E7: The Visibility Curtain

24 min read

(This is Season 1, Episode 7 of Momentum. The content deals with adult themes.)

Day 53
October 23
Reedsport, Oregon

1,370 miles to Mexico

The visibility curtain

When he got to the top of the hill, Jordan sighed with relief. DJ and Blackjack were no longer behind him. He dodged off the highway shoulder into the slim stand of trees that looked back toward the railway trestle crossing Tahkenitch Lake.

To the west, the sky over the Pacific was pitch black. The first storm of the winter was about to let loose.

Jordan took a gulp of water and wolfed down a few slices of cheese to boost his energy. It was still ten miles to the next State Park campground, and he knew he wouldn’t make it there before the rain. Reedsport was a better bet—it was only five miles, on the far side of the Umpqua River.

Jordan peered back through the trees toward the coastal highway. Still no sign of DJ.

Digging into his pocket for Paul’s crystal, Jordan closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The intention in this step is safety. The intention in this step is self-compassion. The forest where he was standing wasn’t a forest at all; it was a narrow band of trees that bordered both sides of the highway, obstructing the view of the clear-cuts that ravaged the rolling hills. The logging industry had a name for these narrow bands of trees. They called them “visibility curtains.” Obstructing the blighted ugliness was the point.

Jordan opened his eyes. The wind was howling. He knew he didn’t have much time to waste.

The long wait was over. The fall had broken. Winter would arrive at any second.

With his heart racing, Jordan returned to the highway shoulder.

The intention in this step is calm.

The intention in this step is not to panic.

The intention in this step is to RUN!

Jordan ran for Reedsport as fast as he could.


A few days earlier—a statue that commemorated an indigenous woman, on the way up Cape Perpetua.

A few days earlier

Much of the northern Oregon Coast was formed millions of years ago when flowing lava emerged from the Earth near Idaho and followed the Columbia River valley down to the Pacific. There, the searing hot magma collided with the cool ocean. It formed sea stacks and shot up into sheer basalt headlands.

Cape Perpetua was dramatic evidence of that collision—it was the most spectacular coastal view that Jordan had seen yet.

From this viewpoint, Jordan had a fine view over the miles of National Forest to the south. Deep green trees carpeted the hills; fingers of volcanic rock jut out into the sea, forming evocatively named features like Thor’s Well and Devil’s Churn. A narrow band of asphalt hugged the edge of the curvaceous coast. Sitting on the stone retaining wall, Jordan watched as the sun dropped into the horizon. Soon, the sky lit up with pastel shades until the only visible lights were the occasional headlights shooting off to sea. Then, a nearly full moon rose over the hills to the east dramatically. He applauded at the grandeur of the show. He felt like the only human for twenty miles

Racing the last light downhill, Jordan descended through the thick forest from the viewpoint. According to his map, there was a National Forest campground right at the foot of the hill. But when he arrived, he saw the entrance was barred by a loud sign announcing that the campground was closed to the season.

He hesitated as a car zipped past, illuminating him briefly in its high beams. Then, the moment it was dark again, he ducked under the barrier and hurried into the shadows.

Construction equipment glimmered in the moonlight next to the campground’s access road. Jordan’s palms were sweaty as he continued past a dozen empty campsites. This was his very first time camping alone in the wilderness, fifty-odd nights into his trip. The restrooms were locked, and the water taps were turned off. A bubbling creek echoed in the silence. Selecting one of the campsites next to the river, Jordan hurried to set up his tent, glancing over his shoulder every time he heard a crack or a snap.

Every sound in the moonlit forest portended danger.

Dusk over Cape Perpetua.

There was much for Jordan to feel scared about. There were black bears and mountain lions and Roosevelt Elk and who knew what else that could have been hiding in the dark forest. Beyond animals, though, Jordan was terrified of people. One person in particular: DJ. Last night, they’d bumped into each other at Beachside State Park a few hours after he said goodbye to Mushroom Sam.

Though DJ had spent the morning talking incessantly, he had seemed to make a point by not bringing up what had happened back near Lincoln City.

Jordan had seemed to make a point by not bringing it up, either.

Jordan slipped down the muddy slope to collect water from the cold river. He piled on all his clothing as he sat at the picnic table, waiting for his pot to boil. That night—like most nights—his dinner was a simple vegetarian stew, seasoned with Indian spices and a generous glug of olive oil. He ate like Steve Jobs dressed.

