Dad

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On physical impossibilities.

Published July 12, 2017 by mandileighbean

I’m going to save the apology for the lapse in posting and refrain from the typical slew of empty promises and resolutions. You know the drill; sometimes I post, sometimes I don’t, but please believe me when I say I always want to. Writing fulfills me in a way that nothing else really does (except maybe Popeye’s chicken), and it needs to be more of a priority. Also, they’re building a Popeye’s near me, so how’s that for a sign from the universe?

I’m proud of this week’s writing prompt for a couple of different reasons. First, it’s the beginning of a better writing schedule (last empty promise I make, I swear (well, other than that last one)). Second, I use first-person point of view, which is something I never do. Using first-person point of view feels like a confession or admission, like it’s too personal to build a character that isn’t just me with a different name. All my writing might be like that, now that I think about it. Third, it is personal and I think I tackle a very real fear for woman of a certain age without being melodramatic. This voice I use could be fleshed out into a very real and very endearing character were I to pursue and develop this idea further.

Hope you enjoy! Please comment and let me know what you think, and please share.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #3.2017: The day before helping her best friend give birth, a woman of thirty learns that she will never have children of her own.

These days, you can’t fucking smoke anywhere.

I mean, the hospital I get; no one should be smoking there for obvious reasons I don’t have to enumerate to make my case. But walking across the street from the hospital – and then ten more yards for good measure – seems closer to ridiculous than anything else. And doing so in ninety-degree weather isn’t helping my mood. It’s incredibly hard to be rational when I’m sweaty and uncomfortable and in desperate, desperate need of a cigarette. I’m filling up with something awful as I halt at the end of the hospital property, teetering on the curb before the busy highway in cheap flip flops. I look left and then right and then right again, because my mom raised me right, and then dart across.

All things considered, getting mowed down by a truck doesn’t seem like the end of the world. I should have lingered just a few moments more, maybe. But that kind of thinking is irrational and morbid and goddamn, I just don’t want to think anymore. I just want a cigarette.

It’s easy to find the other smokers, huddled shamefully beneath a weak-looking tree at the far end of a parking lot for a quaint plaza. The weak-looking tree is the only source of shade and as I approach, I realize everyone beneath the tree is dressed in scrubs and smiling and laughing; they’re all hospital staff and they’re all friends. I think I’ll stand just a few feet away. I’m in no mood to make new friends or yuck it up, but I don’t want to be a bitch.

Scratch that; I don’t know what I want.

Wait, that’s wrong. I know what I want. I want a cigarette. And in this poor, poor excuse for Shangri La, I will have one.

As I light up, I consider the irony of doctors and nurses who smoke. Why anyone willingly inhales carcinogens, myself included, is beyond me, but it seems especially asinine for people who spend their lives saving lives to engage in a wildly unnecessary and risky behavior such as smoking. But fuck me, right? Here I am, puffing away. I might as well enjoy the irony, like an extra in a film who gets casts as an Oscar winner. That kind of irony is less dangerous and more humorous, kind of like how I always thought I’d never have kids because I’d never find a good man. But after thirty long and lonely years, I found a good man – the best man – and he’ll never be a father because my fallopian tubes are too narrow.

I’ll never be a mother. Thinking it aloud in my head forces me to acknowledge the idea with a fatal finality, and I take a seat on the grass beneath the three. I want to take up as little space as possible, curl all up around myself, and shrink into nonexistence; the ultimate Irish exit.

Taking a long drag, I know I’m bordering on morbidity and irrationality again, but there’s definitely something crushing about finding out you physically cannot have children. It wasn’t a choice I made, part of some chic, progressive lifestyle (I’m not being judgmental; to each his own, man. Live and let live, I say). I knew I was lucky to meet Frank; for a while there I thought I’d die alone, like really and truly alone, where the only people at my funeral are friends who have outlived me and cemetery staff. I wanted love and to be loved so badly I was on the verge of doing something reckless and desperate, like online dating (that’s a joke; I don’t judge). Enter Frank, the knight in shining armor; a decent-looking man with a great sense of humor, steady income, and a tolerance for feminine bullshit that is otherworldly. He’s been so patient and forgiving, and I don’t deserve him; I really don’t.

But he deserves children. He wants them; we’ve talked about it. And I can’t give that to him.

