E12: The Legend of Big Foot

DAY 113. 900 MI. TO GO

24 min read
Garberville, California.

It was six days after the winter solstice when I woke up in a motel room in Garberville nursing a hangover from all the weed. Immediately, I reached for my phone, but there was still no reply to the message that I had sent Ashley late the previous evening. I drew back the curtains. The rain had finally lulled, and it was as good a day for walking as I could have hoped for the end of December.

I checked my phone again. I was overwhelmed with dread.

It was six days after the winter solstice, and I was still hanging around Garberville, courting a disaster.

I dawdled as I packed my gear, giving Ashley more time to… what? I didn’t want to think about it. I tried to remember that pure emotion I had felt, knocking on her cabin door that first night. What had it been? Anticipation? Terror? The uncertainty made me shudder.

There was laughter coming from the motel room next door: a family from Bakersfield, California, who had driven north for the holidays—they were poorly outfitted in surf shorts and flip flops despite the chilly temperatures. I watched them jealously through the corner of the blinds until the crack of eleven, when there was a firm knock from housekeeping on my door.

Then I reasoned I should finally get the hell out of Garberville.

Redwood Drive in Garberville

For all its reputation as the pot mecca of California, Garberville seemed an understated place, with nothing like the brick-and-Victorian charm of Arcata. Like the rest of the towns in the Eel River Valley, Garberville had its roots in the logging industry; when the hippies went back-to-the-land in the sixties, they were attracted by the cheap land and blighted landscapes. It was only a coincidence that the moist atmosphere was the perfect ecosystem for growing their weed. Today, the residents of the southern part of Humboldt County take pride in calling themselves hipnecks, and Garberville is their Timbuktu: the lone Main Street is lined with cafés, second-hand clothing shops, hydroponics stores, and pickup trucks with NRA bumper stickers piloted by burly-looking men and their pretty blond wives calling after children named things like Fern and Leaf.

The town was an acquired taste, and after what had happened between me and Ashley, I was fighting as hard as I could to convince myself that I had acquired it.

On the morning of the 27th, though, Redwood Drive was dead. I lingered over a coffee, watching anxiously out the window for any sign of Jolene’s minivan. Incredibly, I hadn’t run into her yet, even though I’d been hanging around Garberville for a week. By noon, when there was still no reply from Ashley, I sighed and told myself that it really, really was time that I left Garberville. I took one last, searching look around the café, but there was no one pretty and inviting enough to give me the excuse I wanted to stay.

I threw my pack over my shoulder and moped down the sidewalk. It was just a few blocks until I reached the end of town. There, Redwood Drive merged into the off-ramp for vehicles heading north on Highway 101.

As I strolled past the PEDESTRIANS PROHIBITED sign, I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. Finally, I was on the road again. I shook my head like I was coming out of a haze.

How had it all gone wrong? I was sure there was so much potential between me and Ashley, and I remembered how patiently I had sat with her on that very first night, inside her cozy cabin, as we watched the fire in the wood stove and shared joint after joint after joint. Spliffs, actually: Ashley preferred her weed spiked with a generous heaping of tobacco, and I assured her that I preferred it however she wanted it. This was just about the only intimate detail I learned about her, though I had lingered in her cabin for hours. (It wasn’t until three in the morning that I returned to bed.) I learned that she was a painter. I learned that she had grown up in the Midwest before moving to Los Angeles as a teenager. I learned that her family was more or less identical to the family in Roseanne, and I learned that she was highly self-critical and deeply unhappy. Otherwise, Ashley was a cipher. A stunningly beautiful cipher. I knew immediately that I wasn’t interested in what was inside the package, but her package was irresistible. I could have wrote pages of shitty poetry about the curvature of her breasts. The next day, I did.

Inside Ashley’s cabin

The thing that bothered me most wasn’t that Ashley was obviously depressed, though I was aware of that part and overly cautious. I didn’t want. to make an unwelcome move; I was unsure of her relationship with Jimmy, and anyway the chemistry that had flared between us over dinner seemed conspicuously absent now that we were alone. No, the the thing that bothered me the most was how much Ashley reminded me of Sally. All through those endless hours in her cabin, in the silent lulls between spliffs, I couldn’t stop remembering the first days of falling in love with Sally, after we met at a restaurant in the south of India called the Café Rendez Vous.

