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

Hills that were once a faded brown, dusty in the pale but thick summer light, now burst forth in green. Even through the rain lashing against the passenger window of the Prius, my head resting against its glass, the green shines bright.

Her eyes on the road, unaffected by the swing of the wipers, the spray of faster cars, my mom tells me what’s been going on at home, what’s been going on with dad, my brother and my sisters, but I’m not listening. I nod, I “mmhm” politely, I close my eyes and listen to my skull against the glass, rattling.

We pull into the drive. Instead of dashing inside to avoid the rain, my mom comes around to the passenger side to give me another hug, the third since picking me up from the place.

“Home sweet home,” she says. She actually says that.

My van is parked in the driveway. Peeking inside I can see it’s been emptied and professionally cleaned. The mattress has been removed, the seats have been reinstalled, a pine tree air freshener hangs from the rearview mirror.

Inside the house, in my bedroom, all my belongings lie in neat stacks. Brian must’ve been here. He came all this way, dropped off the van, dumped my stuff, yet didn’t so much as say hello. He left me nothing unless it was already mine.

My parents insist on having “family” dinners again. I put family in quotes because the rest of my family isn’t here. It’s just me and them, the three of us eating alone. It’s been a week of these dinners now and much of the conversation remains the same. My mom discusses the rain, how they’re saying the drought is over. My dad says he simply cannot accept it’s over just because they are saying it’s over. Not now, not after he’d torn out all the grass. My mom wants the grass back. When they talk about the weather, politely at dinner, this is what they’re talking about. They’re fighting politely about the grass.

I can’t stay here. I know that right away.

I go through all of my things, keeping only what can fit into one duffle. Clothes, toiletries, a few books, my laptop. I burn all of my journals.

Though they’re worried, my parents know this is for the best. After all, the doctors say I’m better, I say I’m better — so, what can they say?

They’re standing at the top of the drive, their arms around each other’s backs.

“Call us every day,” says my mom.

“Or if you need anything,” says my dad.

“I love you,” says my mom

“Take care of yourself,” says my dad.

I nod, I hug them both and remind them that I’m okay.

I start the car. Though he must know Mom’s already done the same via an online bank transfer, my dad leans in through the window and slips me a couple hundreds. Mom blinks and turns away, Dad places his arm back around her. The last thing I see before I turn the corner are the two of them, waving, but my dad’s eyeing the dirt where the lawn used to be, and my mom’s ignoring it.

At first I sleep in the back of the van at rest stops along I-5, but this is no good, I quickly realize I’m too open to the world. The outside darkness has too many unknowns and in its sleeplessness, its snapping branches and creaking footsteps, it becomes much more than the wind it probably was. I can feel it happening, my imagination getting the better of me. These first nights on the road I hold tight to a bottle of olanzapine — or it could be the fluoxetine — tempted to take one, just one, but there’s a schedule to these things. I must wait for daylight.

The following night I check into a Motel 6 and sleep with the lights on. I dream of the Motel 6, and in my dream I’m sleeping with the lights on in this Motel 6, dreaming of an identical Motel 6. Nothing happens. No footsteps, no shadows, only the faint hum of a far off generator as I spread myself thin across dreams.

The further north I drive, the colder it gets. Sleeping in the van would be impossible. Ice crusts the roads, cold winds skim it smooth, and in some stretches driving becomes impossible too.

Still, I pass into Oregon. In a motel just off the interstate, surrounded by high evergreens, I dream of snow. I can’t sleep in my dream and wander outside. Flakes drift past the street lamps, wetting the pavement before finally sticking. The clouds hang low while the freshly fallen ground raises itself, inch by inch, and a claustrophobia takes me. Standing there in the cold, somehow sweating, I wake myself up to a place where I’m buried in blankets. The hum of the motel calms me, reminds me where I am. I pull aside the curtains — everything is white. Snow covers the parking lot, undisturbed but for one lone track of tires heading out toward the interstate. Even there, all is still. The snow settling into itself, the silence of that is like no other silence. Even a clump of snow, sliding from a branch into snow, equals silence. Even the hum of the motel adds to this, these evergreens, tipped and spattered with white, frozen in their long sleep but still dreaming of clouds.

I use my jacket to clear the snow from the van windows, then lay it out to dry in the back. Lacking a jacket, I layer myself with the remaining clothes I packed and throw the next-to-empty duffle onto the passenger seat. I continue north through snow. Slowly. Towels wrapped around my hands. It takes maybe an hour for the heater to get going, yet even then the warmth is fleeting — it never sticks. You feel yourself warming but never warm.

The snow’s gone by the time I arrive in Portland, though ‘arrive’ is the wrong word. I drive through Portland without realizing I’m driving through Portland. I only realize I’ve reached Portland after Portland is behind me, and I’m in Washington.

I do stop in Seattle though.

My brother lives in Seattle.

When I call him there’s little surprise in his voice. “It’ll be good to see you,” he says.

“Yes,” I say.

I suspect Mom must’ve told him I was coming. When I called her this morning and told her I’d be passing through Seattle, she insisted I go see my brother.

We don’t talk much, he makes dinner as I sit in the living area where a basketball game plays on TV. I don’t know where his roommates are, if they’re out or just avoiding me. Other than the squeaking of sneakers on the TV and the crackle of bacon in the kitchen, I hear nothing. He comes in with two plates — scrambled eggs, bacon, jam on toast — hands me one and sits on the adjacent couch. He mutes the volume as we eat. We talk about everything on the surface. Like the weather, like the the snow, but we go no deeper than that. Before long we’re just listening to ourselves chew, so my brother turns back up the volume on the game.

Later in his room where’s he setting up a place on the floor for me, I tell him, “I wasn’t trying to, you know. It looked bad but it was really nothing.”

He stops what he’s doing and turns to me. He’s taller than me, but now I look down on him.

“I wasn’t trying anything,” I go on. “I was just drunk.”

“I believe you,” he says.

“Okay,” I say.

