Appearance

All posts tagged Appearance

On making things better … or worse.

Published October 6, 2016 by mandileighbean

About three weeks ago, I went on a date with some guy I met online. We met on the boardwalk, which I liked. He looked only a little bit like his picture, but I’m sure the same could be said for me – I’ve definitely gained weight since the pictures I posted were taken. None of the mattered, really, because he was INCREDIBLY smart – knew more than a little bit about nearly everything. The conversation was great – enthralling, interesting. We talked for four hours, until the restaurants closed. At one point, he was explaining the scientific reasoning behind why men tend to react with violence while women are more emotional and tend to react with malicious manipulation. He posed a hypothetical question, asking me what I would do if a woman I hated, like really hated, keyed my car. I told him I’d go to the police, and he had to alter the scenario and tell me that wasn’t an option. I think he wanted to prove that eventually I would become violent (although in retrospect, I don’t see how that helps his argument at all, so maybe I misunderstood because he was SO much smarter than me). That inspired the short story below.

But some more about the date: he said “you see” a lot and removed his glasses to pinch and massage the bridge of his nose and pushed air through his nose awkwardly, almost like snorting but not exactly. In hindsight, it seems pretentious and textbook intellectual, but in the moment, it wasn’t so bad. There were even a few moments where I nearly convinced myself he was handsome, sitting on a bench overlooking the beach, calmly explaining the cosmos to the young woman beside him as a chilly wind whipped the finer strands of hair about his face.

But I think it was just the moonlight and me endeavoring to force a fairy tale where there wasn’t one. I haven’t heard from him.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #30: “Let’s just agree that we both hate her, okay?”

“Let’s just agree that we both hate her, okay?” Ashley pleaded. She was sitting in her Chrysler Sebring convertible with her best friend. The engine was running to keep the heat going; it was unseasonably cold, and tiny tremors assaulted Ashley’s body. The cloth top did little to keep the icy wind from seeping in and making the interior cold and uncomfortable. She watched her breath escape her lips in tiny, white puffs, disappearing as soon as they appeared. Despite the heat blasting from the vents, Ashley was shivering. For a moment, but only a moment, Ashley wondered how her best friend was faring, if she was as cold. But Ashley’s concern was fleeting. She wasn’t looking at Danielle, but stayed focus on the lone break in the curbing that served as both the entrance and exit of the parking lot. Neon lights and halogen bulbs lit up the night sky around them, and Ashley used the glare of the harsh and unflattering lights to peer into windshields and survey the colors of incoming cars. Oncoming headlights would blind her momentarily, but she would shut her eyes tight against them for a just a few seconds, all she could spare, and then she’d stare hard and long to make out the figures in the cars, to determine the exact shade of the paint of the exteriors of the cars. Ashley’s eyes shifted restlessly from side to side, scanning and searching for one driver in particular, one woman that was scheduled to meet a man in the diver bar that owned the parking lot. The man in question happened to be the love of Ashley’s life (at the very least, Ashley had convinced herself that was the case), and the woman in question was the current topic of conversation.

“I’m not going to do that,” Danielle refused. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared through the windshield. She forced her breath out of her lungs in short bursts, emphasizing her displeasure. Not unlike Ashley, Danielle wasn’t so eager to make eye contact. Everything had gone too far, much too far, and Danielle was having trouble comprehending that the woman gripping the steering wheel in tight, pulsating waves was the same woman she’d known for years and years, and had claimed as her best friend. Ashley was unrecognizable to Danielle. Sure, she looked the same, but the jealousy and ager that consumed Ashley and simmered somewhere just beneath the surface of her skin had caused her to mutate into something ugly, something horrible.

“Then why are you even here?” Ashley asked. She finally turned to face Danielle. Her tone was sharp so that the question was more of a piercing challenge. In her juvenile rage, Ashley wanted Danielle to leave so that Ashley could feel abandoned and awful, and thereby rationalize her unnerving desire to cause destruction and excuse her cowardly and dastardly behavior.

“To talk sense, Ashley; I need to convince you that this is really dumb, not to mention illegal. We need to leave before you do something stupid.”

There was a beat of silence. It was the calm before the storm; after just a moment more, Ashley slammed her palms against the dashboard and growled. It was a subdued scream that turned animalistic and cold and hard. Danielle felt uneasy but turned toward Ashley, willing to make eye contact and survey if Ashley was even present in the conversation, if she was even listening. “Go to hell,” Ashley sneered. “You don’t know what this feels like, okay? Save your self-righteous bullshit for your students.”

“If you weren’t acting like a child, I wouldn’t have to treat you like one, or talk to you like one,” Danielle retorted. “What is keying her car going to do, honestly?”

Ashley thought for a moment. “It’ll make me feel better.”

Danielle rolled her eyes. “Yeah, maybe, but then what? Will it make Russ suddenly realize he’s been a douche? How will it prove you were the right choice?”

Silence settled upon the pair. The truth was that Ashley couldn’t answer Danielle’s questions because Danielle was right. It was stupid, completely asinine, but for the moment, Ashley didn’t care. She wanted to feel satisfied and to feel justified – she wanted to feel better about the whole messed up situation between her and Russ and their feelings (or lack thereof). “Why can’t you just let me have this?” Ashley demanded of her best friend. Her voice cracked and allowed the tears to finally spring up.

“What kind of friend would I be if I let you be a stupid, awful, petty bitch?” Danielle asked. She extended her arm to rub Ashley’s back as she sat behind the wheel and cried. “You’re better than all of this, and you deserve better than Russ.” Danielle spoke in softened tone, doing her best to soothe Ashley and her broken heart. “Let’s get out of here, okay? We’ll get milkshakes and fries and talk shit.” Danielle laughed to show Ashley that she honestly believed there was a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Danielle needed Ashley to know that eventually, things did get better.

“Fine,” Ashley growled. She wanted to hold onto her anger because she wanted to be in control of something. She couldn’t change how Russ felt and she couldn’t deny Danielle’s logic, but she could decide how she felt, dammit, and she was going to be angry, downright furious. Without giving it much thought, Ashley abruptly changed gears and had every intention of peeling out of the parking lot and leaving the whole aborted revenge plot behind her – in more ways than one – and Ashley would have done just that.

Unfortunately, a young, beautiful woman with bouncy hair, tits that were a cause of envy, and a smile that belonged in toothpaste commercials, came walking up between Ashley’s car and the car beside it. The young, beautiful woman was not paying attention to anything other than her phone, busily composing a text message to let a popular man named Russ that she was walking into the bar, and that she had just parked. Her green Hyundai had pulled in just as Ashley had started crying, and were it not for the tears in her contemptuous eyes, Ashley might have seen the vehicle, recognized it, and done something else, anything else. As fate would have it, neither Ashley nor Danielle saw the young, beautiful woman’s car enter the parking lot, and so neither woman knew she was even there, where she was supposed to be, where they had anticipated and expected her to be. The young, beautiful woman walking between Ashley’s car and another was busy envisioning the entrance she would make and entertaining the endless romantic possibilities her rendezvous offered. She didn’t see Ashley’s car turning and accelerating fast enough to make the tires squeal, so hell bent was Ashley on making an exit the same way the young, beautiful woman was intent on making an entrance that would impress the entire bar. The young, beautiful woman never saw the impact coming.