Forget the details of the meeting—though at the time, I couldn’t: they were so important! So poetic! So perfect! Put the form to the side. It was the feeling that was so eerily familiar, the acute feeling of powerlessness and insecurity and hunger and desire and wanting her to want me enough to tell me that she wanted me so I could consider myself as nice but also wanting her to understand me enough that I could legitimize my inner pervert, so I could call her names and fuck her in the ass and do all the things I’d seen on porn and, afterward, after she’d admitted that she’d never had a better lover, she could then look me deep in my eyes and tell me that I was perfect. That’s what I’d wanted from Ashley, that’s what I wanted from Sally too.

The echo between falling for these two women seemed incredible, and the echo between losing them had left me incredulous.

As I merged onto the northbound shoulder of the Highway, I wondered about the lesson I was overlooking, and I felt ashamed that I hadn’t learned it already.

Just then, a southbound police cruiser zipped past. It slowed abruptly and u-turned over the median, turning on its lights as it approached me on the shoulder. The officer behind the wheel was red-haired and rosy-cheeked, and much more polite than I would have expected.

“Pedestrians are prohibited on this stretch of the freeway,” he explained.

I nodded, adopting the hunched-shoulder position of Canadianism. “So sorry. It must have been my mistake. Is there another way arond?”

The cop shook his head. “Unfortunately not. The freeway is the only road for about two miles until you get to Benbow.”

I nodded compassionately. “So you’re saying that there’s no legal way for me to leave Garberville by foot?”

“That’s right. You’re going to have to catch a ride.”

It was the excuse I was looking for. I thanked the officer profusely, and then turned around to return to Garberville.

Back on Redwood Drive again, I sent Ashley an excited text message letting her know that I was back in town. Predictably, there was no reply. The southbound on-ramp was a few blocks away. I dawdled at the intersection, watching the clouds drift across the sky. Everything seemed impossibly distant: my ambitions to walk to Mexico, my motivation for doing the thing in the first place, the whole sordid plan to Tell a Story About the Universal Similarities. For the time being, even though I was sitting in plain sight, I didn’t even worry about being spotted by Jolene. None of that mattered. I was sure what I was experiencing was true love.

I remembered the first time that I had ever fallen in love. I was nineteen, and I had just returned from a summer spent backpacking in Australia with bleached blond hair and a piercing through my right eyebrow. My mother hated it; that was part of the point. On the very first day of my sophomore year, I met a pretty girl my age on campus. We spent a few weeks chatting over ICQ before we arranged to go on a double date. The movie we saw was Coyote Ugly, and afterward, I kissed her when saying goodnight in front of her apartment building. After a few dates—at an appropriate time according to the Rules—we mutually consented to sleeping together. It was a love story out of a romantic comedy, it was the perfect way to lose my virginity. At least, I told her that she was my first lover, but that wasn’t actually the truth. I’d had intercourse just once before, during Frosh Week of my freshman year, when I arrived on campus burdened by the shame of my lack of sexual experience. There was a party in the common room of my dorm. I got very drunk, and at some point during the evening, a close friend wrapped his arms around me and pointed my attention to a girl on the far side of the room who he said the rumours said was “easy”. Apparently, so was I. When the girl left the party, I followed her out into the busy hallway and fell in behind her in the queue for the single-stall bathroom. We made drunken small talk; when it was her turn, I brazenly asked if I could join her in the washroom and was shocked when she agreed. I remembered leaning against the sink practically giggling in titillation at the intimacy of hearing a woman pee. I had never had a girlfriend. When the girl emerged to wash her hands, I was practically quaking with desire. Kissing seemed inevitable, and when I pawed her thighs and she let my hand explore under her dress, I was shocked to find that she wasn’t wearing underwear. This seemed to confirm that the rumors were right. She hopped onto the counter, I released myself from my pants, and after some fumbling I found myself inside of her. My first experience of sex went in-out, in-over, and after I mumbled an apology, we stumbled out of the washroom; I spent the rest of the year avoiding her even though she lived two floors directly below me. I could hardly remember her name. I was deeply embarrassed, for reasons I could barely understand, and I decided that the most honorable thing to do was to lie to my new girlfriend. My intentions weren’t malicious. It simply seemed that Coyote Ugly was a better Story.