He sits there for awhile, I stand by the door, and after it’s clear neither of us has anything more to say, he says, “This going to be okay here?” He means the bedding on the floor.

“Yeah, this is great.”

In the morning I eat a quick breakfast of milk and cereal and leave. The city roads are slick with morning ice, but once I’m back on I-5 the driving is fine. I know this road. I’ve driven it many times. The city falls away to the forested suburbs, then just forest until the forest opens back up to farmland, frozen gray with patches of lingering snow. The forest takes the horizon again, until there is no horizon because now the trees are everything, high walls of evergreens and this lone highway threading through them.

I arrive in Bellingham just after noon.

Although Brian’s the last thing on my mind, I see reminders of him everywhere — the corner store, the tracks, the marina, the long road that leads to the cottage — and a familiar claustrophobia takes me. Low clouds, high trees, the mountains to the North, the South, the East, and out west across the bay the islands close the circle.

Within this circle there’s nothing that doesn’t remind me of him.

I stay at the Coachman Inn off Samish Way for the first few nights, though of course I can’t stay here forever. I look for a more permanent place to stay, but nothing too permanent. Most places I find are either too expensive or require the signing of a one-year lease. Neither are acceptable. Even a moderate, month-to-month deal falls through because it’s too close to the street Brian and I both lived on before we became friends, as we became friends, before we moved into the cottage.

We’d both moved here to Bellingham around the same time — Brian from Missouri, me from California — and found ourselves hired by the same bookstore, training for the same sales clerk job with several others. He made me uncomfortable. He was loud, he smelled of cigarettes, I had no idea if he was a boy or girl. I avoided pronouns around him. He was cocky, he was arrogant, he was far too political for my taste. One day while touring the bookstore with the other new hires, I referred to Brian as a “she,” on accident, on instinct, and everyone went quiet. I knew then, of course, that I’d made a mistake, that I’d fucked up — but also I was angry. How was I supposed to know? He has breasts! Right? How am I supposed to know a goddamn thing?

The following day he made an announcement to the staff, at least to us new hires and whoever else happened to be around, that he was transgender — no, he hadn’t mentioned it yet — and questioning, but that he preferred the pronouns he/him. I said nothing. Though this announcement wasn’t directed at me, I knew it was directed directly at me and I hated him for it. I was flooded with hate. Somehow it was just us at the end of the shift, clocking out at the same computer, and he nodded to me before turning away. What did the nod mean? I caught up to him just outside the bookstore.

“Hey, Brian?”

He was taking out a cigarette at the crosswalk and looked up at me.

I went on. “Hey, I’m sorry about the other day.”

“What are you talking about?”

“When I said ‘she.’”

“Did you?”

“Yeah.”

“Honestly didn’t notice.” He lit the cigarette and stared at me. “Anyway I wasn’t talking about you, you know. Do you know how many people here have referred to me as a she?”

“No.”

“How many people work here?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, that many.”

I forced a laugh. He was polite enough to blow the smoke away from me, though he kept staring at me as if trying to figure me out. Neither of us said anything, if we did say anything it wasn’t important.

“Well I should get going,” one of us said.

“Yeah,” said the other.

We said goodbye, said we’d see each other tomorrow, then proceeded to walk off in the same direction. I kept expecting him to branch off, go his own way, but he never did. It was a twenty minute straight-shot walk back from the bookstore to the place I was renting, and Brian was next to me the entire way. Once he even stopped to light another cigarette, and not wanting to be rude, I stopped with him. If he was uncomfortable, he didn’t show it. If he was comfortable he didn’t show that either.

We reached my house. “Well this is me.”

Brian laughed. “This is you?”

“What?”

“That’s me there.” He pointed to a few houses down from mine.

I didn’t know what to say. I said goodbye again and went inside as quickly as possible. We lived on the same street? We lived on the same street.

Later in the evening he knocked on the door. I knew right away it was him. Maybe it was the way he knocked, the loneliness of that knock, or the fact that someone was knocking at all because nobody knocks here.

“Can you come out to play?” he said when I opened the door. He said it sarcastically and I knew it was to hide the fact that, for all of his confidence, he was lonely here too. So I came out to play.

🏠

join man next week for journal #49 (in which said man finds what Brian left him)

Journal #46 (in which nothing is Brian’s fault)

I thought he’d smell her on me when I returned to the van, or see in me what I’d done. But he saw nothing, he smelled nothing. Honestly, I was disappointed.

Tom knew something was up. He could see in my eyes this disappearance was different from the others. And instead of confronting me about it, he drew closer to [said man] and ignored me completely. They sat together, side by side in [said man]’s van, and absolutely ransacked the Tinder-verse for her. Tom knew it was hopeless but he did it anyway. How much he figured out I couldn’t be sure, but he figured out enough.

Left to myself, I imagined confessing everything. I’d swear to Tom I’d never see her again, I’d tell [said man] how sorry I am, I’d never see her again. We’d fight, we’d make up, there’d be tears, they’d both tell me they forgive me, that they understand, there’d be a big group hug and everything would be okay. But of course this was all only in my head. I told Tom nothing. I told [said man] nothing. No one forgave anyone.

Annie messaged me the next day. I wasn’t surprised. What did surprise me was the relief. There were none of the games on our second date, nor were there any on the third, the fourth, etc. Though initially we went out in public spaces (dinner, movie, Disneyland, even mini-golf), we quickly realized that neither of us wanted to do these things, all we wanted to do was stay in and get high, get drunk, and play in bed.

I still rationalized this as undercover work, I was always looking for an opening, a way to bring [said man] back into this, until I found I wasn’t thinking about [said man] at all. Annie’s head on my chest, her thigh across mine, a silence would take us and lay bare the truth of what I was doing — namely, I wasn’t doing anything. I’m not sure how I expected this to end. Maybe I expected him to give up, that being here in Orange would make him realize the solution lay within him. Surely he would see that Annie wasn’t the way. I grew almost angry with him. With his sadness, his ignorance, with how he couldn’t see what I was doing, how he could just let this happen. I hated him. I was responsible for him, he wasn’t okay, but it wasn’t my fault! But also it was. He had been recovering, sort of, and then I took him here.