The left headlight rammed against the young, beautiful woman’s shin, hard enough to break it and hard enough to knock her to the ground. The collision happened just outside of Danielle’s window, just outside of the front passenger door. She thought she saw bouncy hair pass by her field of vision on its way to the pavement, but she couldn’t be sure. It was dark and her attention was elsewhere. But Danielle and Ashley heard flesh and bone smash sickeningly against metal and plastic and rubber. They knew they’d hit something, but the enormity of the tragedy had not landed home yet. The front tires ran up and over the young woman’s body before Ashley could slam on the brakes and screech to a halt. “What the hell was that?” Ashley asked.

Danielle had a sinking, awful, terrible suspicion, but how could she say it aloud? How could she tell Ashley that in trying to avoid a misdemeanor, they had committed a felony? How could she explain that in trying to do the right thing, they had made everything worse, much worse? Pale and trembling, Danielle could only state the obvious. “You hit something,” she said.

“Yeah, but what?” Ashley asked. Danielle shrugged, was too shocked and too stupid to articulate anything meaningful or useful. Ashley threw the car in reverse, unknowingly rolling her tires over the young, beautiful woman a second time. The car jostled its occupants from side to side as it traversed speedily over the body. Ashley thought returning to the parking spot and surveying the scene from that vantage point was the best way to assess the damage and understand what had happened. It wasn’t until the sickening thud of the tires rolling over something soft and alive reached her ears a second time that Ashley understood that it was bad and wrong, all bad and all wrong. She put the car in park and battling nausea, Ashley threw her door open and climbed out of the car and onto legs that were wobbly and weak, and didn’t quite support her weight. Hobbling as if she were the victim instead of the perpetrator, Ashley stumbled to the front of the car, using the vehicle to support her weight. She crossed the front of the vehicle, placing palm over palm as she desperately tried to steady herself and walk, and when the body came into view, she promptly vomited.

pedestrian-accident

On fountains.

Published July 7, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s sweltering in my house. I was dripping sweat earlier. I went outside earlier, to try and benefit from the meager breeze coming from the bay, and my outdoor furniture was wet from a storm that had passed by earlier but I didn’t even care. That’s how hot it is.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I think I’m building character.

My life is quiet and small and plain. Again, I’m not telling you this for sympathy or vague reassurance that my life is not the way I perceive it (that just makes someone feel crazy, doesn’t it?). I’m telling you this to illuminate my character, because this realization makes me restless. I always feel like I’m wasting my time and my youth, that I should be doing more, more, more. So I’m taking baby steps to do just that.

On Wednesday, I went to Princeton with one of my best friends. We strolled the campus like we belonged there, despite me being clad in clothes purchased from Old Navy and not J. Crew or Ann Taylor or anywhere else equally as impressive and expensive. Not only that, but an intrusive coffee stain that was too large to be ignored assaulted the lower-half of my shirt in a way that simply screamed I didn’t belong, that I was totally and completely faking it. But I didn’t let my general sloppiness ruin the trip – I’m not that dramatic.

I dragged my patient and impossibly too kind friend to the university to peruse the F. Scott Fitzgerald archives. I anticipated manuscripts and pictures kept under class in a far and quiet corner of the library. I assumed the public had free and easy access to the most personal belongings of a literary genius, but I was so wrong. We had to register, received photo identification cards to enter a restricted part of the library, wash our hands, lock away our belongings, and specifically select which aspects of Fitzgerald’s life we wanted to access. We did this without complaint (which is saying something considering the heat of the day was blistering and my dear, dear friend never intended to spend 150 minutes looking at the personal affects of some dead author), and were shown into a reading room. There, I made plans to visit Great Neck, Long Island for a long weekend (the setting that inspired The Great Gatsby) and to travel to Hackensack, New Jersey (specifically to see the Newman School, which Fitzgerald attended). My friend and I both flipped through a sort of combined scrapbook of Scott and Zelda, compiled by Matthew J. Bruccoli (the only Fitzgerald biographer that matters) and Scottie, Scott and Zelda’s daughter.

Scott’s drama teacher wrote, “Good God, save the soul of the man with the spark!” in reference to Fitzgerald. What a tragedy; what a shame.

We were presented with a facsimile of the manuscript of The Great Gatsby, complete with edits and revisions in Fitzgerald’s own handwriting, not to mention the entire manuscript was handwritten. I nearly cried.

We read letters from Zelda to Scott, which chronicled the beginnings of their relationship, as well as the more tumultuous aspects of the courtship and marriage. I compiled a list of Zelda’s best quotes.

  • … it’s so easy, and believing is much more intelligent
  • And still I’m so mighty happy — It’s just sort of a “thankful” feeling — that I’m alive and that people are glad I am
  • There’s nothing to say — you know everything about me, and that’s mostly what I think about. I seem always curiously interested in myself, and it’s so much fun to stand off and look at me …
  • … something always makes things the way they ought to be …
  • I love you sad tenderness — when I’ve hurt you — That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels — and they bothered you so — Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget
  • … It seems as if there’s no new wisdom — and surely people haven’t stopped thinking — I guess morality has relinquished its claim on the intellect — and the thinkers think dollars and wars and politics — I don’t know whether it’s evolution or degeneration
  • To be afraid, a person has either to be a coward or very great and big
  • … free to sit in the sun and choose the things I like about people and not have to take the whole person
  • It is odd that the heart is one of the organs that does repair itself

I loved the eccentric, charming and dangerous and alarming details I learned about their love, like how Zelda consulted a Ouija board, and how she blamed Scott for her mental illness but firmly believed he could cure her.

We read Scott’s letters with a painstaking clarity, as we knew of the end he didn’t see coming. It was heartbreaking, really.

I decided the goal is to  write the last chapter of my next book in the Nassau Inn, to truly channel the passion and vibrancy and tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I found some places I’d like to visit in France, places Fitzgerald went to and found some kind of inspiration, whether for writing or living large.

We wandered around campus for a while longer, sneaking into classrooms, disrupting tour groups, and feeling – even if for just a little while – that grand things were still possible for us.

We ventured into the cathedral on campus and a Starbucks and a book store to beat the heat.

We traveled to Asbury Park for some live music and great company. It was a great day, the kind summers are made of. I intend to have more like them.

