E08: Beachcombing

DAY 83. 1,100 MI. TO GO

23 min read
Looking north to Trinidad, California.

The morning after the redwoods, I woke up at the motel still shaking off my strange dream. Had the redwoods really “talked” to me? Was it just some crazy hallucination? What did it all mean?

I was full of nervous energy as I packed my bag and left the motel. I wanted to go back to the redwood forest immediately.

I was in a small town called Orick which was a few miles south of the Visitor Center for the Redwood National Park. There was a second Visitor Center another couple miles down the road, perched on the edge of Gold Bluffs Beach. I headed there, hoping to get more information about other trails in the park. But when I arrived, the Ranger strongly discouraged me from returning to the forest.

“More rain is on the way,” she explained. “And we’ve had such a wet fall that all the rivers are already swollen. The seasonal bridges are flooded. You’re going to have a hard time getting across.”

“I saw that at the campground at Ossagon Creek.”

I thought better than to tell the Park Ranger about the talking trees.

She pointed my attention to a nearby relief map of Northern California. The rugged landscape was riddled with steep mountains and narrow river valleys. Just a handful of roads connected the isolated region with the rest of the state—two that led north to Oregon, two that led east toward Redding, and one that led south toward San Francisco. I followed the path of this last road—Highway 101—as it dropped down onto the edge of the flat alluvial plain that surrounded Eureka, the largest town on the North Coast. Beyond Eureka, the road climbed back into the mountains at the southern part of Humboldt County.

The Park Ranger pointed at those mountains. “You see that splotch of green? That’s Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The redwood forest there is even better than the ones we have here.”

I looked at her as starry-eyed as a character in a Pixar movie. “Even better?”

She nodded. “Even better.”

I decided that I would carry on toward Eureka. There were more redwoods ahead.


Leaving the Redwood National Park, heading toward Eureka, California.

Something strange happened that afternoon. I was walking on the side of the highway heading south from the Visitor Center—walking on the northbound shoulder, facing into traffic like I always did. I had the habit of locking eyes with oncoming drivers. It’s funny, but drivers seemed to pay more attention to me when I was looking directly at them. Maybe there’s something in the amygdala that responds to direct eye contact, maybe it’s just a story I was making up to make me feel safe.

Anyway, some drivers would return my eye contact and smile or wave or flash a peace sign. I loved these fleeting moments of connection; they felt like encouragement from the universe. I loved any of them, of course, but what I really wanted was to lock eyes with a young, beautiful woman who would smile or wave or…

Sometimes, one of these fleeting moments of eye contact would keep me fantasizing for hours.

That afternoon, I had a moment. Young woman, old Subaru, Oregon plates. I waved; she smiled and waved back. My imagination went wild.

Then, in a moment, she was gone, flying down the highway toward the pair of inland lagoons behind me.

A few minutes passed. Then, the same Subaru! This time, it was heading south. I watched it disappear around the bend ahead. An instant later, there she was again. Coming back! For me!

She pulled onto the shoulder a few yards in front. I sauntered over and leaned in her open passenger window. It was a strange place to flirt.

I can’t remember most of what we talked about, but I distinctly remember the feeling. There I was, just out of a week in the forest, eyes wide from what had just happened to me, and this girl was ogling me like I was a cold ice cream on a hot day. Back then, I could have counted the number of times that a woman looked at me like that on my fingers—her desire felt exciting and mysterious. The butt end of her Subaru was sticking out into the lane, and passing traffic honked and yelled as we flirted.

She told me that she was heading to Arcata, the college town just north of Eureka.

“Maybe I’ll see you there,” I said, surprising myself with my boldness.

The girl’s eyes twinkled. “Maybe you will.”

Another angry honk sent the girl on her way. As I watched her go, I couldn’t wipe off the smile.

Arcata. Arcata seemed like the Promised Land.

It was just two days’ walk away.


The tiny hamlet of Big Lagoon, California.

