E07: The Visibility Curtain

27 min read

(This is Momentum: Season 1, Episode 7. 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 been paralyzed by fear? What did you do about it?

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October 23. Reedsport, OR.
Day 53.

The visibility curtain

jordan’s raingear was drenched. His hands were ice blocks. His magic harmonica was tucked in his breast pocket, highly overmatched by the first big rainstorm of the Northwestern winter. Head down, he walked on the northbound highway shoulder, trying to will his way to the tiny town of Winchester Bay.

Two miles and eighty-eight hundredths to go.

Two miles and eighty-seven hundredths.

Two miles and eighty-six hundredths.

Counting every footstep distracted himself from the chill seeping into every square inch of his skin.

Both sides of the coastal highway were lined with tall coniferous trees. It looked like a forest, but it wasn’t a real forest. It was the performance of a forest. The trees stood in a narrow column a couple dozen yards wide. They’d been left behind by the logging companies with the purpose of obscuring the blighted, clear-cut landscape from the views of passing cars.

The loggers had left these soaring green borders with an unexpectedly poetic name. They’d called them “visibility curtains.”

The point was to hide the ugly stuff.

Jordan was heading beyond the visibility curtain, and he was terrified of what was hidden on the other side.

On the road to Winchester Bay.

Passing traffic slurped by on the wet asphalt, spitting peacock tails in their wake. Jordan tucked his hands into his armpits in a desperate attempt to stay warm.

Two miles and seventeen hundredths.

Two miles and sixteen hundredths.

Two miles and fifteen… Where am I going to sleep tonight?

He wasn’t just cold. He wasn’t just anxious because he was dreading a cold night in a wet sleeping bag. As he walked as quickly as he could down the highway shoulder, Jordan was also trying not to think about the mistake he’d made the previous day. It was a tiny mistake. A totally inconsequential mistake.

Okay, he thought it was a huge mistake. After fifty-two days of sobriety, Jordan had broken Rule Number One of Walking to Mexico.

He tried to focus. He tried to put existential questions and concerns behind him. Where did they go? Behind the visibility curtain.

One mile and ninety-seven hundredths.

One mile and ninety-si…

Suddenly, Jordan had an idea that was so delicious that it made him laugh out loud on the side of the wet highway.

A motel room! Yes! Of course!

He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of it earlier.

I don’t need to pretend that I’m some drifter. I’m not DJ.

Immediately, he picked up his pace. He could feel the anticipation bubbling inside him.

One mile and three quarters.

One mile and a half.

One mile and a quarter.

He could barely tolerate the pain in his frigid fingers, but it would only be twenty minutes… fifteen minutes until he was inside, until he was taking a hot shower, until he was…

Up ahead, the road swung to the right. He could almost see Winchester Bay through the downpour. But then he saw something that made his heart jump into his throat.

A few hundred yards down the highway shoulder, a tall, slender figure was limping toward him through the downpour.

I don’t believe it. DJ.

So much for magic.


Dusk from the viewpoint atop Cape Perpetua.

The Oregon Dunes

two days earlier, Jordan reached the campsite at Honeyman State Park beneath a clear sky and a nearly full moon. The night was chilly and the stars were spectacular. Like most other State Park campgrounds in Oregon, Honeyman had a communal, hiker-biker campsite where human-powered travelers could set up their tents at a fraction of the cost of a standard campsite. But Jordan decided to head for a standard campsite on the opposite side of the campground. He suspected that DJ and Blackjack would be at the hiker-biker, waiting for him.

He found a vacant site and worked quickly, setting up his tent beneath the moonlight.

As the water boiled in his camping pot, Jordan pulled on his long underwear. Pretty soon, he was wearing every piece of clothing that he was carrying. That night, like almost every night, his dinner was a vegetarian lentil stew, heavily seasoned with Indian spices and topped with a few glugs of olive oil. Seven weeks into his trip, Jordan had found a rhythm: oatmeal for breakfast, hummus for lunch, his spiced stew for dinner, his routine interrupted occasionally by a burrito from a roadside café. What he liked best about his simple diet was that he didn’t need to think about it. He ate like Steve Jobs dressed.

He scarfed down his dinner, peering over his shoulder nervously each time he heard a crack in the forest.

Just a few days had passed since Jordan said goodbye to Mushroom Sam. Since then, he’d spotted DJ and Blackjack four separate times. He’d bumped into them the first time that evening at Beachside State Park. The next day, there they were again, waiting for a ride outside of the ice cream shop in the hippie town of Yachats.

Just south of Yachats, the flat, sandy coastline transitioned into a series of rugged and forested hills. Ocean water swirled through evocatively named features like Thor’s Well and Devil’s Churn. There was no sign of DJ as Jordan walked the shoulder of the highway as it hugged the meandering coastline, passing windswept beaches and dramatic, clifftop lighthouses. But at the end of the fifteen-mile stretch, there was DJ standing in the parking lot in front of the Sea Lion Caves.

“Save your money,” he said. “You can see the sea lions on the black-and-white TV in the gift shop.

Right?” Jordan replied.

He still thought that these random bump-ins were kind of funny.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think that he was following me.