I know there’s adoption and fostering and surrogates and a seemingly endless list of possibilities. I know, somewhere deep down inside that this doesn’t have to be the end of the discussion, but it’s different and anyone who says different is selling something.

So maybe I should amend my earlier assertion: I’ll never be a mother on my own terms.

I suppose that sounds kind of selfish and twisted and grotesque, but hey; that’s me all over. Like right now, I’m smoking this cigarette in the July heat when I’m supposed to be at Kathleen’s side, holding her hand and feeding her ice chips, the whole delivery shebang. I snuck out because I needed a cigarette because those roles will never be reversed. I can’t have kids.

And it’s obviously jacking me up real bad, but I can never ever say anything to Kathleen about this, especially not today, which is ironic because it’s the one day it’s dismantling my psyche. Kathleen’s my best friend – another love I don’t really deserve – and she’d be the most supportive person in the world. Seriously, if I told her right now about all of this, she’d Google solutions on her phone from her hospital bed, shouting search results to me as they move her into the delivery room. But it’s her day and I just need to handle my shit.

If I had a daughter, that’s a lesson I’d teach her, that being a strong woman means that sometimes, you just have to handle it. You can break later but in the moment, step up.

I could teach my son that lesson too, because really, strength transcends gender.

Great; I’m crying. I’m sweaty, smell like smoke, and mascara’s running down my cheeks. I’m a mess, and everyone will know and everyone will ask, and we all know that only makes things worse.

Fuck. Shit. Balls.

I haven’t told Frank yet either. Think he’ll leave? He won’t, like I said he’s a good man, but he’ll think about it. And who could blame him?

I take one last drag and stub the cigarette out on the curb behind me. I have to stretch to the point of almost laying down, so fuck it. I lay down in the grass with my head uncomfortably on the curb to watch the sky through the leaves of the weak tree.

What a world.Generic-smoking

On uninspired.

Published May 6, 2013 by mandileighbean

uninspired

I must admit that I have been feeling incredibly uninspired as of late.  Not only have I utterly and completely fallen off the wagon as it pertains to dieting and exercising, but I have not written anything creative in quite some time.  My journal is filled with entries in which I complain about my shortcomings and nothing more.  It is a disappointment and again, I berate myself for having nothing to write about because I have not done anything worth writing about.  There has been no chance encounter, no startling image, no overheard turn of phrase to fire up my neurons and facilitate some kind of epic brainstorming session.

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Then again, that might not be entirely true.  The other day, as Dad and I were getting ready to watch “The Following,” (which is an excellent show on FOX starring Kevin Bacon that I am thoroughly obsessed with now) he was making himself a sandwich.  As he reached for the loaf of bread in its plastic bag in a drawer beneath the meat slicer, I noticed an unpleasant look of disgust smear itself across his face.  He picked up the bag with what seemed like intolerable reluctance and hurried to place it on the kitchen table, looking at his hands in disbelief.  Naturally, I asked him what was the matter, and he told me the bag was wet.  Intrigued, I removed myself from reclining upon the couch in the living room to investigate.  None of the other bags bread, bagels, and rolls was wet.  As a matter of fact, I did not notice anything peculiar or out of place about the bread drawer.  I looked at Dad and shrugged before moving to examine the bag in question.  The top of the bag, near the tie that closed it back up, was wet and there were tiny, red dots of moisture both on the inside and the outside.  I was completely baffled and asked Dad what he thought it was.  He brought a hand to his face and sniffed.  His face went pale and he told me plainly and simply that it was blood.  Then, betraying his flair for the dramatic, he told me it smelled like “dead blood.”  While it took both my father and I all of ten seconds to figure out that while Mom had been slicing roast beef in her brand new meat slicer, some blood had dripped onto this particular bag of bread and that nothing sinister nor truly creepy had occurred, regardless of how gross it was, I thought it was a great scene to manipulate, twist and dramatize and use.

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Similarly, I had a totally bizarre dream the other night.  The details have faded and in all honestly, the dream was more like a few weeks ago than “just the other night,” but the main image has resonated and stayed put.  It was a royal blue beetle of large proportions, and with legs made of pink, plastic straws, crawling across the face of a female.  The beetle began small, walking in meandering lines across the face and out of view.  But when the female stranger turned to face me once more, the bug had suddenly become huge and covered a quarter of her face.  It seemed so genuine and real, that I wondered if I wasn’t hallucinating more than dreaming.  Thinking of hallucinations had me thinking of one of my ideas for my next novel, one involving a man on lithium and I wondered if I couldn’t somehow forge a connection between the two.  I suppose it would be fairer for me to say that there has been inspiration, but I have been too lazy to utilize it.  I need to be motivated and I promise to you that I am working on it.

