. So I crawl back from my depths, Brian holding my hand and feeding me soup and placing tea to my lips, and I see it in Brian’s eyes, that he’s been here too. The memory of his light is there, I see it like you can still see a star that’s long since died, but his light is gone, someone crushed it, and Brian wants to believe that although his light is no more, my light can go on. This, I believe, is why he helps me. He fans the flame of my light, and with the growing fire, so does my ego grow and grow until once again I am the Christ and he is nothing, and not just nothing, he is less than nothing, he is the Devil leading me back into the world of things and sin when really I should be dying, becoming nothing myself to become one with everything. Again I stop eating.

The cycle goes on like this.

Moments of sanity (or madness) sprinkled within its opposite.

And there’s still Tommy, whom I pity as I pity all sentient beings, but especially Tommy because Tommy loves Brian. They’re down the gravel drive, just out of earshot, and I see Brian whispering to Tommy. He’s saying what must be said. It’s not just Tommy’s weakened posture, even the light in his eyes seems to go out—a sacrifice that must be made for my own light. I’m then distracted by the wind combing the grass and the birds twitching the trees and I’m in awe by all I’ve created. A quiet settles in, as if to say SHHHHLISTEN, but I’m not listening to anything outside of myself, my beautiful thoughts. I don’t see the paper that Brian slips Tommy, I don’t see the kiss he plants on his cheek, I’m ignorant of everything until I hear the word “FRIEND” spit straight at me from Tommy’s lips. From the back of the DREAD NAUTILUS Tommy grabs his masterpiece, his manuscript of yellow faces, and throws it at my feet. He lights it on fire and tells me it doesn’t mean anything, it never meant anything. The pages burn, turn black before my eyes. The ungrateful little shit, after everything I did for you, after I created you, you destroy the one thing left in this world that still had any beauty, the one thing you’d ever given back to me.

And like that Tommy is gone, he takes the DREAD NAUTILUS and drives away. I’m on my knees before what Tommy’s burned and Brian is right there, staring at me. He’s wondering, he must be wondering, I feel like I’m reading your mind, Brian, you’re wondering: My God, what have I done. And you see me for what I am, the maggot shit of the earth, and you turn around and disappear into the cottage. When I follow you inside you’re curled up under my desk but I don’t hear you breathing.

When I dream that night, I dream of my birth and Annie is my mother and when she screams lightbulbs shatter and I’m my father watching this mess, my arrival into this world, and I take my shit-covered self into my hands, look into my eyes.

It’s not my wailing that wakes me, but Brian standing over me, silent, nudging me with his foot.

“It’s time to go,” he says, and he says this with words that feel like the final spadeful of dirt on my grave.

“Okay,” I say. “Okay. I’m up. Let’s go. Let’s hit the road.”

And honest to Myself, I can’t for the life of Me remember why.

🚗

join man next week for journal #30 (in which said man hits the road with Brian)