Just beyond Wea Lion Caves, the coastline flattened into a different type of dramatic landscape: the Oregon Dunes. Jordan was on his way toward Florence, taking a break in the shade, snacking on the last of the putrid blackberries of the season, when a rust-colored pickup whipped past. DJ was in the front seat.

Jordan’s spirits fell. He knew that DJ was rushing to Honeyman State Park to wait for him. Jordan dragged his heels, spending an extra night north of Florence in hopes of making DJ think that he’d already passed through. He hoped that DJ would get ahead of him and stay there; after all, DJ’s destination, Coos Bay, was now within striking distance.

But as he got into his sleeping bag, Jordan somehow knew that DJ was still at Honeyman.

It wasn’t that he hated DJ. In fact, there were aspects of DJ that Jordan kind of liked. Occasionally, DJ could be funny. And Jordan even admired DJ’s do-whatever-I-want, fuck-what-they-think attitude. But there was something about DJ that felt oddly… familiar. DJ obviously wasn’t Sally-like; that much was clear. But he was like… someone.

Jordan lay on his back, trying to introduce a pair of neurons who hadn’t yet been on their first date. But they wouldn’t connect. Something was inhibiting his memory. It was behind the visibility curtain.

He set his alarm and switched off his headlight. He planned to wake up before dawn so he could leave Honeyman without being detected. But whether it was due to his anxiety about the early wake-up or certain other, buried questions, Joran couldn’t sleep. He tossed and turned and turned and tossed, but no matter how many sheep he counted, blissful rest stayed one step beyond his grasp. Finally, with the first signs of dawn shining through his tent, Jordan’s anxiety faded mercifully into his unconscious. But what he found there wasn’t particularly restful or full of bliss.

In his dream, he was in a deep conversation with Sally. They were together at some campground near a Northwestern lake. Jordan was at the picnic table; Sally was leaning against it, and gushing about how happy she was with her new boyfriend. “I’m the most important person in his life,” she was saying. “Everything he does, he does with my needs in mind. He cooks for me, he cleans for me; when he goes out, he leaves an itinerary of where he’ll be and how I can contact him. He knows that nothing is more important than making me happy.” As he listened, Jordan was trying to be happy for her, but the pain was eating him from the inside.

Suddenly, he realized that there was another character in his dream: a man with anonymous features. The man had his hands on Sally’s hips. He was thrusting into her from behind. Sally continued her soliloquy without interruption. When the man finished, he gave Sally’s behind a smack. Another man quickly filled his void. Then another. Then another. Jordan could see that there was a long queue of men who disappeared into the deep forest—somewhere beyond the visibility curtain. He tried to shoo these men away. “Hey, we’re trying to have a conversation.” But the men were unbothered, and there were so many of them.

When he opened his eyes, sunshine was pouring through the fabric of his tent.

Half-awake, he grabbed for his alarm clock. It was well past nine o’clock. He’d overslept. He lurched out of his tent, hurrying to boil water to make his oatmeal, checking over his shoulder again and again.

Sure enough, after a few minutes, he heard that gruesome cough.

He put on a plastic smile and turned to greet DJ.

The campsite where Jordan was discovered by DJ.

There you are,” said DJ. “We was wondering when you’d get here.” He settled down at the picnic table across from Jordan and started rolling a cigarette. “How’d you end up over here?” He pointed to the trees on the far side of the campground. “Hiker-biker’s over there.”

“I got in late last night,” Jordan lied. “I must have got lost.”

“But there’s maps everywhere.” DJ lit the cigarette and took a long drag. “You’d have to be pretty stupid to get lost.”

Jordan nodded. “You’re probably right. I guess I’m pretty stupid.”

Right? You damn well have to be. And what the hell’s takin’ you so long? Me and Jack, we’ve been having a hell of a time waitin’ for you. We’ve been hunkered down here at Honeyman for nearly three days. Whatcha been doin’?”

Jordan thought about the landscapes he’d seen, the people he’d met, the Stories that he’d collected. He took another bite of his oatmeal and shrugged. “Nothing much,” he said. “Just walking.”

DJ nodded and took a drag. This answer seemed to placate him. “It’s like I always say: if I was in a hurry, I wouldn’t be…”

“Morning, boys.” Jordan looked up to see a Park Ranger standing at the entrance to his campsite. “You don’t have a vehicle? You do know that we’ve got a hiker-biker, right?”

“Yeah, I got in late last night,” Jordan said, glancing at DJ. He had turned his body away from the Park Ranger obviously. “I guess I got confused.”

The Park Ranger was a middle-aged woman with short hair and a big smile. “Well, I’ll do you a favor this time. I’m only going to charge you five bucks.”

Jordan pulled a bill out of his wallet. The Ranger began to jot out a receipt. DJ took another drag on his cigarette. Jordan cringed as he listened to him cough.

“You boys hear about the storm?” said the Ranger.

Jordan shuddered. “The… storm?”

“That’s right. The first big storm of the season is heading our way. Weather Service thinks it will be here either today or tomorrow. Neither of you boys have a vehicle?” Jordan shook his head. “Sound like it’s going to be a big one.” She ripped off the receipt. “Hope you boys find someplace safe.”