There was a crackle somewhere in the distance. Jordan turned toward the sound defensively, his headlight illuminating a patch of thick forest.

His heart raced as he ate his meal. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt so terrified.

When he finished his meal, he returned down the muddy slope to wash his pot in the creek. He squatted by the riverbank, listening to the frogs croak. An owl hooted somewhere in the woods. He thought about the conversation he’d had with Sam and whether he’d made the right decision. It was hard to tell. He wished that someone could tell him what he was supposed to do, how he could act according to the Rules.

At some level, though, he was proud of himself. I did the honorable thing, he thought. I told her the truth. That’s the first step, right?

He clambered up the muddy bank to return to the campsite. His backpack was lying on the picnic table. He reached deep inside, down to the very bottom where he had hidden Sam’s psychedelic mushroom.

Even though he was alone, he didn’t dare bring it out. It felt sufficient just to touch the plastic.

Steam rose from another pot of boiling water. He poured some tea into his camping mug, then opened up his book: The Practice of the Wild—a book of essays by the Beat poet, Gary Snyder. One section in particular caught him, moving him so much that he copied it down at length:

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. Your bones may turn up someday in some riverbank mud. It grants freedom, expansion, release. United. Unstuck. Crazy for a while. It breaks taboo, it verges on transgression, it teaches humility. Going out—fasting—singing alone—talking across the species boundaries—praying—giving thanks—coming back.

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 mixing 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.

He closed the book. The night felt both still and full of energy. The nearly full moon was now high in the sky, and the whole wild landscape seemed ablaze beneath its shimmering glow. Rising to his feet, Jordan walked down the access road, his flashlight illuminating every slow, contemplative step.

What’s the intention in this step? No, what is it really?

Stopping still, he switched off his headlight. Suddenly, the borders between him and the wilderness felt like they had eroded. The intense fear pulled back, revealing unexpected layers of excitement and aliveness.

Reaching into his pocket, he cradled the crystal as he closed his eyes. I’m willing to eat anything, he thought, if it will make me a better man.

Whatever happens, keep walking.


The road to Florence

The State Park campground directly beside the Oregon Dunes.

The Oregon Dunes

Jordan froze as soon as he heard the gruesome cough behind him. Fuck. Not again.

“There you are.” DJ sat down heavily at the campsite picnic table and started to roll a cigarette. “What are you doin’ all the way over here?” He pointed back across the campground toward the distant trees. “Hiker-biker’s way over there.”

Jordan tried to appear calm. “I must have been confused,” he lied. “I got in late last night.”

“You got confused?” DJ lit his cigarette and immediately started to cough. The fit lasted for fifteen seconds. “They got maps of the campground all over the place. Have to be pretty stupid to get confused. Right?

“Right. I guess I’m pretty stupid.”

“Me and Jack, we’ve been waitin’ here for you for three days. What the hell took you so long?”

Jordan hesitated, thinking about everything he’d seen and everyone he’d met since the last time he saw DJ. “I’ve just been taking my time.”

DJ took a drag and nodded. “It’s like I always say. If I was in a hurry, I wouldn’t be travelin’.”

Jordan took another bite of his oatmeal and faked a smile.

Just then, a Park Ranger arrived to collect camping dues. Jordan shot her a bright smile. DJ turned the other way, cowering as he took a drag on his cigarette. “No vehicle?” the Ranger looked puzzled. “You do know that we do have a hiker-biker site?” asked the Ranger.

“Yeah.” Jordan glanced at DJ. “I got in late last night. I must have been confused.”

The Ranger smiled generously. “Oh, you’re the fellow with the pictures of India, right? I’ll let you off the hook and charge you the hiker-biker rate. Five dollars.” Jordan handed over the bill, and the Ranger began to write out the receipt. “You boys hear about the storm?”

All the hairs stood up at the back of Jordan’s neck. “Storm?”

“Weather Service says that the first big storm of the season is going to arrive sometime today or tomorrow.” She peered over her glasses. “Do you boys have a vehicle?” He shook his head. “Better watch out. It sounds like a big one.” She tore off the receipt and handed it to Jordan. “Hope you boys find someplace safe.”

Once the Ranger had moved on to the next campsite, DJ spread a dog-eared map of Oregon onto the picnic table. “Here’s where we’re going to hunker down.” He jabbed a yellowed finger at an amoeba-shaped splotch of blue. Jordan leaned in to read the label: TAHKENITCH LAKE. Tahkenitch Lake was ten miles south of where they were that morning. “You, me, and Jack’ll find a safe place here to hunker down out the storm.”