Arcata, California. I hardly knew anything about Arcata, except that it was a town of 17,000 people—nearly half of them were students. But that night, holed up in the county campground in Big Lagoon, California, as yet another torrential rainstorm unleashed hell on my tent, I lay in my sleeping bag and let my fantasies run wild.

I needed… something. The term I used was “vacation”—that’s a strange characterization on a journey that was pushing toward its fourth month without paid work, without professional purpose. Haunted by the expectations of my financial backers—and my parents—I had hardly dallied. Sure, I’d stayed an extra night here and there when I met a friendly stranger or when I wanted to escape the worst of the rain. But now I was looking down the barrel at months of winter. The Golden Gate Bridge, the palm trees and white sand beaches of Southern California seemed years away. The rain, the redwoods, the selfie… I was overwhelmed. I needed a vacation from my own life.

I hoped it would come with a beautiful young woman.

The girl in the station wagon?

A college co-ed?

Two college co-eds?

Three?

Rain hammered overhead and the wind howled as my fist pumped furiously.

Afterward, I felt lost and deeply lonely as my come dried on my belly.


Leaving Big Lagoon, heading to Trinidad.

The next day, the weather was temperamental. I set out in the morning hoping to make it all the way to Arcata. But by lunchtime, I had only made it eight miles to tiny Trinidad, and the sky over the Pacific was black. Arcata—and my fantasies—were going to have to wait at least one more day.

On the outskirts of Trinidad, I dawdled in the pioneer cemetery, taking pictures of the headstones.

Trinidad, California is one of those unique coastal gems. The town of 300 people is laid out on just a couple of streets that sit high up on a bluff, sandwiched between a pair of sandy beaches, at the foot of a high headland that overlooks a scattering of islands and offshore rocks. I was still in the cemetery when the rain began. Hurrying down the hill, I saw the Elementary School ahead of me. A one-story, siena-colored building was across the street—the Beachcomber Café.

I darted inside, just beating the downpour.

Immediately, I noticed the vibe of the place. There were inspirational quotes on the wall, and the young woman behind the counter had facial piercings beneath her blonde dreadlocks. Finally, vegetarian food options! I was finally arriving in the “real” California!

The dreadlocked woman was cute. I tried to catch her eye when I made my order, but couldn’t successfully make contact.

When my sandwich came up, I carried the plate into the adjacent sitting room.

This was an eclectic space, with colorful art on the walls and a bookcase full of titles on astrology and psychedelics. A few people were scattered about the mismatched tables. I set my sandwich down on one of the tables and dropped my backpack, peeling off my rain jacket and pants. I took another glance out the window—the weather looked horrible. Where was I going to spend the night?

When I turned back, I saw a woman smiling at me from the next table.

“I really like that shaved head and beard look.” She had moss-green eyes, tortoise-shelled glasses, and tousled brown hair. She was wearing a leopard-print hoodie and a tangle of sea glass necklaces. “Very stylish.”

I touched my bald head defensively and muttered my thanks.

As I sat down, I noticed that the woman was still smiling at me. She had a similar look to the one I had seen while leaning into the Subaru.

“Let me guess. You’re a Scorpio.”

Northern California, I thought.

“That’s right,” I said politely. “How did you know?”

“I can just see it in your eyes. You’ve got this intense, powerful sexual energy. I felt it the moment you came into the room.”

I stuck out my hand. “My name’s Jordan.”

“I’m Jolene.”


The first thing that Jolene told me was that I had met her on one of the most important days of her life. That morning, she explained, she left her home in Garberville, a small town in the remote mountains of Southern Humboldt County, to drive to Eureka, the county seat. (I would later learn that Garberville was the epicenter of the Northern California pot trade—one of the most notorious towns on the entire West Coast.) In Eureka, she parked her minivan out front of the county courthouse and went inside to officially file the legal paperwork ending her marriage to the man she had been with since she was a teenager.

“I drove up here right afterward,” she beamed. “To celebrate. This is my first meal as a single woman in my life.”

“Do you mind if I join you?”

I picked up my half-eaten sandwich and swapped tables.