We were quickly inseparable, and we would go on to be together for more than six years—the first half of my twenties, the entirety of my early adulthood, the cause of my Quarter Life Crisis. At times, the relationship was ecstatic with all the discoveries of first love. We were perfect for one another; by graduation, we were already fantasizing about spending the rest of our lives together. But other secrets had accrued. After sophomore year, we spent the summer apart—I went backpacking in Southeast Asia, while she stayed in Canada to work. Days after arriving in Bali, I went to a bar and got very drunk and started flirting with a blonde girl from England who—on reflection, years later—had an eerie resemblance to my future girlfriend, Sally. One thing led to another, we ended up on a pool lounger at my hotel, fucking like bunnies while the Balinese security guards hunched behind the hedges and watched. This was no aborted in-over, nor was it loving, respectful sex—this was drunken animalistic fucking, and it was SO GOOD and SO MUCH BETTER than anything I had experienced with my beloved girlfriend, and then the instnat it was over, I was immediately overwhelmed by the soul-sucking shame, and I decided that that too was better treated as a secret. I put it in the same place inside of me where I would stuff the other infidelities that followed. It felt essential that they were discrete. I was a dutiful, caring boyfriend who was one-hundred-percent committed to my partner; I was an animalistic fucker who could put on a show and make a strange girl come. I was one, I was the other—I was neither—I was both. I was laying the foundation for disaster.

No reply from Ashley after half-an-hour, and I decided now there was no doubt that the right decision was to leave town. With one final huff, I looked down Redwood Drive searchingly, and then turned at the gas station to head for the southbound on-ramp. There was already a hitchhiker there—a young man with a beard and a backpack like me, and carried with my pure desire for repentance and healing, I approached the guy and offered him the bag of weed that had been gifted to me by my friend T. at the grow op in Weott—aka the Man of the House. The other hitchhiker was happy for the gift, and in return he immediately bequeathed his position, allowing me to jump to the head of the line. Barely a minute passed before a shiny silver F-150 pulled to the side of the road. The driver was heading to Ukiah, but I told him that I only wanted a lift two miles to Benbow.

Finally, Garberville was behind me. I checked my phone—still nothing from Ashley.

I sighed: my die seemed to have been cast.

It was probably for the best, I told myself as I left Benbow. A secondary road hugged the banks of the Eel River, and soft clouds drifted against the forested backdrop. I had known all along that Ashley wasn’t right for me—I had known all along that Sally wasn’t right for me, too—but still, I thought, it would have been nice to have been inside of her, if only to build my confidence for the next girl somewhere down the line. I’d slept with a couple handfuls of women since leaving my six-year-girlfriend. Now my number was in the low teens—I had a long way to go before I could measure up with Paul, and I rued not sleeping with Ashley, who was definitely a nine, because sleeping with a nine would have made a significant step in my ascent. To what seemed self-evident.

It was a pleasing walk. The road was quiet, and you could feel the heaviness of the moisture in the air. After half-an-hour, I stopped to eat some lunch at a viewpoint overlooking the river; there was an older couple there, and I made small talk, and in return they gave me a gift of a single-serving package of yogurt. Peach flavored. I waved goodbye, and then immediately checked my phone. Still nothing from Ashley.

I fidgeted with the device, hoping that some combination of keystrokes would unlock some new level in Ashley’s heart. If I clicked the right buttons, would she finally reply to me? Suddenly, I had opened the last message I had received from Jolene: it was a terse Merry Christmas that she’d sent on Christmas Eve.

I shuddered when I remembered what had happened that fateful Eve.

I read Jolene’s message again. I felt like I had discovered another echo here also—there seemed to be parallels between the way I’d treated her and the way that Ashley had treated me. I had wounded Jolene, Ashley had wounded me; I told myself that I had gained what Paul had called compassion, and I decided that—now that I was leaving town—perhaps I owed something to Jolene. Closure, maybe. (I thought that Sally owed me closure as well.)

Sitting at the viewpoint, I spent fifteen minutes composing a reply. I finally settled on: Thank you. All the best to you and your family as well.