“Cool,” Jordan lied. He tried to study the map out of the corner of his eyes, assessing the situation. The campground at Tahkenitch Lake was right beside the coastal highway, and the coastal highway was the only road heading south. If Jordan stuck to the highway shoulder—the fastest option, considering the storm—then he couldn’t avoid walking right by it.

The only other way south was to walk the beach. But to get there, Jordan would need to cross several miles of the Oregon Dunes—the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America. This would surely be an arduous journey through a landscape dotted by hundreds-of-feet tall sand dunes. But with his bad knee, DJ won’t be able to follow me.

But Jordan knew immediately that veering through the dunes would be a major detour. Even once he reached the coastline, he’d only be able to watch the beach a few miles until he reached the Umpqua River; from there, he’d have to turn back inland and cross through the dunes again in order to reach the nearest bridge near Reedsport. All told, going through the dunes would probably add three, maybe even four hours of walking.

Better watch out. It sounds like a big one. Hope you boys find someplace safe.

Instinctively, Jordan reached into his right pants pocket.

DJ pulled the map away, replacing it into the side pocket of his camo cargo pants. “Me and Jack, we ain’t gonna walk with you today. Our legs are still shot from all that walkin’ we did up near Lincoln City. We’re gonna go into Florence and get some supplies. You’re gonna meet us at Tahkeitch Lake. Right?” This wasn’t a question.

“Tahkenitchlake. gotit. soundsgreat.”

Don’t forget.” DJ stood up and limped off toward the hiker-biker.

As soon as DJ was out of sight, Jordan hurriedly tore down his tent. Then, he raced off into the sand dunes.


The Oregon Dunes

A deep-seated pattern

For millions of years, the wild rivers that flow down from the hills abutting the Central Oregon Coast—the Siuslaw, the Umpqua, the Coos—have carried tiny pieces of sediment that piled up on an unusually flat stretch of coastline. Shifting winds and raging tides have steadily ground down the sediment, shaping it into a landscape totally out of step with the rest of the forested Northwestern coast. This was the bizarre, dramatic, and nearly Saharan landscape of the spectacular Oregon Dunes.

The sea of sand dunes steadily encroached on the coastal rainforest, swallowing it, sending it into retreat. The only arable soil left to sustain the soaring conifers were small hillocks of land that poked out of the dunes—”tree islands” amidst the otherworldly landscape. Many animals lived in the unique ecosystem: seabirds, sea lions, and gray whales down by the beach, while inland the skies were ruled by bald eagles and osprey, who looked down on the elk tracking across the continuously shifting landscape. Hundreds of thousands of tourists converged on the area each year, including many who explored it in dune buggies and quads. But as Jordan set out into the sand, he felt almost perversely isolated.

There was no space to notice the grandeur of the landscape. He was too busy beating himself up. You idiot. You fucking pussy. Look at you, running again.

The high clouds were moving fast. The storm was coming.

As he trudged up the ridgeline of a tall sand dune, Jordan tried to make sense of his predicament. The self-help books had given him a diagnosis that Paul’s second opinion had confirmed. Codependency.

Codependency refers to any enmeshed relationship in which one person loses their sense of independence and believes they need to tend to someone else.”

Paul had been telling Jordan about codependency for years. But now, after Jack the Chicken Man, he thought he understood his problem with new clarity. Back at the Lincoln City Public Library, he’d also copied the Signs of Codependency at length:

* a deep-seated need for approval from others. (YES!)
* a tendency to apologize or take on blame in order to keep the peace
* a pattern of avoiding conflict
* a tendency to minimize or ignore your own desires (THAT’S SO ME!)
* excessive concern about a loved one’s habits or behaviors
* a habit of making decisions for others or trying to “manage” loved ones
* a mood that reflects how others feel, rather than your own emotions
* guilt or anxiety when doing something for yourself
* doing things you don’t really want to do, simply to make others happy
* idealizing partners or other loved ones, often to the point of maintaining relationships that leave you unfulfilled (I’M STILL DOING THAT!)
* overwhelming fears of rejection or abandonment

The sand was slow going. With every step forward, he seemed to slip back two. A dune buggy came flying over the ridgeline. Both driver and passenger wore bug-eyed goggles, and they glared at Jordan like he was the one out of place. Jordan glared right back at them. He was feeling desperate and powerless.