Every time I came back from seeing Annie I could never look [said man] in the eyes, so I didn’t see what was going on there. I didn’t realize there was such a steep descent happening, because it must’ve already been happening. What he saw in the end couldn’t have been enough, it was already there. I have to tell myself that. To remember that.

One evening when I came back to the van (Annie had a closing shift that night), he asked if I would come with him to LA the next day. He was still convinced Annie was in LA and that he wouldn’t find her unless he went there, not on his phone, not on Tinder, but really went there. It was his final test, he said. I tried to tell him she wasn’t in LA, but I couldn’t tell him how I knew. I was vague, he wasn’t listening. I left him there. It didn’t even strike me as odd that Tom’s car was gone. Tom was gone, [said man] was alone, I didn’t see the danger in this. I never looked him in the eye, so I couldn’t see the danger in this.

The sun dropped below the sky, winter was fast approaching, though I’m not convinced winter every really arrives here. I walked aimlessly that evening. It could just as easily have been a cool summer night back in Washington (if you withheld everything but the weather). I didn’t have any cigarettes on me, I think I left my wallet in the van. I felt faint, I felt nauseous, I couldn’t approach anyone for a cigarette because I couldn’t speak. I just kept walking, thoughtless — not the thoughtlessness that implies something else (i.e. Insensitivity), I was simply without thought. But I was thoughtless too. That was also true.

Even the way I thought was starting to mimic his. A blank space rising, a pursuing shadow made known only be the stabbing paranoia at the back of my neck. I’d turn but there was never anyone there. There was no one anywhere. Why was everything so empty?

I found myself at Annie’s apartment complex. Of course she wouldn’t be off until much later, but I didn’t care. I had nowhere else to go. Then there were the cats. Not just any cats, but kittens, an entire sea of them, squirming over me as I sank into their bottomless depths of claws and little teeth and dirty black fur. Annie nudged me with her foot. I’d been sleeping, curled up against her door. Self-conscious, I pushed myself up and wiped the string of drool from my chin.

“What time is it?”

“Late.”

She was still in her work clothes: a stained black polo, black pants. She hadn’t even bothered to take off her apron. I could tell she was tired, but she was also happy to see me. Inside now, she untied her hair, shook it out, and let it fall over her shoulders. I could see why he loved her, I thought, but quickly pushed the thought from my mind as it involved him, and the growing possibility that I loved her too.

“You okay?” she asked me.

“Yes.”

But really I was so filled with hate I didn’t know what to do with myself.

In her bedroom, at her desk, she ground up some weed and sprinkled it across some rolling paper. She rolled it, she licked it, she twisted one end to a point and handed it to me. Lying back in her bed, I lit up and took a drag. She opened the window and switched on the fan. There was nothing sexual about the way she took off her clothes — shirt off, bra off, pants off, etc. — but watching her I felt my testosterone-enlarged clit grow hard and chafe against my underwear. She lay down beside me and I handed her the joint. Except for the hum of the fan, everything was quiet. Our breath disappeared with the smoke.

I don’t remember the last time I cried, but that night with Annie, I was close. I felt like crying but I didn’t. Because that would be selfish, I told myself. I wasn’t the one I was hurting.

“You sure you’re okay?” she asked me.

I nodded, holding my breath and my eyes.

She fell asleep with her arms around me. Meanwhile I didn’t sleep at all. It’s the cats, I told myself. I don’t want to dream about those cats.

Annie called in sick the next day. She knew something was up and wanted to keep me company. She made breakfast, nothing special, just milk and cornflakes and diced-up fruit from a prepackaged container, and brought it to me in bed with coffee. We spent the rest of the morning there. What remained of the day we spent at the park.

There she asked me if I planned on staying.

“What do you mean?”

“Do you like it here? In Orange?”

“It’s okay.”

“It’s weird to think you could just disappear at any time.”

What she was saying made me uncomfortable. All of this was making me uncomfortable. The calling in sick. The breakfast in bed. The wondering if I’d stay.

“I don’t belong here,” I told her.

“I know.”

It’s now or never, I thought. I have to tell her I don’t care about her, that I’ve been—

“I’m feeling things for you,” she said.

I forced a laugh. “That’s a bad idea.”

“And?”

I said nothing to that. She leaned in for a kiss and I didn’t stop her, but I didn’t add anything to it, I didn’t close my eyes. It was late in the day now and the same paranoia from the night before grew in me. We were sitting in the grass, in the open, I couldn’t help but feel we were being watched. I looked around but there was no one. Clouds covered the sun, shadow covered us, Annie burrowed into me and said, “Rain’s coming.”

Madness is contagious, I thought.

Then the rain came.

We went back to her place, we slept together, I felt nothing. It meant too much to her. When I left the following morning, I swore I’d never go back. I wonder if she felt this, seeing me off at her front door she held me a beat longer than usual, and a little tighter. I would cut myself off from her, I told myself. Now I understood, the madness, the contagion, wasn’t from [said man], but from her. She was the hooks of fate, the Santa Ana winds. There was nothing I could’ve done.

The minivan was still there in the In-N-Out parking lot, baking in the rising sun, burning up with the wet pavement. If he ever did go into LA, he parked in the same spot as before. I tapped on the window, but there was no answer. He must be asleep. The door was unlocked and sure enough there he was, deep in sleep, the warm reek of vomit wafting out. “God damnit,” I said, but had to smile, turning to breathe in anything other than the smell. It was just like in Oregon, I thought, when he drank himself to sleep and I was left to clean up the mess, tend him back to health. I didn’t mind though, this way I could feel as though I was actually helping him.

But first I needed a smoke. I opened all the doors and windows, let the air out and sat in the front seat where I lit a cigarette. There was no longer any trace of the rain, the last puddles had vanished, the scent of rain replaced by tarmac. I took a couple drags, careful to breathe the smoke out the open door.