I was inspired to write the following short story. Enjoy!

FOUNTAINS
by Mandi Bean

Carlos knew that the equator separated the globe into northern and southern hemispheres, and Carlos also knew that the farther south a person traveled, the hotter the weather became. However, Carlos could testify to the fact, and possibly even prove, that the farther west a person traveled, the same phenomenon occurred. He had lived on the eastern shore of New Jersey his entire life and could say without hesitation, could say with near absolute certainty, that the middle of the state was a burning, boiling wasteland in July – the most uncomfortable Summer month to begin with – and that it served no real purpose. Carlos had traveled west at the request of his fashionable, trendy girlfriend and now regretted it something fierce.

They were traipsing about the campus of Princeton University so that his girlfriend could admire the rich history and breathtaking architecture and blah, blah, blah. It was ninety-three degrees and Carlos was miserable. He felt damp and disgusting in places he didn’t even know could sweat. Still, he took it all in stride, trying to keep his girlfriend happy and blissfully unaware of his discomfort. He said nothing as they walked innumerable staircases to gawk at old buildings and open fields that meant something to someone somewhere, sure, but that person was not Carlos. His mood dangled precariously between “thoughtfully quiet” and “crankily homicidal,” and he offered his girlfriend only interested smiles as she prattled on and on about tradition and excellence and whatever.

Carlos only perked up as they neared the center of the sprawling campus. There was a pool, six inches deep at the most, with a fountain at its center, an impressive, enigmatic modern sort of structure spouting water. Carlos took his girlfriend’s hand and rushed towards it, the way someone might rush towards a miraculous pool while stranded in a desert. But this pool and fountain was no mirage; children splashed here and there, supervised by patient adults who smiled and nodded with a calculated, weary sort of encouragement. Carlos reached the pool’s edge, where wide, flat stone steps led down to the water. He was smiling wide, with a youthful exuberance, and he turned to his girlfriend. “I’m going in,” he stated and sat down to remove his shoes and socks.

His girlfriend offered a sweet smile, totally enchanted by Carlos’ juvenile need to cool and comfortable, by his childish ambitions. He was a beautiful young man with dark features that made him appear to be super intellectual, but in reality, he was nothing of the sort. But his girlfriend, equally as beautiful, was not disturbed by Carlos’ lack of desire for education and all things brainy. It kept her in check, kept a balance in the relationship. “Go right ahead,” she smiled. “I’ll wait here.”

Carlos paused and looked up at her. “You’re not coming in? This heat is brutal.”

She shook her head and seated herself beside Carlos. “It’s hot, but I’m okay. You go in, though. I can’t tell you’re dying to.” She leaned against him for a moment to kiss his cheek. That was all the permission Carlos needed, and he took off, splashing with reckless abandon to reach the fountain at the center. That spewing, falling water was the most efficient way to get cool. He passed the laughing, shrieking children and paused at the base of the fountain. The water fell on him in the most refreshing way and he was content to simply exist, it simply be in a world where water was free to fall where it may. What a time to be alive, what with fountains and pools to keep the intense summer heat at bay. He closed his eyes and attempted to wash away the sweat and sourness of the July sun.

After a few moments, he opened his eyes and leveled his gaze. He was surprised to find another adult, another wanderer about campus, engaging in the same activity. She was gorgeous, and Carlos also noted the way the woman had been equally as daring, had strode in the same way Carlos had, not caring for the onlookers or any kind of judgments. There was only the oppressive heat, and the refreshing relief of the water, roaring down from the fountain and tinkling as it reached the pool surface. They both appreciated the opportunity, had seized it, and now stood breathless, together in their choices and ideology, but separate in their strangeness to the other.

Carlos breathed a simple “hey.”

The woman nodded, and kicked water up at Carlos. That was her greeting; that was it. Aside from the playful smile, she had offered nothing, not even her name. But Carlos was game. He returned the splash. In a matter of moments, Carlos and the woman were doing their best to drown each other. Their raucous laughter and innocent challenges drowned out that of the children and even the most dutiful of supervising parent stole a glance at the two grown adults making complete asses of themselves in the fountain on the campus of Princeton University.

But, as do all things in life, the splashing lost its appeal and became old and tired. Carlos looked back to his girlfriend and found her reading (there was always a book in her over sized bag). He waved goodbye to the gorgeous, wild and free woman he had spent the last ten minutes with. Without really thinking about it, Carlos returned to the studious, safe and responsible woman waiting for him out of the water. He supposed that was the way it was supposed to be, that for every soul willing to get lost at sea, there had to be another anxiously waiting on shore.

As he came nearer, dripping wet and breathless and smiling, Carlos’ girlfriend looked up and barked a laugh. “Am I glad you drove,” she teased, “because you would never ever get into my car like that.”

Carlos bent to swiftly kiss her before she could protest or squirm away.

fountains

 

On being random, dismantling and finally updating.

Published June 27, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s been over two months since the last time I posted, and there’s nothing I want more than to tell you I’ve been doing wonderfully interesting things, that I’ve been really and truly living. But that would be a hyperbole. I’ve been alive, yes, and I’ve done some fun things, yes, but nothing that should keep me from writing.

So let’s catch up, shall we?

I haven’t lost any weight, but I have gained some. I haven’t really been trying, as I’ve felt mostly unmotivated and uninspired lately. Is this summertime sadness? Is this some looming emotional, existential crisis that has finally landed? Am I just melodramatic? Rather than answer these questions, I usually eat a bag of potato chips (the ones that say “Family Size”) and fall asleep on my couch.

I think I’ve identified one behavior that needs to change.

I wish I had a camera that could take quality pictures of the moon and do its beauty justice.

“A heart that hurts is heart that works.”

I don’t fantasize about sex. I fantasize about intimacy; how sad is that?

I think a duck must have a perfect life. They just float on, no matter if the water is calm or choppy. They can take off and fly whenever they want. If the only dunk their heads in the water, they have food. It’s simple and free, and I am envious.

I am done romanticizing broken men, as if loving them adds something noble to my character.

“I don’t hold grudges. I believe that’s the shit that leads to cancer.”

The school year ended on a high note. The senior events I was charged with helping to plan (Mr. Manchester, Senior Prom, graduation) all went off without a hitch. I am proud of the work I’ve done.

“Nothing is ever over.”

I really need to use my upstairs more. I don’t have central air though, so during the summer, the temperature is almost unbearable up there. So I’m in pretentiously self-proclaimed “office,” but it’s dark in here. It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

“I know what I want, and I don’t mind being alone.”

It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

This is what a successful adult looks like, no?

The literary agent who requested the first fifty pages rejected me, but my original publisher is still thinking about it. What’s that saying, when God closes a door, He opens a window? I’m feeling ambivalent to everything, mostly because I’m sunburned and it hurts so I’m cranky.