Message perfected, I hovered my thumb over the send button. Then I paused as I started to think better of it.

Fuck it, I thought.

The moment I sent the message, my phone started ringing.

I stared at my hand like it had been caught in the cookie jar. Who put that phone here, why is it ringing, I didn’t do it! In a panic, I tried to consider my options.

On one hand, I couldn’t just ignore Jolene’s call. I’d been ignoring her for weeks; doing so again would invalidate the olive branch of my text message. I’d just sent it. She knew that the phone was in my hand. If let the call go to voice mail, then she would clearly see through my hollow attempt to make her think that I had reformed to become a Nice Guy.

But on the other hand… There was no time to consider the other hand.

I accepted the call. “Hel-LO!” I said brightly.

“Hi,” said Jolene. By the tone of her voice, I already knew I was fucked.

“How am I? I’ll tell you how I am, you inconsiderate Pri…” Jolene exploded like an atomic bomb of fury and rage. I held the phone outstretched, pointing to the river, absolving myself from listening to at least part of what she was saying. “…after what happened betwee…heartless liar…can’t believe that…” As she went on and on, I began to make faces at the imaginary camera that was surely watching me, doing my best to project an image of unfettered masculine cool. Listen to this crazy woman, I allowed myself to think. She should grow up and learn to control her emotions. I felt like vomiting, and to distract myself, I tried to focus on the clouds drifting past the folds of the forested hills.

Uh-oh. The line had gone silent. It suddenly occurred to me that Jolene’s final words had been a question. I struggled to reconstruct: I was sure I heard the phrase “…say for yourself…”

“Um.” I tried to think of something smart. “I’m sorry?

Click. Jolene hung up on me.

I sighed and made eyes towards the imaginary studio audience. “Well, that was a mistake.” There was no canned laughter, just the silent glide of the pair of turkey vultures overhead.

I slipped my phone back into my pocket, strapped up my backpack, and continued along the road that followed the Eel River.

Overlooking the Eel River, right after my phone call with Jolene.

I listened to my footsteps. I watched the rush of water in the river valley. I gazed vacantly at the traffic speeding over the bridge. I couldn’t tell whether I was calm or numb.

It wasn’t so much what Jolene had said to me. The words didn’t matter. What came through most clearly was the tone, and I winced just remembering how it had cut me.

Left, right. Left, right. What’s the intention in this step? Happiness. Joy. Freedom. Accomplishment. Satisfaction. Love. How many more steps until I find my true love, my soulmate? Surely, she’s out there—even if still had a lingering hunch that it could be Ashley. I remembered again that first night together in her cabin—I remembered the desire, the anticipation, her radiant beauty, her fire-tinged scent, the way her shirt fell over her spectacular breasts. Oh God how badly I wanted her! I wanted so badly to lean over to kiss her, to love her, but I also wanted her to think of me as a nice guy. Already I was in competition with her ex-boyfriend: a man she never mentioned, but a Man who was undoubtedly watching all the while. A taller man, a fitter man. Harder, thicker, better. My game was different: thoughtful, compassionate, loving. I squeezed my crystal and thought about what Paul would do, and I decided that I would take things slow. Jimmy had invited me to stay a couple nights. There was more rain in the forecast. And what I really wanted was more than a one-night stand. (Two nights maybe? Three nights? The rest of our lives!) I remembered how eagerly I had beat off, back in Jimmy’s guest bedroom, as I fantasized about how good it would feel to tell my friends about how good it felt to finally fuck her.

The next day, the skies had cleared, and after I woke up in the late morning, I sat down by the creek that gurgled through Jimmy’s property and wrote in my journal, composing sonnets and love songs to Ashley—my perfect stranger, my perfect bride. Affable Jimmy seemed to have no idea where I’d gone. (What a fool! I’d thought, having already imbued my quest with Shakespearean verve.) In the middle of the afternoon, Jimmy offered to take me for a tour of the area. From Garberville, it was about an hour’s drive west to a rugged section along the Pacific known as the Lost Coast because the high mountains were too unstable for early road builders to construct their highway; today, the Lost Coast is renowned as one of the last true coastal wildernesses in America. It’s also renowned as home to some of Northern California’s biggest pot cartels who lived in vast compounds ringed with barbed wire, sheltered from curious helicopters by the canopy of redwoods. Ashley invited herself along. Inside the Prius, we formed a perfect triangle: Jimmy telling stories in the driver’s seat, Ashley giggling coquettishly to his right, and me positioned between the captain’s chairs nervously calculating the shifting balances of power. Was she into him? Was she into me? How would he feel knowing that she was into me? I loved her; would I ever make it out alive?

