(This is Season 1, Episode 6 of Momentum. The content deals with adult themes.)
Seal Rock, Oregon
1,435 miles to Mexico
Jordan and Sam arrived at Seal Rock well after dark, when brilliant stars silhouetted the canopy of spruce trees that surrounded the small gravel parking lot. Sam took her dog, Doc, for a short walk over to the stairs that led down to the beach. Jordan got busy transforming her Jimmy into a bedroom. He piled all the plastic storage tubs on the two front seats, then laid down a thin foam mattress, putting on the sheets, fluffing the pillows, covering the bed with a thick white duvet that made the back of the SUV feel a bit more like a hotel. Sam helped Doc into the doggy bed that was sat atop the console, then she pulled the tailgate closed.
Condensation dampened the windows as the Jimmy rocked on its axels.
When they were done, Sam cracked open the window and lit a cigarette, tapping her ashes into an Altoids tin to avoid spilling them in the back of the Jimmy. Jordan traced his name in the condensation absent-mindedly.
“I want you to tell me something.”
“Sure.” Jordan took his hand off the cold window and summoned the goosebumps from the underside of Sam’s breast. “Anything.”
“I want you to tell me the real reason why you’re walking.”
His breath caught in his throat.
“What do you mean?” He rolled onto his side. “I thought I told you all that already. I’m working on a project to Tell A Story About the Universal Similarities Between People. I was supposed to do it with my ex-girlfriend, but when she broke up with me, I felt like I had no other option…”
“You felt like you had no other option besides raising money on the Internet to do something that you told me you never wanted to do in the first place?”
He rubbed his eyes. “I know it sounds a little pathetic now. But that was a really…” He sighed. “It was a really crazy time in my life. Something came over me that… I don’t know. What do you want me to tell you?”
“The truth. I want you to tell me the truth.”
“Fine. You want to know the truth? I’m actually a spy for the Canadian government. We’re using the financial crisis to buy up all the maple syrup producers in America. Now we’re getting into mushroom farming.” He deadpanned a serious voice. “I’ve got something very important to tell you, Samantha. We’ve been following you for some time.”
Sam took a drag. “Do you always use humor to get out of uncomfortable situations?”
“No. Mostly, I use my dick.”
“I liked that.” She looked him straight in the eyes. It gave him shivers.
What did she want him to tell her? He was sick of reliving the relationship, sick of assessing and re-assessing all that had gone wrong. He wanted to fast-forward to the happily ever after stage, once he’d found acceptance, once he was happily ensconced in a new relationship—or back together with Sally. He hated her for how much he longed for her. He hated that he was hearing her voice in his head and meeting her at night in his dreams. What was the real reason he was walking? The real reason was that in one moment he was in love and in the next he suddenly wasn’t.
“Look, we’re just getting to know each other,” he said, trying to fake a smile. “I’m sure you don’t want to hear all about my ex-girlfriend.” He reached over, cupping her breast, letting his fingers drift down her soft flank to the curve of her hip. Sam was watching him with an expression that gave him butterflies. “It was a bad break-up. But that’s all in the past now. How about you? What made you decide to spend the summer at that tracking school in New Jersey?”
“Oh, am I one of your interview subjects now? Do you want to know my love story?”
“No!” He pushed her gently on the shoulder. The gesture immediately filled him with shame. “No,” he repeated, a little quieter, as he rolled onto his back and ran his hand over his forehead. The truth was that he didn’t really know what she was. Earlier that evening, when she’d called him out of the blue to ask him whether he wanted to spend another night together, he was overwhelmed by excitement and anticipation. Of course, I want to spend another night together. I want to spend the rest of my life having sex like we had at Devil’s Lake. But he was trying to stop himself from getting ahead of himself. Getting ahead of himself was what killed things with Sally, and he didn’t want to repeat that mistake.
Getting ahead of himself wasn’t the only thing that had killed things with Sally. It was hard to know how much he could share with Sam without scaring her away.
The city with two v’s
Every relationship has a beginning. And every relationship has a beginning of the end. Jordan’s relationship with Sally began with a Fake Honeymoon in India, and began to end on a spring day in Vancouver, when the blossoming cherry trees had turned the coastal city as pink and white as a wedding cake.