 

I am reading two novels currently (one I kind of hate but have to finish now that I’ve started, but the other is absolutely fabulous) and cannot stop listening to the soundtrack for the upcoming movie “The Great Gatsby.”  My obsession has reached new heights, actually, and is not restricted to the compulsive, repetitive playing of the soundtrack.  When I visited BookTowne in Manasquan to try and set up an event, I ended up dropping off contact information and buying a t-shirt.

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I cannot remember which author it was, but rumor has it that a contemporary novelist would type out The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald whenever he had writer’s block to cure himself of it.  I am curious as to whether or not I shouldn’t give it a shot.

 

I recently ordered a photography book by Eric Meola which features Bruce Springsteen from the year 1977 to the year 1979.  Perusing the photographs and reading the lyrics and essays which accompany them, I did feel a creative sort of tingle and briefly pondered returning to the idea for my next novel which was entirely inspired by the Boss.

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I am going up to Bloomfield this afternoon for drinks with some friends from college.  I am going to catch up with some of the most wonderful and beautiful women I have had the privilege and pleasure of knowing, but also, selfishly, to perhaps be inspired.  Perhaps something will happen along the way; why knows?  I suppose the point is that no one knows, and that therein lays the point. A very wise colleague of mine, who is unfortunately retiring at the end of the academic year, encouraged me to take risks and I am proud to say I have taken that advice to heart.

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On being in love with every actor.

Published February 19, 2013 by mandileighbean

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“I never let what happened stay in the past.”

I was better than I usually am on Valentine’s Day this year – I remained cheery and optimistic until the next day.  I woke up, logged onto Facebook, and was immediately inundated with nauseatingly adorable gifts and status updates.  Without the students to exaggerate the negativity and thereby make it unattractive and absurd, a bitter taste filled my mouth and I instantly felt blue.  I am sure the Radiohead song playing softly in the background did not help.

On top of that, I did not lose a single pound for the second week in a row.  I only have myself to blame because I have not been counting my calories like I should.  I can try and blame it on my menstrual cycle or stress (teacher evaluation workshops, the backdrop for the play falling over), but the truth is that I have been weak.  I am disappointed in myself.  I am ashamed.

Saturday morning, I watched a good-sized portion of the movie “Mannequin” while eating breakfast.  When I was younger (and only slightly more impressionable than I am now), I was absolutely obsessed with the movie.  Reasons for my obsession seem obvious – such as Andrew McCarthy at his most vulnerable, quirkiest, and most appealing – but upon deeper reflection, it is so much more than that.  There is something dangerously intoxicating about what one creates loving its creator in a singular, unique, and romantic kind of way; like creative types can cure their own loneliness and save themselves.  That aspect of the “fairy tale” is reassuring but at the same time, it is worrisome because does it not suggest that those same quirky, odd, different, creative people cannot find romance organically?  Unless there is some kind of divine intervention or fantastical happenings, are weirdoes never to find love?  Maybe that’s why the first blog I created to promote my writing was titled “Letters to Eliot” and was comprised of nothing more than pathetic and embarrassing love letters to a fictional character of my own creation.  Is that really so different from falling in love with a mannequin?  At least the mannequin was tangible and at least it came to life and at least it loved its creator back and at least they lived happily ever after.

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Regardless of the deeper meta-fictional meanings of “Mannequin,” (or if they even exist) I am once again infatuated with Andrew McCarthy.  I keep playing the scene where we met over and over again – the way I made him turn to me and smile, the way I made him laugh, his inexhaustible charm, and the strength of his embrace when he hooked me around my waist and pulled my close.  It was like it was scripted, which is why I am so disappointed in its lack of an ending.  That same Saturday night, Hallmark Channel aired a new romantic comedy which was unbearably corny, but it starred Andrew McCarthy as a brooding cowboy and naturally, I was enthralled.