I like collecting little, seemingly unimportant details of the people in my life to better craft my characters.

When school was in session, I realized that the worst thing about leaving my house each weekday morning wasn’t having to bid adieu to my comfortable bed and its cozy covers, but that I miss the early sunlight streaming through the windows and lighting the wooden floors. It’s beautiful, and I was sad I could never just sit and admire it. But now I can. I think that’s how life is supposed to work.

I do this thing sometimes where I just sit in my car. I might leave the engine running, or I might shut it off, but either way, I sit in the driver’s seat, scrolling through the social media garbage on my phone or playing Tetris. It’s wasting time, one of the most precious gifts, and I hate it. I don’t know why I do it. Is it exhaustion? Is it moodiness? I abhor how lazy I am. I had an idea for a scene for my third novel, but the details have faded. I remember it had something to do with a modest, upstairs library and someone watching on anxiously as someone else carefully surveyed the titles. I wanted to throw in visiting a favorite author’s grave, but there was definitely more to it, like dancing or something? I need to write things down more often … obviously.

“Wanting it doesn’t make you the monster, taking it does.”

Some days, I just waste the hours until I can go back to sleep.

“You can fail at what you don’t want to do, so you might as well do what you love.”

I’ve been in a miserable sort of funk, so I’m endeavoring to change my life. My friend thinks I need to be comfortable alone before I can be comfortable with someone. She recommended hiking, picnicking, wine on the beach, seeing movies, and getting coffee. I also think I should leave the state. I’ve been dying to go to Key West in Florida. This summer, I’ve decided to dismantle myself from the inside out, rebuilding to be more carefree, more creative, more in love with myself and less dependent on others. Some days, I have to talk myself into getting out of the shower, and even then, I change into pajamas.

But I’m trying to be positive, I swear. I’ve begun keeping a running list of things that make me happy to be alive (in no particular order).

  • fireworks on a summer night
  • driving my Jeep without its roof and doors
  • sunburn (as long as it turns tan)
  • books (even the shitty ones because they’re non-examples for my career)
  • clean sheets
  • hot showers
  • food, glorious food!
  • running and being sweaty after a run because it helps me to love my body
  • good movies
  • laughing
  • the national pride fearlessly displayed by soccer fans

“The effect you have on others is the greatest currency you’ll ever have.”

I recently lost a banana for 24 hours.

“I’m ripe with things to say. The words rot and fall away.”

So, here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m working on. You should hit “play” on the video that follows now, so you can have a soundtrack. Ironically, the song playing is not the one I quote in the paragraph that follows. I wish I knew why I do the things that I do.

“The thing about things is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said, and if he couldn’t make something mean something for me, I had to make up what it meant.”
– Amanda Palmer

Kelly dropped the box filled with odds and ends concerning the kitchen with an exaggerated, dramatic sigh of relief. The box landed on Charlotte’s tiny, cheaply and poorly made kitchen table, a piece of furniture she had salvaged from her grandmother’s home, a piece that had likely been in the home for forty years – a horrible blend of Formica and putrid pastels. For a moment, Charlotte had been hopeful the weight of the box would crush the table and put the ugly thing out of its misery, but she had no such luck. She watched Kelly similarly drop herself into a chair, sweaty and tired from a day spent moving, a day of manual labor. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she whined.

Charlotte offered a grin of commiseration. “I know, me neither.” She moved a few steps closer, resting against the back of a chair.

“Then let’s call it quits and do something better.”

“Like what? As you can tell, I haven’t got much of anything.”

Kelly thought for a moment. “You got playing cards?”

“I think so,” Charlotte said. She knew damn well that she did, but she was playing it cool for no other reason than it was a habit turned instinct. It was irrational – there was no way Kelly would give a shit about how those cards came to be in Charlotte’s possession, or how seeing those cards made Charlotte’s dumb heart skip a beat even now, even though she was nearly 1,000 miles away.

Kelly’s face of thoughtful concentration broke into a youthful smile of excitement. “Well, shoot – I’ve got beer and some of them crisps. How’s ’bout you and me play us a few rounds of cards?”

“Sure,” Charlotte smiled. Kelly scurried back to her neighboring apartment to scrounge up some beer and some snacks, and Charlotte headed to her bedroom. At the foot of her bed, upon the creaky floor, sat a box labeled, “PERSONAL.” It had been the only box Charlotte had personally moved, had tucked discreetly in her car and carried hurriedly across the threshold of her new apartment, lest anyone should see and ask about the contents, most of which meant absolutely nothing to anyone except Charlotte (hence the label). It wasn’t filled with lingerie or vibrators or dirty pictures or anything like that. The contents only embarrassed Charlotte because of their innocence, because only a prude would cling to a random assortment of objects that reminded her of people who had long since removed themselves from her life, or had been removed for any number of offenses. The items in the box would mean nothing to a passerby and that embarrassed Charlotte, like there was something shameful and almost juvenile about being anything but obvious.

She squatted somewhat uncomfortably to delicately open the box, lovingly unfold the flaps so that she had complete access to some of her memories, so that the majority of the contents were visible. Charlotte only needed to scan the contents for a few seconds before she found the deck of cards, quaintly contained in cardboard, beaten up from a few years of handling. A smile splayed itself unabashedly upon her lips as she reached into the box the same way a heart surgeon would reach into her patient’s chest cavity. With the same kind of epic patience, she removed the playing cards from the box and began walking back to the kitchen. The youthful, exuberant smile quickly became nostalgic and sad.

The playing cards were white with silver, loopy hearts decorating their backs. The hearts were cute, sure, but there was nothing remarkable about their appearance. They were a treasured item for Charlotte only because of the way the cards came to be in her possession. A few years ago, Charlotte had fallen in love with a beautiful, brilliant, and broken man. As a result, she had developed a constant need to be around him, to be close to him, and so, she invited him everywhere.

One night, she invited him back to her hotel room after a work conference. She and her colleagues had all been drinking for quite some time, right up until the lights came up for last call. The beautiful, broken man had joined them at the bar, at Charlotte’s request, of course. Charlotte had always envied the sort of effortless grace that surrounded him, the way he could suddenly appear anywhere at anytime and be welcomed and accepted. When he strolled into the bar without fanfare or pomp and circumstance, without having attended any of the conference because of a prior commitment, Charlotte was breathless with awe. It was like something of a horribly cheesy and romantic movie made for network television; he could have been walking in slow motion beneath a burning spotlight towards a strategically placed wind machine. The fact that he was walking towards Charlotte smiling was wonderful and she was so happy she could burst apart. She never ever wanted her time with him to end, and her colleagues and friends didn’t want to stop drinking, so a select few decided to buy some beer and return to Charlotte’s room. She turned to her beautiful, broken man and invited him. He played it cool – he was always so goddamn cool – and didn’t really answer one way of the other. Even when they were walking back to the hotel, just across the street, he wouldn’t accept or outright reject the invitation. When he climbed into his car, a lump formed in Charlotte’s throat. She would let him go and hide her disappointment, try and play it cool, so her parting words asked that if he did come, to bring playing cards. He waved somewhat dismissively and drove away. The copious amounts of alcohol she had consumed kept Charlotte’s mood from dipping too low and she scampered back to the hotel among friends, arm in arm, with high spirits.