Then I saw the note, a folded receipt taped to the wheel. My heart pounded as I took it, and opened it, and read what it said on its back:

I saw you.

And that was it. I turned it over but there was nothing but a credit charge for Jack Daniel’s. I felt like throwing up. He saw us. He meant us. I looked back at him. He hadn’t moved. I couldn’t even hear him breathe. I hopped out of the car and ran to the side. I couldn’t hear anything. Then I saw the blood, not a lot, just dark traces spotting the sheets, little nicks on his wrist as if he wanted to but couldn’t. He was never good with blood. Thank god he was never good with blood. But there were pills— no, an empty bottle of pills near an empty bottle of whiskey. I shook him but he didn’t move. He didn’t move. I screamed his name. I screamed his name. I screamed his name because I was so angry with him. How could he be so stupid.

There were people watching me now. Sirens ringing out in the distance but I couldn’t remember calling anyone. A screaming pulse growing louder and louder until I realized it wasn’t screaming till now — now that it was deafening. His skin was cold. Flashing lights. EMTs rushing to the minivan. I moved to the curb. He was breathing, they said, not to me but to each other. I was on the outside of all this, one with the onlookers who were building up around us, or them — I wasn’t one of them. They lifted him onto a stretcher, into the ambulance, and then they were gone, he was gone, I was alone, with this van that reeked of piss and vomit and him.

Reader, are you reading this? Did you really want to know this? If you are reading this, I’m sorry. This wasn’t meant for you.

There are conversations that play on repeat now, nonstop through every hour of the night. One I remember from when I’d visit him at his parents’ house, during his earlier recovery, the recovery I so thoughtlessly interrupted, and he said he was writing again.

“What are you writing?” I asked him.

He took a slip of paper from his pocket and handed it to me. It was a poem.

my life is a drop

always am I falling

soon I will join the sea.

I was shocked. It wasn’t very good, he was better than this, but I nodded.

“Does it help you?” I asked.

“The writing?”

“No, knowing you’re a drop.”

“Should it?”

“I think so.”

“How is it supposed to help me?”

“Stop fighting the fall and fall already, you fall regardless.”

And then another, even earlier, conversation:

I asked him why he dropped out of college, the real reason, and he told me he’d already been to college, a long time ago. I asked him why he stopped writing and he told me he’d already lived a life of words. I asked him why he stopped trying, why he stopped doing anything, and he told me he’s already done everything, there was nothing left to do. And now you, selfish reader, want to know why he decided to stop living? Well, I suppose he’d tell you that he’s already done that too. Too many times, and he was tired.

But I know that’s oversimplifying it.

Also, I fear the truth might be even simpler.

Going through his notebooks, trying to find any clue to the “why” behind it, anything to push the blame off myself, I found something he wrote, something that I had originally missed within one of his longer and more incomprehensible passages:

“When you realize you’re nothing but that drop that has dropped many times before, you welcome the fall, only now you wonder how to keep yourself from falling ever again, so that when you become the sea, you stay the sea and the sea stays you. And calm. And in this calm you realize that all things must pass, even the sea. A weightlessness takes you, you rise and again find yourself the sky, suspended there as a thin mist condensing into thin clouds into dark clouds holding larger and heavier drops and you wonder, just before you feel yourself fall, how to keep yourself from falling ever again.”

I could be projecting now that I know what I know, but this fear of falling was in his eyes. He believed he had done this before, had lived this life countless times, believed he was god, told other people he was god, and died like a god because nobody believed he was anything but a mortal. So what’s the point of trying, for wanting to believe we’re anything more than what we are — namely, the dust of the earth, waiting for the wind. Well, too often the wind is a long time coming. He just decided to find it faster.

Because this wasn’t my fault. This wasn’t my fault. This wasn’t my fault. This wasn’t my

🌧️

join Brian next week for journal #47 (in which Brian finishes his sentence)

Journal #38 (in which said man revisits the one-armed Jesus)

We sit at the edge of the bed for some time without either of us saying a thing. I can tell there’s something else he wants to say but he’s not saying it. Or he hasn’t quite figured out what he needs to say, if he needs to say anything at all.

I’m still naked. Nothing on but a towel.

“Are you going to open the letter?” I ask him.

“I don’t know. Yes, eventually.”

“What do you think it says?”

“You know what I think it says.”

I nod.

“Is it helping, what he sends you?”

Brian shrugs.

“A little,” he says. “But mostly, no.”

“Will you tell me what this one says?”

“It depends on what it says. Do you want to know?”

“I don’t know. I won’t know till I know what it says.”

“I know what you mean.”

He gets up.

“You will tell me though, won’t you?” I ask.

“I’m glad to see you’re doing better.”

“Am I better?” I ask him. “I really can’t tell.”

“You’re different, that’s for sure.”

“Where are you going?”

“Out.”

“Will you be back?”

“Yes. I’ll be back.”

And he does come back. Often. Over the coming days, and weeks, he stops by to check up on me, to see how I’m doing. Neither of us seems to know if I’m getting better or if I’m getting worse, we only know that I’m changing. I definitely feel different — sedated, in the moment, but only because I have no hope for better moments. I take every day, day by day, and I’m in the moment because I’m terrified to look at my future, even more ashamed to look at my past. Brian will sometimes bring over a movie, this is when I can tell he doesn’t want to talk, and usually I’m okay with that. One morning he brings Scarface and we watch that. After the movie he asks me, “You like that movie?”

“Not really.”

“Oh.”

We stare at the credits and then the DVD menu when the credits are done. And then he leaves.

Sometimes he doesn’t bring a movie over, and I’m okay with that too, because it means we get to talk, even if all the talks are the same, even though I can tell he’s just trying to confirm that I’m really okay so he can leave for good and wipe his conscience clean of me.

“My parents suggested I see someone,” I tell him.

“Do you want to see someone?”

“No.”

“But do you think it would help?”