The road dead-ended at a gravel track that switchbacked steeply down the hillside until we burst out upon a coastal meadow. The views over the Lost Coast were stupendous.

We parked in front of a rustic wooden cabin that doubled as the State Park Visitor Center—long shuttered, of course, because of the season. There was just one other vehicle: a painter sitting at his easel, trying heroically to capture the sensational view. Right in front of him, there was the hulking carcass of a maple tree—fallen on its side and blanched white by years of sunshine and weather. The nude branches pointed ghostly towards the horizon, and Ashley quickly clambered up on them, hardly disturbed in her climbing by her patent-leather-and-stiletto boots. The awe-inspiring view had become even more jaw-dropping. I turned my camera towards her. Jimmy turned his camera in the same direction. Like paparazzi, we circled beneath her, desperately trying to capture her beauty—to take it in, to make it ours.

“Guuuuys,” she whined, in a tone of voice that I didn’t know was uncomfortable or flirtatious. “Stooooooop.” After a few more shots, we both obliged. Battle lines were drawn. Across the meadow, just on the edge of the great cliffs, there were a pair of worn ropes that were looped around a flimsy-looking tree root. They eased the passage down the edge of the gulch, a hundred feet or more down to the untrammeled black sand beach by the surf. Jimmy and Ashley were following behind me; when I hit the sand, I tried to project an air of disaffected cool, still trying to convince Ashley that I was this mysterious wandering character and not the even stranger character I actually was. I turned north, heading towards a prominent rocky outcropping that was sitting just slightly offshore. When I looked back, I saw that Jimmy had meandered in the other direction, and Ashley—yes! Ashley had decided to follow me and not him.

It was a tiny, petty victory, and yet it felt enormous. I’m doing it, I thought. I’m becoming the Man of my dreams.

Rolling my shoulders back and pretending not to notice her, I walked confidently in the direction of the outcropping.

As I walked, I thought again about Sally. On the night that we first met in a restaurant in India called the Café Rendez Vous, I had a different strange and fabulous tale to tell. I had come to the subcontinent with a contract from a Canadian travel agency; my task was to review the finest hotels and restaurants in the region. The Café Rendez Vous wasn’t one of them: it was a greasy backpacker dive, with Bob Marley pounding on the speakers and oily french fries and falafel streaming out of the kitchen toward the legions of stoned Israelis jabbering noisily in the corner, where the single overhead lightbulb illuminated the geckos on the concrete walls. The next day, though, I was scheduled to leave by car-and-driver for a week-long tour of boutique hotels. I would travel India like a king, but even then I was desperately mourning the absence of a queen—my first, long-term relationship that had started at Coyote Ugly had ended, dramatically, with the partial revelation of my infidelities. Even I wasn’t too dull to know that I was in India for an escape.

Sally was sitting at the table next to me. Blonde hair in a ponytail, tied together with a sprig of jasmine, like the local girls. Light-skinned hands darkened with ornate henna. It took an hour of friendly conversation before I found the courage to make my indecent proposal. Did she want to be my queen for a week? I’ll think about it. I think we were already high, and there was something in the way that she said it that communicated somehow that she was going to say yes.

Later, she’d tell me that she had a boyfriend. I urged her to come along anyway. Platonically. We’d just be friends.

As I glanced back at Ashley—and beyond her, Jimmy at the horizon—I recalled that same petty sense of triumph at knowing that I had come in and outfoxed that other guy. Now I could pretend that I was harder, thicker, better. Now I could pretend that he was the Prick.

The Lost Coast

There were two bridges that crossed the Eel River—one shorter, one taller. I crossed the taller one, then followed the secondary road as it wove under the concrete overpass that carried the faster traffic traveling on the freeway. The secondary road climbed a slight incline, rising up to meet the freeway just as it narrowed to two lanes. Here, I would have no problem walking on the shoulder again.