Am I codependent? Was that my problem with Sally? Why didn’t someone tell me earlier? How much longer until I’m finally fixed?

His heart fell when he finally reached the summit of the high dune. Looking south down the flat, barren coastline, he could see no shelters. Looking west, he could see the storm clouds gathering off to sea. He felt the butterflies. There’s no way I can stick to the coast. It’d be suicide.

He sighed. Going past Tahkenitch Lake felt like suicide, too.

“FUUUUUUCK!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. “WHY IS THIS SO FUCKING HARD?”

His voice echoed over the desolate landscape.

Turning back to the campground didn’t seem like a viable option—already, an hour had passed and he’d barely made it two miles. The only option was to continue to the coastline anyway, where the wet, hard-packed sand made for easy walking. The onrushing tide made the agates glisten in the sand. Seagulls stood in the surf like sentries. He hung his head as he limped down the empty beach.

Why was this so fucking hard? Jordan had also copied down WHAT CAUSES CODEPENDENCY?

 Codependency is usually rooted in childhood. Often, a child grows up in a home where their emotions are ignored or punished. This emotional neglect can give the child low self-esteem and shame. Often the line between child and adult becomes blurred. If a parent isn’t filling their role, a child may become a pseudo-parent for their siblings. 

Sometimes the child is expected to care for their own parent. A parent experiencing domestic violence may turn to the child as a confidante. A parent with narcissism may demand the child provide them praise and comfort. These interactions are often called enmeshment.

That was when Jordan slammed the book shut and raced out of the library.

After a few miles along the tideline, Jordan reached a paved access road that turned east, passing a calm lagoon where a great white heron stood watchfully. It didn’t take long before he reached the junction with the coast highway. Maybe I can sneak past Tahkenitch Lake without being discovered, he thought.

Just then, a blue pickup truck screeched to a stop. Its tires squealed as it u-turned to meet Jordan on the northbound shoulder. Blackjack was in the truck bed. DJ was in the passenger’s seat. He stuck his thumb toward the teenage boy behind the wheel. “Offered this kid some weed if he’d drive us into Florence and back.”

Jordan glanced over at the teenager, who was glaring out the cracked windshield expressionlessly.

“Got you a gift,” DJ said brightly. There was a clutch of grocery bags sitting at his feet. He dug into one of the bags, pulling out a package of assorted pasta noodles. “Vegetable flavored,” he said, pointing at the label. “Because you’re a vegetarian.”

Jordan felt nothing. “Thanksdjthatsreally… nice.”

“Right?” DJ looked proud of himself. His smile faded. “Remember. Tahkenitch Lake.” The pickup truck u-turned and sped off down the two-lane highway.

When Jordan finally arrived at Tahkenitch Lake, DJ was waiting on the highway shoulder. There was no hope of evading him.

He turned and limped down the shoulder, leading the way into the campground.

Jordan slunk behind him, feeling like he was heading to his execution.



Checkmate

“you a chess player?” DJ asked. They were sitting at the picnic table next to their campsite.

“I play a little,” said Jordan.

“I was pretty much the best goddamn chess player at the whole Rainbow Gathering. Nobody could beat me. I whipped Johnny’s ass. I would probably have been a grandmaster if I didn’t have to spend so much time taking care of this mutt.” He scratched Blackjack behind the ear. “Ain’t that right, you little piece of shit? You little goddamn good for the nothin’. You fuckin’ waste of space.”

Jordan peered up at the sky. The dark clouds were moving quick. The storm felt like it could arrive at any second. The wind was whipping through the cottonwoods down by the lake and shaking the branches of the cedar trees that shaded their campsite. The thick cedar branches threatened to fall. They looked like they would crush Jordan in his sleep. Some hunker-down, thought Jordan. I’m going to die here. The wise choice was to hurry on to Reedsport.

“Dare to challenge me?” asked DJ. “You man enough?”

“yes,” Jordan whimpered. “butidonthaveaboard.”

“Just watch ol’ DJ.” He straightened up and hobbled over to his tent. When he returned, he had the cardboard sign he used while panhandling. The sign read, HUNGRY. NEED DOG FOOD.

“Idiots think they’re giving money for the dog, right?

He flipped the sign over and drew a chessboard with a Sharpie.

