E06: Crazy for a While

29 min read

(This is Momentum: Season 1, Episode 6. The content deals with mature subject matter, including sex, drugs, and physical/emotional violence. To get the whole story in your inbox—free—sign up here.)

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Before We Begin, A Question for You:

Have you ever struggled to tell someone the real truth?

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October 16. Seal Rock, OR.
Day 45.

Colors, unexpected

by the mid-afternoon, a dull grey had rolled in over the Pacific. But the clouds began clearing just as Jordan reached Waldport, like curtains parting for the main event. The colors started creeping in the moment that the sun disappeared into the horizon. First, the blushes and golds. Then, the salmons and apricots. The reds grew thicker and deeper. By the time that Jordan reached the broad beach, the horizon was as rich as blood.

Then the fireworks started to fade: mahoganies—crimsons—plums—until all that was left were the indigos, stealing away the show.

When it was all over, even the seagulls seemed to be applauding.

But then it was night, and Jordan was still trudging down the empty beach. It felt like the State Park campground was walking away from him.

One more mile? Two more miles? I should be there already. Where the fuck is it?

Every few steps, he stopped to check his phone, but without a data plan, all he could render was a blue dot that hovered vaguely over the top left corner of the West Coast. Each time he zoomed in too close, his map disappeared.

Jordan was in no mood to think about symbols or metaphors. His feet were aching, and he was ready to be in his sleeping bag.

Sunset near Waldport.

It was well past nine when he finally spotted a cluster of RVs, just up from the beach atop a low dune. When he consulted the campground’s map, he saw that he’d overshot the hiker-biker site by half a mile. Fuck!

The last slog to the communal campsite felt like a death march. Jordan dragged his heels, feeling hungry, tired, and emotionally and physically drained. But there, at long last, was the hiker-biker campsite. It was surrounded by blackberry bramble, right next to the concrete restroom. There was one tent already set up on the small site, right next to the lone picnic table.

The tent was illuminated from the insight by a flashlight, silhouetting a figure through the thin material. For a moment, it struck him that the figure looked Sally-like.

Then he heard an ugly, hacking cough that lasted for nearly ten seconds. He knew exactly who it was.

Yup, you guessed it: butterflies.



You are the love that you seek

a few days earlier, Jordan was sitting at a kitchen table in Newport, Oregon, staring into the eyes of a woman named Hannah.

Well, trying to stare into her eyes. He could only hold her eye contact for a few seconds before he broke away, giggling like a schoolchild.

“Alright, let’s try it again,” Hannah said patiently. “Repeat after me. I am the love that I seek.”

Jordan took a deep breath and looked in her eyes again. “You are… the love that you seek.”

“I am the love that I seek,” she repeated.

“You are the love that you seek.”

I am the love that I seek!”

You are the love that you seek!” He reached over to give her a high five. “Did we do it?

Hannah slapped his hand. “Nice work. Now it’s your turn.”

Jordan had just met Hannah a few hours earlier. She was friends with a woman named Belinda who Jordan had connected with on the social networking site, Couchsurfing. In those pre-AirBnb days, Couchsurfing was a fantastic resource that connected hosts and travelers as part of a totally free, gift economy network that was inspired by the Universal Similarities Between People. Belinda had agreed to let Jordan spend a couple nights on the couch of her harborfront apartment in Newport.

Both women were in their twenties and volunteers with the service program, AmeriCorps. They were deployed in Newport for a year, working on issues like nutrition and food security. And before AmeriCorps, Hannah had spent a little over two years on a Peace Corps mission in Mongolia. She’d learned this role-playing game in a Peace Corps training.

“It’s supposed to reaffirm your sense of self-independence,” she explained. “To make it easier to leave gracefully at the end of your deployment.”

“Does it work?” asked Jordan.

Hannah cracked a guilty smile. “That’s a bit of a longer story.”

Never mind: now it was Jordan’s turn. He looked Hannah in the eyes, as Belinda sipped her tea, looking on.

“I am…” He took a deep breath, trying to steady himself. “I am… I am the seek the… What was it again?”

“I am the love that I seek,” Hannah said evenly.

“You are the love that you seek.”

“No, I.

You.

I am the love that I seek.”

“You are the love that you seek.

“You don’t have to do this if you don’t want.”

“Okay, okay, okay.” He looked Hannah in her eyes. “I…” Nope. Giggles. “Why is this so hard?”

“Why is this so hard?”

“It just seems so selfish. Why should I be the love that I seek? That’s like saying my needs are more important than yours. That doesn’t sound very loving.”

“You do have needs, though,” said Belinda.

“I mean. Not really. I’m not a very needy person.”

“You can quit if you want,” said Hannah.

“No, no, no. I’m not a quitter either. Let’s do this.” He looked Hannah in the eyes sternly. “I am… I am the love that I seek.”

Hannah held his eye contact. “You are the love that you seek. Again.”

“I am the love that I seek.”

“You are the love that you seek. This time, like you’re the king of the jungle.”

I AM THE LOVE THAT I SEEK!” Jordan roared.

“YOU ARE THE LOVE THAT YOU SEEK!” Hannah gave Jordan a high five. “Nice work.”