DJ waited until the Ranger had moved along to the next campsite. Once she was gone, he pulled a tattered map of Oregon out of his pocket and spread it on the picnic table.

“Here’s where we’re gonna hunker down.” He jabbed a yellowed finger at an amoeba-shaped splotch of blue, ten miles south of Honeyman.

Jordan peered at the map. “Tahkenitch Lake?”

“Tahkenitch Lake,” DJ repeated.

Jordan took another spoonful of his oatmeal and chewed slowly. But his eyes were racing across the map.

Tahkenitch Lake was right next to Highway 101. And Highway 101 was the only road that led south through the dunes to the next town, Reedsport. The only alternative was to go west through the sand dunes to get to the coastline. But this route would require a substantial detour through the Saharan landscape. If he got to the water’s edge, Jordan could skirt Tahkenitch Lake. But the coastline ended abruptly just past the lake, at the mouth of the Umpqua River. Jordan would then have to detour back through the dunes so he could cross the river at the highway bridge near Reedsport. In total, it looked like an extra seven or eight miles of walking.

That’s four, maybe even five hours through the sand. That’s a lot of time to waste with a storm on the way.

DJ yanked the map off the picnic table. “Me and Jack, we ain’t walkin’ with you today. We’re gonna go into Florence and pick up some supplies. We’ll meet you this afternoon at Tahkenitch Lake.”

“Okay,” Jordan squeaked. “That sounds great. I’ll meet you at Tahkenitch Lake. This afternoon.”

Right?” DJ took the last drag off his cigarette and flicked the butt onto the ground. He took a long, searching look at Jordan, then grabbed his cane and limped back toward the hiker-biker campsite.

As soon as DJ was out of sight, Jordan quickly packed up his camp.

Then he hurried out into the sand dunes.


The Oregon Dunes.

Running, again.

forty thousand acres of sand dunes stretched along fifty-four miles of Oregon coastline, forming one of the largest expanses of temperate sand dunes in the world. The dunes formed out of tiny pieces of the coastal mountain ranges that were carried downriver to an extraordinarily gently sloping section of the Oregon Coast; tides, currents, waves and wind did the rest. The youngest dunes are closest to the Pacific: a twenty-five-foot high foredune runs more or less continuously along the Dunes shoreline. The dunes get older and higher the further east you go. Beyond a low-lying area speckled with seasonal ponds and low dunes that run perpendicular to the seasonal winds are the tallest dunes: hundreds of feet high, a hundred thousand years old, just waiting to be speckled with camel tracks.

Perhaps the most bizarre features of the landscape were the “tree islands”—remnants of the ancient forests that were subsumed by the onset of the dunes. Clinging to tiny hillocks, these stands of the forest stood in stark contrast to the endless expanse of sand. They were the feature that caught Jordan’s eye as he trudged out of the campground through the wind-sculpted landscape.

He couldn’t help looking over his shoulder, though he knew that DJ wouldn’t have followed him.

Reaching the highest dunes, he climbed up their narrow spine. The flanks of the dunes were crisscrossed with tire tracks. Jordan froze when he heard an engine; a dune buggy came flying over the ridgeline. The driver and passenger peered at Jordan through their bug-eyed goggles as if he was the one out of place.

Jordan glared at them as they sped away, then shouted at the top of his lungs:

“WHY AM I STILL RUNNING? I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT I’M RUNNING FROM.”

The chilly wind didn’t have any answers.

He climbed higher, higher, and higher still until he was finally at the summit of the tall sand dune. From three hundred feet above the Pacific, he had sweeping views over the table-flat coastline. He could see west across the low-lying area to the long foredune. As he followed it all the way to the southern horizon, his heart dropped: there was no shelter visible anywhere.

Dark clouds had gathered over the Pacific. If the storm was as vicious as he feared, sticking to the coast might well have been suicide.

He had no choice. He had to go back to the coastal highway.

“FUCK!” he screamed. “FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ME?”

But the Pacific had no answers.

He continued west anyway, moping over the foredune to reach the mushy waves at the water’s edge. A few raindrops fell when he dipped his feet in the surf. Sitting on a driftwood log, he stared vacantly toward the dark horizon.

The fall is over. Winter is here. And I’m still not over Sally. She’s with another man! She’s mentally ill! She doesn’t love herself!

He scooped an agate out of the sand and threw it as hard as he could into the Pacific.

“WHY CAN’T I LET HER GO?”

But the shorebirds had no answers either.

He stuck to the surf for a few miles until he reached a paved access road that led east toward the 101. He walked penitently, squeezing Paul’s crystal, shooting death stares at the noble great white heron that stood calmly in the lagoon next to the road, watching him.

I just don’t get it. Why does this drifter have so much power over me?

‘Why am I letting this homeless man have so much power over me?’ would probably have been a better question. But the answer was behind the visibility curtain.