In between, the Story of their relationship was fantastical and weird. A few days after they slept together for the first time, Jordan saw Sally off in an autorickshaw that was heading to the airport. She had a flight home to England to celebrate Christmas with her family—and to reconnect with her boyfriend, who she hadn’t seen since leaving for India, four and a half months earlier. They were both English language teachers who drifted between year-long postings at schools all over the world. Their plan was to move to the Mediterranean in the New Year. They already had a job, an apartment, and a dog. But shortly after Christmas, Jordan received a Facebook message from Sally. She was newly single, and flights from London to Bombay were impossibly cheap. Was he still interested in continuing what they had started on their Fake Honeymoon? Did he still want to play-act as Husband and Wife?
Jordan was stoned when he received the message, staying in a banana frond hut on a remote beach near Goa, playing non-stop frisbee for hours every day, living out his hippie fantasies. That evening, beneath a nearly full moon, he walked along the sandy beach, repeating over and over again, “I have a girlfriend. Her name is Sally. I have a girlfriend. Her name is Sally…”
It was almost like he was trying to convince himself that his dreams had finally come true.
The following day, he wrote back to Sally and made arrangements to meet in Bombay.
They came up with a loose plan to travel northeast across the country, heading for a remote location far from the well-trodden tourist trail. They both had six-month visas and more than enough money to survive on a backpacker budget. The destination didn’t matter. The journey was the point.
Besides, both of them were still licking old wounds, and both of them were seeking salvation in the other. In Jordan’s case, he was still mourning the end of the six-year relationship that had occupied the first half of his twenties. He’d fallen for a girl on the very first day of his sophomore year and stuck with her until one morning on the week of his twenty-sixth birthday when he woke up in another woman’s bedroom. A few weeks later, he was in India for the first time. He spent six months wandering around the subcontinent on that first trip, chasing freedom, getting high, and trying not to think about what—or wasn’t—waiting for him back home. When he finally returned to Canada as a newly converted vegetarian, he pleaded with his ex-girlfriend that he had changed. But she could see that it was just window dressing. He still didn’t have any direction. He still didn’t have a career. All he wanted was to go back to India. Still, he’d hung around Toronto for nine months, making a half-hearted attempt to convince his ex-girlfriend that he was getting serious about his life, that he was committed to giving their relationship another try.
Even he knew that he was lying. Finally, he acknowledged what he had really wanted all along, and allowed his destiny by returning to India.
Slowly, as Sally and Jordan drifted across the country, traveling by bus and by train, they each came to understand that there were real people inside the facades they were worshipping. Yes, Sally was the woman that Jordan had been dreaming about being with throughout his six-year relationship with a woman who was stable, dependable, and loyal. By contrast, Sally was wildly creative, she was worldly, she was brilliant, and she loved India, but she also had a shadowy side that hadn’t been as apparent in Jordan’s previous girlfriend. The polite way to say it was that her mental health was fragile. The honest way to say it was that she was a mess.
Sally had a panic attack on the day that she arrived back in India. Then another panic attack, out of the blue, a few days after that. Pretty soon, Jordan was sorting their days into good ones and bad ones. The bad ones were the ones when Sally panicked. On bad days, Sally would retreat into herself. She’d start to act and think like a terrified little girl, convinced that the world was falling apart and that everyone around her was judging her for not doing more to stop it. Her panic would trigger Jordan’s panic, and when he felt stuck, he’d become parental, lecturing Sally, trying to fix her problems for her. This wasn’t a particularly effective strategy, and as their relationship drifted into its second month, they began to codify this dynamic—fixer and fixee, giver and taker, the healer and the patient. It was often suffocating, but when the days were good, they were great: they were free, they were wandering around India, they were stoned and ten thousand miles from all of their problems.
They developed a word to describe this supremely flawed, codependent relationship. They called it ‘love’.
Their destination was the corner of India squeezed between China and Bangladesh, as close to Bangkok as it was to New Delhi. There, they came up with another bold plan to ditch their excess gear—so long, speakers, extra shoes, Lonely Planet guidebook—and head off, by foot, into the hinterland. It was a brazen decision. They had no map and spoke no local language. The whole idea was to throw themselves into the bosom of India, trusting that they would be caught and held. That’s what happened. Local people opened their homes, inviting them to sleep in their beds, refusing to accept even a single of their rupees. The locals cherished them, laughed with them, accepted them—even loved them—though they were both sure that they didn’t deserve them.