I also watched a 45-minute documentary about Elvis Presley called, “Elvis: Summer of ’56.”  It was all about this girl named June Juanico and her relationship with Elvis.  It was surreal to hear her describe how he pulled her aside after a show and kissed the back of her neck, of how he called and wrote, and how she felt comfortable enough with Elvis to adjust his belt.  It is incredible to think anyone could have genuine, intimate moments with the King of Rock and Roll.  June understood that sentiment; she called it quits after Elvis was rumored to be involved with Natalie Wood (and who could blame her?  There’s no competing with Natalie Wood!)  And believe it or not, it seems that even Elvis understood the sentiment because when speaking of the insane amount of screaming, crying girls, he said, “They don’t love me, they love the idea of me.”   I am going to include that in my second novel or die trying.

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Sunday was a great day.  It was Dad’s 52nd birthday, so I am especially glad that it was beautiful and bright, albeit windy and cold.  We all went to Mass together.  Mikey faked (I think) a stomach ache and did not join us for the Olive Garden.  I had many glasses of wine, too much pasta, and I laughed heartily.  Most importantly, Dad enjoyed himself.  On the way home, he tried to freeze Sam and I out by rolling all the windows down and locking them in place because Sam and I had been good-naturedly tormenting Mom (flicking her ears and whatnot).  I tried to distract Dad by giving him a Wet Willy in his right ear so Sam could sneakily slide her arm between the left side of Dad’s seat and the door and unlock the windows.  My efforts failed, but Sam managed to reach the controls for Dad’s seat, so she moved him up and forward, shoving the steering wheel into his chest and the tops of his thighs.  He looked silly and absurd and wildly uncomfortable.  We all laughed until we couldn’t see straight.

Upon arriving home, we descended upon the furniture in the living room.  Dad lounged across the love seat, Mom claimed the chair and I was solo, sitting upon the sofa, until Sam came and lay down, stretching her legs over me.  We were all comfortable, we were all watching “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and we were all together.  It was a beautiful day.

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Paul Newman’s blue eyes and Elizabeth Taylor’s violet eyes were just as glorious as the sky I observed while walking and jogging that night.  The wind made me feel young and restless and wild, like it kicked up all the old, dry negativity within me and swirled it so that when it settled once again, it was something more like optimism and vitality.  The quickened pace of the blood in my veins and of the air in my lungs, with the moon nearly directly over my head so that I had to awkwardly crane my neck to see it, with the tiny, twinkling stars, and with the darkening, layered shades of blue of the evening sky, made me feel incredibly grateful to be alive.  That night, I fell in love with life, and with love, and with possibility.

I want to fall in love this summer.

I have been highly critical of the band Fall Out Boy in the past, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t have some fantastic lines.

“I thought I loved you, but it’s just how you looked in the light.”

“I could write it better than you’ve ever felt it.”

Sixth way to blast my blubber: write a list of reasons why I want to lose weight:

–          I want to be as beautiful on the outside as I am on the inside.

–          I want to be appealing to beautiful men.

–          I want to be noticed by beautiful men when I go out.

–          I want to feel sexy.

–          I want to look sexy.

–          I want to be healthy.

–          I want to have more energy.

–          I want to live longer.

–          I want to finally lose the weight and prove myself wrong.

–          I want to better myself and improve.

–          I want how I envision myself to be reality.

–          I don’t want to feel ugly around my beautiful friends.

–          I want to feel better about myself and feel confident.

–          I want to be the full package; funny, smart and pretty.

–          I want to change my life.

On making trips home.

Published August 16, 2012 by mandileighbean

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, hello there stranger.

It’s been some time since I last wrote, and I apologize.  I suppose I could lie and say that I was terribly, terribly busy.  I could lie and say that I was off doing fabulous things with the most interesting people.  I could lie and say that I had remarkable adventures that taught me things about myself in the process.  That seems like something a writer would do, no?

I have a feeling you’d be able to call my bluff, so let me be honest and save myself some embarrassment.  The family reunion was fun; it really was, even though I acted like a fool by drinking too much, throwing up and passing out.  I awoke the next morning, sweaty beneath a heavy blanket on a hammock with unfamiliar faces casting sideways glances.  I was embarrassed and took it easy the remainder of the party by sleeping.  I kicked myself for being so lame when I had been so excited for a break in the monotony.