He sent her a text later saying he couldn’t find playing cards and was just going home. Charlotte sighed heavily and thought her best recourse was to just keep drinking.

About twenty minutes later, there was a booming knock at the hotel room door. It sounded particularly authoritative and Charlotte was worried it was the cops. Were they being too loud? Her one friend raced to the bathroom to hide while the other pressed herself further into the bed, as if the mattress could swallow her whole and conceal her. They had left Charlotte to answer the door and so she did, despite feeling suddenly and incredibly nauseous. She opened it and saw no one. No one was there.

She whipped her head to the right and gazed down an empty hallway.

Looking to the left revealed her beautiful, broken man. He was leaning against the hallway wall like some leading man from Hollywood. His arm was bent at the elbow so he had one hand behind his head and rested his weight against the wall through the point of that bent elbow. His right leg was crossed behind the left one and the toes were pointed down at the plush carpet. In his other hand, he twirled a pack of playing cards. He was smiling, quite pleased with himself and the effect it all had on Charlotte. There was certainly something gorgeous about him, something more than his appearance. His demeanor drove her wild – she would never able to pull off such an entrance, but he had.

And it had been for her. What more could a girl possibly ask for?

But nothing had come of it. He was with some woman with a checkered past and too much makeup. Charlotte’s grandma was worsening, and so she had left it all, run away. But she kept the playing cards to remind herself that for one night, she had gotten exactly what she had wanted, that she had been perfectly happy. The cards symbolized possibility – if it happened once, couldn’t it happen again?

 

On the persistence of the Universe

Published April 3, 2016 by mandileighbean

badbeauty

Some situations in life are unavoidably awkward. Indeed, some moments are socially awkward by definition. For women, I believe this includes any and all visits to beauty salons. Just the other day, I had an appointment for a manicure and pedicure and right off the bat, I was uncomfortable. There’s something inherently unsettling about the setup, about the implied hierarchy. Who am I to show up and demand some other woman (more often than not) try and make me beautiful or more appealing? I’m much too lazy and impatient to paint my own nails so I’m willing to pay someone else to do it, so I’m not passing any sort of judgement. I’m just saying it’s a little weird; feels a little medieval in our modern, wildly progressive world. No? Am I thinking too much about it?

Anyway, I immediately apologized to the manicurist for my gnarly feet. While it is true that my feet resemble men’s feet from the prehistoric era (think “Flintstones”), I’m not actually sorry about it. I’m totally okay with my feet, but I apologized and made a joke about my physical appearance because it’s my comfort zone. Self-deprecating humor helps me to break the ice, chip away at some of the awkwardness of having a stranger rub your gross feet, and lets the other person know I’m not some high-maintenance chick; I’m a commoner, one of the people, I swear! I’m just too lazy to maintain a beauty regimen is all.

For dealing with a self-righteous, pseudo-intellectual, the manicurist couldn’t have been nicer and she did a wonderful job. I love my nails and my toes; perfect shade, elegantly done. I have no complaints and will absolutely go back without hesitation (shout out to Lee Nails in Bayville). You would think such a positive experience would ease my social anxiety about going to beauty salons, but you would be wrong. My neuroses know no bounds, apparently. Upon getting my nails done, I called a hair salon I was familiar with (I’d only been there once, to be fair, and it was months ago) to schedule an appointment to retouch my highlights in an effort to transition to becoming a blonde (which is something else I’m stupidly struggling with, but I’ll save that for another hilarious, highly entertaining, self-indulgent post; I know those are your favorite). I was excited, eager for the appointment, but the receptionist on the other end couldn’t have cared less. Her responses were short and repetitive, like she was offended by making this appointment, as if it were a personal insult or something. I persevered though (because I’m a masochist?) and she asked which stylist I’d prefer. When I mentioned the woman who styled my hair the last time, when I asked if that person was available, the receptionist only tersely replied, “No.” I guess some uncomfortable, tense situation had gone down and everyone was still feeling a type of way about it, but how was I supposed to know? I felt guilty and quickly replied that it was fine, that anyone would do, but the receptionist kept telling me they had nothing opened, that they were straight booked … but offered me three different appointment slots. I picked an outrageously early time on Sunday and hung up. I had a bad feeling and based on my last blog post, I wondered if maybe it wasn’t some kind of sign from the universe, telling me to abort, to abandon ship. So when my mom kindly cut my hair later that day, I called another salon and made another appointment.

From the get go, I felt much better about the whole thing. The woman unknowingly eased all of my social anxiety simply by being nice. She said she was excited I was coming in and offered me all sorts of time slots and asked questions about what I wanted done. Even if such personal interest was inauthentic and all in the name of consumerism, at least it was there. I mean, it worked and I made the appointment.

When I showed up, I was a little uneasy. Obvious and aforementioned social anxieties aside, I always feel like a fraud walking into salons. I always think of that scene from “Pretty Woman” where prostitute Julia Roberts walks into that high-end clothing store and gets treated horribly. And to think she was beautiful! I’ve had bad acne lately, have gained weight and have just been really down on myself lately about my physical appearance (hence all the salon appointments) and I suddenly didn’t want to go. I forced myself inside though, and was immediately charmed. What ambiance! And the friendly receptionist from over the phone was behind the desk and just as friendly as ever. She offered me coffee and water, and the water I requested came in a trendy, fashionable mason jar with an adorable paper straw, decorated with illustrations of branches from dogwoods. I was charmed and felt better … until I had to sit and allowed myself to get trapped inside my own head.

Though my appointment was at 11:30, I didn’t get into a chair until around noon, which I’m not even mad about. I understand that sometimes styling takes longer than anticipated, and I don’t understand complaining about having to be patient in salons when it’s all luxury, a luxury to have time and money to spend on something as superficial and fleeting as appearance. I’m not judging; here I am on a personal appearance improvement tour. I’m just saying I wasn’t annoyed and that would never be something to annoy me. I know that’s just me, so I’ll move on.