As they walked between villages, they had long searching conversations about colonialism and privilege. It was a radical confrontation with another world—more out there than either of them had ever been, even though they’d both already lived a life filled with experiences that had pushed them out there.
In retrospect, it was the pinnacle of their relationship. But neither of them could enjoy it, because their relationship always felt so tenuous. In Jordan’s mind, Sally was always leaving. He would be left waiting at the altar. He was too broken, too flawed, too bald, too hairy, too immature, too much of a cheater to ever really satisfy her. He wasn’t entirely wrong: Sally always seemed on the verge of leaving. She could count on one hand the number of days she’d been single since her sixteenth birthday; her romantic history looked like a Gantt chart, with dependencies and overlaps everywhere. Jordan knew that, when she inevitably left him, it would be for someone else. Still, that sense of desperation somehow heightened the relationship. They constantly fought—and fucked and came back together—like the world was about to end.
In between all of these fights, they were drinking in profoundly beautiful encounters with the kind people they met along the road. They craved it, they hated it, they needed it all desperately. They were sure they were one another’s soulmates.
But after six months, they both knew that their time in Asia was coming to a close. They were both out of money. Real life had come knocking on their door. For a climax, they walked all the way to the foot of Mount Everest. On the way down, Sally suggested their next chapter. What if they both went home, spent the summer apart, and came back together in Vancouver in the fall? Why Vancouver? Sally was an excellent Scrabble player. “I’ve always wanted to live in a city that is spelled with two V’s.”
Jordan hadn’t worked a real job in three years. He’d been accepted to do a master’s degree in New York City. But Sally didn’t want to move to New York, she wanted to move to the city with two v’s. And Jordan wanted to be with Sally. They made a pact. They embraced in a New Delhi bus station. Then she boarded a plane home to London. Jordan flew back to his mother’s basement in Toronto. The honeymoon was over.
A few days after he arrived home, Jordan got a phone call from Sally. She was in tears. She explained that, the previous night, she’d gone to visit a friend who lived on the far side of London from where she was staying with her brother. They’d had a little to drink, and when it was time for Sally to go, she realized that she didn’t have any cash. The friend had magnanimously invited her to spend the night, but the problem was that he didn’t have a couch. “I couldn’t do anything,” she whimpered. “And you know how bad I am about saying no.”
He did. He did indeed.
For the rest of the summer, he could sense that he was losing her. He could tell that she was glad to be home in England after several years abroad, including the year she’d spent in India. Now that they were apart, their connection was fizzling. But he’d turned down the master’s program, and he was committed to moving to the city with two v’s. He did everything in his power to convince her to stick to their pact. He cried, he begged, he fought off a string of other suitors. Finally, in October, Sally promised that she would go to Heathrow. “I’ll make my decision when I’m there.”
When he drove to the airport in Toronto, he didn’t expect that she would actually be there.
But there she was. And their embrace was worth all the months of separation. She’d flown to Toronto so she could meet his parents before they flew west. But just a few days after she arrived, his father had a heart attack. (The cardiologist assured him that the two events weren’t causally related.) Fortunately, his dad survived. He wrestled with his filial responsibility. It didn’t feel like an appropriate time to move across the country, no matter how much disdain he had for his father. But Sally made it easy. She gave him an ultimatum: “either we fly to Vancouver this week or I’m going back to England.”
Case closed. They were in Vancouver by Sunday night. It was early November. Dark clouds hung over the coastal city. It rained for twenty-six days straight from the moment they arrived.
Sam was speaking loudly even though she hadn’t said much at all. Her probing questions were drawing him deeper, and her patient eye contact and gentle touches told him that she was engaged. He felt grateful for her attention, grateful to be held in that sacred space in the back of her Jimmy, lying naked beneath the thick duvet as sleeping Doc wheezed a few inches above their heads.