“I’ll go put on another pot of tea,” said Belinda, laughing.

Newport, Oregon.

Sea lion barks filtered up through the harbor through the fogged glass on Belinda’s sliding door. The lights on the elegant Yaquina Bay Bridge twinkled in the distance. Two days had passed since the three-mile-an-hour footrace on the highway south of Lincoln City, and Jordan still hadn’t seen DJ and Blackjack. But he knew they were out there somewhere. He was grateful to be inside, behind locked doors, without worrying that he would be awoken in the middle of the night by a barking dog or by a stoned drifter.

Between Jack the Chicken Man and DJ, Jordan’s internal threat levels were increasing.

Belinda placed the teapot on the table. Hannah was talking about her Peace Corps experience in Mongolia. “You’re supposed to be representing your country. You’re supposed to display these very professional values. But you can’t stop yourself from being embedded in the culture when you’re there for more than two years. The people you’re working with are more than your colleagues. They’re your friends. And they’re your support system too.”

“I know just what you mean,” said Jordan. “I had the same experience when I was in India. At first, I’d turn my camera on someone because they were colorful or interesting or maybe a little weird. It took me a little time to get over myself and realize that these were real people, with their own individual Stories.” He shook his head. “I know, that sounds naive and patriarchal. Like, wow,he deadpanned—”people on the other side of the world have feelings too!”

“Yeah, it does sound naive and patriarchal,” said Hannah. “But I get it. When you get raised with a certain perspective, it can be hard to step outside the box.”

“There’s still hope for you, even though you’re a straight, white man,” said Belinda. They all laughed. “Besides, it’s really cool what you’re doing with these love stories. It sounds like a good thing that people see you as someone who can offer support.”

Jordan blushed. It sounded like she’d told him that he reminded her of Paul.

When he asked the women whether he could record one of their Stories, they looked back and forth at one another before Hannah finally volunteered. He put his phone on the table, already excited for whatever he was going to hear. He’d started to fall in love with this moment, right before his subject started talking when he had no idea where they were heading. He loved the sense of mystery and the promise of intimacy.

Hannah’s Story took place in Mongolia. While she was there, she explained, living in a Soviet bloc apartment building in a small city on the edge of the Gobi Desert, Hannah befriended a group of young local men.

“They were in their late teens and early twenties, so boys, really,” she clarified. “We’d get together in the evening and hang out in each other’s apartment and drink vodka. In Mongolia, there’s not much to do. You end up drinking a lot of vodka.”

Hannah in Belinda’s apartment in Newport.

In Mongolia, she explained, men were often given strong, very hypermasculine names. One of these boys was named Altan Sukh. In English, that translated to Golden Axe.

“It started off with English lessons. He would come over and I started teaching him the words to Michael Jackson’s Heal the World. I don’t know how long it took, but he learned the entire song and was able to sing it, which felt like a great accomplishment. I don’t even know how it really happened, but it was this almost innocent relationship. A very kind of childlike friendship because of his language skills.”

Hannah’s departure date from Mongolia was looming on the horizon. “Leaving Mongolia was going to be heartbreaking in itself. I had become so close to these people and this particular group of friends and also Golden Axe. We hung out every night and he stayed over at my apartment every night. It wasn’t physical, but we really enjoyed each other’s company. We weren’t even really considered boyfriend and girlfriend, but there was just this bond, and everyone kind of knew it.”

One night, the group was hanging out in someone’s apartment, passing around the vodka bottle. “Someone says, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if Hannah and Golden Axe got married?’ Everyone just kind of erupts in laughter. Just dying from laughter. Then it kind of died down, and we were looking at each other like… you know what? Yeah, that sounded great.”

HANNAH: So we started planning this wedding, which is crazy because it’s such a different wedding process than in America. He had to call up my parents on the phone. He doesn’t speak any English and my parents don’t speak any Mongolian, so I was handing the phone back and forth and translating the equivalent of, “Can I have your daughter’s hand in marriage?” And my father on the other line was going, “Oh my God, Hannah, what are you doing over there?” And I was like, “Calm down, Dad. Calm down.” My parents definitely thought that I was a little bit crazy at the time.

So we prepared this ceremony. I went to live with his family for a week where I was kind of being tested as a wife. I made all of the meals and lived with them and did everything that a wife is supposed to do in Mongolia. And they loved me like I was part of the family already. They accepted me as their, I guess, daughter-in-law.

We had this amazing wedding. It was our own kind of private ceremony with our friends. There’s some really cute pictures that I actually haven’t shown anyone, because they’re just very private, where it’s us exchanging these plastic rings that he had had from when he was a kid. It looks like a candy cane around my finger, and we’re sitting in my living room of course drinking vodka with friends. It was like a wedding ceremony and a goodbye ceremony at the same time, which was really hard.

I think we thought for maybe a second about trying to get him a fiancé visa to come back with me to the States. Now that just seems, oh my gosh, completely insane. But at the time it was just too expensive, so we knew that we’d just gotten married and then I was going to leave, and there wasn’t a determined amount of time that I was going to come back. Or if I was going to come back. It’s been two years and I haven’t been back since…

Listen to the end of Hannah’s Story.

When Hannah left and Belinda went to sleep, Jordan lay on the couch fidgeting with Paul’s crystal. Another great Story in his pocket; another important lesson helping him along his road to metamorphosis. He felt a little like a student cramming for a test as if he was working toward a final, climactic. show-and-tell: here’s what I learned when I walked from Canada to Mexico.

I feel like I’ve come so far. I feel like a totally different person from who I was when I started walking.

As he listened to the barking sea lions, he thought about the lessons he’d accrued in just the past few days: Every step has an intention. I am the love that I seek.

Every step is bringing me closer to the person I want to be.

That night, he slept easily, dreaming of butterflies.


Heading south from Newport.

The person he didn’t want to be

a few weeks after their “honeymoon”, Jordan met Sally at a train station near Bombay Airport. With his travel research contract complete and months still remaining on both their visas, the couple set their sights on a remote region nearly two thousand miles to the northeast, in the culturally diverse, politically contested region of India squeezed between China, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Traveling by slow train, they meandered northeast, fixated on the simplest of objectives: being in love, having an adventure and Telling a Story About the Universal Similarities Between People.

The journey took them about a month before they finally arrived in a state nicknamed the Scotland of the East. The state’s actual name was Meghalaya. The name translated to “Abode of Clouds” in Sanskrit—perhaps implying that the hilly, forested region had reminded people of Scotland long before the British arrived.

Cool, wet Meghalaya was most notable as the Wettest Place on Earth. The southern portion of the state receives an average of nearly 40 feet of rain per year—almost five times the annual rainfall in the California Redwoods. Most of that rain fell during the summer monsoon when tiny rivulets were transformed into roaring torrents, and the jungle glowed prehistoric greens.

Meghalaya was distinct from the majority of hot, dry India in several other ways, too. About half of the state’s 3 million residents traced their heritage to an ethnic group called the Khasi people, who had been living in the jungles of those hills for at least ten thousand years. Anthropologically, the Khasis were indigenous Austroasiatic people, more closely related to the Khmers of Cambodia than to the Indo-Aryans of the lowlands. They lived in villages in the dense jungle, until they were first contacted by the British, not long after the colonial army captured a nearby kingdom, in 1823. Soon, Scottish and Welsh missionaries were working their way into the hills, fighting through the jungle and proselytizing the Khasis.

Today, more than 85% of the tribe identifies as Christian, including a substantial portion with ties to American evangelical organizations. (Rumor had it that the state capital, Shillong, hosted the best Bob Dylan festival in all of Asia.)

Khasi school kids cross a living root suspension bridge in Meghalaya.

Despite their conversion to Christianity, the Khasis had held onto some of their pre-contact, animist beliefs. Perhaps the most notable of those beliefs was matrilineality. The Khasis were one of the few cultural groups on the planet that passed land and title from mother to daughter, distinguishing themselves substantially from the wider patriarchal world.

For Jordan and Sally, the impacts of this cultural practice were immediately apparent when they arrived in the capital, Shillong. There were women everywhere: women haggling in the markets, women womenning the shops, women wrapped in Scottish-style tartan blankets chewing mildly hallucinogenic betel nut that rotted their teeth and turned their spit putrid. Red betel nut splatters marked up the streets that were clogged with scores of women. Partially because of the American influence, Khasi women were particularly good English speakers. Jordan and Sally were shocked by how many women approached them—asking where they were coming from, what they were doing in their region, offering destinations to explore and inviting them over to their homes for tea.

Jordan had spent more than a year in India, and he could count the local women he’d had a lengthy conversation with on just one hand.

For Sally, in particular, this experience was a revelation. Elsewhere in India, she’d stand silently as strangers engaged Jordan in conversation, often talking about her as if she wasn’t standing right there. But in Shillong, she was the center of attention.

“It feels like a dream,” she gushed, one evening in their hotel room. “These people must be the friendliest on the planet.”

Their experience of the Khasis motivated them to follow through on the pie-in-the-sky idea that had brought them to Meghalaya in the first place. After four days in Shillong, they shucked all the excess gear in their backpacks—so long, extra sweater; see you later, Lonely Planet! The next morning, they left the capital on foot.

They had no destination. They didn’t even have a map. They were so underprepared that they didn’t even know whether there were guesthouses out there in the villages. All they had was the recommendations from Khasi women, and the earnest desire to throw themselves into the world and hope that something would catch them.

Sure enough, on their first afternoon on the road, they met a Khasi woman who invited them into her home, fed them, let them sleep in her son’s bedroom and refused—”under absolutely no circumstances!”—to take even a single rupee from their wallets.

They had the same experience the second day.

And the third one.

And the fourth one.

And the…

They ended up spending a month wandering through those hills. It was the happiest time in their entire relationship.

This experience of hospitality, of bliss, of adventure, contrasted sharply from the month they spent traveling to get there. Though they were in the early days of their relationship, quickly falling in love, on an adventure and and unfettered by domestic problems, they were also stuck with one another, and they knew it. Sally had given up everything to come be with Jordan in India. Jordan knew that Sally had given up everything for him, and he felt a sense of obligation. After two years spent licking the wounds from his first relationship, Jordan had decided that he was going to find a way to make this one work. He wasn’t a quitter.