Sure, sex was on my mind. But there was something about the look in Jolene’s eyes that made me shy from her. She looked vaguely familiar, though I couldn’t quite say why. My first instinct was that she was naive, trusting. Vulnerable.

I took another bite of my sandwich and returned it to its plate. “So look, I’m walking from Canada to Mexico and asking people if I can record their love stories. Would it be okay if I record—”

“YES!” she said, interrupting me.

I wiped my lips and reached into my backpack for my phone. Pressing record, I placed it on the table in front of my sandwich and gave an abrupt preamble. I was an artist, I explained, and I hoped to use this recording for something—a book, an art project, I didn’t know yet. Did Jolene give me consent to use her story?

“I do,” she nodded.

“Okay, great. Why don’t you start from the beginning?”

That was pretty much the last thing I said for the next fifty-seven minutes and forty-one seconds.


Two hours later, the sun had already set, and I was in the passenger seat of Jolene’s minivan, hanging onto the door handle for dear life. Heavy rain was cascading onto the highway. Jolene was drifting in and out of the lane, hardly paying attention to the road as she gabbed with her younger sister, who was on speakerphone.

Jolene’s younger sister, Stella, was back in Garberville, babysitting Jolene’s four children.

“You met someone?” Stella said incredulously.

“That’s right. I’m not coming home tonight. His name is Jason.”

“Jordan,” I mumbled.

Jolene cackled. “Sorry! Stella, he’s walking across America. You should see him. He’s totally your type.” She turned to me. “Say hi to Stella.”

“Hi,” I grumbled.

“Jo—lene! You slut!

As the two sisters laughed, I clutched the door handle even tighter.

I had learned a lot about Jolene in those fifty-seven minutes and forty-one seconds. Probably more than one should know about a complete stranger. Jolene had lived the kind of life that you might read about in a magazine article or a horror story. Born to a pastor’s family, Jolene had started a relationship as a teenager with another boy in her father’s church that culminated with marriage when they were both eighteen. Raised to be highly devout, Jolene had decided after the engagement that she wanted their wedding night to be special—so special that she wanted to have absolutely no physical contact with her fiancé for nearly a year before the wedding. This devotion created a minor stir in their community—Jolene bragged that there were uninvited guests camped out on the golf course with binoculars just so they could see this Christian couple’s first kiss. “Then we had sex,” she said matter-of-factly. “It was so disappointing. There was no emotional buildup, no connection, no nothing. It was practically rape. It took a full week for my hymen to break.”

I had glanced around the busy café, suddenly aware of the other patrons sitting around us.

Jolene and her ex-husband had three children by the time they were twenty. It was around that time they started experimenting with pot. It was around that time they started pulling away from the church.

Jolene described their descent in a tone of voice that sounded like gonzo journalism. It was hard to believe that she was talking about herself. Even she seemed incredulous by what she’d been through. The pot contributed to the disintegration of their old identity. Her ex-husband suffered. He became physically abusive. He threatened her and the kids. Jolene was desperate, but she loved him. He was her husband, she was devoted to him. She described every detail loudly and confidently, and I struggled to keep my attention focused on her while also ignoring the loud glares from the café’s other patrons.

Jolene didn’t seem to notice. She didn’t give a fuck.

“When we moved back home, he met a man who gave him some mushrooms,” she said. “He was studying the Bible at the time. Studying Revelations, which is all about the apocalypse. And he was taking handfuls of mushrooms throughout the day every day for two weeks straight. He went completely insane. It was horrific. I was getting dosed with it as well because of our sexual exchange and not using condoms. At first I thought it was just the contact high, but I was actually receiving the dose of mushrooms. So I was totally going insane with him. I was in survival mode, you know? But simultaneously I was absolutely in love with this man. I was there to heal him, to protect him, to nurture him. He would cry on my chest at night. He loved me with a love that wasn’t even healthy. I was begging him the whole time to stop taking the mushrooms, and he wasn’t listening to me at all. He was convinced that the world was going to end in a really horrific way. At the same time, while he was on mushrooms, I conceived my fourth child. He was like, basically, the world is going to end anyway, we are not going to be able to have condoms, so why are we using condoms at all? We’re going to have twelve kids, so let’s just deal with it. Then he flips out and he’s convinced that things are going to be so horrible that we need to go to sleep and wake up on the other side. And he basically attempted to kill us all.”