Sam’s mere presence was shedding a new perspective on his Story, even as he was unearthing it all for what felt like the very first time. He’d never had a conversation this honest with Sally. He’d never felt so carefully held. He winced each time he heard himself use the word ‘love’. He could see now what he couldn’t see then. But if I didn’t love her, then why did I fight so hard to keep us together? He felt himself mourning for something that had never been. His delusion was falling to pieces.
But now his Story was approaching its climax, and Jordan couldn’t put on the brakes. The end of his relationship had been dark. He’d said and done things that appeared to come out of nowhere—sudden explosions of rage that just didn’t match with the person that he thought he knew himself to be. He loved her so much. So why did he yell at her? Why was he so exasperated by her panic attacks? Why did he stick with her through the bad sex and all the fighting
The answer stunned him when it suddenly arrived: he was worried that, if he left, she was going to kill herself.
He remembered the first time that she had hurt herself. They were hiking in the Himalayas when she suddenly panicked. He’d panicked back and tried to fix her. When it didn’t work, he stormed off to a small village a half-mile down the trail and took a room in a guesthouse. A half an hour later, she reappeared. She was smiling. The panic attack had passed. He was so relieved that he immediately went to embrace her. But she winced when his hand brushed her. She rolled back her sleeve, revealing blood dripping from three parallel slices in her forearm. She’d cut herself with her razor.
“Never do that again,” he said, his voice trembling. “If you ever do that again, I’ll leave you.”
Sally looked at him like he was the immature one. “Don’t you understand? Hurting myself is the only way I know how to feel.”
Vancouver had been a struggle from the beginning, with all that rain and the hangover from his dad. When the idea to walk to Mexico arrived in December, a few weeks after they did, they both jumped on it. A few days later, at a sushi restaurant, they wrote out their manifesto on a napkin: Tell A Story About the Universal Similarities Between People. Jordan always knew that it was an escapist fantasy. But his own escapist fantasy was going on five years, and it never dawned on him that that one might reach an end. All winter long, they bickered about things like hiking boots and sleeping bags the way that other couples fight over the toilet seat.
The plan was to leave in the spring. For a while, Jordan had high intentions but low expectations—they didn’t have any money; he was sure that, when the time came, Sally would change her mind. But by April, when the blossoming cherry trees were raining pink petals on their street, whatever desire he once had was waning. During the Olympics, Sally’s panic attacks arrived every other day, and he was feeling powerless and drained. He loved her. But he would have left her if he could have found a way to do it without any drama.
He took a deep breath and turned back toward Sam. He could barely look her in the eyes. Her hand was resting gently on his shoulder. “There was this one day. We were taking care of a friend’s dogs. We were living at her place while she was on vacation.” He shook his head. “Sally was never stable. She hated everywhere we lived. By then, we’d been in Vancouver six months and we’d already lived in five different places.”
“Wow,” Sam said gently.
“We’re in the park and she has another panic attack. She’s freaking out because she’s convinced that the people way, way over there are looking at her. I’m like, Sally, they’re two hundred yards away. They can’t even see you. She kept, like, hiding behind my body, using me as a screen. I’m like, who are you and what did you do with my girlfriend?
“That was Sally too.”
Jordan nodded sadly. Sam was right. That was Sally, too.
“We went back to this…” He rubbed his face. The tears were coming. “Back to the house. The panic attack was pretty much over when we went inside. It was this beautiful old Victorian house, full of art and warmth. It was so different from the temporary shitholes where we’d been staying. She took a book and lay on the couch. I went to the kitchen. I can distinctly remember filling up the kettle and just, like, staring out into the garden. I was feeling so dead inside.” The first tear slid down his cheek. “Those days, when she wasn’t panicking, she was always, like, When are we leaving? I want to walk to Mexico now.” He wiped the tear away. “It’s so fucked up. She was bipolar, you know. She was on and off her medications all the time.”
“Wow. That’s a big deal.”
“Yeah, I know it’s a big deal.”
“No. It’s a really big deal.”
He closed his eyes and nodded. Now the tears were really falling.
“I made her some tea and I came back to the sitting room. I walk into the room and.. what I see just takes my breath away. She’s on the couch with her book. There’s this big bay window behind her, and this golden, late afternoon light is just pouring in. There’s all these hints of pink and purple from the cherry and magnolia trees out front. It’s making her blonde hair glow. And she’s in this comfortable sitting room that’s full of art. Suddenly, I realized, like, this! This is what I want. I wanted a house like that, where we could live happily and… With no medications, no panic attacks…” He wiped his eyes. “Sorry. I don’t know why I’m… Sorry. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” She rubbed his shoulder gently. “I’m here.”