What did annoy me was that when my stylist went to pull my hair back from my face, she poked me in the eye. She didn’t apologize, and we both acted like it didn’t happen even though my left eye was fluttering and watering. Both her and I kept right on talking like my one eye wasn’t shut and like I wasn’t in obvious discomfort. In her defense, she probably didn’t know she had done it. I could have said something, but I didn’t, and so I was still incredibly awkward and anxious, and now I was in pain (that’s dramatic, I know). Suddenly, the whole experience seemed like a punishment for my vanity, for my sudden focus on not only my appearance but on myself. I thought, this is where being selfish gets you, with a poke in the eye. All my earlier misgivings seemed to be confirmed and I was on the verge of misery. It didn’t help that my stylist resembled an antagonist from one of those “Hostel” movies, all decked out in a black apron with black latex gloves. I gulped; would she be coming for my eye again?

But then I actually started talking to my stylist. Her name is Dana and she’s from Asbury Park. Not only is she a remarkably talented stylist, she is also full of sage advice. As we spoke, I began to consider the possibility that maybe her poking my eye was a symbolic gesture of how my mind’s eye needed to be poked. The conversation we had was one of the most eye-opening (are you sensing a theme yet?), self-affirming conversations I’ve ever had. We skipped over the small talk, the shallow pleasantries, and went right for the intellectual and philosophical concerns of life. She flat out asked me about my stance on the whole “nature versus nurture” debate. She believed it was nurture all the way, that humans are irrevocably shaped by experience and that explains everything. I agreed to a point, but also revealed that I believe it’s more nature that determines who we are as human beings. I offered up the example of my twin sister and me. Both came from the same nurturing environment and have arrived at completely different results. Dana countered, explaining that my twin sister had life experiences without me that shaped her and molded her differently, encouraging me to be empathetic, sympathetic and open-minded. I’ve refused to do so as of late when it comes to my sister. Rage is simple; it’s so much easier to be angry and infantile, but is it fair? Is it right? Why should the focus switch to me the second time around? Shouldn’t I still be concerned with Sammy’s well-being and recovery? Isn’t there a happy medium, some sort of balance between caring for my other half and myself?

During this discussion, a charity for recovering addicts came into the salon, handing out flyers and asking for donations. Dana asked for a flyer and donated a dollar. I was touched. Rather than ignore and dismiss these men who intruded upon her place of business, she was encouraging and kind. She never dismissed anyone. She was so kind, a truly remarkable woman. And she was so humble, paying as many compliments as she received and then some. This woman restored my faith in humanity in the most unlikely of places.

As our conversation continued (I was in the chair for like three hours; I have a lot of hair), I learned that she also has aspirations to be writer, that she has plans for a memoir and a children’s book. I told her all about my struggles and successes, and we discussed talent and how we both believe that if someone – anyone – is blessed with talent, that it becomes necessary to pay it forward, to use whatever blessings (specifically monetary) come from that gift to better the world. A lot of big ideas fell into place and connected with one another as she spoke so that I began to understand and believe that I was given this writing talent – or ability, depending on how you feel about my writing – for a reason, and that because I am not distracted by a love interest or a family, now is the time for me to hone my talent, to focus on becoming published and getting my work out there. What a positive outlook, to give my loneliness a purpose, a reason, a meaning. She confided with me she’d been with her boyfriend for seven years and while she’s in love and it’s all wonderful, it is still limiting. She can’t just do whatever whenever because she has someone else to consider, from the small sacrifices (like eating at Chipotle because she’s gluten free when they’d rather eat elsewhere) to the major ones (time, money, energy, etc.). I’m not a lonely loser unless I choose to be; this time alone is an opportunity to fulfill a destiny and should not be wasted wallowing in some self-created despair.

Dana told me I was an amazing person, and told me she could figure that out after only an hour of conversation.

At one point, she said, “You can’t control your heart, but you can – and you have to – control your mind.” She encouraged me to choose to be happy. What else can we do?

Needless to say, it was the best experience I’ve ever had at a hair salon. Ever. My sincerest gratitude to Dana at Shear Glamour.

newhairnewme

 

On the struggle with technology.

Published March 5, 2016 by mandileighbean

I absolutely loathe my dependence on technology.

I know this may seem like quite the hypocritical statement as I am using my computer and the internet and social media to update my narcissistic, self-indulgent blog, but hear me out. I want to be a writer, so in this digital age of selfies and tweets and whatnot, I’m going to have to adapt and get on board or die (metaphorically speaking, of course). If people take to Google and social media for book recommendations, I have to be on Google and social media. It’s a concession I can live with to help build my writing career. It’s almost unavoidable.

So let me rephrase my earlier statement: I absolutely loathe my dependence on technology in my personal life.

My phone is nearly always in my hand. If I’m not texting (but hardly anyone ever messages me because I physically interact with those who matter most, which is certainly a good thing) or checking e-mail (does anything important ever really come via email?), then I’m using Safari to check Facebook (I deleted the app to make a statement, but I found a way to be on the social media site constantly anyway). I’m scrolling and scrolling and scrolling on Instagram and Twitter, looking for likes, re-tweets, mentions, whatever. When there’s nothing satisfying there, I play Bubble Mania, Candy Crush or Tetris. I’m always looking down, disengaged and only pretending to listen to the authentic life happening all around me because I’m obsessed with this piece of technology and all the artificiality that goes along with it.

It’s my greatest weakness, and what I dislike about myself the most.

In my opinion (so please only take it for whatever it may be worth), social media only reinforces the crippling need for outside validation that seems to plague the human race. I recently traveled to Philadelphia to see David Cook in concert with my sister, and I took pictures. That in itself would be harmless if the intention had been true, if I had honestly taken pictures to create memories. However, creating and saving and storing memories was only part of my motivation. I wanted to take those pictures so I could upload them to Instagram and Facebook so I could count the likes and comments so I could feel cool and hip and modern, so I could feel like I belonged at the metaphorical watering hole of this super progressive, hyper intellectual, digital age. How stupid. How vain. Why do I need everyone to know where I am and what I am doing at all times? Why do I think everyone wants to know where I am and what I am doing at all times? If I put everything out there all the time, there’s no mystery left. I’m essentially robbing people the opportunity of getting to know me because I’ve created this false persona using technology and social media which could easily satisfy anyone even remotely curious. I’ve created an alternate version of myself for the masses and have rendered myself lonelier than ever. What kind of masochistic nonsense is that?

A wonderful colleague recently told me she’d read a few of my blog entries. She complimented me on my writing (yay!), but said I broke her heart (oh no!). She told me I was too hard on myself, and I know this to be true. Self-deprecation is usually the only humor I can handle, and I am constantly screaming at myself for all of the awkward, dumb, harmful, and lazy behaviors I engage in on a daily basis. Reaching for my phone and idling instead of reaching for a book to expand my mind fulfills all of those categories. It’s awkward to sit in a room – any room at anytime, anywhere – full of wonderfully interesting humans and ignore all of them to go on a phone. It’s dumb to not expand one’s mind and perception through reading, writing or conversation and instead retreat to multicolored candies that need crushing. It’s harmful because it perpetuates the idea that self-love is indulgent and ugly, and that worth is truly determined by society and the media and this new social media. We are all forced to become our own PR people and it’s weird and gross, and I dislike it more and more the more I think about it. It’s lazy because all I need is my thumb and a pair of glazed-over eyes.