He’d been on Highway 101 for barely five hundred yards when a southbound pickup truck screeched to a stop. Its wheels squealed as it u-turned tightly and raced over to where he was standing on the northbound highway shoulder. DJ was in the passenger seat. Blackjack was in the box. The driver was a teenage boy. DJ jabbed toward the teen with his thumb. “Gave this kid some weed to give us a ride into town and back.”

The teenager glared sullenly out the cracked windshield of the pickup.

DJ, by contrast, was practically giddy. “Got you something,” he said, reaching into one of the clutches of grocery bags that were at his feet. He pulled out a bag of pasta noodles. Pasta noodles? “They’re vegetable flavored,” DJ said, pointing at the label. “Because you’re a vegetarian.”

“Thanks, DJ.” Jordan tried to think of something nice to say. “That’s… really… nice.”

Right?” DJ beamed proudly. “Me and Jack, we’re going to pick a nice little spot for us to all hunker down for this storm. We’ll be waitin’ for you there.” He looked Jordan in the eye. “Tahkenitch Lake. Don’t forget.”

Jordan nodded, then looked at his feet.

The teenager hit the gas. The pickup’s tires squealed as it u-turned again, then sped off down the coastal highway.

Jordan stayed still. He held the crystal in his hand and took three long breaths, just like his mentor had told him. When he opened his eyes again, he felt marginally better. He set off down the highway shoulder, following the intention in his steps.

The intention in this step is calm.

The intention in this step is acceptance.

The intention in this step is to overcome anger.

Suddenly, he heard a loud engine roaring behind him. He didn’t need to look back to know what was about to happen. A pickup truck had pulled into the oncoming lane. It was accelerating to pass a slower vehicle. But the pickup’s driver had timed the pass so that he’d have to split the space between the slower car and where Jordan was walking on the northbound shoulder like they were race gates in some video game. Jordan winced as the vehicle came racing by him, passing so close that Jordan could feel the hot air on his cheek.

“FUCK YOU!” he shouted. “FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!”

But the pickup had already disappeared.


DJ was waiting on the highway shoulder when Jordan arrived at Tahkenitch Lake.

Loneliness is your bread

the campsite DJ picked was not what you’d choose if you were planning to hunker down from a hurricane. First off, it was right next to the highway rather than in the more bucolic area closer to the lakeshore. As Jordan stood, dumbfounded, looking at the site, he could hear tractor-trailers roaring by a few yards away.

The campsite was also directly beneath a stand of impressive Northwestern trees—cedars, spruce, firs, each with big bulky branches just waiting to maim. But DJ seemed delighted with the choice. And Jordan felt defeated. He set up his tent directly beneath a towering cedar, hoping that when he got maimed, he’d be asleep and it wouldn’t hurt.

A light rain began just after dusk. Both men retreated to their tents. For Jordan, it was a blessing in disguise. But DJ’s tent was just a few yards away. He could hear his incessant coughing and his rollicking laughter. DJ was reading Don Quixote: The Abridged Version.

“Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha! Hey, Jordan! This Sancho Panzo guy’s fucking great.”

“Right?” Jordan said meekly.

Right?” DJ echoed.

Blackjack barked happily.

Jordan tried to focus on what he was reading—a book of essays he was reading by Gary Snyder, the Beat poet. One particular passage stuck out so much that Jordan copied it into his journal:

One departs the home to embark on a quest into an archetypal wilderness that is dangerous, threatening, and full of beasts and hostile aliens. This sort of encounter with the other—both the inner and the outer—requires giving up comfort and safety, accepting cold and hunger, and being willing to eat anything. You may never see home again. Loneliness is your bread.

…On the mythical plane this is the source of the worldwide hero narratives. On the spiritual plane it requires embracing the other as oneself and stepping across the line—not “becoming one” or mix-ing things up but holding the sameness and difference delicately in mind. It can mean seeing the houses, roads, and people of your old place as for the first time. It can mean every word heard is heard to its deepest echo. It can mean mysterious tears of gratitude. Our “soul” is our dream of the other.

Jordan lay back, trying to digest the deep meaning in these paragraphs. Mid-laugh, DJ started coughing again.

He remembered a Story that DJ had told him a few days earlier. DJ had been traveling on his bicycle when he somehow got his hands on a carpenter’s level. He went into a pawn shop, hoping to trade the level for a book. The pawn shop clerk offered him twelve paperbacks. “What the hell was I going to do with twelve books?” DJ griped. “I was traveling on my bicycle. I had to hunker down for two weeks until I’d read enough of ’em so’s that I could hit the road.”

Jordan waited for a smile that never arrived. “Why didn’t you just take the ones you wanted?” he asked finally.

“Take the ones I wanted? Do I look stupid? I told you he offered me twelve.”

Jordan had laughed. But DJ hadn’t been joking.

By then, Jordan had heard all of DJ’s Stories at least a half-dozen times. Few of them were complete thoughts, rarely starting with a beginning, hardly ever reaching the end. They were simply snippets of the strange, disjointed experiences that had become DJ’s life. DJ told Jordan about the way the rain felt in Alabama—”like knives”. He told him about the time he collected hallucinogenic mushrooms in the Olympic National Forest. He explained how to cook pork chops in a beer can and how to boil water in a paper cup. Each of these Stories was peppered with amorphous characters: Timmy, Tommy, Billy, Stoner, Frankie, Freddy, Jim—only first names, always men. They’d show up, say something, do something, then disappear just as quickly, never to be heard about again.