“I don’t really know what came over me, you know? Just, like, all of a sudden, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t walk to Mexico with her. I mean, the whole thing was always a fantasy. She never really wanted to do it. She only wanted me to say that I wanted to do it so she could hurt me.” Sam kept rubbing his shoulder without saying anything. “But can you imagine? Twenty-four hours a day with each other. And she would have hated this. When we were walking in India, she complained all the time. She told me that if she ever suggested another walking trip, I should remind her how much she hated walking. And she was the one who was pushing us to do it. And what was I going to do if she had a panic attack? We would have been all alone. No friends, no family…” He was hyperventilating. The tears felt limitless. He couldn’t figure out a way to stop them. “I decided I had to tell her the truth. I put her tea on the side table. Then I stood up and I said, Sally, if you can’t get your shit together, then I’m not sure that I want to walk to Mexico with you.”
“Ouch,” Sam said.
“Right away, she started crying. But these were different tears than when she’d panicked in the park. I could, like, feel it.”
“Sure. You told her the truth. The truth changed your relationship.”
“It scared me. I just felt so, like… dead. I know that makes me sound like a horrible person, but…”
“It doesn’t make you sound horrible. It just makes you sound human.”
“I crossed the room. I kneeled down next to her. I remember, like, putting my hand on her foot.” Jordan reached out toward Sam’s feet, but then thought better of it. “I was like, Sally, calm down. Everything’s fine. I’m just kidding. I’ll walk to Mexico with you. But I could hear how hollow my voice sounded. She kind of kicked her legs slightly to push my hand off. She was like, Get away from me. But she’d told me before that when she panicked, I was supposed to stay with her no matter what. I was supposed to touch her and hold her and be steady for her, because that’s what a real man is supposed to…” He paused to take a deep breath. “So I put my hand back on her ankle and I started saying the same stuff. Like, Calm down, everything’s going to be fine. She kicks my hand off again and she, like, screams. GET AWAY FROM ME! And I’m so close to her mouth that her spit like… I didn’t even think. I just kind of reacted and I…
Suddenly, Sam yanked her hand off his arm. “You hit her?”
“No! No!” Immediately, his heart started racing. “NoImeanyes. Butnothard. ImsorryIdidn’tmeantoImsorry.”
“With an open hand or closed fist?”
“What?” He was hyperventilating again.
Sam spoke slowly and evenly. “Did you hit her with an open hand or a closed fist?”
“Open. Nothard. Morelikeasmackonhershoulder.” He couldn’t look at her. “Imsorry. Iknow. Imanasshole. Icansleepoutsideifyouwant.”
Sam closed her eyes. She took a long deep breath. Jordan felt the urge to reach for Paul’s crystal, but his pants were a long way away. When she opened her eyes, she sighed and reached for a cigarette. “That just surprised me. But I think it makes things make more sense. You scared yourself. So it wasn’t just her you were trying to win back. You and your higher self created a situation where you could process all of this. That’s why you allowed yourself to go on this walk.”
“I guess that makes sense,” he said tentatively. He cowered, suddenly aware of how little he knew her.
Sam cracked the window and lit the cigarette. She took long, slow drags. A minute or two passed in silence, as chilly air elbowed out his sense of warmth and calm.
Suddenly, she turned to him. “Last winter, I was living in San Francisco. I spent part of my time working at a bar and part of my time skiing in Lake Tahoe. I guess you could call me a ski bum, but I loved it. I had this great boyfriend and this cute place. But one day, some money went missing from the bar’s cash register. I didn’t do it”—her voice turned panicked—”but the circumstances looked bad and I got blamed. I lost my job. And my boyfriend wouldn’t…” She took a long drag and flicked out the ash into the Altoids tin forcefully. “I packed all my stuff into my car and drove across the country. I haven’t been back since.”
“Wow,” he said, not knowing what Sam wanted him to say. When he didn’t say anything else, she rolled on her side and turned away from him.