“Woah,” I said. That was my first word in twenty-seven minutes.

My half-eaten sandwich was still sitting in front of me. Jolene’s story was so intense, so shocking, that I didn’t dare insult her by not giving her my complete attention. My stomach was grumbling—it was past three, I was starving—but I refused to satiate myself by slowing her down to take a bite.

“Because we were together for so long, we never had any other sexual experience,” she continued. “so he was really curious about having an open relationship. I was reluctant, but I wasn’t absolutely opposed to it. But it had to be his way. He was totally not comfortable with me being with another man. He was basically, like, in the Bible men had twelve wives. That was the way it works. So then we started exploring our sexuality with other people, inviting women into our home, and I was pregnant still. I was post-traumatic. It was, like, so crazy.

“Then, the night I was in labor, he fired my doula, which is my birth coach, but he hired his own doula to be his support while he supported me. She was an 18-year-old girl, and he ended up coming on to her while I was in labor. I totally flipped out. I was like, please, please don’t do this. And he said, I go with love. My labor stopped. I was six centimeters dilated. I could feel my baby readr to come out and it wouldn’t come out. I held my baby in for another seven days. It was like survival. So when it was finally time to go into labor, I was alone in the world. I remember being in the bathtub. I was at home and I started having a panic attack. I called his name and I was like, can you please come in and be with me. I’m having a hard time. He’s like, deal with it. So I got out of the tub and it was time to have the baby, so I got into the birthing tub. I was like, okay, the baby’s coming. I had a friend—she wasn’t a midwife, but she used to be a midwife—she was there just to make sure that nothing went wrong. It was time to push, and I was just like, alright, the body’s bulging. The body’s bulging, the head’s out, the shoulders are out, and she’s like, push it to the side, push it to the other side. I pulled him out myself and it was so badass. I fucking gave birth to my own child. I delivered my own child, completely. The other pregnancies, I had gone to a medicated space. That’s how I went through the pain. This time, it was just like there was no way I could escape my body, my power. This is who I am in my core.” She paused. “This is all part of the process of falling in love with myself, by the way.”

“Stella, I’ll be home tomorrow morning.”

“Okay,” said Stella. “Have fun…

Just as Jolene hung up the call, a sign for a Motel 6 loomed through the rainstorm on the edge of the highway. Suddenly, I had been transported from the Beachcomber Café to the outskirts of Arcata, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Jolene tapped on her signal, pulling the minivan onto the cloverleaf. The wipers beat overtime as we passed through a rural strip mall and pulled into the Motel 6 parking lot. She pulled into a stall and hesitated. I sighed and reached for the door handle. I had been the one to invite her to bed, after all. This one was on me.

I went into the motel’s office and waited in line to get a room. The small room was packed full with a half-dozen other people—grimy-looking types with long hair and shaggy beards. They all wore the telltale aroma of the drifter—that rancid mixture of smoke and pot and body odor that I associated with DJ. I started a conversation with one. He explained that he’d spent the last few weeks living on a “scene”. He was a marijuana trimmer, hired to clip buds into sizes that could be sold at market.

“Walking to Mexico?” he guffawed. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

I thought about it for a second, before I blurted out the truth: “Getting some pussy.”

The trimmer snorted. “Nice.” He offered me his fist, and I pounded it.

The room was easily the worst at the motel. It was tiny, with just one window that faced back into the courtyard. The walls were painted to be forgotten; all the furniture was anonymous. The only distinctive feature of the room was the brightly colored bedspread, a mishmash of blues and reds and yellows that aimed to depict the tourist sights of America. There were cityscapes and mountains and deserts; there was the Statue of Liberty, Monument Valley. All these scenes were stitched together by lonely cars driving on empty roadways, a sanitized, corporatized vision of America at its best. Where were the rancid-smelling trimmers? Where were the divorced mothers of four? Where were the talking redwoods? None of these had reached the top of the list.

