meditations on a leather-bound journal, pt. xiii

When I stopped in Ellensburg, getting the coffee I'd neglected to at Liana's rest stop, the girl at the counter asked me about the notebook. "That's a really neat notebook," she said. "Where'd you get it?"

She'd read it? I thought. I smiled at her. She shied away--my smile must have frightened her. "You know Liana?" I asked. Or exclaimed. The words just came out. The poor girl didn't know what to do. She thought I was crazy.

One day you'll understand, I thought. Or did I say it? She nodded at me and told me to have a nice day. One day, I thought, you'll find a little scrap of paper written by a man, a desperate man, a man who has 'hopes of getting out of here, out of this, out of everything'. It might be here in your gas station. You'll feel like you're intruding. You'll find out that he's living your life, be afraid he doesn't like you, trust you--he's living your life and he's better at it, and you love him for it. Love. You'll feel like you didn't know the meaning of the word before. Because you don't.

"Will that be everything, sir?" Her voice was quaking. I smiled and left. Maybe she could borrow my notebook when I'm done with it.

meditations on a leather-bound journal, pt. xii

I kept telling myself I'd meet her there. I was so sure.

I imagined the scenario, played it out in my head dozens of times. "Liana?" I would ask, my voice smooth, calm, confident. I'd tap her on the shoulder. She'd turn around, smile at me--I still remember her smile, that beautiful smile--and say nothing. She'd put a finger to my lips, so I'd say nothing. And she'd wrap me in her embrace. We'd stand there, at a rest stop on I-90, somewhere between Ellensburg and Seattle, and everything would make sense.

I was so sure.

Well, as you might have guessed, no such luck. I missed the fucking exit. I can't tell you how fucking stupid I feel right now. Not like I missed it because I forgot, I missed it because I couldn't bring myself to hit the turn signal, to turn the wheel, to pull off, stop. The scenario in my head shattered into a million tiny pieces, each one of them razor sharp, piercing my ego, my heart, lacerating my psyche with a thousand little cuts. I nearly screamed.

And I'm not even sure how you pronounce Liana, anyway.

I can't sleep. I haven't slept since I got here. Or shaved. I only shower when I remember. I look like shit. People notice. I'm muttering her name, now. Liana. Such compelling beauty, such maddening beauty. Like an addict craving his fix, or maybe like a man from the darkness who's seen sunlight once and wants more, it burns him but he wants more, more. So beautiful.

Just one taste. Just one drink. Just once more.


meditations on a leather-bound journal, pt. xi

It's ironic, me getting a notebook for Christmas. It was one of those gifts where the label came off, so nobody remembered where it came from. I said 'thanks' even though I didn't know who to thank, but I think I know. Maybe the label didn't come off at all.

I looked for her name among the scraps of paper, just in case. Nothing. Just a lot of text wishing the recipient a merry Christmas, or a happy holiday season.

If you were wondering, I checked. The notebook is conspicuously lacking an entry for the Christmas season.


meditations on a leather-bound journal, pt. x

I'm home again. I figured I should get out of the hotel before the management came back. Nobody seemed to notice my return. I went back into my room and lay on the bed, looking at the notebook. I felt guilty. I'd gotten distracted. My focus had been on the notebook, on her, and I let a bit of cheap wine and a pretty face distract me.

It was the guilt that kept me from opening it again. I couldn't bear to read her words after I'd done this to her. I don't really know how to explain it. It's like betraying someone who doesn't even know you're loyal to them--but she knows. She must know. Everything she writes, it's like she's living my life. And it's like she's better at it than me, somehow.

I'm going back over the mountains this weekend. I hope, pray, that she'll be there, when I stop.

Looking for encouragement, I opened the book and read a page. 'It seems like I'm never in the same place twice. I'm always on the move, never satisfied. I bought this as an anchor. I want a place to come back to and it'll be the same every day.'


meditations on a leather-bound journal, pt. ix

She asked me if I was a writer. She said I had a notebook, carried it around, had the band sign it. We were maybe halfway through the wine. She was drinking more than me--I was busy brooding. I think she noticed at first, but eventually she was talking and laughing and I barely had to maintain our conversation.

I stopped and stared at her. In the candlelight she looked like a painting. Red wine, soft light, red hair. Laughing, but sad.

Why did she want to know about the notebook? I told her it was nothing. She asked to read it. I was reluctant, but I said it was okay.

She read aloud from one of the pages. "I'm half drunk. Probably more than half. Took some fellow home after a show. I wasn't too interested in conversation. Just wanted the companionship for a night. So I took him back here, that little hotel on 99. The light burned out as soon as we got in." She laughed. Sounds like us, she said, and put the notebook aside.

And she asked if that was why I took her back here. I didn't write it, I said. I hadn't read that part. I was looking after that for a friend, I said. "Her name was Liana."