Suddenly, I spotted a minivan tearing south, and immediately my heart dropped. Fuck. Jolene. A moment later, the same minivan was coming back in the opposite direction. It pulled over on the shoulder ten yards in front of me.

I didn’t know what to do, so I waved and pretended that I was happy to see her.

Jolene cut the engine and stepped out onto the shoulder. She, too, was smiling, but her glee seemed overflowing and genuine, and she quickly wrapped me in a warm, familiar hug like we were best friends or family.

I was shell-shocked. What had happened to the woman who had cussed me out on the phone just a half-an-hour earlier?

“I couldn’t let you leave town without your Christmas present!”

Befuddled, I followed her to the rear of the minivan.

There was a flutter of movement inside: Jolene’s youngest child, a boy, was jumping on the seats in a pair of Spiderman pajamas. Jolene’s sister was in the passenger seat, trying to quiet her young daughter who was wailing.

“Jordan, this is Stella. Stella, this is Jordan.”

“Nice to meet you,” I lied.

One glance at Stella’s face was all I needed to know exactly what she thought about me.

Jolene’s Christmas present was a plastic-wrapped muffin, two energy bars, and a mango. I juggled these grocery items in my hands and tried to appear comfortable as she launched into another sermon. I understood that she was wanting to make peace, and I was desperate for it, so I smiled and nodded my way through it. Jolene’s passive-aggressiveness was a work of art; mine was the kind of painting a kid makes in grade school. Sermon delivered, we embraced one final time. I tried to make peace with Stella, but the hatred was clear in Stella’s eyes. The minivan sped off, and I continued along the highway shoulder still clutching the mango for about five hundred yards until I reached a roadside attraction called The Legend of Bigfoot that sold a host of knick-knacks from the redwoods like treehouses and chainsaw carvings of friendly-waving black bears. I plopped myself on a wooden fence right beneath a life-sized statue of Shrek, and I momentarily considered eating the mango until I thought better of it, reasoning that there was a good chance that Jolene had injected it with poison.

Instead, I dumped the Christmas present into a garbage can and sat there, vacantly watching passing traffic, and reflecting on how little I seemed to understand about women.

The Legend of Big Foot

The “truth” about the Legend of Big Foot came from a story in the local newspaper, the Humboldt Times, and many pseudo-documentaries set out to prove the existence of the mythical, man-like ape that was said to live in the great forests of Western North America. The truth about Big Foot was that, by facts alone, it was probably a lie. But the greater truth of so-called Wild Man myths stretches way back to the primal heart of humanity. Perhaps men have always dreamed of a greater Man imbued with special powers and characteristics.

Some indigenous peoples believed that these mythical beings were a messenger of warning, telling man to change his ways.

Sitting by the roadside shop, I found it hard to ignore the writing on the wall. Still, I clutched Paul’s crystal desperately. I wanted both things. I wanted redemption, and I wanted Ashley.

I remembered the lead-up to Christmas Eve. By then, three days had passed, and on each of those three nights, I had sat patiently on the futon in Ashley’s cabin waiting for the queen to invite me up the short ladder that led to where her loft bed was tucked beneath the roof. After three days and three nights, I knew that I had royally pissed off Jimmy; I had begged him to let me linger, and by luck and his holiday graciousness he had agreed. I had also learned what I have already recounted about Ashley: she was self-pitying and depressed; we were totally incompatible; there was nothing at all that I liked about her except that her body reminded me of women that I had seen naked in porn.

Most importantly, I couldn’t shake my sense of dejá vu. For months, I had been praying for a second chance with Sally, and it occurred to me suddenly that a second chance with a girl like Sally was exactly what I had got.