Wait a second. Was Billy the one from Idaho? Or was he the one who gave him the weed at the Rainbow Gathering?

The experience was disassociating. Jordan felt like he was tuning into a TV show three seasons too late.

At some level, Jordan understood that DJ was deeply lonely. He suspected that was the reason DJ wasn’t rushing to his destination, Coos Bay. In Jordan, he’d found someone who would listen and listen, then listen some more. Occasionally, DJ would throw out a cryptic fact, almost like bait. He’d say: “I missed Dad’s birthday.” Or, “My son’s a damned fine basketball player.”

Wait a second. DJ’s a Dad?

Once, he said, “I hope my life is more than half done.” Jordan figured he was probably right, based on the way he was coughing, and the frequency that he punctuated his days with yet another cigarette rolled from low quality, cheap-as-it-gets pipe tobacco. But Jordan didn’t dare broach the subject of DJ’s loneliness. He remembered what had nearly happened with Jack the Chicken Man. There had to be a boundary. There had to be a limit to what he was willing to give and what he was willing to take. Sure, he wanted growth. He was craving it. But was he ready for the wet winter? Would he accept loneliness as his bread?

DJ guffawed. Jordan cringed. Raindrops tapped above his head.

Jordan’s hunker-down at Tahknenitch Lake.

That night, Jordan passed out easily. This time, his deep sleep was dreamless. When he woke up in the morning, however, he was shocked to see that the sky was bright blue. Was that it for the storm? Had it changed directions?

“Nope,” said the Park Ranger, who came to collect their fees. “Weather Service says it’s going to be here today.” The ranger began jotting out a receipt. “Did you boys want to stay here for one night or two?”

“On…”

“Two,” interrupted DJ. “We’re gonna hunker down here another night.” He handed the Ranger a ten-dollar bill.

Jordan turned to him in shock.

Stay here another night? Why? We can keep moving and get to Reedsport. It’s only ten miles away. And you keep talking about getting to Coos Bay. Coos Bay is not even forty miles! You could catch a ride and be there by lunch!

But when he opened his mouth to say these totally reasonable things, none of those words came out. Instead, he said, “Two nights it is,” and handed over ten dollars.

Once the Ranger left, DJ and Jordan were the only two people in the campground. There was nothing to do but pass the time. There was a lot of time to pass, a lot of space to fill. DJ filled it by talking. He talked all morning. He talked into the early afternoon. By then, Jordan had heard every Story another half-dozen times. He knew all about Billy and Timmy and Frankie and Jim. He knew all about the rain in Alabama. He’d heard the Story about the kidnapping in New Mexico so many times that he could tell it by heart. So he was grateful when DJ suggested playing a game of chess.

“I’m pretty good,” DJ warned. “I got two accounts on Yahoo Chess. I’d pretty much be a grandmaster by now if I didn’t waste so much dang time taking this bastard out for walks.” He leaned over to rub Blackjack’s belly. “Ain’t that right, you shitface? You little good for nothing. You’re such a goddamn waste of space. Aren’t you? Aren’t you?” Blackjack rolled on his back and waved his tail eagerly.

The problem was that neither of them had a chessboard.

“Don’t need one,” DJ said with a smile. He tapped his ballcap. “You’re lookin’ at the smartest guy this side of the Mississippi.” DJ limped over to his tent and disappeared inside. When he returned to the picnic table, he had the cardboard sign he used while he was panhandling. The sign read, HUNGRY. NEED DOG FOOD.

“Works great. Idiots think they’re givin’ me money for the dog.” He flipped the sign over and drew a chessboard with a Sharpie.

“What are we going to do for pieces?” asked Jordan.

“Pasta noodles!” DJ said brightly. He opened the bag of vegetable-flavored noodles and sorted them by shape: shells for pawns, penne bishops, rotini knights, wheel rooks, with a dime and a quarter for king and queen. DJ marked all the dark pieces with the Sharpie, then lay the board on the picnic table. Blackjack nestled at their feet.

DJ studied the board. Jordan studied him, wondering how this man had become his kryptonite.

The clouds had blown in, and a stiff wind whipped the leaves of the cottonwoods down by the lakeshore.

What was behind the visibility curtain? Jordan was fumbling for answers, but he could only make out anonymous shapes without form or definition, like the faces of the men he saw in his dream with Sally. He was feeling distraught. The butterflies were making him fidget, but he tried to be still so he wouldn’t give away his emotions to DJ.

Am I angry? Am I sad? What else could I be if I’m not angry or sad?

One of Jordan’s problems was that he lacked the right language.

Paul would know. DJ made a move. Jordan replied. As DJ focused on the board, Jordan slipped his hand into his pocket, holding the crystal, trying to summon wisdom from his mentor. But this, too, was undefined and formless.