Now, I’m not saying I’ll go completely off the grid by any means. Family and friends and loved ones can be scattered from one end of the globe to the other, so it is important to stay connected. I love that my aunt in Pennsylvania likes the memes I share about weight loss, and I love that she likes the sexy pictures of Elvis I find and post from time to time. I love that my cousins in Alabama can be brought up to speed with my life by a few pictures here and there, and vice versa. My coworker is going to the Big Apple today to see “The Crucible” on Broadway, and I’m looking forward to pictures and her review. My cousin is currently overseas serving his country, so we need the social media to keep in touch, to share messages of love and support. These are harmless human connections that are beautiful and wonderful.

But it’s all about moderation, right? It’s all about keeping our minds right and prioritizing.

The best part about the David Cook concert was not the blurry pictures I posted on Instagram a few hours later. It was spending time with my sister. It was shouting out the word “bipartisan” when David was struggling to find it, him thanking me for doing so, and my sister rolling her eyes because I’m “such an English teacher.” What a beautiful moment to feel validated about my passion and career. I did all of that without my phone. When my former phone was destroyed last month and I was without a phone for a few days, I survived. The world did not end. I was okay.

I did lose thousands of pictures, though. That was my own fault because I never backed them up using my computer. I assumed those treasured images would always be on that phone, because I tricked myself into believing technology is infallible and perfect and the answer to every question I ever had. That is simply not true, and I just feel that if I remind myself of that, I’ll regain faith in nature and people and all that surrounds me.

I fell in love with a great friend, but he didn’t feel the same way, and the friendship has since changed and is beginning to fade. Some of the pictures I lost were of the absolute greatest day we ever spent together. This makes me sad for many valid reasons. However, I was inspired to write this post (but really, it’s become a rant, hasn’t it? My bad) because in mourning the loss of the digital images that I never printed (what a metaphor for the relationship, huh? I’ll save that for my next novel), I realized that I felt I needed the pictures because I didn’t trust myself, didn’t trust my own memories and feelings. Those pictures became a kind of talisman that helped me pretend the friendship wasn’t fading, that I was right about everything, so look, look everyone! Look how we’re smiling with our arms around each other! I’m not crazy! There was something there, and I can prove it!

Why should I have to? I don’t have to, and that’s my point. I want to reduce my dependence on technology and social media in my personal life because I need to love myself and my life in reality. I don’t need the approval of others, and I don’t need to know everything about everyone because then what will our conversations be made of? What will I discover in intimate moments?

When I’m at the dentist’s office, or waiting for friends at a bar, I’ll pull out my journal or a book, but never my phone. That’s a new resolution. That’s a promise to myself.

I’ll post to promote my writing and my writing career, but not to start some drama or for attention or to start a pity party. That’s a new resolution. That’s a promise to myself.

And now, I’ll post those pictures of me and my sister and David Cook, since I invited you in.

Enjoy the weekend. xoxo

 

 

On battling bullshit.

Published December 31, 2015 by mandileighbean

newyearnewme

It’s the end of another year. We’re all preparing for the onslaught of “new year, new you” messages and postings, and I know the majority think such verbiage is cliched bullshit. I was such a believer until I sat down to draft this blog post.

The endings and beginnings of life often prompt us to be introspective, and as a writer, I’m hopelessly narcissistic, so at this time of year, I do nothing but think about myself, talk about myself, and write about myself. I think we’re all allowed some selfish moments if they are to truly be reflective and endeavor us to be greater.

There are lots of things I hate about myself. One of the more depressing aspects of society is that we all can do this, and that we all have done it, and that we all will most likely continue to do it, and that is list our failings. My favorite kind of humor is of the self-deprecating kind, and my favorite kind of gathering is a pity party. I’m not revealing these less than appealing parts of myself to elicit sympathy or to begin to construct a false kind of humility to make my self seem more creatively eccentric. Hand to God, I’m just trying to let you know that I get it, that I understand, and that I’ve been there too. There are days where I absolutely and unequivocally hate myself.

But there are also days where I’m not so bad. There are days where I am downright awesome and a sheer pleasure to be around. In 2016, I am going to acknowledge more of those days. And in that same state of mind, I’d like to share my favorite thing about myself. What makes Mandi Bean worth anything is my childlike optimism. I could list all the disappointments of the past year, but I could also list all the times I’ve been pleasantly surprised, when I’ve fallen in love – yet again – with this spinning globe, with humanity, and with the endless opportunities for romance and adventure this crazy, miraculous life offers. As such, I am totally buying into the “new year, new me” bullshit. I will be a newer, happier, and healthier version of myself in 2016. Those who roll their eyes in derision and/or disbelief are free to do so; that’s their right. But as for me, with a smile and a deep breath and a pleasantly unfamiliar sense of determination, here is how I am going to make 2016 my banner year:

  1. I will, as mentioned previously, focus on the positives. Every day, I will find something to be grateful for and I will put it in writing, so I can’t lie to myself later.
  2. I aim to lose 60 pounds by December 31, 2016. I’m the maid of honor for my friend’s wedding, so there’s extrinsic motivation, but more importantly, I want to be beautiful. I want my outside to match my inside, and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve got going on in there.
  3. I am going to be a writer. I’ll update this blog faithfully, market my published work, work harder to get my second manuscript published, and seriously work on a third.

Three promises to myself. I can do this. I will do this. I will forgive myself when I stumble along the way, and I will encourage others endeavoring to become the best version of themselves.

Here’s to a happy, healthy New Year.

xoxo

newyear2016

On changing.

Published July 9, 2015 by mandileighbean

“If you really wanted to mess me up, you should have gotten to me sooner.”

“She doesn’t even take it out on people when she’s having a bad day; that’s character.”

I have an appointment on Friday to have my hair cut and colored. It’s going to be a dramatic change, but I feel like that is what the summer is for. I also plan on getting my first – maybe my only – tattoo before returning to school.

My friend Christine and I traveled to used bookstores in Manasquan and Belmar. The one in Belmar featured a truly amazing woman working the register. Christine mentioned that I was a writer and the woman asked some follow-up questions. She told me about Belmar’s BookCon and asked me to e-mail her. It’d be one hell of an opportunity to network and market myself. The only issue is that she wants current releases, but my first novel came out three years ago, and my second has yet to find a home. I sent her an e-mail anyway, because if I’ve learned anything it’s that you always have to try. She said she’d let me know and I want to be optimistic, but I also want to have realistic expectations – boy, that would be a first.