For three days and three nights, I had obsessed over this monumental decision: do I leave, or do I stick around to try to sleep with her? I considered it near-endlessly. It seemed like the kind of fight that could come down to overtime. On the opposing side was my perspective on how much had changed since Sally left her note, almost exactly six months earlier. I thought about the lessons I had learned: from Jack the Chicken Man and DJ, from Mushroom Sam and Jenn and JLo. A subconscious theme had bubbled to the surface—it was undeniable that I had a fucked up perspective on women. I saw it—I could see myself seeing it in real-time. But I was stoned, so my mind was spinning, and the prosecution had an equally compelling argument—an argument deeply embedded through evolution and culture. I spent three long nights trying to find a way to get Ashley to let me out of my dilemma until suddenly I had a stroke of clarity that the choice needed to come from me. At the time, I was writing in my journal. I shut it firmly and definitively. “I think it’s time for me to go,” I declared dramatically.

At the time Ashley was working on her painting. It was late at night, and the rain was knocking on the slanted roof. She put down her paintbrush and wiped her hands. “It was really good to meet you.”

As I stood up from her futon, I understood that this declaration was final.

We met at the door and embraced. This was not uncommon—it was the redwoods, we were familiar. But I was shocked to feel something suspiciously intimate in the way her body felt. The entirety of it was pressed up against mine: breast to chest, pubic mound to groin, her soft, supple belly pressing firmly into mine as she took one long inhale and then another.

I tried to stay chaste; the defense had won, moving on was the right thing to do. All through our time together, I had noticed that every time I expressed interest, she pulled away; every time I pulled away, she expressed interest. Sally had always done the same thing. What did it mean, that pattern? Was I learning something essential about women? I tried to make sense of it, but we had already smoked three spliffs, and her belly was pushing into me a third time and then a fourth time.

I froze, there was nothing to do but hold on. I was just waiting for it to be over. Release me, I pleaded. Let me go!

Then, Ashley removed her head from my neck but held her body in place. Our faces were just inches apart, and Ashley’s lips flicked swiftly over mine.

My defense had been up-ended. It was an argument I couldn’t rebut. Fuck it, I thought, and I leaned forward to kiss her.

Quickly, I got up from beneath Shrek, and trudged on towards the nearby campground.

On my way to the State Park campground, I passed the same ruddy-cheeked cop who had warned me off the freeway earlier that morning. I felt relieved to see a familiar face, and I greeted him like a friend. We chatted for a few minutes on the side of the highway, which gave me enough time to pull out my stack of photos from India, to tell my Story about trying to Tell A Story About the Universal Similarities Between People.

I marveled at how easily I could transform myself from a heartless chauvinistic pig into someone inspiring, and how quickly the red-headed cop bought into it.

“Be careful on your way out to the coast,” he offered as parting words. “It’s thirty miles without any services, and there’s a big rainstorm heading to the coast.”

I assured him that I would be fine. But the rain arrived just as the sun was setting shortly after 4 pm. There was another long night ahead of me. I lay in my tent, trying to determine whether it was a cocoon or a coffin, and fiddled with my phone. There was still no reply from Ashley.

When hunger struck, I carried my food to the shelter of the concrete bathroom, and sat on the pavement, watching the depressing downpour, and pining to be magically transported to San Francisco.

Or, even better, back to the beginning of things. Back to the Café Rendez Vous! That way I would never be on this stupid journey in the first place! Or back to Jimmy’s house on Christmas Eve. The three of us ate together—a perfect triangle—sharing a vegetarian feast, along with two bottles of wine and three joints. The vibe was celebratory, everyone was at ease. Even Ashley was smiling. The previous night, we’d kissed for just ten seconds before she’d sent me back to bed, but all day I had been anticipating.

The prosecution had won. This was the Christmas present I really wanted.

I was so sure of myself that, when Jimmy excused himself to gather dessert, I looked lecherously across the table—in makeup, she was model-gorgeous; definitely a nine-and-a-half—and said, “I want to make you come.” I shocked myself with my brazen tactlessness—Jordan, what the fuck are you…—but Ashley’s eyes glimmered, and her cheeks turned red.

“Shhh,” she whispered, making eyes towards Jimmy in the kitchen. Then: “Later.”

In that ecstatic moment, I knew I had hit the jackpot.

Later that evening, we left Jimmy’s house together, arm-in-arm. I was triumphant. I had won! It was frigid outside as we hurried down the stairs to her cabin, and—drunk, stoned—I could hardly contain myself as I waited for her to get a fire burning in the wood stove, ogling her bent-over body, telling myself proudly that, in a moment, she would be mine.