She did not, I noticed, care. We finished the wine. She finished the wine. We made love in the flickering candlelight, intertwined like characters in a tawdry romance novel, and she was gone in the morning. It was raining again. And the lights were back on.


meditations on a leather-bound journal, pt. viii

I'm still staying at the motel. They think it's weird, but I guess it's not too uncommon for a man who's down on his luck to spend a few days there. The place finally lost power in the storm, still doesn't have it back--they suggested another hotel. I asked if I could stay, just at a discount. They said I could stay for free.

I swear, I saw her at the show tonight. She looked at me, even. Smiled that smile I know I saw at the rest stop. I froze, just stared blankly. Someone walked in front of me, and she was gone. Or maybe she was right there and I didn't recognise her.

After the concert, I talked to the band, but I was really looking around, looking for her. I was fidgeting with the notebook, hoping I could hand it to her and tell her it was hers, tell her I was hers, tell her something. She wasn't there.

The singer asked me if I wanted him to sign the notebook. I said no, probably a little too sharply. I explained, it's not mine. I wouldn't want--and then I stopped. "Sure," I said. "Make it out to Liana."

"Okay. Friend of yours?" he said. "Girlfriend?"

"No," I said. I told him I'd never met her. He gave me a look. He thought I was crazy, I could tell. He dismissed himself. I'd said her name loudly, hoping she'd show up. No luck.

One of the girls from the show invited me to the bar after. I declined, but offered to take her back to the motel. I had a bottle of wine and the power was out, I said. It was seedy and everyone else had left. She said that sounded exciting, told her friends, came home with me.

Well, 'home'. I've been here too long, I'm starting to call this damn place home.


meditations on a leather-bound journal, pt. vii

Listen to this:

"There's something exciting about this--the wind's knocked out the power. I'm writing this by candlelight. I wish I had something more to say, something profound or desperate that justifies writing in such an environment.

"I've always bought these notebooks and journals, thinking they're pretty, wishing I lived a life that justified using their pages. Wishing my handwriting looked just so, wishing I lived the sort of life you see on movies. I used to think maybe I wanted excitement, but I think what I'm really looking for, what I really, desperately want, is resolution. I wish that rainy days were for those times I'm feeling sad, and that storms were for the tense and exciting moments in my life.

"Today? Today I went to the store and bought groceries. Isn't that exciting? Don't you wish you lived my life? There's a terrible storm and the power's out and I went to get groceries. Chew on that."

I know how she feels. Flicker. Flicker.


meditations on a leather-bound journal, pt. vi

I don't know what I was thinking. Yeah, people hang out at rest areas all the time, right? The only person there was an old man giving out free coffee. He looked at me like I was going to rob him. I gave his little donation bin a dollar. I drove off, feeling like I was missing something.

My coffee--the coffee of disappointment--tasted like ash. I didn't drink all of it. By the time I got back home it was tepid. I threw it out the window. I didn't even undress when I got home, just came in and went to sleep. What was I thinking? I almost asked the old man if he'd seen her. I could almost hear him say, 'Kid, I've seen a lot of people.' So it goes.

A little independent theatre premiered my film today. It was a little theatre in a quiet part of First Hill. By the time it was done it was dark out and it was starting to rain. I stood around for a while, chatted with some people. I felt like I should contribute something worthwhile, but I had nothing to say. I never do, in times like this.

I drove back on Aurora. Something about the neon lights, the cheap motels with their flickering signs, the seediness of the street, appeals to me, on some level I can't begin to identify. It's straight out of an old movie. This is where crime happens. This is where suicide happens.

I didn't make it back. Some impulse or other struck me. I just turned into one of those motels. I walked in and rented a room for the night. The room was a poor excuse for a living room, even by my standards. It was dingy, felt like a hotel room out of an old movie. Countless hundreds of discount liaisons and forbidden affairs had taken place here. What happened here was either secret or desperate--and very often both.

I reached into my bag and pulled out the journal, stared at it for a while, and opened up to a random page. "Checked into a motel on 99 tonight. Couldn't stand it at home any longer. The place is seedy as hell but I don't care. Have to get away for tonight. This is where you go to get away, isn't it? And the bridge is a few minutes' walk from here."

Clutching the pen desperately, I scribbled the word 'why?' on the page. I started reading over what I'd read before, looking for some hint of a reason. I pored over every word. Asking her why, what, who, constantly. As if she could hear me. As if this was something more than just some coincidence.


meditations on a leather-bound journal, pt. v

I slept fitfully yesterday. I had a dream, a terrible dream. It was about her. I didn't recognise the face but I know it was her. We were friends, in the dream. Walking, laughing. I parted ways with her, left her to walk home, went home whistling. When I got home I learned she'd died. Drowned. I felt--there aren't words. I was angry, confused, empty. I'd just found her. In the dream, even, I'd just found her. Now she was gone.

I didn't wake up in a panic, as one might. I woke up in utter despair. I'd lost something beautiful. I could--can--still feel it. I've resolved never to lose her again.

I opened her notebook again. There would be no closing it, not even if she said something I didn't want to hear. This time, her words were comforting. "I had a dream tonight." And so did I! She didn't trust me, that's okay.