“I don’t know.”

He nods.

“I don’t know what I’d say,” I go on. “Also, I’m embarrassed.”

“About what?”

“About the person I thought I was.”

“So you don’t think you’re that anymore.”

“Yes? I don’t know. No. It’s not that though.”

“So what is it?”

“I know who I am, I know who I was, but I’m not sure it means anything anymore. Or I wasn’t Him at all. I don’t know. If I’m Him or I’m not Him, it doesn’t matter because I’m just me, and I’m outdated — He is outdated. I have nothing to say, nothing to do. If there is a God, he’s abandoned me. If I am God, I’ve abandoned myself. Does that make sense?”

“It does.”

“Anyway, I’m not sure telling anyone this would make any difference. Crazy or not, I know what I saw, I’ve seen the interconnectedness of meaningless things, and I can’t unsee that. The feeling will always stick with me. They can put me on medication, they can try to rewire my mind, correct incorrect imbalances, but no amount of dopamine or serotonin, or whatever they deem as the culprit, can make me forget that I’ve seen the interconnectedness of meaningless things. When you’re there, when you feel yourself at your very center, you see it all spreading out and colliding away from you, everything you do affecting everything else and it never ends, nothing ever ends, meaning it goes on forever in an endless cycle, on and on and back around again, every possibility playing itself out, so — mathematically — nothing you do matters. You will always end up where you are. Both of us will always end up here.”

“You’re so close though,” Brian says.

“Close to what?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “I never got there.”

“Where?”

“I was hoping you could tell me when you got there.”

“And then you took me here.”

“And then I took you here.”

🌘

A couple of blocks away from my house — there’s no question now this’ll always be my house, there’s no escaping it — there’s a church. In front of this church there’s a statue of Jesus, arms outspread like most statues of Jesus, only here his left arm is silver while the rest of the statue is bronze. This is because, back when I was in middle school, some of the kids had stolen the left arm as a prank. Nobody knew who had done it or why, but the result was that the statue became known as the “Hitler Jesus,” because with only one arm raised, it looked as if he was saluting, palm out, much like Hitler.

At the time, this meant nothing to me — it was just a stupid joke, calling this Jesus the “Hitler Jesus.” It wasn’t until years later, long after the arm was finally replaced with the silver one, that I saw the meaning in it, its careful foreshadowing of my own life. Because late in the first madness, I became convinced that in my cycle of death and rebirth, that every nine lives I was reborn as the antichrist. This came out of necessity, because the only way to create something was to destroy something. Not only was I the reincarnation of Jesus, I was the reincarnation of Hitler.

I had to come to terms with that. I was God. I was a mass murderer. Creating life necessitated killing it.

When, because of these thoughts, I dropped out of college and moved back in with my parents the first time, I had to wonder if the subconscious memory of the “Hitler Jesus” was the root of these delusions, if they were delusions, or instead confirmation of my enlightenment. Whatever the connection, there was a connection between Jesus, Hitler, the statue, and me — that I knew.

When I now talk about the interconnectedness of meaningless things, this is what I’m talking about.

All things are connected and none of it means anything.

Though everything changes, nothing changes at all.

🌒

Brian starts showing up less and less and I feel the time approaching when he’ll show up no more. California is not home to him, neither is Washington for that matter, and I’m surprised he’s lasted in either place for so long. Though he doesn’t say anything, I know one of these visits will be his last and I won’t have it in me to follow him.

I can’t forgive him for bringing me here because I forgave him a long time ago. I almost wonder if I knew this was where the road would end. My road is straight. My road has always been straight. Yet home was always where the straight road ends.

On Brian’s last visit — I know it’s his last visit because in his silence I know he’s trying to tell me something, and whether I’m better or worse than before, we both know I’ve reached the end of the road where better or worse ends — I suggest we go for a walk. He looked uncomfortable sitting there on the couch and maybe I was uncomfortable too. We walk along the perfectly white sidewalk squares and, before long, come across the statue once known as the “Hitler Jesus.” I have to wonder if this was the plan all along, to take him here. We sit on the stone bench beneath the statue.

“Why did you take me here?” he asks me.

I don’t have an answer to that.

He looks around and, confirming nobody is around, lights a cigarette. Even Brian must feel it, a devout atheist like him, he feels the sacredness of this place. He takes a drag from the cigarette and blows a plume up toward the statue.

“Why is his arm a different color?”

I tell him.

I tell him in all seriousness what I’ve told you.

When I’m done telling him, all he says is—

“Jesus.”

And then he bursts out laughing. He laughs and coughs and laughs some more. He wipes a tear from his cheek, pinches the rest from his eyes. “Oh god,” he says and takes a quick drag from his cigarette to steady himself. Once steady, he looks up, almost in awe at the statue, as if he’s been converted into something other than what he is.

“So somewhere out there, he has a third arm, just lying around?”

“Yeah? I guess so.”

“Shit,” he says, though I’m not sure why. “A third arm. Shit.”

He gets up from the bench, stares a long time into the bronze eyes of the statue, and then walks away. I follow him.

When we reach my house, though he still says nothing, I know this is goodbye. You don’t have to be omniscient to know I’m never going to see Brian again.

He says goodbye like all the other times, but this goodbye feels different. The breath in my own goodbye tastes different.

“We’ll always have San Francisco,” he says.

“What happened in San Francisco?”

“You don’t remember?”

“No,” I say.

“Oh. Nothing happened in San Francisco.”

Then he walks away, his duffle slung over his shoulder. He leaves me the keys to the minivan, which at first I find to be a touching parting gesture until I remember it was my minivan all along.

I watch him disappear around the street corner. I thought maybe he’d turn and wave when he got there, but he didn’t. He just vanished without so much as a glance back.

Nothing else moves on the street. The trees are still. The air is stagnant.

I go back inside.

⛪️

join man next week for journal #39 (in which said man retreats further into himself)

Journal #35 (in which said man finds himself)

Of course, throughout all of this, we are still being followed. By a man in a car. By a man in blue Honda. You know the one.

