“I guess that’s what a passenger’s supposed to do, pass from one place to another, but it doesn’t make it any simpler. About all you can do is wish him luck, and hope that he has some slight understanding of what uncontrollably is happening to him.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I wake up surrounded by dogs. I fucking hate dogs. Not these dogs, though. I look at my phone. 8:30 AM. Sunday, March 17, 2013. San Diego, California. In the home of one of my closest friends, a woman I have not seen for almost six years. We were supposed to have dinner last night at seven. I showed up at her house closer to eight. We laughed. “This was the one thing we promised each other would never happen,” I said. Everything was the same. Everything was different. There’s no use making promises.
Immediately, I am drawn to the copy of Richard Brautigan’s An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey, a paperback that Tali is obviously in the process of reading, a paperback that I noticed last night after spilling a full glass of Riesling all over the floor, momentarily pretending to be an expert on Brautigan, even though I’d never read him, even though I’ve known for years that I should read him, that I’d love him, that I’ve been told this by countless others over and over again. An Unfortunate Woman is Brautigan’s final novel, the novel he wrote just a couple of years before committing suicide. It is a novel about suicide, a novel about a woman dying of cancer. I thought about committing suicide—really thought about it—exactly three weeks ago today, the day that my girlfriend died of cancer. An unfortunate woman. An unfortunate man.
I lay on the couch—the leather sofa that I slept on, which Tali’s boyfriend bought her just yesterday in a sort of “I’m trying” gesture, a consolation for not being able to fuck her, the one thing that Tali does not absolutely love about him in the six short weeks (long weeks, she insists) that they have spent together. I read Brautigan. I steal one of Tali’s American Spirits, go out on the front stoop shoeless to smoke and read Brautigan. I take a shit in Tali’s bathroom—a bathroom whose door will not entirely shut—and read Brautigan. I stretch out on the couch again and read Brautigan. There is a framed poster of Antonioni’s The Passenger hanging above me. I steal another American Spirit and read Brautigan. I text my friend Mike in Minneapolis, “I randomly and hungoverly picked it up at a friends house this morning and I’ve just read half of it. Apropos of my current situation, it is totally destroying me, but in the best way possible” [sic]. It turns out that An Unfortunate Woman is one of two Brautigan books that Mike’s never read. He says he’ll start reading it today, so that we can talk about it when I get back to Minneapolis.
At 9:30 I decide to leave. I put my shoes on and say goodbye to Tali, telling her that I’m taking the book with me, even though borrowing a book someone is in the process of reading is a sin so grave I would have never thought to commit it before. I don’t know anything about myself. I take the book as insurance, to ensure that another six years won’t go by before I see her again. “I’ll give it back to you the next time I see you.” “Okay,” she says, sleepily. “Thank you,” I say, walking out the door.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Yesterday morning I drove up Interstate 5, smoking a cigarette and listening to rock and roll, watching the marine layer give way to sunshine like it eventually does nearly every morning in the “motherland,” as my friend Nasir tends to call it. “I am happy,” I thought. “This is freedom,” I thought. “This is not regressive,” I thought. “This is right,” I thought. Correct. This morning I drive down Interstate 5, the marine layer thicker than yesterday’s, suffocating the smoke of a used up cigarette butt in an empty can of orange juice, hand over the hole to the tune of My Bloody Valentine. I am twenty-seven years old. I am twenty-two years old. It’s time to read more Brautigan.