Glaring at the comforter, I suddenly felt a migraine coming on. What was I doing? Why had I invited Jolene to bed? Truthfully, I didn’t like her—everything she said was grating on me.

But I felt bad for her. I felt like it was my Duty to take her to bed and, in the process, to somehow redeem my entire gender.

I looked over at her. She was watching me. I tried to fake a smile.

“Look,” I said, looking at my feet. “doyouthinkyoucouldgivemeanhour?” The oncoming migraine was already clouding my vision; the brightly colored bedspread looked pixellated. “Ijust…” I sighed loudly. “Ireallyneedsometimeonmyown.”

Jolene made a pixellated face. “Are you okay? Do you want me to leave?”

“no,” I squeaked. “itsjust…” I made up a few half-hearted lies, unable or unwilling to bring myself to tell her that I was done, that I never wanted to see her again.

“Justgivemeanhour…illbe…ready…then.”

Jolene made a face. Then she agreed that she would return in an hour.

The moment she left the room, I went into the restroom, turned off all the lights, and slumped down next to the toilet, letting my head fall into my hands. All of this felt so familiar, this was just like what had happened with DJ. But this time, I knew I couldn’t run. There was only one way I was going to get myself out of this situation. I was going to have to fuck Jolene.



That hour crawled by in agony as I sat next to the toilet, listening to the rain pounding on the parking lot outside. Nothing made sense, no other possibilities emerged; I begged, pleaded, yeared to be alone, back among the talking redwoods. Don’t forget us…Don’t forget us… I heard their voices echoing inside my aching head, but I had already let them down, I had already screwed up my side of the bargain. A selfie! A fucking selfie!

RAPRAPRAPRAPRAP

“Coming,” I groaned. “Justgivemeasecond.”

I flipped on the light and splashed some cold water on my face. Then I looked at myself in the mirror.

“Come on, Jordan. It’s just sex. You’re supposed to want this. Don’t be such a fucking pussy.”

When I opened the door, Jolene looked me over with an expression that felt caring. “Is everything okay?” That hunger I had seen earlier was gone.

“Yeah,” I moped, stepping back from the entrance to let her in. My whole body cowered as she dropped her jacket and sat on the bedspread.

The migraine was passing, the pixelation was gone. Still, I was feeling exhausted. But I had accepted my Duty, I had chosen my fate.

As I made eye contact with Jolene, I crossed my arms across my chest even tighter.

“So,” she said leadingly. “You were saying something about a photoshoot?”

Yes, I was. Earlier, back at the Beachcomber Café—after Jolene had finished her story and I had devoured what was left of my sandwich—there was a moment when we were both silent, just looking at each other. I had glanced out the window at yet another cold rainstorm and casually dismissed the idea of another long, chilly night in my tent. Then, I had turned back to Jolene and seen the eagerness in her expression.

“You know,” I had said generously. ‘I’ve spent the last few months thinking about setting up a nude photoshoot. I’ve been looking for a model. Maybe it’s you.”

I didn’t need a pickup line that elaborate; after fifty-seven minutes and forty-one seconds of listening to every sordid detail of Jolene’s history, I could have nodded toward the restroom and she probably would have said yes.

But I hadn’t. I had a Duty.

Jolene took off her leopard-print hoodie and put her tortoise-shell glasses on the side table. Underneath, she was wearing a lacy camisole. She quickly shucked her bra. I tried not to look at her nipples poking through the material. The nicest thing I could think about her body was that it looked like it had borne four children.

She took off her pants. Underneath, she was wearing a velour pair of underwear that reminded me of the drapes in my grandmother’s sitting room. Her arms and legs were covered in a mismatched assortment of tattoos—many of the stick-and-poke variety, many of which she had done herself. Pausing, she got back up on the bedspread and kneeled piously. I grabbed for my camera, not really knowing what I was supposed to do, not really knowing how I was supposed to make this ugly woman in an ugly room somehow look beautiful. She beamed back at me as casually as if I were taking a snapshot in front of the Statue of Liberty, looking me directly in the lens.