The week after the reunion, my nephew Jimmy came to stay with us.  I turned down a teaching job in favor of another closer to home and though I believe I did what was best, I shed a lot of tears and twisted and turned my stomach into all sorts of knots about the whole thing.  I am a people pleaser; I like to make everyone happy, or at least I like to try to make everyone happy because in my short time upon this earth, I realize that it truly is impossible to please everyone.  I let people down and I am truly sorry.

Missy, my oldest sister, came to pick up Jimmy and brought Jack with her.  She had to take care of some legal documents, so she stayed through until Tuesday.

And that brings us to today.  Dad and I visited the veterans’ cemetery to pay our respects to Grandpa, Nick and Ron.  Nick and Ron were classmates of mine.  The trip inspired me to write a short story which I plan on submitting for publication to at least two magazines.  It is very rough – still needs to be edited and re-worked, but I thought I’d share it here with you.  I hope you enjoy it, and I’d like to dedicate the effort to Grandpa, Nick and Ron; heroes I was blessed to know.

MAKING THE TRIP BACK HOME

It was hot, but not unseasonably so because after all, it was August.  The sun for sorrow would not show its head, or so the romantic in me liked to believe, and spent the majority of its time behind large, stationary, ominous-looking clouds.  It was warm, but not sunny and the contradiction carried itself through the day’s activity; it seemed I only visited the cemetery in the summer, and only on the hottest days.  I don’t know why I did this and even now, I can’t say for sure what it is about the warmth and the light and the life of summer that makes me travel to the painful nostalgia and ever present grief of a haven for the dead.  I have been to visit my grandpa’s grave three times in the twelve years since his passing, and each time it has been so warm that my fingertips burn against the metal marker, and I can smell the pine needles baking on the outskirts of the trees, lying in the rays and simply simmering.  Every time I visit, I cry so that the mascara runs down my cheeks and every time, I forget to bring tissues so that, as embarrassing as it is to admit, my fingers and forearms become snotty messes.  I used to only kneel and say a prayer and kiss the corner of my grandpa’s marker, but unfortunately, in the past two years, I’ve added two more stops to my tour of grief.

That day, I convinced my dad to come with me.  He’s a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and we had been talking about making the trip out to the cemetery for a while.  It’s hard to say for certain what finally got us moving.  Maybe it was the fact that Dad had attended Nathan’s funeral with me and had a vague understanding of how his passing had affected me.  Maybe it was because he missed Grandpa as much as Mom did, as Grandpa was the only father Dad ever knew; his own had been absent and his stepfather had been abusive, so when Dad met Mom, he was adopted into the family readily.  Grandpa helped Dad earn a job on the waterfront and had taken him under his wing.  Maybe it was because the night before, we had watched a particularly moving and patriotic documentary about a band that toured military bases and performed in support of the USO and veterans.  Whatever the reason, Dad and I were going on a random Wednesday in August and we were taking his car, as mine did not have working air conditioning and it was hot as hell.

During the thirty-minute drive, conversation was easy between Dad and me, but sporadic and usually superficial.  Dad was the kind of father who loved fiercely and blindly and did so through fun times and crazy antics.  He took us kids canoeing in icy cold water down the river that ran through the neighborhood and when the canoe flipped, he scrambled to get us on shore to safety and then dove back in for his keys.  He’d run after the school bus after my twin sister and I boarded it.  He would wave his arms wildly in the air and run for about a block and all the other kids would laugh and point and whisper.  My sister and I would feign embarrassment and rolls our eyes in commiseration about the insane guy running down a school bus but in all honesty, it meant everything to us.  He would tell us to say “shit” after we got hurt to stop the tears and start the smiles.  He would give us money to go out with friends even if Mom said no, and would always play chauffeur when asked.  He was a great father, so when he went to serve his country overseas for a year, the family was apprehensive and terrified.  The greatest fear was that he wouldn’t come home.  The second greatest fear was that he would come home, but would no longer resemble the loving, traditional Southern boy who left his children in stitches when he showed us the “Flea Circus” and unwittingly killed the performers when he gave appreciative applause, or who would offer to tell us a dirty joke and then say, “A white horse fell in the mud.”