We stick to the coast, southbound on Highway 1. The dark expanse of ocean threatens on our right, tumultuous under low hanging clouds. Wind sweeps in off the waters and pulls the meadow grass down low. An occasional break in the clouds will turn gray water to green water, but these moments of light are brief. Mostly we drive through an onslaught of muted colors.

My hope is the coastal roads will make it harder for us to be followed. With its winding curves, with its cliffs, hills, and bridges, there is no horizon for the blue Honda to balance on, no easy vantage point from which the aforementioned man can watch us.

Sometimes I’ll pull over and wait for the cars to pass, to see if I can recognize the one who follows. My senses heighten in these moments. A warning tightness in my chest. I watch the cars pass, scrunched down in the driver’s seat. But the man never passes. Suddenly, my senses abate, my heart slows, and a calmness sweeps over me that borders on coma.

I ask Brian for a joint. And a light. I crack open the window — opening the interior to the sound of the waves, the passing cars, the brush of wind against a beard — and I light the joint. Breathing in the smoke, its taste of earth, gives me a sense of oneness with this earth, and it’s this oneness that I tune into. The man waits somewhere behind. He’s tuned into what I’m tuned into now.

Somehow, we’re connected.

He knows where we’re heading. He knows what we’re up to. Shake him or not, he’ll still find us. I pull back onto the road and drive.

Though welcome, there’s another benefit to taking Highway 1 that I did not intend: Brian can find no place to stay on Tinder and therefore has no choice but to stay in the minivan with me. The reception is shoddy, and when he does manage to make a connection, it doesn’t last. This lack of technology on the northern coast feels backward, unsettling. Though we know where we are, we often find ourselves lost. The fog rolls in from the ocean and takes the road. Windswept trees claw inland like skeletal hands.

We drive slow. It’s been over an hour since we’ve seen another car. Brian grows restless next to me, constantly checking his phone for a signal but failing to find one. Neither of us want to stop, neither of us want to get out of the car in fear we’ll lose ourselves to the mist.

A sign tells us we are now

ENTERING SALT POINT STATE PARK.

Our eyes grow weak in the dimming twilight, the headlights doing nothing to break the fog. Another sign, this one for Gerstle Cove Campground. We take this offshoot into the park, follow a short road to the campground loop and drive slow through the fog, looking for a vacant site. Little fires burn around us but fail to illuminate the silhouettes that surround them. It’s too early for a campground to be this quiet.

We pull into a secluded site, complete with picnic table and fire pit, but we don’t leave the car. Mist creeps along the windows. Condensation drips from the high trees against the roof. Brian checks his phone. Still no service.

It’s been four nights since he’s found a place to stay. Four nights since either of us have gotten any sleep.

“I’m cold,” he says, and gets out of the car. He sits at the table, facing the fire pit, and throws up his hood.

“We have wood,” I say, following him out.

He says nothing.

In the pit I stack the firewood into a house, like I’ve seen Brian do. I can’t find kindling so I take my journal and tear out the blank pages, crumpling them up and lighting them before throwing them into the little wood house. The wood doesn’t catch. Brian watches but doesn’t seem to care whether it catches or not. He doesn’t seem to expect it to.

Drops continue to fall from the trees. Slowly, the lights from the surrounding camps go out. Our firewood never catches, downgrading it to just wood. Dejected, I sit next to Brian. “Well—”

Brian says nothing.

Back in the van I lie across the sheets. Darkness spreads through the fog like ink, pressing itself against the windows. Brian is still out there, at the table, I haven’t heard him move. It must be well past midnight when I do hear something. Footsteps passing the car then growing distant.

I pull aside the hanging tapestries but see nothing. There’s no one out there. I slip on my shoes, open and close the sliding door as quietly as I can.

Far away footsteps. Where?

It would’ve been impossible to follow him if it wasn’t for the blue light of his phone. Every now and again he’ll raise it up as if searching for a signal. I use these beacons to track him.

At the other end of the loop there’s a trail that leads away from the campsite, away from the main road. I’m careful to keep a good deal behind, but even more careful not to lose him. The low thunder of waves grows louder. I can taste the salt of the sea. I see nothing. I’m utterly reliant on the brief moments of light from Brian’s phone — illuminated trees between shifting darkness, a Rorschach test with Brian’s silhouette always at the center.

Then the lights stop. I’m groping for a trail but there’s nothing. The winds rush at me from all sides. I bundle myself against myself, but I don’t seem to be all there. I stop walking, listen to anything beyond the wind, beyond the waves that could be coming from anywhere. Had I been walking uphill or downhill? The trees creak against the weight of the fog.

Suddenly, a great swinging glow from beyond the trees, brighter than any phone, any star, any sun, making shadows of the trees and moving them slow and synchronized across my feet. Then the unmistakable roll of tires on gravel. A car door slam. Now the lights are red and receding into the night.

I follow the spots in my eyes toward their origin — a slight downhill grade, the trees opening up — and I come out onto a dirt road.

“Brian?”

The trail is here, it ends on one side of the road and continues on the other where there are no trees, just silver grass shuddering in the wind. Beyond that, the ocean. The air is so wet. The moon slides above through a rare break in clouds. I make my way toward the meadow.

Everything is black and gray, but with a tinge of technicolor blue. Only barely though. The light is much more mute than that.

“Brian?” I call out into the wind. “Brian!”

I don’t believe my voice carries beyond me, but instead is swept back with the wind behind me. I climb the sandstone that rises from the meadow before dropping into the ocean. There’s something there, on the wind, something other than the waves. A soft sob, yes, that’s the sound.

Below me to the right is a little cove, and on its beach I see a shadow sitting, hunched in the sand. I call out to him but he doesn’t answer, doesn’t even look up. Using the many pits, divots, and ridges — carved like honeycomb into the stone — I make my way down toward the beach and drop myself onto the wet sand.

The hunch of the figure is familiar, and I know I know him. He hears me coming and looks up.