Fifty-two days had passed since he left Vancouver. Since then, he”d experienced so much so quickly. He remembered those early days of desperation and loneliness, when he walked through the rundown resources towns of Washington State, pleading to be hit by a car. He remembered Kelly the Astrologer and his fourteen-and-a-half-year-old son, Leo, and the ecstatic feeling of finding a Story: his Saturn return; slaying the dragon; turning the grief into joy, day-by-day, step-by-step. He remembered playing You Are My Sunshine on his magic harmonica, and how he felt carried by the wind over the long bridge over the Columbia. That had been a turning point. Then Jack the Chicken Man, Mushroom Sam and now DJ, plus all the other love stories, friends and allies that he’d met along the way.

I’ve changed so much. I’m sure that I’m not the same person I was when I left Vancouver. So why am I still stuck here? Why am I still dreaming about my ex-girlfriend? I should be over her already!

DJ made a move. It was a bad one. He’d left his penne bishop exposed to an easy attack. With a single move, Jordan could gain the upper hand. The game would likely be over.

But if I win, what the hell are we going to do for the rest of the day?

Jordan’s eyes flicked to the penne. He hesitated. Then he turned elsewhere on the chessboard, moving a shell instead.

DJ took a drag. As he stared at the board, a long ash dangled off the edge of his cigarette.

Jordan tried to remember all the things that he’d learned in fifty-two days.

Sing for your supper. Every step has an intention. I am the love that I seek. He thought about Paul, about crystals and magic harmonicas. He thought about it what it had been like to tell the truth to Sam in the back of her Jimmy. I know better than this. I don’t need to keep chasing things like this. I don’t need to pretend to be friends with people that I never really liked in the first place. Why should I care what they think about me?

He felt adrenaline surge through his body.

Why is it so hard to change?

DJ’s next move was even worse. He’d left his queen open for the taking.

Jordan hesitated. Fuck it. He scooped up the quarter and put a rotini in its place.

DJ’s jaw dropped. “What the… No fair! I didn’t see that shell was a dark piece.”

Jordan looked down at the offending pawn. He could clearly see the Sharpie mark on the back of the shell. “Fine, DJ,” he said wearily. “Do you want me to let you take it back?”

“Only if you don’t want to win by cheatin’.”

“Take your queen back.”

“No, I don’t want it back,” DJ whined like a child. He flicked his cigarette butt into the bushes. “Cheater.”

“I’m not a…”

“Cheater. Cheater, cheater, cheater.”

Jordan shook his head. “Look, DJ. I’m sorry. Why don’t we play again?”

“I don’t play with cheaters.” He turned his body and crossed his arms across his chest.

Jordan took a deep breath. “DJ, let’s…”

But DJ was sticking his hand into his jacket pocket. When it reappeared, he was holding his glass pipe in his hands. Jordan’s throat went dry as he watched DJ pack some weed into the bowl. Jordan closed his eyes when DJ exhaled. Something inside of him snapped. He didn’t know what it was. It was still behind the visibility curtain.

“Give me some of that,” he said.

DJ looked briefly surprised. Then his lips creased gruesomely. “You want some of this? But I thought you was all goody-two-shoes and sober.” He waggled the pipe over the chessboard.

“I’m not goody-two-shoes. And I can do what I want. I’m the one that makes the Rules.”

Jordan snatched the pipe from his hand. In an instant, fifty-two days of sobriety went up in smoke.


In the hills above Tahkenitch Lake.

Stoned

i am a fuckup. I am a Prick. I hit my girlfriend. I deserve everything I’m getting. I don’t deserve anything. i am a fuckup. I am a Prick. I hit my girlfriend. I deserve everything I’m getting. I don’t deserve anything. i am a fuckup. I am a Prick. I hit my girlfriend. I deserve everything I’m getting. I don’t deserve anything. i am a fuckup. I am a Prick. I hit my girlfriend. I deserve everything I’m getting. I don’t deserve anything. i am a fuckup. I am a Prick. I hit my girlfriend. I deserve everything I’m getting. I don’t deserve anything. i am a fuckup. I am a Prick. I hit my girlfriend. I deserve everything I’m getting. I don’t deserve anything. i am a fuckup. I am a Prick. I hit my girlfriend. I deserve everything I’m getting. I don’t deserve anything. I am a Prick. I am a Prick. I am a Prick. I am a Prick. I am a Prick. I am a Prick. I am a Prick. I am a Prick. I am a Prick. I am a Prick. I am a Prick.


Arriving in Reedsport—alone.

Behind the visibility curtain

jordan’s raingear was drenched. His hands were ice blocks. His magic harmonica was tucked in his breast pocket, highly overmatched by the first big rainstorm of the Northwestern winter. Head down, he walked on the northbound highway shoulder, trying to will his way to the tiny town of Winchester Bay.

Two miles and eighty-eight hundredths to go.

Two miles and eighty-seven hundredths.

Two miles and eighty-six hundredths.

Counting every footstep distracted himself from the chill seeping into every square inch of his skin.

But beyond the cold, beyond the anxiety about spending a cold night in a wet sleeping bag, Jordan was thinking about DJ.