(( What was the source of these thoughts, how did they get into my head? ))

The fire was lit, then we were kissing. Her consent was clearly communicated, I thought, in body language if not in words. I pawed her body through her clothes, inspecting it, searching for flaws. There weren’t many.

Quickly, my thoughts turned to me—to my responsibilities. I had promised her an orgasm, and I didn’t want to let her think that I wasn’t the kind of Man to follow through, especially because a girl with a body like that had surely been with many men who were harder, thicker, better. I hoped that my average-sized prick would do.

A solution appeared to me instantly, and quickly I lowered her onto the futon mattress, placing her directly atop the quilt with the graphic of a tiger. I hooked my thumbs into her waistband, and in one confident motion, I denuded her, and I was face-to-face with her vulva. Sliding down to my knees, I plunged in. I kissed. I licked. I tongued in fetching semi-circles in the general vicinity of where I was pretty sure I was going to find her clit. My… what did Sam call it again…my intention! From my perspective, it was pure. Now that the seduction was complete, the sex had begun, and my sole goal was to be the Best Lover that She Had Ever Had in Her Life. I had never eaten pussy with so much passion. But no matter how intently I licked and slurped and nuzzled, my efforts seemed to be for naught. Up there, Ashley was silent.

What was I doing wrong? I started to panic, started to be sure that, when this was all over, Ashley was going to laugh to her friends at how inept the strange bald beaded guy had been when confronted with a pussy—a top quality, nine-and-three-quarters cunt; the most valuable cunt of my life. I tried to fight through the fot in my head in search of a set of instructions. Hadn’t I read a book about this once? Wasn’t there some magical combination, guaranteed to make her… Suddenly, I remembered: The Alphabet! Directing my tongue vaguely clit-ward, I used the very tip to slowly and lovingly trace out every letter in the English language in flurid, cursive letters—both lower and upper case.

Two times through The Alphabet, Ashley still hadn’t uttered a single sound: not a yes, not a no, not a slower or a faster. I was dying for direction, dying for her to validate me! I kept going. My tongue traced out poems more beautiful than Neruda. If the world could only have read what I wrote on her cunt that night, then surely everyone would be convinced of my utter brilliance as a storyteller—they would call me the Shakespeare of the Slit.

But as it turned out, that character was as mythic as the Legend of Big Foot. After twenty minutes of my most heroic cunnilingus, Ashley gave me the firm tap on the shoulder that told me my time was up. I felt like a starting pitcher who couldn’t even make it out of the first before being sent to the showers. Just keep in the game, coach. I got more in the tank.

As it turned out, I didn’t, and the rest of that evening progressed in an even more disastrous fashion, as did the three days that followed. As I washed my cookpot, I tried not to think about the self-injury that I had put myself through for three days. Again. And I didn’t even get to fuck her!

My phone buzzed just as I returned to my tent. Ashley! Suddenly, I was an explosion of ecstasy. She’s giving me another chance!

That was a very generous reading of her text message that simply said: Sorry, I’ve had some other things on the go. Still, I hurriedly composed a reply. There was a big storm coming, I explained. There were no services on the way to the coast. I’d just had a bit of an emotional day. “I’m thinking of coming back to Garberville. Do you think I could stay with you?”

I waited expectantly for twenty minutes, but the reply never arrived. In the end, I threw the phone against the tent fabric and lay there, sullenly, beneath the pouring rain, and tried to figure out where I had gone wrong. Incredibly, I couldn’t pinpoint anything.

That night was long and cold. I tossed and turned, shuffling between women in my mind:


A perfect triangle.

By morning, the rain had only intensified. It was a deluge, a downpour, a storm of Biblical proportions, and as I packed up my tent, I pretended to wrestle with a choice that was truthfully already decided. The prosecution had won. There was no way I could keep walking. There was something I needed that I couldn’t articulate.

I left the State Park and stood beneath the pouring rain for the better part of an hour before a northbound station wagon pulled to the side of the road. She was heading to an AA meeting. I thought the coincidence was prophetic. A pair of addicts, zipping past The Legend of Bigfoot.

I was on my way back to Garberville—again.

In Garberville. Again.