When Dad did come home, he was different but the change was slight.  He was more reserved.  While he’d still be the first guy to offer you the shirt off his back, he wasn’t as forthcoming, I guess you could say.  One night, shortly after he returned, he was out in his shed.  It was light and moths were thudding against the floodlight Dad had attached himself over the entrance.  Music was playing softly and he had been out there for hours.  It made me nervous, seeing him so removed and with tears in my eyes, I begged my mother to check on him, convincing myself he was going to commit suicide.  Mom told me I was being silly, and I was; Dad did no such thing and never would.  As a writer, I have a flair for the dramatic and it can be bothersome at times.  I wanted Dad to be as dramatic as I was, to cry and spill his guts and then move on.  I wanted to talk about Iraq and everything he had seen and everything he had done and then I wanted to lock it all up in an iron chest and sink it somewhere far away and blue.  I didn’t want to watch him cry silently during war movies, or look for him in a crowd to realize he was already back at the car because it was too much for him to handle.

It wasn’t until some five years after his return that Dad started to open up.  Before, there was no way in hell he’d come with me to the cemetery.  Now, here he was beside me, where I always wanted and always needed him.  It was an improvement and it was progress, but he was still haunted by the memories and doing his best to cope.  Every once in a while, a vivid image would come through and he would share it to stunned silence.  Like the time we were eating dinner and in the middle of a laugh, he described how he’d been doing the same in Iraq, when a bullet struck a man to his right.  Dad remembered the man had been drinking Coca Cola from a glass bottle and the bullet had travelled up through the bottom of the bottle and exploded the glass and the man’s mouth.  He was dead instantly.  Mom didn’t know what to say or what to do and neither did I or any of my siblings.  As much as I wanted Dad to release his emotions and heal, I didn’t want to witness it.  It made the war real in a disturbing kind of way.  But my father had returned home safe and, in contrast, that kept the reality of the horrors of war at bay.  Dad had to live through near tangible recollections, but I did not.  Like Dad, Grandpa had been unscathed by war.  He served during the Korean War but only for a brief time.  Grandpa passed because of congestive heart failure, not because an unfriendly face on foreign soil had ensured his demise.  When I thought of Grandpa, I thought of his perfect pancakes and so-delicious-it-should-be-illegal spaghetti sauce.  I thought of his lack of fashion sense and the typewriters he’d buy, only to let me break them a short time later.  I had relatives who had been to war, sure, but they had made it home safe and sound.

We visited Grandpa’s grave first and in retrospect, I think we visited Charles Louis Thogode first because subconsciously, it was easiest to deal with.  Twelve years had passed; the grief was aged and manageable.  Dad knelt to clear it off grassy debris; the groundskeepers were mowing and weed whacking nearby.  I planted a small kiss on my fingertips and transplanted it onto the corner.  Dad breathed easy, smiled and whispered, “Hey Charlie.”  That was it; there were no heaving sobs, no collapsed bodies, no desperate minds begging for answers.  Dad and I, we were okay.  We walked back to the car, ready to continue onward, when a middle-aged man called to us.  He asked, “Find what you were looking for?”  He must have seen the pair of us meandering through the rows.  He must have heard us calling out plot numbers and reading out names.  He had a full, gray beard and a rather rotund belly.  Stretched over the pronounced stomach was a tee-shirt that read, “Property of Grandkids.”  He had a ball cap on and sunglasses.  His unremarkable shorts ended at his knobby knees, knees which were nearly swallowed up by tall socks.  The man certainly looked the part of the doting yet incorrigible grandpa.

Dad would talk to anyone and everyone.  Walking over, he smiled and said, “Yeah, but we got two more to see.”

“Tell you what,” the old man began, “counting this one, I’ve got –“ he paused to count upon stubby fingers – “ten in all.  This one was my colleague.  I was his ‘boss,’ but I never pulled rank on him not once.  Every time I come, I make sure to visit him first.  Next is my daughter-in-law; today is her forty-fifth birthday and she’s buried next to my son.”  The old man then proceeded to list seven other relatives who had made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and were now resting beneath the grass around us.  Dad offered his condolences, as did I, and we parted.  I was trying to hurry away, hiding the tears of sympathy I couldn’t stop from the poor man who was smiling, sharing memories and looking for a connection.  Dad was there, ready to be a compassionate ear but I wasn’t as strong as all that.  I could only show pity and buckle beneath the emotional weight hanging all about the place, waiting to drop when it was least expected.