The storm didn’t arrive yesterday, when Jordan got stoned and spent the afternoon feeling sorry for himself. It didn’t arrive last night. But that morning, when he got out of his tent, the air pressure was dropping precipitously. DJ had wanted to stay at Tahkenitch Lake, but Jordan was enraged and blaming him. As he hurried to pack up his camp, DJ raced to collect his gear also. Jordan wanted to be alone; DJ needed to stay together.

They left Tahkenitch together. But right past the campground, Highway 101 had inclined steeply. With the heavier backpack and the weaker legs, DJ had fallen behind. “Jordan, wait,” he’d hollered, with desperation in his voice. “We can’t keep up!”

He turned back to look down at the taller man. “I’ve got to keep going,” he said icily. “I need to hurry to get to…”

“No!” cried DJ. “We’re Rainbows! Rainbows have gotta stay together.”

“Sorry, DJ. Maybe I’ll see you in Reedsport.” Jordan had turned away. By the time he reached the top of the hill, DJ and Blackjack were out of sight.

Behind the visibility curtain.

Jordan tried to focus. He tried to put existential questions and concerns behind him. He tried not to remind himself that he’d broken his Rules. He was much more concerned with where he was going to find a place to sleep. The rain started when he reached Reedsport. He’d sent a few harried messages to people he found on Couchsurfing, but the nearest hosts were in Coos Bay and no one was willing to drive thirty miles to rescue him. He went into a café and sat by the fire, smiling desperately at everyone who made eye contact. But no one made conversation with him.

Outside the café, there were a pair of churches across the street. Both had their pastors’ phone numbers posted out front. Jordan had called both of them but only got answering machines. There was another Church of Latter Day Saint’s down the street, but Jordan figured he’d had enough experiences with Mormons in Oregon to last a lifetime.

There seemed like no other option besides Winchester Bay.

Passing traffic slurped by on the wet asphalt, spitting peacock tails in their wake. Jordan tucked his hands into his armpits in a desperate attempt to stay warm.

One mile and ninety-seven hundredths.

One mile and ninety-si…

Suddenly, he had an idea that was so delicious that it made him laugh out loud on the side of the wet highway.

A motel room! Yes! Of course!

He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of it earlier.

I don’t need to pretend that I’m some drifter. I’m not DJ.

Immediately, he picked up his pace. He could feel the anticipation bubbling inside him, like butterflies.

One mile and three quarters.

One mile and a half.

One mile and a quarter.

He could barely tolerate the pain in his frigid fingers, but it would only be twenty minutes… fifteen minutes until he was inside, until he was taking a hot shower, until he was…

Jordan laughed out loud again. He knew exactly what he was going to do when he got to the motel. And the anticipation made him pick up the pace.

Fuck the fucking Rules.

A mile and a quarter.

“Come on, Jordan,” he said out loud. “You can do it. Keep pushing. You’re almost there.”

Up ahead, the road swung to the right. He could almost see Winchester Bay through the downpour. But then he saw something that made his heart jump into his throat.

A few hundred yards down the highway shoulder, a tall, slender figure was limping toward him through the downpour.

I don’t believe it. DJ.

DJ wouldn’t look him in the eyes. “Found us a hunker down,” he shouted over the traffic racing past in the rain. “The manager of that RV Park says he’s got a shed we can stay in.”

Jordan looked at DJ pleadingly.

Come on. Let me go free.

But DJ turned and limped toward the RV Park. And Jordan hung his head and followed behind him.

The shed was exactly as advertised. It was crammed with office furniture. Jordan cringed, picturing DJ’s coughs echoing against the concrete floor.

“If you move that desk and put the chair on top of it,” said the manager, “there should be enough room for the two of youse to lay out your sleeping bag.”

“How much do you want?” Jordan croaked.

“Five bucks,” said the manager.

“That’s a great deal,” said DJ eagerly.

A motel room would only cost me fifty bucks. And are we going to pitch our tent in here? No, of course not. We’re going to sleep side by side.

He opened his mouth to say no. But that wasn’t what came out. Instead, he said, “that sounds fine.” He fished a drenched five-dollar bill out of his wallet and handed it to the manager.

DJ looked delighted.

Jordan stepped inside the shed and collapsed into an office chair. He’d lost sensation in his fingers. When he peeled off his socks, his feet were snow white. DJ left to go to the restroom. The moment he was gone, Jordan let his head fall into his hands.

“What the fuck is wrong with me? Why do I keep doing this? Why can’t I fucking say no?”

A voice in Jordan’s head was saying:

RUN, JORDAN. RUNNNNNNN!

Suddenly, he heard a different voice. It was calm, confident and good-humored. Somehow smiling, even though it was disembodied. It said, simply: “You’re scared of hurting him.”

Why do I care if I hurt him? He’s just some stranger I met at a campsite. It’s not like I owe him anything. It’s not like he’s my Dad.

Immediately, he grabbed for his wet socks and pulled them over his soaked feet.

Blackjack was lying on the concrete floor. He raised his head as Jordan rose to his feet. “Take care of him, Jack. He loves you, even though he can be an asshole.” Jordan hefted up his bag and turned to face the door, ready to race out into the rain and away from DJ forever.

But through the condensation, he could see DJ’s silhouette.