I spent the holiday weekend with family in Pennsylvania. It was incredibly relaxing to disconnect from reality. The first day, Dad and I went into the tiny, one stoplight town for some bags of ice. We ended up purchasing delicious soft serve ice cream. We sat together and the back of the flatbed, watching some locals play softball. The weather was gorgeous and it was a perfect snapshot of small town life. Dad said he’d only ever ate ice cream in the bed of a truck with one other girl and it wasn’t even Mom. It was quite the moment until Dad made me feel like we were dating.

The parade was rained out, but I was still able to see fireworks between the trees and above the mountains surrounding my aunt’s farm. I couldn’t remember the last time I sat and watched fireworks. I loved hearing the soft, faded pops in the distance.

Weekly Writing Prompt #24: “An army private learns that he has to go back for a second tour.”

truckbeach

Cory had parked his battered pickup truck in an utterly deserted parking lot along the shore. He was surprised by how empty it was. It wasn’t too late, barely even dusk. The sky was a wonderful shade of orange and everyone was missing it. Cory had made a resolution to not miss anything upon returning home two years ago from a year’s deployment in Iraq. He’d walked off his job at a store selling auto parts in a dying town. He’d driven across the country with his best friend, sleeping on rooftops and somehow living those cliched adventures Hollywood constantly chronicles, and returned home smiling. He’d visited with family members he hadn’t seen in years and years, but had been kind and thoughtful enough to keep in touch while he served overseas. It had been a pleasant 730 days back on American soil, but Cory was restless. He was plagued with a persistent urge to move, to never be settled. Cory knew he could rest when he was dead, and so he would, but only then.

And that was why Cory had been relieved when he learned that he was going to Afghanistan for a second tour. He sat in his truck with the windows rolled down, listening to the waves crash against the shore. It was a soothing sound and it was constant. Cory reasoned it might be soothing because it was constant; very few things in life were that way. He was reflecting upon his reaction, trying to rationalize it, understand it as an outsider might try to understand it, as someone who had never served and could never possibly understand might try. Cory drained the can of cheap beer he’d been drinking. All this thinking, this extraneous use of one of the most important organs in his body, required hydration. He needed to stay hydrated because he needed to keep thinking, needed to figure out a way to explain this to her mother without her falling to the kitchen floor in convulsing sobs. Suddenly frustrated, Cory chucked the can out of the open window, then slammed his palms against the steering wheel, flattening them. He exhaled deeply.

Cory supposed he was fortunate there was only one woman in his life he had to consider, had to disappoint and devastate. He was too young to be married, too young for a lot of things, but not too young to die apparently. Cory didn’t believe that, but he was anticipating his mother’s arguments. His dad might have understood, could have possibly been an ally, but he had left some time ago, had walked out a long time ago. It wasn’t something Cory thought about much, so he was surprised he was thinking of that now. His mood shifted from frustrated to simply exhausted. Cory ran his cracked hands along his haggard face and kept breathing.

He cracked open another beer. The constant waves that Cory had found soothing so recently now irritated and annoyed him. He turned the key back in the ignition and switched on the radio to some mind-numbing soft rock station. He left it playing low as a background noise, as a distraction. He didn’t want to get stuck inside his own head, but he guessed he should have thought about that before he isolated himself in his old pickup truck that was so old the engine was embarrassingly loud. People could hear him coming from miles away. But then again, that made sense because Cory had never been talented at deception, had never been good at hiding things. When his commander told him he was going to be redeployed, he barely hid the smile on his face, could hardly contain his excitement. Cory was ready to go, ready to return. Cory knew that sounded strange, utterly inconceivable, but he had people over there, he left people over there.

The truth of the matter was that Cory had two families he would kill for, and be killed for. Both were small and close knit. They were equal that way, but the one at home was safe and would be okay. The other one, the one overseas, needed him. It was simple for Cory – they needed him and so he would go. Sure he was scared; hell, he was terrified, would be crazy not to be. But he wanted to go back. At home, he felt useless. There was a definite lack of adrenaline in his day to day routine, and he realized that being a soldier on active duty during wartime was like an addiction. Politicians vying for election would pontificate about the nobility and patriotism of sacrificing all for one’s country, and that was all well and good – Cory did not disagree – but war was bad. Horrible and horrendous things happened, but he would go back. He was returning without hesitation. He wouldn’t say it was because of something noble like patriotic duty, but he would argue that it was more than that. It was partly the addiction to adrenaline, partly the strong desire to stop feeling restless, and partly something else, something Cory was unable to explain.

Other soldiers would get it. Other soldiers would definitely get it. He remembered one mission, a snatch and grab gone awry, where a wounded soldier being transported on a gurney, most likely fatally wounded, had sat up and returned fire upon the enemy. Cory thought that was so cool, that a dying man’s last moments were spent doing his utmost to protect his brothers in arms. Cory wanted to be like that.

Things were bad over there. Enemy combatants were using American equipment to kill American soldiers. Now Cory didn’t have much of a mind for politics, would never willingly enter into a debate, and while some found that ironic or disappointing or whatever, Cory knew it wasn’t about that, about the politicians back home. It wasn’t about anyone back home, really, no matter what Hollywood or CNN tried to sell the American people. Soldiers kept fighting because of the guys to their left and because of the guys to their right. Brotherhood and loyalty called him back.

He thought about his buddy, John. They had just come back in from patrol. They all assumed they were safe, back on base. The atmosphere was relaxed and the squadron had gathered at a picnic table. John had just finished telling some hilarious and wildly exaggerated story from boot camp. He was drinking soda from one of those classic glass bottles, so with laughter surrounding him, John raised the bottle to wet his whistle so he could continue entertaining. That was John’s thing – never serious, always on. It eased the tension and though they claimed it was obnoxious and knew it was just John’s defense mechanism for the anomaly that was life as a soldier, his buddies greatly appreciated it. So they all watched John drink from that bottle with admiration gleaming in their eyes.

So they all saw the sniper’s bullet enter the bottom of the bottle. The glass shattered into thousands of shards, exploded. They flinched, some faces were cut, but they didn’t exactly look away, so they saw the bullet exit through the top of John’s skull.

Cory missed John. He missed everyone he had served with, those surviving and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. That’s why he was ready to go back, that’s why he would go back – always, no matter when he was asked. He would forever fight for the guy to his right, and the guy to his left.

That’s what he would try to explain to his mother.

Three U.S. soldiers pay their respects to their fallen comrades after a service held Saturday at the Iraqi National Parade Field to honor eight soldiers from the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division and three journalists who lost thier lives during the U.S.-led war against Iraq.  A helmet, rifle and pair of boots represented each soldier while three helmets marked "press" on the front represented the journalists lost during the war.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: