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On being a big, fat liar.

Published February 13, 2016 by mandileighbean

doughtheliar

Two weeks ago, I went to confession. The line of sinners was surprisingly long; I assume the snowstorm from the previous weekend had kept the faithful at home and away from the church, so everyone was playing catch up. That’s why I was there, at any rate. But there’s something about being in that intimate, sacred setting that always compels me to spill my guts. Maybe it’s a simple effect of being raised Catholic, a kind of Pavlovian reaction to the whole ceremony, but I like to believe it’s more than that, like it’s a sign from the universe that my faith is real and working, and that this kind of spiritual purging is healthy and necessary. Whatever the reason or motivation, when it was finally my turn to enter the confessional and the heavy, cloth curtain swung shut behind me, I dropped to my knees and told the priest everything that had been burdening my soul. I unloaded my emotional baggage, carefully and delicately removing every piece of troublesome ego and holding it up to the light to reveal all the intricacies. I think the popular nomenclature for such an event is “word vomit.” At the end, I was breathless but felt somewhat lighter. I also felt guilty and ashamed, truly humbled.

And the priest laughed. He laughed loud and long and hard.

This may seem like a harsh reaction, but please trust me when I assure you that it was completely warranted. My life, as of late, has turned into quite the melodrama. To protect the innocent I won’t go into details, but if you could me a favor and think of the most ridiculous plot line from a daytime soap opera – that’s my life. That’s how I’ve been living. To hear it out loud, to finally speak about it all, was somewhat amusing. I was on the verge of laughter myself – sometimes we laugh to keep from crying, no? So the priest was in no way a villain. His laughter subsided, and he told me I was certainly in a “sticky situation.” He promised he would pray for me.

The priest promised to pray for me. That’s how dire my situation is.

I hope this anecdote helps illustrate why I haven’t been keeping to the resolutions I made so boldly before the new year started. I’m the worst, I know, but I’m trying.

I hope you are all trying to, no matter the endeavor.

You’ll be hearing more from me soon; I promise.

lying

On objections.

Published July 15, 2015 by mandileighbean

“Love is a book that never closes.”

I need to stop drinking spoiled milk.

A respected coworker of mine read the manuscript for Moody Blue and told me she enjoyed it, believed it had merit and promise. She readily commiserated with me about how every literary agent has been rejecting me. I received one such rejection in the mail yesterday, which makes it seem very official and makes it sting just a little more. Well, I think it was a rejection – just my query letter sent back to me in a self-addressed stamped envelope; feels a little like suicide. It’s an odd feeling to be rejected by one’s own hand.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #25: “I think I survived pretty good, actually. You should see everybody else.”

“Though we cry, we must stay alive.”

canterbury-cathedral-stairs

Gerard was sitting on the last of the long, stone steps that led to the solid, impressive-looking double doors of the church. Blood from his mouth and nose stained the front of expensive button-down shirt. His mouth had finally stopped leaking crimson, but his nose was still dripping. He had been watching fat, scarlet droplets fall and explode onto the concrete between his feet, which were stuffed into shiny shoes. Carefully, he prodded at his swollen, bleeding nose. Gerard winced from the pain. He thought it might be broken and he nearly laughed aloud. That’d be perfect, just fucking perfect.

What a sight this poor devil made for the casual passerby; some unapologetic sinner cast away, nearly sprawled out on the cathedral steps, bruised and bloody. A humorless smile stretched his thin lips as he cautiously felt around his left eye, which was puffy. A black eye was rapidly appearing and though he probably deserved it, all of it, it didn’t make the sores better. If anything, it made it worse. He hugged his knees, bringing them close together, and rested his aching head upon them. He thought about what had happened, relived every aching, humiliating moment, just like he would from time to time for years after, until he gave his last breath. He lapsed into these deep thoughts and lost his surroundings.

“Holy shit.” The words were drawn out – each syllable was emphasized. The voice broke Gerard’s reverie, startled him to attention. He perked up and saw Frankie walking towards him across the parking lot. She was his best friend – only because she was his only friend – and she was smiling ruefully, like she was only moments away from gleefully shouting, “I told you so!” Gerard supposed he deserved that too, just like everything else. As Frankie neared, she stated the obvious. “You look terrible,” she said, seating herself beside Gerard, but two steps higher so her knees weren’t somewhere near her chin. She stretched out her legs, perfectly content to be where she was, perfectly content to blatantly ignore the dramatics and their consequences in favor of the sunshine. Gerard thought it indecent.

“I survived pretty good, actually. You should see everybody else.”

“Had to fight your way out of the church, huh?” Frankie asked, snorting laughter. “Makes sense.”

Gerard shut his eyes tight in a lame, cliched attempt to block everything out. He tilted his head back so the sun could shine against his face to perhaps calm and soothe him. In a tired voice, he said, “Look Frankie, I only called for a ride. I didn’t ask for-”

“For what? A lecture? Well, too fucking bad,” Frankie growled. “You told Ronnie you could handle it, promised her you wouldn’t make a scene. And what did you do, Gerard?” She was met with silence. After a few moments, Frankie roared, “Tell me what you did!”

“I objected!” Gerard fired back. His eyes shot open and he spun to face Frankie, aching, spinning head be damned. “I stood up and objected, just like in the movies! I waited until the priest asked, and then I jumped up and told the whole goddamn church and everyone in it that I still loved Ronnie!”

“Why?” Frankie asked. She was pushing it, but didn’t seem to care. She never did. “Why would you do that after -”

“Because I thought it would work, obviously!” It was Gerard’s turn to interrupt. “That was my plan the whole time!” He pointed an accusing finger towards Frankie. “And don’t you dare act like you didn’t know! Don’t play shocked and innocent with me, Frankie. If you really didn’t know, you wouldn’t have warned me against going.”

“I don’t know why I even bother,” Frankie said. She sounded disgusted, but she wasn’t yelling anymore. “I should just save my breath because you never listen.”

Gerard turned away, sheepish and ashamed. He looked down at his trembling hands, eyed the minor scrapes, defensive wounds. Truth be told though, he didn’t really fight back. How could he? He was wrong. Done fighting, he said, “You were right, Frankie. You told me so.” He took a second to compose himself, to try and keep his voice from cracking. “Can you please take me home?” He failed – the evident tremor in his voice roused compassion from Frankie. She squeezed his shoulder.

“Of course,” Frankie said. She got to her feet and moved to stand before Gerard. She offered her hands. He hesitated just a moment before accepting the offer. Frankie pulled him up into a standing position and as the moved to stand beside one another, Gerard slung his arm around Frankie’s shoulders. To help Gerard gain some stability, Frankie looped an arm around his waist. Together, they began wobbling towards Frankie’s car. Gerard squinted against the bright sunlight and licked the right corner of his lips. He could still taste blood.

“So,” Frankie began because if there was ever silence she would always be the one to break it, “who beat the hell out of you?”

Gerard smirked but hung his head. “Kevin,” he answered.

“That fits, since he’s the groom and all,” Frankie conceded. “But honestly, I had my money on Mr. Gates kicking you in the balls.”

“Ronnie’s dad? No way – that guy loves me.”

“Even now?” Frankie asked, skeptical.

Gerard considered. “Well, he didn’t exactly stop the villagers with the pitchforks, but I wouldn’t say he encouraged them either.”

Frankie snorted laughter. “So what now?”

Gerard sighed. “I don’t know,” he confessed.

On talking to the dead.

Published April 14, 2015 by mandileighbean

Friday, April 10, 2015 marked 90 years since the publication of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the novel that essentially changed my life by confirming the kind of woman – the kind of human being – I wanted to be.

I couldn’t let such an occasion, such an anniversary; pass without some kind of commemoration.

So I drove three hours and 40 minutes to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rockville, Maryland.  I drove down I-95, which I have become so accustomed to that traversing that interstate is painfully boring.  I had my iPod blaring, but my mind was essentially blank, other than lingering upon the object of my affection and then Gatsby and then back again.  The object of my affection tried countless times to convince me of similarities between him and Jay Gatsby, of which there are admittedly a few.  We sent each other text messages late into the night while watching the film adaptation of the novel, discussing themes and characterization and life.  I only knew the novel was published on April 10th because of this man.  Gatsby was (is?) our thing.  So now, perhaps unfortunately, the fictional world of Jay Gatsby and my first heartbreak are inextricably linked forever and ever, amen.

Maybe that realization, that my favorite book is forever tainted by the inevitable disappointment of romance, made me somber and weird inside, but I was certainly reserved as I pulled into the church’s parking lot.  I parked in the further possible spot, closer to the adjacent school than the actual cemetery, but did so for no discernible reason.  In hindsight, I supposed I wanted to be ignored and inconspicuous, didn’t want to be a nuisance of any kind.  That notion seems laughable though, especially when I consider how absurd I must have looked, emerging from a piece of shit car – part of my front bumper is missing – in a fancy black dress too elegant and too formal for the impromptu graveside visit, with a fancy black coat that made me sweat but offered respite from the persistent mist.  I was alone, as always, and walking around aimlessly.  I’m sure I looked out of place and had anyone been around, I’m sure they would have chalked me up to some kind of weirdo.  To be fair, I guess that’s exactly what I am.

The entrance to the cemetery is across from a sign that reads, “BEAN BLVD.”  That cannot be coincidence; I don’t care what kind of logic is thrown at me.

I saw a gate, but it was small and unremarkable, so I assumed there must be a main gate somewhere, adorned with ironwork and a plaque or a sign – something.  Looking around furtively, worried I might just be trespassing, I followed the low, wrought iron fence around the perimeter of the cemetery but found no other entrance.  I traced my way back, which maybe took all of two minutes as the cemetery is rather small, to that first gate.  The latch, with its peeling paint, was worn enough to almost be rendered ineffective.  I considered it a particularly cruel kind of irony that this humble, rather shabby cemetery serves as the final resting place of the man who imagined Gatsby and the extravagant, opulent world in which that character existed.  I sighed and opened the gate, gingerly lifting the decrepit latch and gently shutting the gate behind me.

The grave was incredibly easy to find, partly because the cemetery is so small and partly because his marker is so large.  It’s off to the right of the short, winding path that just ends through the tiny, enclosed area.  I followed it, careful not to tread on the hallowed ground of those resting eternally, but had to leave the path eventually.  My heels sank into the soggy ground and I berated myself for my inconvenient melodramatics.  But then I faced Fitzgerald’s grave.

It’s a simple headstone.  It has his name, the years in which he lived and breathed and made the literary world a far better place.  His wife’s name is below, as are her years of existence.  Perpendicular and impressive is a stone slab that bears the last lines of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, the work that is often considered the great American novel.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

I was the only one mourning and paying homage to a brilliant and destructive man, but I hadn’t been the only one.  There was evidence of other grievers.  There was a bloated, yellowed with the age, rain-soaked paperback copy of The Great Gatsby.  I leaned close and found it was open to pages 116 and 117, where Nick warns Jay that the past cannot be repeated, but Jay is deaf and insistent.  “Can’t repeat the past?  Why, of course you can.  Of course you can.”

There was a sodden bouquet of roses, decimated by the rain, soaked and scattered, looking especially tragic and mournful.  Perhaps the passage and gray skies and the cemetery added to that impression.

There were many pens, an obvious but touching nonetheless tribute to an insanely talented author.

There were many pennies, what I mistakenly assumed was an Irish tradition until I took to Google.  Coins are left on graves for many reasons, but there are three reasons that appear to be the most common.  One reason dates back to Greek mythology, and coins are left as payment for the ferryman that transported souls across the river Styx.  The second is related to the military and dictates that leaving certain coins is evidence of a particular relationship.  For example, pennies are left by any living soldier visiting a veteran’s grave while nickels are left only by those who attended boot camp with the deceased.  The third reason is to simply leave evidence that one visited and was there.  How narcissistic is that, having to leave proof of our existence at the proof of another’s existence?

My favorite token was a small bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey with an accompanying shot glass.  Next year when I make the trip, I plan on bringing daisies – though I despise the fictional Daisy Buchanan I completely understand what it is she represents, as despicable as it is – and a bottle of gin or some other antiquated kind of alcohol.  I plan on having some shots and hanging out for a decent amount of time, telling Fitzgerald how much I admire him, how much many admire him, and that I hope heaven allows for him to see how important he has become.

Much like the title character of his greatest literary achievement, Fitzgerald died alone and in obscurity.  Apparently the priest who presided over his funeral services did not even know who Fitzgerald was.  Fitzgerald considered himself a failure, and drank himself to death, falling dead in the apartment of his girlfriend, some tabloid reporter that he may have shacked up with to aid his dwindling screenwriting career in cruel, unforgiving Hollywood.

I devoured Gatsby when I was fourteen years old.  I have read it at least once a year since, and have convinced myself that I am Gatsby.  And as I stood at Fitzgerald’s grave, pondering the possible autobiographical content of his greatest novel, I realized that therein lies the magic of the novel; we are all Gatsby.  We all want too much and at times, we can want to reclaim some version of our former selves, tirelessly and obsessively chasing after some enchanted object that we think will fix everything.  We are continuously disappointed, but we keep right on chasing, reaching in everlasting desperation.

I thought Philip Roth had it right, that the real human tragedy is that we are all woefully unprepared for tragedy.  Now I think Fitzgerald was right, that the real human tragedy is that we are never satisfied.  We want too much.

I said a few prayers, thanked him, and empathized with the dead author.  I explained that I was a writer and that I feared my talent – if I may be so arrogant in insisting that I have some – would go undiscovered.  I told him I was afraid of dying alone, of having absolutely no one to mourn at my graveside, let alone any fans.  I delicately turned the pages of the soaked novel, carefully turning pages made nearly transparent by the rain and other elements.  I turned to the part where Nick pays Gatsby the sole compliment of their friendship, when he tells Gatsby that Daisy and Tom and Jordan are a rotten crowd, and that Gatsby is worth the whole damn bunch put together.  Nick is glad he said that, even though he disapproved of Gatsby from the beginning to the end.  It is a beautiful sort of sentiment, and I wondered if Fitzgerald, like Gatsby, had a friend in the end who got someone for him.  I softly kissed my fingertips and let them trail along the cold stone as I began the brief walk out of the cemetery, back to my piece of shit car, parked suspiciously outside the adjacent Catholic school like some kind of inappropriate joke made in poor taste.

I drove back home, traveling for four hours, stopping to eat at McDonald’s and then almost immediately wanting to die as the food upset my stomach terribly.

Despite the bizarre and spontaneous nature of the trip, the irritating traffic and uncomfortable way the greasy, cheap food sank in my stomach, the trip was inspiring.  I began to develop an idea for a third novel.

And it’s all thanks to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  So I will return again and again to give thanks and pay homage because he communicated universal truths without restraint.  He was unashamedly who he was, embracing his genius and his insecurities and his worth and his faults all simultaneously.  Fitzgerald was wonderfully and beautifully human and wrote to be inclusive, to help everyone understand that we are all guilty, that we are all beautiful and deserving of love, that we can all be great.  We all reach out, trembling, for the green light.

And it’s okay.

fitzgrave

On sadness – plain sadness.

Published June 9, 2013 by mandileighbean

funeral

This past week has been nothing short of horrendous.  Personal and familial tragedies have left me feeling drained, hollow and empty.  I sleep for ten or twelve hours and when I wake, I am somehow still tired.  I have had a headache for about a week.  However, despite the previous litany of complaints, I want to stress the fact that this post is not an invitation to a pity party for me.  I am also not fishing for compliments or sympathy.  I am a writer; I observe and am compelled to share these observations with an audience.

 

Today is Sunday and I went with my family to Mass, as I always do.  Every once in a while, the readings and/or the homily hit upon an aspect of my life and of my current personal experience; they can be uncannily apt.  I have always taken these occurrences as a sign from God that either I am doing okay, that I will be doing okay, or that He is answering a question that had been on my mind.  Today was no exception; two of the readings dealt with two deceased sons being raised from the dead.  It made me think of the funeral I recently attended, and of the family who lost a son and a brother.  I spent two days with them for the viewing and the funeral and the repast.  Time and again I witnessed the family struggle to cope and understand and even function.  But time and again I witnessed this same family gain composure, stand rock solid, and support one another.  The love shared was palpable, nearly tangible and it was invigorating.  While the liturgy dealt with actual resurrections, I came to the conclusion that though their son will not rise and walk from the grave, he is still as present as ever because of the love of his family.  They love him dearly, and love each other dearly.  They love all those who came to their son’s viewing and funeral, and love all those who sent kind words and kept the family in their prayers.  I honestly believe death can be conquered by love, and this family is living proof.  I am so blessed to know them and have them in my life.

On longing to be trendy.

Published February 25, 2013 by mandileighbean

“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story and writes another.”

– James Matthew Barrie

This week’s way to blast my blubber was to use time wisely; if there are only 30 minutes free in your daily schedule, use it to pack a nutritious lunch and to closely watch what you eat, rather than try to squeeze in a workout. I usually stick to that rule, but this week, I worked harder to make sure I did not go over my daily calorie limit. As a result, I lost three pounds this week. My confidence is bolstered and my determination has more than doubled. So please ignore the fact that I am currently contradictorily snacking on some Funyuns.

My colleague, Jill Ocone, is such an inspiration. She is truly following her passion, regardless of cost. She stopped living to work, stopped being consumed by work at home. There is no reason why I cannot do the same.

photocone

Sometimes, when I am running in the morning, I try very, very hard to find the moon in the sky. I make myself dizzy by searching in spinning circles, neck bent uncomfortably backwards, and though there are plenty of stars to go around, I cannot find the moon.

Sometimes, when I am running in the morning, it is so frigid that my iPod’s battery is completely drained after about 20 minutes. I do not usually get rattled on my morning walk and jog, but with no contemporary music to drown them out, I become aware of the creepiest sounds. The wind makes the branches of the trees creak and groan. A few American flags snap in wavelengths. A dry, crunchy leaf scuttles across the barren pavement – the perfect horror movie soundtrack and every now and again, I snap my neck this way and that in a futile attempt to determine the cause of some noisy disturbance in the blackness around me. Was the snapping of a twig merely evidence of movement by some furry, cuddly woodland creature, or something more sinister, if, in fact, it even existed at all?

I think I need to indulge in writing some fan fiction again; it can inspire something of literary merit. Many borrow characters and plot lines and images to create a foundation for something new. Currently, I am thinking of “True Blood;” I know vampires are passé, but I keep having this recurring image of a beautiful but battered young woman with a bruised and broken body and beaten face. She is sitting in the front pew of an old and tiny church, at the end. She has been crying, sitting and staring straight ahead with dead, vacant eyes for presumably hours. Then, a devastatingly handsome man – or monster? Or a creature? – suddenly appears, standing in the carpeted aisle beside her. He looks concerned and seems genuine, but her response is icy cold: “You don’t belong here.”
It’s not like her to be cruel, especially not to him, so he deflects her verbal barb with an easy smile and explains, as he has done many times before, that vampires not being able to enter churches in actually a myth, and he’s about to begin a long-winded explanation when she cuts him off.
Misunderstood, she nearly snarls to clarify that she knows damn well that he can be there, but she does not want him there. She has wounded him and it shows all over his face.
“I’m not the one who beat the shit out of you. Why are you so pissed at me?” Though her body language is coming through loud and clear that she wants to be left the fuck alone, he sits beside her. Begrudgingly, she moves for him.
And I want her to unravel – tell him EVERYTHING. Her boyfriend, a bartender who is slowly but surely developing a drinking problem, got loaded and hit her. It has never happened before and she believes her boyfriend is really and truly sorry, but everything is different now and that is sad and scary. She was trying to help him, to be loving and supportive and all the good things, but she still got rocked. In her moment of weakness, she is bitter and vengeful and hateful. It is unlike her, and it makes him nervous. He is not easily rattled and his change in demeanor is not lost on her, though her demeanor is changing as well. She asks him if he’s all right, seamlessly slipping back into old habits and tired behavior.
He laughs without much humor and says that he’s fine, that she shouldn’t give a damn if he’s fine or not, and that maybe she should be more vicious and guarded, like it might not be such a bad thing. She nods and wipes her eyes. Silence falls over them and he feels as if he needs to break it, so he asks her how long she’s been there.
She shrugs and says nothing.
He suggests they leave and go somewhere else.
“Why?”
“Because, honestly, you’re just sitting and stewing in your misery and that solves nothing- it only begets more misery.”
“What could we do?”
It’s an innocent question, but the answers that immediately spring to his mind are not. He takes a second to compose himself because he doesn’t want to scare her; she is good and pure and that is what he likes – loves? – about her. He has to protect it; he has to keep it safe. “Where have you always wanted to go, but have never been?” “France,” she answers without hesitation, like she’s simply been waiting to be asked that very question.

“… if you’d only asked me.”

“If I don’t ask you, would you ever think of asking me?”

truebloodbilleric

I am always surprised (whether it is pleasant or not has yet to be determined) by which blog posts garner the most attention and end up receiving the largest amount of views. The last entry I posted was personal and somewhat pessimistic, kind of made me seem shallow and pitiful, and has more views than the short story I wrote. A wonderfully caring colleague sent me a Facebook message absolutely dripping with sympathy and a classmate whom I have not seen nor spoken to in years, left an encouraging, empathetic and appreciated comment on my blog. These things surprise me.

I guess it’s like that part in the movie “The Breakfast Club,” where Basket Case Allison dumps all her baggage – literally and metaphorically – on the couch, thereby inviting everyone into her problems. So it’s unreasonable then for her to be angry when people comment, offer advice, and so on and so forth. It’s just that I honestly was not looking for pity, sympathy, or attention – I was just purging thoughts, just writing. It is a fine line between my private self and public self and balancing how I see myself against how others do. I know I shouldn’t care, but I do and that’s how I am, take it or leave it.

bcluballison

I have a deplorable habit of being interested in men whom I cannot have – the distance keeps me safe from rejection, and it keeps me romantically tragic.

I need to start reading Stephen King again.

When it’s rainy, I want to stay in my bed, curled beneath the covers.

The roses in my classroom are dying.

roses

Why am I always so negative?

A radio station contacted me back! It is run by a high school in Atlantic City. It will most likely have an incredibly small audience, but it will be more of an audience than I have now.

My second royalty check came for the month of December: $23. 22; one print book and nine Ebooks.

The Manchester Branch of the Ocean County Library forwarded my information to the larger – and frankly, better – Toms River branch. I am hopeful.

Yesterday, I ventured to Brooklyn with a friend to attend a bridal shower. It was wonderfully trendy and beautifully artsy. The music completed the atmosphere perfectly and I never wanted to leave. I made plans to travel to Paris, fell in love with love all over again, and yearned to be more creative and artsy in everything I do. It was an awesome shower.

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On missing information.

Published July 14, 2012 by mandileighbean

So for being Friday the 13th, today wasn’t half bad.  I spent some awesome time with Jimmy who, unfortunately, is returning to Virginia tomorrow.  I also had lunch with Raina and it was definitely enjoyable, and it was wonderful catching up.  Yes, the only thing that absolutely sucked was getting stuck in traffic on the way home … for HOURS.  My car has no air, so I was incredibly hot, sweaty and cranky from about 4:00PM until 7:10PM; 190 minutes of discomfort – that’s torture.

Also, I was offered the job at the school in Oakland.  It all happened really, really fast.  I assumed I was just meeting with the principal, but then my future supervisor brought me in to meet the superintendent and she asked if I was “interested.”  I told her I was, and she started talking about salary and meeting with HR after the Board of Education meeting on July 30th.  My head was spinning.  To be honest, it still is.  I’m already stressing, striking out somewhere unfamiliar on my own and far from family.  My neck hurts when I think about taking over bills, the possibility of having to commute and being independent.  I’ve told myself for the past two years that this is everything I want, but now I’m terrified.  Was it all just bravado?  Am I really content to be living at home, floating between maternity leaves?  Have I romanticized my loneliness and disappointment into something worthwhile?

I need to sleep.  Or drink heavily.  Basically, I just need to relax.

PROMPT: “You accidentally overhear a conversation between two people you’ve never met. The topic of the conversation shocks and dismays you. Write about these conversations and describe how you respond to the content:

 ■1. A conversation between two stockbrokers

 ■2. A conversation between a priest and a member of his parish

 ■3. A conversation between a woman and the man with whom she’s been cheating on her husband

 

PIECE (#2):  It had been a rough couple of months.  It had been months since I’d been to mass, let alone to confession.  Nothing had changed, everything had remained absurdly shitty, so I thought why not give the Big Man a try.  Maybe everything that could go wrong was going wrong because I’d taken Him out of the equation, so to speak.  I was desperate, and willing to try anything to get back on my feet.  I was broke, unemployed, living in my parents’ house, incredibly lonely and as if that wasn’t enough, my cat had gone missing.  Running my hands over and across my throbbing skull, I knelt in the pew closest to the altar.  I released a tremulous breath and looked up at the Crucified Christ.  His frame was twisted in a grotesque display of pain, and his stone, sorrowful eyes looked up for some relief, some absolution, something.  I was looking to Jesus, Jesus was looking to God and we both looked miserable.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the priest treading carpet quickly.  He was obviously in a rush, a terrible rush, as he made sure his eyes remained downcast, evading even the most remote possibilities of making eye contact.  Intrigued by such odd behavior, – especially for a priest – I discreetly followed his progress from the rectory doors in the front, left corner of the church to the confessional booths in the middle of the back of the church.  I craned my neck, understanding that in the priest’s attempt to not see freed me to stare unashamedly.  I had never been to this particular church before, travelling to find anonymity as well as comfort, and was interested to try and case the place, to figure things out.  I worried the intrigue was over when the priest was just about to enter the confessional and begin his holy duties when the doors to the rectory flew open and a man unfamiliar to me burst onto the scene.

“Ben!” he screamed.  “You can’t keep running from this!”  The man’s shirt was stained with dirt and sweat and un-tucked.  He had run a formidable distance, but still managed to sound fierce in between gasps of air.  The priest, Father Ben as it were, remained silent.

“How can you kneel before the King and claim purity when your hands are stained?  How can you offer absolution to anyone when you are damned?”  I looked from the crazed man to Father Ben and back again, wanting to make sense of the conversation and to fill in the gaps myself.  It was near impossible, especially when Father Ben refused to participate.  As the man screamed, the priest remained perfectly still, more like a statue than a man; more like an imitation than the genuine article.

“Who are you going to confess your sins to?” the man asked.  He was gazing intently at Father Ben.  I don’t think he ever even knew I was there.

In response, Father Ben turned from the both of us and exited the church.

From what I could find out from parishioners and close friends, he never returned.  What’s worse: he never even said goodbye.

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