DJ slid the glass door open. His eyes went wide. But his voice stayed calm. “Where are you goin’?”

Jordan was shaking. He looked at his feet. “I’m leaving, DJ.”

“Leavin’?” DJ feigned a laugh. “In this rainstorm? But where are you gonna find another hunker down? No, no, no. You’re going to die out there. You should just spend the night in this here shed. If you want, you can always leave in the mornin’.”

“I’m sorry, DJ. I’ve got to… With the rain and everything… the winter… I’m in a hurry and…”

“But it’s like I always say. If I was in a hurry…”

“You wouldn’t be traveling.”

Right?

“Right.” Jordan hung his head and looked at his feet. “I’m sorry, DJ. I just really have to…

“But where do you think you’re going to find another hunker down now? It’s almost sunset?”

“I… I…” Jordan licked his lips. “I’m going to stay in a motel.”

Immediately, he realized that he had said the wrong thing. Rage flashed across DJ’s face.

“A motel? A… motel? You’re gonna go sleep in a motel room, and let me and Jack sleep in this here… piece of shit shed?” DJ stepped forward into the threshold of the doorway. He towered over Jordan. Jordan had to crane his neck to look up to DJ’s face. “You selfish… prick. You’re going to get a motel room for yourself. After all, we’ve done for you.” DJ spread his elbows so he filled the space. “Let me tell you something, asshole. You ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

Jordan’s heart rate was through the roof. “DJ, I’m leaving.”

“Like hell you are.”

“DJ, let me out.”

Fuck you. If you want to leave, you’re gonna have to get through us.”

Blackjack was on his feet. He was growling.

Jordan was on the verge of panic when, suddenly, he heard that voice again. It said, “tell him the truth.”

He looked DJ directly in his eyes. “DJ, I’m sorry you’re so lonely.”

Fuck you. You don’t know nothing about us.” DJ’s voice broke. “You ain’t leavin’ ol’ DJ. Not again. Me and Jack, we’re never gonna let no one leave us again.”

Jordan softened his tone. “I’m sorry, DJ. Goodbye. I really wish you the best. But I’m going.” He took a step forward. DJ slid his body to the side, just enough that Jordan could squeeze past him in the rain.”

He took a step towards DJ. DJ slid his body just enough to the side that Jordan could squeeze past him into the rain.

“FUCK YOU!” DJ shouted. “FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!”

Jordan didn’t look back until he was safely inside a motel room in Winchester Bay.



Threshold

jordan knew where he was heading the moment he entered the motel room. He enjoyed taking his sweet time. He stripped out of his wet clothes and hung them over the heater. He lingered in the hot shower for nearly an hour. He shaved his bald head, but he left his seven-week-long beard untouched. He liked the way it looked. It made him feel manly and powerful.

I did it. I finally slew the dragon.

Well, not actually. He was still a long way from Mexico.

Wrapped in a towel, he flopped on the bed and turned college football on the screen. As he watched the battle, he let his hands drift downwards. Across his hairy chest. Onto his belly. Teasing at the edge of his towel.

He pulled the visibility curtain open, lying naked on the bed.

Sure, Jordan could have masturbated like he did most mornings: quickly and furtively. But now, basking in the triumph of standing up to DJ, he thought that he could take his time and enjoy himself.

Tonight, I’ve earned something special.

He grabbed for his phone. His fingers already knew their destination. When he reached his favorite porn site, he headed to the one category that drew him above all others. There were hundreds of videos. He clicked one of them. The scene opened in an anonymous office with the camera focused on a black leather couch. A burly man was sitting behind a cheap wooden desk. He was filmed from behind, but when he rose to his feet, his features were blurred and anonymous.

There was a woman at the door. She was blonde and Sally-like. Jordan had never seen this video before, but he’d seen this scene play out hundreds of times. The woman sat on the couch. The man explained that he was a casting agent.

The real subject was power. He had it; she didn’t. He had it; Jordan wanted it. Desperately.

He worked himself into a frenzy as he watched the scene unfold, trying to jam the last twenty-four hours back behind the visibility curtain. Who was he now that he stood up to DJ? What had he learned from Sam? Was it finally time to be different?

Why is it so hard for me to change?

The man on the screen was thrusting into the Sally-like blonde from behind. The camera focused on their genitals: thicker, harder, better.

Suddenly, the video disappeared, replaced by a picture of his mother. Jordan threw the towel over himself. He hadn’t realized that he was logged into Skype. His mother was calling.

His thumb hovered from left to right.

Green? Red? Green? Red?

He took a deep breath and chose green. There was his mother’s face.

“Hi, hon. How are you? What’s going on?”

He thought about the landscapes he’d seen, the people he’d met, the Stories that he’d collected. He thought about Sam. He thought about Jack the Chicken Man. He thought about DJ and the dragon that he’d just slayed. And he thought about what he was just watching.

When he thought about Sally, he formed his face into one of his patented plastic smiles.

“Nothing much,” he said. “Just walking. Just waiting out the rain.”

So much for magic.


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Now, A Question for you:

Have you ever been paralyzed by fear? What did you do about it?

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