“Brian?”

His voice startles me. I search the darkness for his face, his faded features. Oh.

“Sorry, I thought you were Brian.”

“I thought you were Brian too.”

I sit next to him in the sand and its moisture seeps from my jeans to my underwear.

“Where do you think he went?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think he’ll come back?”

“He always does.”

I burrow deeper into myself, into the cold sand, and everything is so cold, even myself. I take myself into myself and tell myself everything is going to be alright.

“Are you sure?”

“I don’t know.”

The tide crawls up from the deep, lapping once at our shoes before scuttling back.

“We should probably be getting back,” I say.

“Yes. Yes we should.”

“I’m glad I have you,” I say.

“Me too. It’s not always so easy to find one’s self.”

The two of us climb back up to the meadow, find the trail where the road cuts through and follow it back toward the campsite. I can barely see myself in the dark, but I’m not all that hard to follow.

“Where have you been all this time?” I ask.

I seem to think for a bit, search my mind for the answer before giving it. “The greatest hazard of all,” I say, “losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly. Any other loss — an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. — is sure to be noticed.”

“Who said that?”

“You said that.”

“But who said that first?”

“I don’t know.”

“Brian would know.”

“But doesn’t that make you suspicious, how much Brian knows?”

“I never thought—”

“He knows too much. Where do you think he goes to at night?”

“I—”

“I don’t trust him.”

“Why?”

“Because you don’t trust him.”

“Yes. I never thought of it like that.”

“You don’t think enough.”

“You’re supposed to help me.”

“I’m not the one who lost me. That was your doing.”

“What do I call you?”

“You can call me whatever you want to call me.”

“But what do you call yourself?”

“I call myself many names, but you’ve called me Knight, you’ve called me Ranger, you’ve called me man in blue Honda, you’ve called me Walker.”

“Walker.”

Walker nods.

“You’ve been following me.”

“You’ve been following yourself.”

I don’t remember much else of the conversation. How it ends, who leaves whom, which one of us I am when I wake in the morning. I’m left with myself. That’s all I know.

Opening my eyes, I feel full. Stronger, that’s the best way to describe it. The mist still moves through the trees but the rising sun gives it a wet, golden glow. Families are packing up their coolers, breaking down their tents. No one comes to collect payment as our presence here seems to have gone unnoticed.

I’m sitting out the open back of the van, smoking a cigarette from the pack Brian left in the front cupholder. I’m smoking it just like Brian smokes his, looking cool, looking collected, when Brian himself comes strolling down the campground loop smoking a cigarette too. He looks rested, he looks smug, and I realize I was right — he knows too much.

“Hey you,” he says, and sits down next to me.

“Where were you?”

“Walking. Thought you lost me?”

I shrug, as if it doesn’t matter. “The greatest hazard of all,” I say, “losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly. Any other loss — an arm, a leg, five dollars,” I look at him here, “a friend, etc. — is sure to be noticed.”

“Kierkegaard?”

“Yes,” I say. “But who said it first?”

Brian blows a plume of smoke into the fog. His eyes narrow, his eyebrows shrug, when he looks at me.

“Me,” I say. “I said it first. I said it last. Everyone else, they’re saying my shit.”

He crushes out his cigarette, apparently calm, but his firmness in crushing it says this new revelation has upset him in some way. His eyes don’t quite meet mine when he looks up at me again.

“I am the Alpha,” I say. “I am the Omega. I am Everything that’s ever been said.”

“Well said,” he says.

“Yeah.”

“So. Shall we?”

“We shall.”

We leave the mists behind. And the coast, this California coast, grows golden. The sun is out, high and hot, and it beats down on the hood of the car with such metallic force. The future blinds, there’s a glare. Open the windows, a grit to the air. It’s like black sand in the lungs.

⚠️

join man next week for journal #36 (in which nothing happens in San Francisco)

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 #32 (in which said man upgrades to Tinder Plus)

It’s not the unlimited Likes or the bonus Super Likes or the Last Swipe Rewind that attracts us to the upgrade — after all, what use are any of these when you’re only looking for one person? — but the Passport feature. “Match with people all around the world,” claims Tinder Plus. “Paris. Los Angeles. Sydney. Go!”

It’s the Passport we need. It’s the Passport we subscribe to. We’re only in Oregon, but on Tinder, we could be in Los Angeles right now. Right now we could be looking for Annie.

What I wasn’t expecting — what I should have been expecting — was the sheer number of people on Tinder at any one time in Los Angeles. While in Bellingham it wouldn’t take long to run out of people near you, in Los Angeles the well never dries. Though this depth is daunting at first, drowning even — what if Annie never comes across my screen, what if I never come across hers, what if, it only hits me now, what if Annie isn’t on Tinder at all? — I quickly rid myself of any doubt, of any question. If there was one thing I knew about Annie from the year I knew her, it was that she would be on Tinder now. Her antisocial, shadow-like behavior. Yet her constant need for validation. To watch without being seen. To be seen without showing yourself. To hide behind yourself.

Yes, she was made for Tinder.

It’s like what Joseph Campbell says of the acorn— “What is the cause, though, of the growth of an acorn? The oak that is to come! What is to happen in the future is then the cause of what is occurring now; and, at the same time, what occurred in the past is also the cause of what is happening now. In addition, a great number of things round about, on every side, are causing what is happening now. Everything, all the time, is causing everything else.”

This moment at the center of everything. I’m on Tinder for a reason. She’s on Tinder for a reason. Everything — a great number of things round about, on every side — is causing us to be on Tinder. Our future has been pulling our pasts together for so long. The sky lifts us toward itself, we reach out with straying branches, but our trunk is straight, at our center what we must become remains true.

Still, despite the certainty, uncertainty is also a certainty. I have to put down my phone. The brightness of the screen, the eyes of the LA girls, it’s all starting to get to me. I see spots.