She wrote words I didn't really understand, but I felt like I would later. They were cryptic. Images, symbols, half-finished thoughts. I caught a thread of the same despair I'd felt when I awoke thinking I had lost something beautiful--something that never came to fruition, something that existed only in potentia, but something.

Listen. I'm getting on the freeway again soon. I want to go back to the rest area I first met her. Or didn't meet her. I want to do this right.


meditations on a leather-bound journal, pt. iv

Have you ever fallen in love with someone just by reading their signature? I thought it was some empty scrawl. Still can't read her last name but who cares? Such a beautiful name. Liana. It's one of those names that makes me want to use tacky phrases, like 'like poetry'. Liana. Who are you, girl with the beautiful name?

If you haven't guessed I had someone read the name to me. He asked me why it was so important. I made up some story about hoping to be able to return it to the owner. I could tell he didn't believe me, but he apparently didn't care enough to investigate the lie. For a while I merely stared at the page, running my fingers along the notebook's edge. It felt alive, somehow.

I sat, basking in the moment for a while. My pulse quickened, my head felt light. It felt like a high school crush, and this was a book. I've seen her, what, once? I barely remember her face, now. I think she had brown hair. Maybe blonde? One of those lightish colours. Did she smile? Was I imagining that?

I finally opened the first page. The first real page, I mean. The ones where she's writing down all of her beautiful words. (Did I just say that? I've read maybe two dozen words she's ever written. Beautiful? I'm using the word beautiful. Something is up.) "I had a dream tonight.

"It's why I bought this notebook. It's why I know I'm going to throw it away, probably burn it or something. I'm not saying what it is. I don't trust you yet."

You don't trust me? I shut the book. She doesn't trust me? Why? Have I done something wrong?


meditations on a leather-bound journal, pt. iii

I can't figure out who wrote this damn journal. I opened it up today. Looked at the front page. It's just a single line of text: 'In hopes of getting out of here, out of this, out of everything.' It's got a signature underneath it, and I can't read the fucking thing.

Could be a chronicle of her life. All her hopes, dreams, fears, doubts. All in a little leather-bound notebook, and here's me not even sure what her goddamn name is. I think maybe there's an L in it.

I'm gonna show it around. I don't want to read this if I don't know who wrote it. It's the least I can do. But really I think I'm just afraid to read it. Reading a stolen notebook is something you sort of put off.


meditations on a leather-bound journal, pt. ii

Listen. Someone came back and started looking around for the notebook. Or I think that's what it was. She walked up and looked at the spot it was sitting, smiled, and wandered off. I think she looked right at me as I was watching. She might have even winked.

I still haven't looked at it. I'd been wasting too much time in that rest area and I still had a trip to make. When I got back to Seattle there was so much going on it slipped my mind. It was added to my stack of books--Zarathustra, The Devil's Dictionary, Fear and Loathing. I haven't thought much of it, to be honest.

I slept in late today. It's been getting later and later in the mornings. And whenever I talk to people, I forget what I was going to say. It's not like I'm grasping at words, it's like I was never going to say it. We have lots of chili? Who cares?

And the dreams are getting worse. I feel like I stole that notebook.


meditations on a leather-bound journal, pt. i

I'm writing this from one of those rest stops with the 'wifi hotspots' along I-90, somewhere between Ellensburg and Seattle. I wanted to use the restroom, maybe purchase a can of Coke. In front of the vending machines, something caught my eye. A beautiful leather-bound notebook. I haven't opened it yet; I'm waiting here to see if someone comes by looking for it. I always hate it when someone reads something I'm writing, and I'd hate to do the same to someone else.

It's got me wondering, though, whose it is, what the story is. If nobody comes in an hour or so I'll take a look. The thing about it that really intrigues me, is it looks as if it was placed there intentionally.


friends like these

A few weeks ago, a party was thrown in my honour, to celebrate my last day in town and bid me farewell. At first, everything went well; I enjoyed the company, the food was excellent, the drinks plentiful, what more could a man desire at his going away celebration? But, whether fueled by drink or merely bitter, one of the guests began to denounce me. It was small, at first; everyone felt that, perhaps, he was merely joking with me. Only I could detect the insults. I privately asked him to stop, and he seemed offended that I thought he was insulting me. It was all meant in good fun.

Another friend of mine, upon my return, began accusing me of insulting him. He seemed deeply hurt at the words he felt I had said. At his side, the girl to whom I had idly mentioned him, was grinning smugly. I informed him that I had never said any such things, and he pretended to believe me, that he was joking, but I knew he was lying. She had turned him against me.

From this point on the party seemed in a constant state of decline. In every jest I heard the seeds of truth, of long-held qualms against me finally surfacing, now, as I was leaving. In every whispered conversation I heard my name. I grew angry. I knew the guests would soon notice my temper, begin talking.

I think what troubled me the most is not that they seemed to dislike me, to mock my habits, to find me irritable, irrational, impulsive. What troubled me most is how true I felt every insult and jibe to be. I have always asked my friends for honesty, always suspected they never delivered; perhaps, in retrospect, they were only refusing me something I could not handle.