“I wish I didn’t tell you that.”
Jordan waited for a beat before spooning up behind her, letting his fuzzy face fall against her defined shoulders. They lay there together, cuddling in silence. The truth was that he wished she didn’t tell him that, also.
Expect the unexpected
When he opened his eyes, Jordan was surprised to feel Sam’s tongue on his inner thigh. He was sure, after the way things ended last night, that she was going to kick him out in the middle of the night—that he was going to wake up on the gravel parking lot, alone and naked. He didn’t expect to wake up to a blow job. Bright morning sun streamed through the trees and into the tinted back windows of the Jimmy. A few other cars had arrived in the parking lot. He tried to ignore the sound of laughing children as she licked and sucked, holding tender eye contact all the while.
Silently, she sheathed him in a condom and straddled him, hips rocking slowly to avoid creaking the axels. She rested her hands on his chest and maintained her soft, warm eye contact.
Jordan fought the urge to say I love you. He couldn’t tell whether this was hello or goodbye.
Afterward, they took the camping stove down to the beach and made omelets on the sand. It was a beautiful fall day, but the air had a bite; winter was on its way. It felt daunting to think about the rain that was surely ahead; he wasn’t even halfway down the coast of Oregon. It also felt daunting to think about saying goodbye to Sam.
Then, she surprised him with a wet, deep kiss. She pressed her body tightly against his. “Come back to Corvallis with me,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be forever. It can only be for a few days. I just thought that… we’re having such a nice connection and…”
Jordan could feel his whole chest contracting in on itself. He needed to think.
He emulated what he’d seen Sam do so many times. He closed his eyes and sat still in his inner darkness. Big questions swirled through his mind. How would he explain a detour to his financial backers? Could he afford to waste the last clear days of the season while hanging out with Sam?
But what if Sam was his destination all along? What if Sam was his soulmate?
But she lives in her car. She smokes. Is she just another Sally? Am I even ready to have another relationship? How am I supposed to know?
Suddenly, he heard a calm, confident voice. It said, keep walking.
He sighed. When he opened his eyes, he saw that Sam’s expression had fallen.
He hung his head. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“So am I.” She leaned forward and pecked him on the lips.
“Thank you for telling me the truth.”
He walked her back to her car and helped her transform the bedroom into a trunk again. He said goodbye to Doc and embraced her one last time. “Wait,” she said. “Before I leave, I want to give you a gift.” She pulled something out of the glove compartment and handed it to him. It was a ziplock bag. There was a single item inside.
“It’s a Psilocybe azurescens. It’s a psychedelic mushroom.”
“But I’m sober.”
She dug her hands into the pocket of her down vest and shrugged. “You told me your thirtieth birthday is coming up. I thought you might appreciate a shift in your perspective. In case you want to break one of your Rules.”
He kissed her deeply then stood in the parking lot, waving, as she sped off down the coastal highway.
All day long, he second-guessed his decision. By later afternoon, he was feeling lost and hopeless again. He wondered if he should call Sam. He thought about calling Paul. He held the crystal as he walked the wide beach as clouds steadily drifted in.
The sunset was glorious. The sky lit up through a million shades of red, fading through mahoganies, crimsons, and plums until all that was left were the indigoes, stealing away the show. As night fell, Jordan was still walking, still trying to will himself to a State Park campground that kept getting farther. By the time he reached the campground, he was exhausted and famished.
The sites facing the beach were all occupied by RVs. He checked the campground map, locating the communal hiker-biker. It was a quarter-mile north, near the bathroom. His back, feet, and heart were all aching as he willed himself there. The hiker-biker was a small grassy area encircled by blackberry bramble. There was just one other tent that was already there. He could see the silhouette of its occupant, lit from within by a flashlight.
For a moment, Jordan let himself imagine that the figure inside was a beautiful young woman—a woman with as much heart as Sam, but who was willing to join him on his trip rather than try to pull him away. He wondered if he was going to get lucky again. He wondered if lightning might strike twice.
Then he heard the silhouette cough. It was a gruesome smoker’s cough, hacking and ugly, and it lasted for nearly twenty-five seconds.
Jordan’s heart fell. He knew exactly who it was.
DJ and Blackjack had found him.