“What are we going to do for pieces?”

“Easy.” DJ went for the grocery bags. “Pasta noodles.” Shell noodles for pawns, penne for bishops, rotini for knights, and wheels for rooks. A dime and a quarter would be king and queen. They marked off all the dark pieces with the Sharpie and set up the board. DJ rolled a cigarette. He leaned his cheek on his palm and studied the board. Then, he moved a shell and fell mercifully quiet.

Jordan tried to concentrate, but his head was spinning. He felt overwhelming anxiety. What am I doing here? Why don’t I just leave? And how the fuck am I going to deal with the wet winter? I’m such a fucking idiot for thinking I could walk through the winter. Now I’m going to have to humiliate myself—again—in front of everyone who gave me money…

He moved a shell. DJ responded with a rotini. The game was just beginning…

Beyond codependency and intention, beyond slaying the dragon and mysterious tears of gratitude, beyond DJ, Blackjack, and the impending rain, Jordan was still distracted by thoughts of Sally. He tried to steer them away. He’d felt so much better after exhuming his soul to Sam in the Jimmy. He felt brave and mature that he let Sam behind his visibility curtain. But last night, in the State Park next to the dunes, he’d had a chilling dream. As he moved a penne, he felt sick just remembering it.

In the dream, he had been at a campground by a lake, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. He was with Sally. They were by a picnic table. He was sitting, and she was leaning against it. The conversation was about Sally’s new boyfriend. She was gushing, telling Jordan how happy she was to be with him. He was everything she wanted—he cooked for her, he cleaned for her, and he never went anywhere without telling her exactly where he was going. “He’s the perfect man,” she said. “He’s such a better boyfriend than you. Way more compassionate and understanding.” Her eyes flashed. “Better in bed, too. He makes your dick look like a spaghetti noodle.”

Jordan wasn’t saying a word. He was listening attentively, even though what Sally was saying was killing him.

SIGNS OF CODEPENDENCY:

* a deep-seated need for approval from others. (YES!)
* a pattern of avoiding conflict
* doing things you don’t really want to do, simply to make others happy
* a tendency to minimize or ignore your own desires (THAT’S SO ME!)
* idealizing partners or other loved ones, often to the point of maintaining relationships that leave you unfulfilled (I’M STILL DOING THAT!)

Suddenly, his mental camera pulled back from the picnic table. Now, he could see that Sally was naked from the waist down. There was a faceless man directly behind her, holding her hips and thrusting into her with wanton abandon. Sally didn’t seem to be receiving pleasure from the man, but she didn’t make a move to stop him either. She continued criticizing Jordan. Jordan retaliated by trying to shoo the faceless man away, but he was as impotent as a fly swatter. The man finished, then spanked Sally and left. Another faceless man took his place. Jordan could suddenly see a long queue of faceless men stretching from the picnic table down to the lakeshore.

DJ moved his quarter. Jordan responded with a rotini.

Is it true? Is she happy? Is Sally even still alive?

His heart was racing. After what I did, I deserve this.

He stuck his hand into his pants pocket for Paul’s crystal.

DJ moved a shell. It was a bad move. He’d left one of his rotini noodles undefended. Scooping up the noodle would likely win Jordan the game. But he pretended that he didn’t see DJ’s mistake. He moved one of his shells instead.

DJ didn’t notice the mistake either. He studied the board, a frail cigarette withering between his fingers. Jordan studied him and wondered, why has this man become my kryptonite? He thought about a story DJ told him a few days earlier. Once, DJ was traveling in Florida by bicycle when he went into a pawn shop with a carpenter’s level. He intended to trade the level for a few books. The pawnbroker offered him a dozen paperbacks. “What the hell was I going to do with twelve books?” he griped. “I was traveling on my bicycle. I had to hunker down for two weeks until I read enough of ’em that I could keep going.”

Jordan couldn’t help himself. “Why didn’t you only take the ones you wanted?”

DJ made a face. “Do I look stupid or something to you? I told you that he offered me twelve.”

“Right?” Jordan said politely.

DJ shook his head. “Anyway, it’s like I always say. If I was in a hurry…”

Got it. Jordan looked up at the dark clouds over the lake. I thought I was in a hurry too.

DJ was lingering over his next move. The rotini was still deliciously undefended. The solution is obvious. Neither DJ nor Jordan appeared to see it. His mind wandered to India—India had been on his mind plenty over the past few days, ever since he began handing out his photographs. After Sam and that song in the Jimmy, he felt like there was something he needed to remember from there.

Originally, Jordan was drawn to India for the colors and the photography. He hadn’t gone for the spirituality, but he quickly became swept up in it during the year he traveled mostly alone before he met Sally. India was filled with drifters who were kind of like DJ. Only there, the drifters were called sadhus. A sadhu was a Hindu ascetic who wandered the country’s temples, begging for alms, learning yoga, searching for enlightenment while smoking hashish. Jordan was fascinated by these sadhus—by their process and their devotion, even though he thought that God was bullshit. In certain moments—when he was stoned—he often romanticized these sadhus, fantasizing that it was his destiny to be a drifter like them. He was still at the dawn of his Quarter Life Crisis.

Is that what scares me about DJ? That I might one day end up like him?

Jordan with two Hindu sadhus.

Finally, DJ made his move. It was a terrible one. Not only had he left his rotini undefended, but DJ had also exposed his queen. Jordan hesitated. Fuck it. He made the move that snapped up DJ’s most powerful piece.

“What the…” DJ’s jaw dropped wide. “But I didn’t see… No fair!” He pointed at an offending shell. “I didn’t see that this was one of the dark pieces.”

The shell had been clearly marked by the Sharpie.

“Do you want me to let you take it back?”

“No,” DJ sulked. He was already rolling another cigarette. “Do you want to win by being a cheater?”

Jordan winced. Ouch. That one hurt.

DJ’s hand disappeared into the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. When it re-emerged, it was holding his glass pipe. He filled it with a thumbful of weed and inhaled sharply.

Something happened to Jordan as soon as he caught a whiff of the pot.

“Give me some of that,” he demanded.

DJ’s green eyes went wide. “This?” The childish outrage was suddenly replaced with something different. “You want some of… this? But I thought Goody Two-Shoes don’t smoke any…”

“Give me that.” Jordan swiped the pipe out of DJ’s hands. “And I ain’t no Goody Two-Shoes. I’m the one who makes my own Rules.”

He grabbed for the lighter. In an instant, fifty-two days of sobriety went up in smoke.


Reedsport right before the storm.

An obvious solution

Jordan crossed the Umpqua River just as a strong wind was shaking the trees by the side of the highway. He looked back over his shoulder—still no sign of DJ. He went to a Mexican restaurant to pick up a burrito. By the time he emerged, it was pouring. Grey sheets of rain tumbled over the overhanging awning as Jordan took his time eating his meal. When he was finished, he pulled out his harmonica and played a self-conscious rendition of You Are My Sunshine. Whatever magic it had once held was now extinguished. This storm wasn’t going anywhere.

There was still no sign of DJ. Jordan shuddered as he remembered the conflict they’d had that morning, on the way out of Tahkenitch Lake. DJ wanted to stay. Jordan hadn’t slept all night. Light raindrops had tapped on his tent, but the real storm wasn’t yet ready to break. As soon as they left the campground, the coastal highway had climbed up a steep hill, and DJ and Blackjack couldn’t match his pace.

“Slow down!” DJ had cried after him. “Me and Jack can’t walk that fast.”

Jordan turned back to look down at him. “I’ve got to keep going, DJ.”

“No!” DJ cried. “We gotta stick toge…”

Jordan couldn’t look him in the eye. “I’m sorry, DJ. I’ve got to find shelter. Maybe I’ll see you in Reedsport.”

As he hurried away, Jordan imagined that he’d never have to see DJ again.

Now, though, as he sat beneath the awning, Jordan was at a loss about what to do. The nearest campground was four miles south in Winchester Bay. He couldn’t imagine getting there beneath this deluge. A wiser choice would be to try and find a place to stay in Reedsport. But where? How?

His chest was pounding. The butterflies in his belly were flapping like mad.

The woman who ran the Mexican restaurant told him that there was a café on the other side of town. Jordan decided to go for it. He put on all of his raingear and hurried down the sidewalk. It was just a mile, but he was drenched by the time he got there.

The place was quaint, with comfy chairs and a roaring fire. Jordan stripped out of his raingear and perched in a chair, sending what he thought were inviting smiles at everyone who entered. No one looked him in the eye. It was past 4PM. He was panicking. The weather forecast called for inches of rain; the storm was expected to stick around through the weekend.

Outside, there were a pair of churches on the same street. One was a United Presbyterian and the other one was a Baptist. There was also a Church of Latter-day Saints, but Jordan had already had enough experiences with Oregonian Mormons to last a lifetime. The other two churches had their pastors’ phone numbers posted on the signs out front. He tried both numbers but only got answering machines.

Thunder shook above the downtrodden town. The rain was so dense that he couldn’t see the hills.

I’m just a piece of shit fuck-up. I can’t do anything right. I can’t even stay sober. Sally was right.

Then, on a whim, he decided to go for the campground. Without hesitation, he stormed off into the rain. Within half a mile, he was already losing sensation in his fingers. By a mile, his hands were like iceblocks, and every square inch of his skin was drenched.

Leaving Reedsport, the coastal highway passed through a thick forest. Not a real forest, of course—a visibility curtain. Beyond the roadside trees, clearcuts scarred the rain-drenched hills. Passing traffic shot out peacock tails of water in their wake. Jordan put his head down and tried to convince himself that he was having fun.

He wasn’t having fun. He was freezing, and the storm he was entering seemed to run six hundred miles straight to San Francisco.

This is it, he thought. Story’s over. I’m going to have to quit.

To distract himself from the cold, he started composing the apology letter to his financial backers. I really wanted to walk to Mexico. But…

On the highway to Winchester Bay

Then, suddenly, he had an idea that was so obvious that it made him laugh out loud:

A motel! Of course!

Immediately, he felt new pep in his step. A motel wouldn’t cost more than fifty dollars. He was sure he could justify it, given the circumstances.

I can’t believe I didn’t think of it earlier.

He could feel the hot shower. He couldn’t wait to lie on a proper bed.

He started imagining other things, also.

Through the rain, he could faintly make out the highway sign. WINCHESTER BAY. 1 MILE.

Just fifteen minutes. Come on, Jordan. You can do it. Be strong. You got this.

Suddenly, he spotted something in the distance that made his blood run cold.

Up ahead, DJ was limping toward him on the highway shoulder.


The dragon

“Found us a hunker down,” DJ shouted over traffic noise. “There’s an RV Park up ahead. The manager says that he’ll let us stay in the storage shed.”

Storage shed? Jordan looked pleadingly at DJ. Please. Just let me go free.

But DJ wouldn’t make eye contact. He turned and limped down the highway shoulder toward the RV Park.

Hanging his head, Jordan followed. When he reached the entrance to the RV Park, he hesitated. In the distance, he could just make out a motel sign through the rain. But DJ had already turned down the driveway. Jordan slumped his shoulders and limped after him.

The shed was exactly as described. It was tiny and crammed full of office furniture. “If you put those chairs on top of the desk,” said the manager, “you can probably make enough space to lay out your mattresses

Both men turned to look at Jordan. He looked at the concrete floor. “yesthissifine.” Opening his drenched wallet, he handed over a soaked five-dollar bill.

The manager took the cash and left. DJ headed off to the restroom. Jordan shucked his pack and fell heavily into an office chair. With his icy fingers, he could barely untie his soaked shoes. He pulled off his socks; his feet were white. Then, he let his head fall into his hands.

“FUUUUUUUUCK! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ME? WHY THE FUCK DO I KEEP…”

A voice broke through his turbulent thoughts like a ray of sunshine. It was calm, confident. He even thought he could hear it smile. “You’re afraid of hurting him,” it said matter-of-factly.

Right away, Jordan realized that this was true. “But why do I care if I hurt him?” he said out loud. Down on the concrete floor, Blackjack raised his head. “He’s not even my friend. I don’t even like the guy. He’s just some stranger I met at a campground. It’s not like he’s my Dad.”

He knew exactly what to do. He grabbed for his soaking socks, pulling them on his icy white feet, preparing to run.

Blackjack whimpered as Jordan shot out of the office chair. “Sorry, Jack. I gotta go. Be good to him. He means well. Even if he can be a dick.” Grabbing his backpack, he turned to the glass sliding door that led out of the shed, into the rainstorm.

DJ’s silhouette was visible through the condensation.

The door slid open. DJ’s eyes went wide. “What’s going on? Where do you think you’re goin’?”

Jordan looked at his feet. “look,djimreallysorrybutivegottogo.sorry.”

“You’re goin’?” DJ forced a laugh, but Jordan was sure that he could hear his voice shaking. “In this storm? Look it out there.” They could barely see twenty yards. The rain was too thick. “You’re never goin’ find another hunker down out there. Look, why don’t you just hunker down here with me and Jack? You can always move on in the morning.”

Jordan hesitated. He took a look around the tiny, crowded shed. He imagined how DJ’s cough would echo. Then he hung his head. “djiwishicould…” He looked up into DJ’s eyes, pleading with him. Don’t you understand? Why won’t you just let me go?

There was something happening in DJ’s mossy green eyes. Jordan recognized it but couldn’t articulate it. “But it’s almost dark,” DJ said. “Where do you think you’re going to find a better hunker down than this?”

“amotel,” Jordan blurted. It was the wrong thing to say. A storm cloud tore across DJ’s face.

“A motel?” He took a step forward, filling the threshold of the doorway. Jordan had to crane his neck to look at him. DJ was at least six inches taller. “You’re gonna to stay in a motel and leave me and Jack in this here shed. After everything we’ve done for you. Let me tell you something, you… you fuck.” DJ spread his elbows wide. “You ain’t going nowhere.”

Jordan felt his body go into fight or flight. “djimgoing.”

“Like hell you are.” Blackjack was on his feet and growling.

“Imsorry,” Jordan’s voice was trembling. “dontyouunderstandthatiminahurry?”

“Hurry?” DJ laughed. “It’s like I always say…”

Jordan jammed his hand into his pocket for Paul’s crystal. His whole being was a biological clusterfuck when, suddenly, he heard that voice again. “Tell him the truth,” it said.

He looked up into DJ’s green eyes. “DJ, I’m really sorry that you’re so lonely.

Rage flashed across DJ’s face. “Fuck you.”

Now Jordan’s voice was shaking. “Honestly, DJ. I wish you… I wish you the best. I’m sorry, but I’m going.”

He took a step forward. DJ shifted his body enough to the side that Jordan could slide past.

“FUCK YOU!” DJ screamed after him as he sped off into the rain. “FUCK YOU, YOU GOOD FOR NOTHING. YOU MOMMA’S BOY. YOU FUCKING PRICK!”

Jordan didn’t look back until he was safely inside a motel room. As he dropped his bag and peeled off his soaking clothes, he felt a big smile spreaing its wings across his cheeks.

“I did it,” he said. “I slayed the dragon.”



The visibility curtain

The hot shower felt like a coronation. As he lingered beneath the water, Jordan felt overwhelmed by an emotion he’d never felt before. The emotion was pride. Somehow, he knew that he was never going to see DJ again. It was time to celebrate.

Tonight, I’m going to let myself do whatever I want.

Jordan knew exactly what “whatever I want” meant. But he was in no hurry to get to it. He had all night. He had a private motel room. He had an open wifi. He flopped on the bed, flipped on the TV, watched football for a little while. Normally, he scolded himself for enjoying such brutality. But not tonight. Tonight, he felt like he’d earned his get-out-of-jail free card.

As he lay on his back, Jordan’s hand lay atop his hairy chest. Slowly, it drifted downward. Down across his ribcage. Down onto his belly. Down onto the edge of the towel, before he finally swung open the visibility curtain. His spaghetti noodle had come to life.

Spitting on his palm, Jordan reached for his phone. He had no doubt about where he was heading. His favorite category of porn was called the Casting Couch. You could find hundreds of these videos on the porn sites. The pretense was always the same. A pretty, amateur-looking woman arrives at an anonymous office. The man who welcomes her in guides her to a black leather couch, then gestures to the cameras. If she wants to break into the industry, he explains, she’ll have to go through him first.

Jordan had watched dozens of these videos. The narratives were flimsy, the acting poor, the sex rarely inspired. The real subject was power. He had the ability to seduce a woman. Jordan wanted that power desperately.

Beating his penne noodle, working himself into a froth, he was on the verge of slaying his dragon, when suddenly the screen went black and a new image appeared on the screen. It was a live video of his mother.

“Hi, hon.” She frowned. “Is everything okay?”

Jordan couldn’t believe that he’d left his Facetime on. Moving with lightning speed, he hid himself back behind the visibility curtain.

“Sure, Mom” Jordan lied. “Everything’s fine.”

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing.” He hesitated. “I’m just… in a motel room. I’m just…” He reached for his right pants pocket and sighed. “I’m just taking my time.”

END SEASON ONE