I have to blink several times before Brian’s silhouette comes into focus. We’re both in the back of the van, propped up on opposite sides of the mattress, thick tapestries draped down all around us. Turning off my phone has left us in complete darkness. Brian asks if he can turn on a light.

I say okay.

He turns on a lantern. He’s half-naked, just pink panties and a white tank top and through it I can make out the shape of his breasts, the dark size of his nipples. His tin Batman lunchbox sits open before him, its contents strewn across the mattress. He draws testosterone from a vial into a syringe and places the tip of the needle to his thigh. He doesn’t look at me as he presses it in, a dimple forming where the needle disappears.

Outside, waves crash against the rocks, the wind blows sand against the windows. The occasional car passes, headlights playing patterns across Brian’s face. His unkempt hair falls before his eyes but he’s unable to sweep it away.

And just like that it’s over, he takes the needle out. No blood trails from the puncture wound I hesitate this time to even call a wound. He disposes of the syringe into a thick red plastic container and places the rest back in the lunchbox. He stuffs it under the mattress, atop his laundry, turns off the lantern and without a word lays himself back. Outside the ocean still beats itself upon the land.

I crawl under the sheets, my face near Brian’s feet, and turn back on my phone. I continue swiping through girls some 900 miles away. My phone dies as the sun rises, a pinkish glow seeping through the tapestries. It’s cold. I burrow deeper under the blankets, bury my face and curl into the corner behind the passenger seat. I shut my eyes just to keep them warm.

When I wake Brian is gone. Every part of my being feels thin, not quite there. But there’s a heaviness there too. I’m dragging it as I pull myself up. I give the sliding door a firm tug and wind whips the tapestry into my face. I pull it aside and tuck the bottom corner up behind the pinned top. Brian is leaning against the wooden fence that separates the pull-off from the short drop to the beach. He’s smoking a cigarette.

“Morning,” he says as I get out of the car. “Sleep well?” he asks.

I blink the sun from my eyes. “What time is it?”

He points to the sun, as if that means anything to me.

The camp stove is out and his percolator bubbles on top with the scent of coffee. He pours me a cup before removing his pan from under the mattress, and eggs and sausage from the cooler. All the ice in the cooler is melted, the sausages drip as he throws them in the pan and the pan throws back steam.

“Those okay to eat?” I ask.

“What do you mean?”

“The cooler is all water.”

“If you’re suggesting we waste food…”

I sip my coffee, and say nothing. He pokes the sausage with a spatula.

The waves sound just as violent as during the night, but when heard in this light, the violence seems inconsequential against the vastness of ocean and sky. The sun rolls above us, but the wind off the water keeps us cool. We eat leaning against the fence, watch as tourists pull over to take selfies, sometimes to climb down and walk barefoot in the sand to take selfies there.

Lincoln City is just north of us. To the south, more beach towns like it. We pass through these towns, shops painted in pastel shades of blue and pink and teal. Signs touting salt water taffy, fudge, caramel corn. Between the towns, road signs warn us when we’re entering and exiting tsunami hazard zones. Blue arrows to evacuation routes. West of the beaches, rocks rise from the water, the ocean breaking against them. Even further west, surfers lay in wait.

When we stop, Brian will bum cigarettes from the bums. He always knows where to find them. They’re not hard to find. I stay in the van during these daytime excursions, and his occasional nighttime excursions too. At a pull-off that may as well be the same as the last, I open up Tinder and once again start swiping. The sun drips down the sky and pools on the horizon. The orange lavender light bleeds through the tapestries until there’s not enough light to do so. Brian is still out there. Darkness again. Except for the light of my phone, I see nothing. Nothing but these LA girls. Names like Iris and Carina and Inga and Delaney and Bianca and Rianne and Shealyn and Blaire and Celery and I’m flying through them because there’s no need to look at photos or bios when you’re only looking for a name as simple as Annie’s. Still, the eyes get to you. The dark mascara and liner rimming them like bruises, empty in the middle, sun bleached blonde or hair dyed dark, features so perfect they look manufactured — might be manufactured — and everyone dressed up for this dreamy nightmare wonderland stage they’re living on. They’re all trying so hard to play the part, spines straight, shoulders back, stomachs clenched, painted lips. They come from all over — Paris, Prague, New York, Chicago — they’re all trying so hard but they don’t realize they don’t need to try anymore. The smog is already there in their eyes, caked over their blemishes as blush and well, what does it matter—

None of them are Annie.

Though there was one that looked like Annie. Same black hair, same black eyes, same fake nose though this one wasn’t broken. I have to stop on her, give her a closer look — Marilyn. All of her photos are the same, or may as well be the same. Selfies from around the city, not an acquaintance in sight, one on the beach, all with the same expression of pouted lips the same way Annie would pout her lips — no, purse her lips. Annie would purse her lips. Pouting gives away too much and Annie gives nothing. I’m focused so much on her lips that I almost miss her bio—

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

I scroll down but there is nothing. Common interests? Nothing. I scroll back up to her photos, back down again to her one line bio. I whisper it to myself, and finish the thought—

“You will know them by their hunger.”

Now her eyes really— no, it’s her lips that get to me. Her pursed lips — no, puckered lips — almost mock me, barely parted but not enough to let out her secret. She knows my hunger.

My forehead drips, my fingers tremble, my stomach’s growl tears through me. For the first time since Jane, I swipe someone right.

Outside, cars no longer pass. It’s the nothing hours between night and morning when nothing happens, nothing exists. Even the ocean is silent, the wind is dead. Brian however, is still out there. And though I have the entire mattress to myself, I curl up into my corner where the passenger seat meets the sliding door.

In the morning you have to wonder if it was a dream, I always do and always seem to figure it out. But this time I can’t. I remember Annie’s face, but the face from last night I can’t remember. I’m rested, I’m reasonably awake, but my thumb aches as it’s never ached. Endless eyes, dark lashes, rise to my consciousness. I taste smog. We’re only in Oregon and already I taste the smog.

🌆

join man next week for journal #33 (in which said man runs out of gas)

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.