Actually, he was a quitter—but that was a character trait he was desperately trying to get over.

Walking through the Abode of Clouds, Jordan felt like he’d climbed Jack’s mythical beanstalk to reach the castle in the sky. Though his family and friends surely thought that he’d swapped his future for a handful of magic beans—to say nothing of good hash—he was adamant that he’d found his goose that lays the golden eggs. He’d never seen her so happy; he’d never see her that happy again until after she left her note.

Every day in Meghalaya was its own special adventure. One day, they arrived in a town that hadn’t seen a tourist since a Spanish man who had arrived on his bicycle in the 80s. They were immediately introduced to the local headman, who assumed that they had arrived to view the village’s most treasured resource: a thicket of woods deemed an Enchanted Forest. The headman handed them a printout that listed FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

Why is this forest enchanted? Because it is occupied by the spirits.

Alright. Seemed straightforward.

Another day, they followed an old British bridle path which descended down, down, down from the hilltop into a river valley that flowed toward the distant plain. Though it was dry season, the waterfalls tumbling down the cliff faces looked like a bridal veil. They had brought along some edible cannabis from the government bhang shop in Varanasi, and by the time they reached the river, they were both very stoned. Daring Sally stripped down to her underwear to bathe in the icy river. Jordan was awed by her courage. Afterward, when the sun burst through the clouds and they cuddled together on the rocks, Jordan’s chest could hardly contain his swelling heart.

He felt like he’d been searching for Sally forever. Finally, he’d found Her. Stoned, on a grand adventure, accompanied by the woman he loved, Jordan was sure that he’d finally found paradise.

Remember this. Remember this. This is the happiest moment of my entire life.

He wasn’t exaggerating. And those were just two days out of thirty.

But there was one moment that was not the happiest of his life. A few days after they sat stoned by the river, Sally and Jordan arrived in a small village tucked deep into the jungle, not far from the Wettest Place in the World. The region was just opening to tourism, and there was just one simple guesthouse in town. When they arrived, they met another traveler there—English, like Sally.

Sally had studied at Cambridge; this young Englishman had spent some time taking tourists out in punts on the River Cam. They had plenty in common. To Jordan, it seemed like they were flirting openly and blatantly at the dinner table, while he stewed in silence beside them. Finally, Jordan announced that he was going to bed. He looked at Sally, expecting that she would join him. But Sally told him that she was going to stay up a little longer. The punter shot him a look. Jordan moped back to his room. He left the door open a crack, so he could eavesdrop on their conversation. When Sally returned to their room a half-hour later, Jordan was so angry that he could hardly speak to her.

The next day found them half-hidden in the village cemetery—Sally’s hands on a tree, her pants at her ankles, while Jordan pumped vigorously from behind her.

This was deep in the jungle. There were technicolored butterflies everywhere.

They left the next day and never saw the punter again. But Jordan still had the taste of humiliation on his lips. He stewed in rage, never expressing any of it overtly to Sally.

Devoutly committed to what he knew was Rule Number One of relationships—Your Partner’s Needs Come First—he buried his true feelings, placing them behind lock and key in a room in his heart that, in retrospect, was already so full that the door was bulging.

They left Meghalaya and headed toward the Himalayas.

All through the Himalayas, trails wind up narrow valleys, creating a stone-paved web that connects the tiny villages that live far beyond the limits of paved roads. The porters that ply these trails are a lifeline for these far-flung villages. They can often be seen carrying hundreds of pounds of rice, lentils, Coca-Cola on their overloaded backs.

In more recent years, these long-established trails have also become more popular with foreign hikers. The influx in visitors inspired many in these tiny villages to convert their residences into small guesthouses, where hikers can sleep and eat for a handful of rupees each night.

Walking in the shadows of the world’s highest peak was much more dramatic than the thick jungles of the Meghalaya. But though the scenery was gorgeous, Jordan and Sally were mourning the rich experiences they’d had with the Khasis.

A porter passes through a Himalayan village.

One day, they were hiking on a stone trail when Sally suddenly started crying. Nothing appeared to have caused it. It was a beautiful day, and a moment earlier they’d been in a good mood, chatting with one another warmly. But something was clearly wrong.

“What is it?” asked Jordan.

“I don’t know,” Sally said.

“But what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know.”

“Something’s wrong. You’re crying. Tell me what’s going on so I can help.

“I don’t know.”

“How can I help you if I don’t know what’s wrong?”

This wasn’t the first time Sally had had a panic attack. There’d been a couple of other moments when Sally broke down in tears in the middle of what seemed, to Jordan, like a perfectly normal day. Sure, Sally had told him that she had bipolar disorder. It was pretty much the first thing she told him about herself on the very first day of their “honeymoon”. (The second thing she told him about herself was that she’d cheated on every boyfriend she’d had, and that she’d always started the next relationship before the last one ended.)

But those two facts had gone into the part of Jordan’s brain that he reserved for sports statistics. He knew what they meant, but he didn’t understand what they meaned.

As Sally wept, Jordan quickly became frustrated. “You take care of your shit,” he said heartlessly, pointing to a village up ahead, a half-mile down the trail. “I’ll go wait for you in that village.”

“No! Don’t go!” said Sally.

Jordan ignored her. He stormed off toward the village, shaking his head at Sally’s helplessness, feeling sorry for himself for all the shit that he had to put up with.

She’s lucky that she found such a patient and loving boyfriend. No one else would put up with her bullshit.

Clearly.

He took a room in the village guesthouse and sat on the patio, waiting for Sally. Ten minutes passed. Then half an hour.

He was starting to get nervous when, finally, he spotted Sally entering the village. She was smiling. He was relieved. Clearly, her storm had passed. And when he called out to her, she waved at him eagerly. He was so relieved that she was still alive that his first instinct was to embrace her when she entered the room.

But when his hand brushed her arm, Sally winced. His blood suddenly ran cold.

“What did you do?” The fear in his voice scared him. “Sally, what the fuck did you do? Show me what’s under your shirt.”

Diffidently, Sally rolled back her sleeve. Blood was running out of three short parallel cuts in her forearm. She’d cut herself with her shaving razor.

“Don’t you ever do that again.” His voice quivered. “If you ever do that again I’m going to leave you.”

Sally looked at him like he was the one acting like a child. She was right.

“Don’t you understand?” she said calmly. “Hurting myself is the only way I know how to feel.”

The magic had worn off the moment they left the Abode of the Clouds. The goose was no longer golden.

They never talked about that incident again.


Near Yachats, Oregon.

The real reason

jordan’s phone rang just before sunset. He smiled as soon as he heard the voice on the other end: Mushroom Sam.

“Been thinking about you. I’ve got the day off tomorrow. Wondering whether you wanted a little company out there on the coast.”

Immediately, his smile went ear-to-ear. “I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.”

“Me too. Where are you?”

“Well, right now, I’m with this guy named Patrick who I met on the beach this afternoon. I’m setting up my tent in his backyard. There’s fabulous views of the green hills to the south. You should see the views. The coast here is really spectacular.”

“Thanks, Bob Ross. Where are you?”

Jordan smirked. “Midway between Newport and Waldport.”

“Perfect. That’s really close to Corvallis. Give me ninety minutes to get there.”

Jordan handed the phone to Patrick so Sam could get directions. He was practically giddy.

When Sam arrived, the half-moon was high and the stars were brilliant. Jordan was waiting for her at the kitchen table inside Patrick’s trailer, sitting with Patrick’s wife, Kate. “Tell her she’s got to come in and meet the parents,” teased Patrick. Sam agreed. She sauntered in and joined the three of them at the table.

They munched on frozen pizza and freshly baked cookies, and marveled at the circumstances that had brought them all together. When it was time to go, Kate gave them directions to a secluded parking lot a few miles south by Seal Rock.

“No one’s there this time of year, now that the tourists are gone,” she said. “I think it’ll be empty.”

Kate packaged up the pizza in tin foil. Sam and Jordan left the couple with hugs.

Outside, they kissed deeply in the moonlight, serenaded by the distant sound of crashing waves.

The parking lot near Seal Rock was as empty as promised. It was a postage stamp of gravel, encircled by Sitka spruce trees that looked dramatic when backlit by the stars. As Sam took her dog, Max, for a quick walk down to the sand, Jordan took on the task of transforming her car into her home.

First, he carted the half-dozen plastic totes from the rear seats to the captains’ chairs. Next, he laid out a thin foam mattress atop the folded seats, making the bed attentively. When Sam returned, she put Max’s bed on the center console and helped lay out the duvet. Jordan got into bed; Sam closed the tailgate, secluding them inside.

The windows fogged, and the car rocked gently on its axels as Max snored just inches from their heads.

Seal Rock the next morning.

This time, the sex was good, but nowhere near as transcendent as it had been the previous week. The magic was missing. But sex was sex. Afterward, Jordan lay on his back, tracing his name in the condensation on the window, while Sam lit a cigarette and tapped the ashes in an Altoids tin.

They lay in silence. They could hear the much closer sound of the waves. Jordan felt safe and secure behind the locked doors of Sam’s Jimmy.

He did, that is, until she rolled onto her side and looked at him meaningfully. “I want you to tell me something.”

“Anything, darling.” Jordan rolled over and ran his cool finger beneath Sam’s pierced nipple. Goosebumps rose on the underside of her breast.

“I want you to tell me the real reason why you’re walking.”

“But I thought I told you already.” Immediately, Jordan’s heart rate spiked. “My ex-girlfriend. The crowdfunding project and all of that. I wanted to convince her to join me. When she wouldn’t, I was too afraid to tell the truth to all the people who gave me money. It just seemed easier to start walking.”

Sam took a drag. “Rather than telling people the truth, you thought it was easier to spend a year walking by yourself. Down the West Coast. In the winter?”

Jordan rolled over and shuffled backward. His back was against the side door. He felt the urge to get out of the car and RUN.

“Are you saying I’m a liar?”

“Are you lying?”

“No!” Jordan said, a little too eagerly.

“But it just doesn’t make sense. Why go through so much trouble to try to change her mind? By the way you talk about her, it doesn’t sound like you liked her very much.”

Ouch,” he winced.

Sam flicked an ash into the tin.

“Okay, do you want to know the truth? I’m actually a spy for the Canadian government. We’re using the financial crisis as our opportunity to buy up all the mushroom farms in Oregon.” He deadpanned a serious voice. “I’ve got something very important to tell you, Samantha. We’ve been following you for some time.”

She took another drag. “Do you always use humor to get out of uncomfortable situations?”

“No. Mostly, I use my dick.”

“I liked that.” She held his eye contact delicately. But he rolled onto his back and sighed loudly.

“The real reason? What do you expect? What do you want me to tell you? It was a complicated relationship. I don’t know why I did what I did. Is that what you want to hear, Sam? That I’m insensitive? That I’m a… a Prick?”

“No, I just want to know the truth.”

“But what’s the truth anyway? Truth is in the eye of the beholder. Do you know how many times I’ve had to tell my stupid fucking Story? Every day, I meet a dozen strangers. It’s the same questions all the time: ‘how heavy’s your pack?’ ‘How many pairs of shoes have you gone through?’ Why does everyone care so much about my pack? Why the fuck does that matter?”

She smirked at him. “Are you done?”

No, I’m not done. Then they’re like, ‘why are you walking to Mexico?'” He made a taunting, school child’s voice. “‘why are you walking to Mexico?‘ ‘Why are you walking to Mexico?’ Like they expect me to spill out all my secrets to them.”

“Do you spill your secrets to them?”

“Of course! That’s what they’re asking for. Why do you think I’m walking to Mexico? To raise money for a fucking charity? Of course I’m walking because I’ve got a broken heart. You wouldn’t do something like this if you didn’t have a broken heart. What do they expect? That I’m going to tell them my ex-girlfriend is getting busy with some other guy? That she’s in India with him? If she’s even still alive.”

“Did she try to kill herself?”‘

No!His throat felt taut. “No,” he repeated, swallowing purposefully. “I mean, she cut herself once, but I don’t think she was like, really, suicidal. I think she was just… you know…” He looked pleadingly at Sam. Suddenly, the locked door in his heart felt like it was going to burst open.

“Were you worried that she was going to kill herself?”

“You don’t have to do this, you know. This can just be a fling. I don’t need to ask you about your exes.”

“Do you want to ask me about my exes?”

“I’m kind of curious why you left San Francisco.”

“I’ll tell you that. But I want to hear a little more from you first.” She butted out the cigarette in the tin. “If that’s alright with you.”

He opened his mouth and tried to speak. Immediately, he knew the Story he was about to tell her. It was a Story that he hadn’t told anyone, except for Paul and his mother.

NO, JORDAN. KEEP IT TO YOURSELF.

The incident took place in the…

JORDAN. I’M WARNING YOU. THAT’S YOUR SECRET. SHE’LL HATE YOU IF SHE HEARS IT. IF YOU TELL HER THE TRUTH, THIS RELATIONSHIP WILL BE OVER BEFORE IT EVEN STARTS.

He hesitated. Then he heard another voice say, “Keep going.” So he swallowed and started talking.

It was spring in Vancouver, and the Olympics had come and gone. They were in their fourth home since arriving in the city, taking care of a pair of dogs for one of his photographer friends, staying at her place for a few weeks while she was on vacation with her family. One afternoon, when they were at the park with the dogs, Sally had a panic attack. She’d been having them with increasing frequency since they’d arrived in Vancouver. In December, once a week. Every other day by the Olympics. By the spring, when the blossoming cherry and magnolia trees had transformed the city streets into a pink-and-white wedding cake, she seemed to have them every day.

“Why was she panicking?” asked Sam.

“I don’t know.” He rubbed his hand over his face. “I think she had… like… bipolar disorder or something.”

Woah. Was she on medication?”

“Yes and no. She’d be on them for a couple weeks and then go off them, then get back on them again. But that shouldn’t…”

“That’s a big deal.”

Jordan scratched his forearm. “I mean, I know. You don’t have to tell me. I was living it.”

“No. You do know that’s a big deal.”

Jordan scratched the hair under his chin. “Yeah, yeah. I know. It’s really hard. I was depressed once too.”

“No.” Sam put her hand on his bare shoulder. “That’s a really big deal. Bipolar is different than depression. Bipolar messes with your brain chemistry. Some people have to manage their bipolar disorder for their entire lives.”

He opened his mouth to try and argue with her. But no words came out. Instead, he suddenly started weeping. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” he said, wiping his eyes. The force of the tears felt overwhelming. “I’m sorry. This is really not… I know, I know. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Sam’s hand was still on his shoulder. “It’s okay. I’m here.”

But he was shuddering. Each time he opened his mouth, the tears became more intense.

At the park, with the dogs, in the midst of her panic attack, Sally had fixated on some people over by the blossoming cherry trees. They were two hundred yards away, but she was convinced that they were looking at her, and judging her. Jordan couldn’t understand. The people were two hundred yards away! They didn’t even know her. Why would they care to look at her? But Sally seemed transformed into a child. It was like his adult girlfriend had suddenly disappeared, leaving something different in her place.

“That was Sally too,” Sam said gently.

He nodded. That was Sally, too.

Sally was trying to using Jordan’s body as a human shield. She was hiding behind him, pulling back his arms to protect herself the way the wings fold behind a butterfly’s body. Each time he took a step to the left or the right, Sally would follow. He felt exhausted by the powerlessness of their dance. All winter long, they’d been bickering about walking to Mexico. Sally had been adamant: they were going to do it; if he didn’t want to do it, then she would do it alone. He knew that it was a ploy. Sally wanted to get out of Vancouver. She needed to feel in control. He never thought they’d actually do it. But he decided to pretend to be interested until Sally changed her mind.

“Why didn’t you want to do it?”

“You want the truth?”

“Yes.”

“It’s horrible,” he said, wiping the tears from his eyes. He looked at Sam. She was looking at him intently. He could hardly hold her eye contact. “I mean, think about it. We were going to be alone. What if we’re in the middle of the forest and she suddenly had a panic attack. Or if she tried to do something, you know… worse. Think about how far we’d be from people who could help.”

“And people who could help you.”

“That’s what I said.”

“No. People who could help”—she touched his chest—”you.”

“Why did I need help?” he said defensively. “She was the sick one. I just wanted her to get…” He faltered. “I just didn’t want to be selfish. Rule Number One of relationships is Your Partner’s Needs Come First.”

Sam smiled. “Who makes the Rules?”

“I don’t know. The Rules people.” He was curled into a ball, pressed back against the door as tightly as he could.

When they returned to the photographer’s house, Sally’s panic had ebbed. She took a book and sat on the couch, while he went to the kitchen to fetch her some tea. He could viscerally remember standing over the sink, staring vacantly out the window into the garden, as water overflowed from the kettle. He was feeling dead inside. “That was the first time I knew that I couldn’t walk with her to Mexico.”

“Why didn’t you talk to her about this stuff?”

“I tried to,” he said. He was overexaggerating. “Every time I brought it up she’d just start crying. I just started to think that…” He sighed and shook his head. “This all sounds so ridiculous. I can’t believe I let this go on for so long.”

Sam smiled. “You know something? That’s the most honest thing you’ve said since I met you.”

He looked up and held her eye. Immediately, he felt that same pulsing that he’d felt with Jack the Chicken Man. It terrified him. He swiftly ripped his eye contact away.

Returning to the sitting room with the tea, he saw something that took his breath away. The late afternoon light poured through the window, tinged with pinks and whites, cherries and magnolias, and all their anticipation for the end of the rains and the dawn of the hot summer. The golden light was shimmering through Sally’s blonde hair, setting her head ablaze. He had never seen her look so beautiful, and all she was doing was lying on the couch, reading a book. Suddenly, he realized he wanted this. A beautiful partner, a handsome house, a life of art and photography and possibility. He wanted to have adventures with Sally. But as equal partners, not a pair of broken codependents.

That was Paul’s line. And Paul was right. Immediately, Jordan knew what he had to do.

“I… I put the tea on the side table.” His voice started shaking. Sam squeezed his shoulder encouragingly. “I stepped back and looked her. I wanted to be honest,” he whined.

What he literally said was, ‘Sally, if you can’t keep your shit together, then I don’t know if I want to walk to Mexico with you.’

“Ouch,” said Sam.

“She started to cry. Of course. I can’t believe I was such a fucking…” He tensed all his muscles, trying to control himself, but from what, he didn’t know. “I felt guilty, so I went across the room and tried to make her feel better. But this was different than when she’d panicked in the park. The crying, I mean. It was different.”

“Sure. You finally told her the truth. The truth changed your relationship.”

He rubbed the top of his bald head. “Yeah. Yeah, maybe. I put my hands on her ankle, but her… her skin felt cold.” Even as he had tried to console her, he could hear the emptiness in his own voice. He suddenly realized that their relationship had ended at that moment, though the actual end was still a few months away. Jordan apologized. He assured her he still wanted to do it. He lied to her face. Then, Sally kicked his hand off her feet.

“She’s like, ‘get away from me.’ I… I didn’t listen. I put my hands on her ankle again.”

Sally yelled, ‘GET AWAY FROM ME!’ Jordan was so close to her that her spit hit him in the face.

“I was just so surprised that I… I didn’t even think. I just…”

“You hit her?” Sam yanked her hand off of Jordan’s shoulder.

His heart rate suddenly went through the roof. “No! No! I mean, yes. But not hard. I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.” He was hyperventilating. “Please don’t be mad at me. I know I was wrong. I know you don’t hit girls. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m bad. I’m sorry. “

“With an open hand or closed fist?”

“What?”

Sam spoke slowly and evenly. “Did you hit her with an open hand or a closed fist?”

The tears were flowing again. “Open. It was just on her shoulder. Not hard. Like a smack. I know I shouldn’t have done it. I’m sorry. I know. I’m terrible. I’m an asshole. Do you want me to sleep outside? I can sleep outside if you want.”

Max was barking behind them. Sam reached back and stroked the dog gently.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry. Do you hate me?”

“Just give me a second.” Sam closed her eyes. Jordan watched her in a panic.