My stomach felt turbulent. I knew I was heading for disaster. The butterflies were going wild.

This is me in the midst of one of the most humiliating moments of my life.

The lead-up to sex felt mechanical and pedestrian. We both knew the destination was assured, and when we kissed, there was no emotional buildup, no connection, no nothing. It didn’t quite qualify as rape, because I was consenting and I was a man. I wanted it, my penis was erect, I didn’t know that I could think or feel otherwise.

The overhead lights stayed on as I put on a condom and slid inside of her. Immediately, I was overwhelmed by the urge to come. One swift stroke, maybe two, and the sensation would have defeated me. That would have been it, it would have been mercifully over, except for the forced, fake apology. Suddenly, I remembered the experience of losing my virginity. It was during the first week of my freshman year at college. It was with a girl I had only met minutes earlier in the line for the bathroom. We both were drunk. I had daringly accepted her invitation inside, practically shaking with titillation as I stood by the sink, listening to the subversive sound of her piss hitting the water on the other side of the stall. She came out, we kissed, I reached under her skirt, she pulled me out, I was inside of her, it was over. I never spoke with her again, I spent the rest of freshman year avoiding her. I couldn’t even remember her name.

Jolene was looking up at me. Every alternative portended humiliation, and each one seemed worse than the last. Remembering the excitement in her voice when she spoke on the phone to her sister, I decided I “owed” it to her to “give” her an orgasm—after all, all of this had been “my idea.” I picked up the pace, making one forceful stroke that instantly took me to the edge of my control. Whoops. Too much sensation. Biting my lip, tightening my jaw, I pressed myself against her pubic bone and began to make a slow, circular motion that I vaguely hoped would stimulate her somehow.

We moved like that for about sixty seconds, and the whole time I kept my eyes squeezed shut. Finally, my dick decided that if I wouldn’t soften, it would.

I had never been so grateful to be dysfunctional, and I had a long history to draw from. I mumbled an apology, which Jolene accepted. This solution turned out to be the least humiliating of all.

I rolled off of her, she spooned up behind me. We lay like that for a few minutes in silence, until I finally reached for the light.

The last thing that ran through my mind was that, with any luck, Jolene would be gone by the morning, and I would never need to tell anyone about what had happened; I would bury this humiliation in the same place I put the rest.

I was wrong.


I remember having a warm, delicious dream. I opened my eyes. The motel room was pitch black. There was the sound of the rain, and the sound of a strange, foreign smacking. Then I felt overwhelmed by a warm, delicious sensation.

I put two and two together. Jolene was going down on me.

This was the archetypal blow job—the blow job that all other blow jobs aspire to. I could hardly imagine how much time, agony, and chortled desire Jolene was channeling into her lips. There was no space in my brain. Every last neuron was firing in time with her slops and her slurps. My whole body was coming to life. In the darkness, in my liminal state between waking and dreams, between forest and city, between caterpillar and butterfly, everything seemed to mix together into one contiguous symphony of sensation. She worked my cock. The rain pounded on the parking lot. My hips wiggled and swung. I groaned and moaned with abandon. My humiliation was a distant memory—nothing else seemed to exist besides her lips, her tongue, her throat, her… ohmygod, ohfuck, ohfuck.

I whined when she let me out of her throat. Just a few more strokes and I would have been able to escape again into sleep. Jolene had other ideas. Climbing up my body, she searched out my mouth, using her tongue to color far beyond the lines. A condom appeared. She rolled it on, then swung her thigh across my body and positioned me at her lips.

Six centimeters dilated, I thought. I could feel my baby read to come out and it wouldn’t—

Jolene buried me to the hilt.

“Ohhhhhh,” she groaned. “Fuuuuuuuuuuck.”

Her cunt was on fire. It was primed, slick, as if she had been preparing herself for that moment ever since she left Garberville, earlier that morning, to go to Eureka and file for divorce. She twisted her hips and rose slowly, introducing me to all parts of her inside. Then—”Oh fuck, baby”—she thrust her pelvis into me.

SLAM!

The headboard tapped against the anonymous wall.

I reached forward in the darkness, searching for her hips. Earlier, I had learned that there was a canary tattooed on one and a rose on the other. (A hand-drawn portrait of her grandmother was on the back of her leg.)

SLAM! SLAM!

I found the canary, but immediately Jolene pulled my hands away. “No,” she said sternly.

She reached my arms back, pinning them over my head. When I made a half-hearted attempt to escape, she squeezed my wrists tightly.

SLAM! SLAM! SLAM!

She leaned over again and kissed me wetly.

I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to feel. I wasn’t supposed to be into this, was I? But this was feeling awesome. My whole body felt like it was conducting a lightning storm. I wanted to pick up the pace, I wanted to speed toward my release, I thrust forward but Jolene parried backward.

“No,” she said again.

I whined as she slowly, agonizingly engulfed me.

Her tongue explored my face. Her hands clutched my wrists. Her nipple found its way to my lips. “Suck my tit,” she said. I leaned forward, obliging, but she yanked it just out of my reach.

SLAM! SLAM!

The lamp on the bedside table went toppling.

Her other nipple found my lips again. “Suck it,” she moaned. “Suck my fucking tit.” I wasn’t this turned on, was I? I tried to keep my lips sealed shut, but she ran her nipple up and down me, waiting for her opportunity to work its way in. Eventually, I relented. I opened my lips, I took that nipple and sucked it for dear life.

SLAM!

SLAM! SLAM!

“Ohhhhhhh…. FUCK.”

Once again, I tried to break from her grip—surely, it would have been easy to overpower her. But I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t do it. I didn’t want to, I wasn’t supposed to… I had promised myself that I would never again treat a woman like that, not after what had happened with Sally. I thought about sex with Sally, it was never like this, Sally never liked to take charge, she only liked it when I—

SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! SLAM!

I groaned. Jolene’s face was just a few inches above mine. I could feel her hot breath on my cheeks. She was making strange guttural sounds—moans, groans, grunts, barks, whines. She sounded like one of those barnyard toys for children, she was making every sound on Old MacDonald’s Farm at once. It was hot, in the darkness, I was getting more turned on, I was imagining I was in bed with Sally, we were finally fucking the way I always wished we could…

I thrust. Jolene parried. Her fingernails dug into my wrists.

“Ouch,” I yelped. “That hurts!”

Jolene didn’t apologize. Instead, she leaned over and let her tongue worm its way onto my ear, working until it was probing my ear canal. This wasn’t supposed to turn me on, was it?

SLAM!

SLAM! SLAM!

“Do you want to… fuck… me?” she whispered hotly in my ear.

“Yes,” I croaked.

“Tell me. Tell me that you want to… fuck me.”

“Iwanttofuckyou.”

SLAM!

I groaned. Her hands squeezed my wrists tighter.

Her tongue found my other ear. “Do you want to… fuck… me? Tell me again.”

“Iwanttofuckyou.”

SLAM!

“Do you know what I want?” I could feel her dripping onto my thighs, I could feel her wetness on the sheets. Her tongue found my earlobe. “I want you…to fuck me…like a…”—She bit down hard—”MAN!”

Suddenly, everything was happening at once. I ripped my hands free and threw her backward. The lamp tumbled off the bedside table and smashed when it hit the floor. Then, I lurched forward and pounced. It wasn’t me, it wasn’t the body I knew, it was as if some other person was inhabiting me as I threw Jolene onto the pillow, spread her legs, and thrust inside of her.

SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! SLAM!

Jolene was moaning and screeching, she was braying and whinnying, she was screaming so loud that every trimmer in the Motel 6 was surely lying awake, wishing it was them and not me who had come there to get some pussy.

SLAM! SLAM! SLAM!

SLAM! SLAM! SLAM!

Something had come over me, something terrible and scary and ugly and magical and fascinating and powerful! I was doing it! I was fucking her like I’d never fucked anyone in my life! I was finally fucking her like a MAN! She was screaming, she was coming. The sheets were ripped from the mattress, there was a hole in the wall, the side table was on the floor.

SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! SLAM!

There was a man’s voice in the room too. It was roaring and moaning and cussing and saying hideous, disgusting, glorious things. It was me, it was me! I was grunting, I was groaning. “I’m going to come!”

I pulled out, yanked off the condom, and grabbed Jolene by the back of her head. She burst out laughing when it hit her face. “Where did that come from?”

I had no idea.

It didn’t matter. By the time I came back from the toilet, she was already snoring.


The afterglow lingered the next morning, but the magic dissipated when I made eye contact with Jolene again. She was no longer the midnight sex goddess—she was back to being the strange, tortured narcissist I had endured back in the café. I tried to convince myself that I liked her, but it didn’t work.

Instead, I told myself that it was just a matter of time before she was gone. I could be grateful to her for what she brought out of me; at the very least, I could be grateful that she offered to drive me fifteen miles north, back to Trinidad, so I could walk my way back to Arcata. We would say goodbye, we would exchange handshakes like adults, having both engaged consensually in a willful sexual trade. We would both always remember one another fondly, and we would never have to see each other for the rest of our lives. I would never need to tell this story to anyone.

When we got back to the Beachcomber Café, Jolene asked if we could have lunch together. My heart said no, my lips said yes.

I told myself I had no choice. I didn’t want to be an asshole. I didn’t want to be a Prick.

By sunset, we were still together. We’d walked together all day, dropping down to the flat alluvial plain just north of Eureka, shielding ourselves from the strong winds blowing over the beach, resting behind the shifting sand dunes.

By sunset, when we finally reached Arcata, I was convinced that I hated her. I was convinced that Jolene was the worst human being who had ever walked on the Earth. I decided she must have been a horrible mother. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t going back to Garberville, to her four children. What did she want with me? Why did she keep inviting me to come home with her? Didn’t she understand? Didn’t she know she was just a one-night-stand? Couldn’t she read my mind?

Leaving Trinidad with Jolene.

There was a crisis when we got to Arcata. How was Jolene going to get her minivan? It was fifteen miles north, parked in front of the Beachcomber Café in Trinidad. Why was she looking at me, did she really expect me to solve her problems?

The solution was Phoenix. That was the name of the guy that we had met, in the sand dunes, where he was practicing his banjo. We sat and listened to him play until his fingers got cold—that was the only moment of the day when I thought Jolene was bearable. Phoenix had just driven across the country with his dog to attend the holistic medicine college in Arcata. Jolene called him. He was staying at the Motel 6. His room had two queen sized beds, and he invited us to share it for free.

A half hour later, Phoenix arrived in his station wagon. He shuttled us north to Trinidad, dropped Jolene at her minivan, and then returned to the Motel 6. I had hoped that Jolene would continue to Garberville. I was wrong.

I spent the rest of the evening trying to cozy up to Phoenix, trying to separate myself from Jolene. There was some weed—that helped. I tried to ignore her, tried to will her away. I couldn’t understand what she was doing.

Finally, it was late. Phoenix suggested watching a movie as we fell asleep. He chose Borat. As he lay snoring in his bed, Jolene tried to snuggle up to me in ours. I turned on my side, rolling to the far edge of the bed, practically draping off the mattress.

Even with the canyon between us, I could feel Jolene sulking on the other side of the bed. She was hurt. It was hard to deny that it was my fault. I tried to understand how I had gone from humiliation to humiliation, and I yearned to be back there, in the forest, among the redwoods.

Don’t forget us…Don’t forget us…Don’t forget us…

When the movie ended, the DVD returned to the home screen, and the same snippet of Russian-inspired menu music played on repeat, over and over again.

Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over… An hour must have gone by before I finally got out of bed to turn off the DVD player.

When I woke up, Jolene was gone.

I felt bad. I also felt relieved. As I made my breakfast, I told myself that, at the very least, I was never going to have to see her again, and I would never need to think about what had happened…