Finally, she opened them again and smiled weakly. “That just… surprised me. But it makes things make more sense. How long until she met her new boyfriend?”

“By the end of that week.”

Sam nodded and reached for a cigarette. “Makes sense. She needed to feel safe.” She cracked the window and lit the cigarette. “So that’s why you allowed all of this. You didn’t just do something you regretted. You scared yourself. You and your higher self created a situation that would give you space to work through things on a deeper level.”

“My higher what?”

Sam didn’t answer. The cool air drifted through the inside of the Jimmy as they lay there in silence.

“Last year, I was working in a bar in San Francisco,” Sam said suddenly. “Some money went missing from the cash register. I didn’t take it.” Her voice turned shrill. “I swear. But things looked bad and… I ended up losing my job. It was really hard. No one I knew supported me. Even my boyfriend wouldn’t…” She took a drag. “I just needed some space. I ended up packing all my things in my car, and me and Max drove across the country. That’s how I ended up in tracking school. And that’s how I ended up here.”

She paused like she was expecting him to say something. But Jordan didn’t know what she wanted him to say. “Wow,” he said finally.

Sam rolled over on her side abruptly, turning her back toward him. “I wish that I didn’t tell you that.”

Jordan lay there for a moment before spooning up behind her.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry. I should have known better.”

Although the truth was that he wished that she didn’t tell him that also.



Unexpected colors

by the mid-afternoon, a dull grey had rolled in over the Pacific. But the clouds began clearing just as Jordan reached Waldport, like curtains parting for the main event. The colors started creeping in the moment that the sun disappeared into the horizon. First, the blushes and golds. Then, the salmons and apricots. The reds grew thicker and deeper. By the time that Jordan reached the broad beach, the horizon was as rich as blood.

Then the fireworks started to fade: mahoganies—crimsons—plums—until all that was left were the indigos, stealing away the show.

When it was all over, even the seagulls seemed to be applauding.

But then it was night, and Jordan was still trudging down the empty beach. It felt like the State Park campground was walking away from him.

One more mile? Two more miles? I should be there already. Where the fuck is it?

Every few steps, he stopped to check his phone, but without a data plan, all he could render was a blue dot that hovered vaguely over the top left corner of the West Coast. Each time he zoomed in too close, his map disappeared.

Jordan was in no mood to think about symbols or metaphors. His feet were aching, and he was ready to be in his sleeping bag.

As he trudged down the darkened beach, he couldn’t stop thinking about Sam. He wondered whether he’d made the right decision. That morning, when he opened his eyes, he wasn’t on the gravel like he’d expected. He was in the back of his Jimmy, and his dick was in Sam’s mouth. They made eye contact. Sam smiled as she ran her tongue along the underside of his shaft. Outside, a few other families had arrived in the parking lot, out picnicking on what he somehow knew that the last sunny Saturday of the season.

Somehow, he could sense the storm that was coming soon. But he lay back as Sam engulfed him.

Sheathing him in a condom, Sam had rolled onto her back, making space for him between her thighs. She held him delicately, looking deeply into his eyes, as he slid inside of her. With the other people outside, their movements were restricted. They fucked softly, slowly, holding one another’s eye contact the entire time. In his mind, he could hear his voice repeating, I am the love that I seek over and over and over again.

As they made love, he’d known that it was goodbye.

But later that morning, after they’d brought her camping stove down to the beach and made omelettes overlooking Seal Rock, Sam kissed him deeply. “Come to Corvallis with me,” she’d said.

He shuddered at the memory. The intention in this step is…

“It doesn’t need to be forever. It can just be for a couple days. I just thought…” Her voice had trailed off. She was looking at the expression on his face. He could feel the knot in his stomach, the butterflies that were everywhere. Going to Corvallis meant giving up. Going to Corvallis meant letting everyone down. But going to Corvallis also meant being with Sam. And what if Sam was his soulmate?

He needed to think. So he’d closed her eyes, the way he’d seen her do so many times. The voice came quickly. “Keep going. Keep walking.” He winced. It wasn’t the answer that he had hoped to hear.

When he opened his eyes, he could already see the disappointment in Sam’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“Me too.” She kissed him gently. “Thank you for telling me the truth.”

It was well past nine when he finally spotted a cluster of RVs, just up from the beach atop a low dune. When he consulted the campground’s map, he saw that he’d overshot the hiker-biker site by half a mile. Fuck!

The last slog to the communal campsite felt like a death march. Jordan dragged his heels, feeling hungry, tired, and emotionally and physically drained. But there, at long last, was the hiker-biker campsite. It was surrounded by blackberry bramble, right next to the concrete restroom. There was one tent already set up on the small site, right next to the lone picnic table.

The tent was illuminated from the insight by a flashlight, silhouetting a figure through the thin material. For a moment, it struck him that the figure looked Sam-like. And it got his imagination rolling.

But then he heard an ugly, hacking cough that lasted for nearly ten seconds, and he realized who it actually was.

DJ and Blackjack had found him.


“Mushroom Sam” and her dog, “Max”.
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Now, A Question for You:

Have you ever struggled to tell someone the real truth?

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