Across the way was the burial site for Ryan Klein, the first of my classmates to become a casualty of war.  We weren’t close and hadn’t spoken in some time before his death.  The last time I saw him had been at the local mall.  He was just passing through, hurriedly walking, and I was with friends, friends who were not his friends.  That’s not to say there was animosity of any kind, only different social groups.  But Ryan had always been kind and I remember he hugged me, told me about his band and what else he had been up to and wished me well.  That was the last time I ever saw him.  He moved and went to a different high school and I was ignorant of what path led him to Afghanistan and the military.  When I learned of his death, I did not immediately recall that last encounter, but instead, I remembered fifth grade.  We were having a Valentine’s Day party in class and Ryan thought I was cool because I watched wrestling and knew who KISS was.  No one had ever thought I was cool before, and few have used that adjective to describe me since.  I remembered bonding with him during that party and though it was a brief connection, passing as quickly as childhood itself, I am grateful for it.  Standing at his grave, looking at the cold, stone numbers and performing mathematical equations like some kind of masochist to remind myself we were the same age and I was there and he was not, the tears came freely.  Dad bent to clear the grave of the debris, telling me absent-mindedly that “The guys do the best they can,” reassuring me no disrespect was meant, that it was just a side effect of lawn maintenance.  I nodded and slipped my sunglasses down from atop my head to over my leaking eyes, trying to make Dad more comfortable.  He tried to do the same for me, and thought it’d be best to keep me moving, so we went to visit Nathan O’Sullivan.

Nathan and I had gone to school together from kindergarten to graduation.  Up until the fifth grade, I was enamored of Nathan.  Having an older sister, I was exposed to cinematic notions of romance at a young age and thought such escapades were easily attainable at ten years old.  Other girls in my grade had boyfriends, and I was too young to realize what a farce it all was.  I wanted Nathan to be my boyfriend and I asked him to be my Valentine every year.  Nathan said no because to say yes would have been social suicide, even at such a young age.  I was weird; I read too much and didn’t play any sports.  I was overweight and didn’t care much about how I looked.  What I lacked in beauty, I made up in persistence and it paid off.  Close to the end of fifth grade, there was a school dance.  Nathan promised to save the last song for me.  Dressed in one of my mom’s shirts and my mom’s pants because I was too fat to wear anything like the other girls, I waited anxiously in the middle of the gym for Nathan.  He showed up, and I was elated.  We stood next to one another and silently rocked to Selena’s “Dreaming of You.”  Later that night, back in the bedroom I shared with my twin sister, I couldn’t stop smiling and thought that was the beginning of everything.  It wasn’t, but that’s okay.

I saw Nathan every now and again through middle school and high school.  Occasionally, we’d have the same class and we would reminisce together about our elementary school years.  It was nice.  I had nothing but fond memories and nice things to say.  So when I received a text message during work about his passing, it hit me hard.  I was working at the Navy Exchange at the local naval base; I was in a tiny, little room with small, covered windows, counting money.  I was trapped in there with the sudden news and onslaught of emotion and I didn’t know what to do.  Ryan had died a year earlier and now Nathan was gone.  Two little boys that I had known, one of which I had even fawned over, had become men and had become heroes but were gone.  We weren’t the invincible students that we once were.  We were young adults, making hard and fast decisions and living with the consequences.  It was a dose of reality I didn’t want and railed against, but failed.  Nothing was promised, nothing was guaranteed, and it truly was a blessing that Dad had made it home.  Not everyone did, and now I knew that.  That knowledge was awful, and it was enough to knock the wind from me.  I knelt before Nathan’s grave and just cried.  I told him I was sorry, and I thanked him.  I was that fat kid again, with swollen, stubby fists scrawling “Nathan and Mandi” in an untidy scrawl across a notebook.  How could he be gone?

How could Ryan be gone?  With chocolate smeared across our bright, innocent faces, we had discussed the finer points of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin.  He had taught me about Generation X and how to perform the “Suck It” move that would completely infuriate my parents.  He had invited me to his birthday party.  How could he be gone?

And how could I still be here?  I felt guilty.  Dad had made it home and I had been so unappreciative of that fact.  All of the grief, the guilt, the despair, the mortality, and the uncertainty were purged in liquid form.  Dad thought it’d be best to leave me by myself and said he’d be at the car, but that I should take my time.  I wanted to thank him, to throw my arms around him, to keep him safe and close for forever and always, but I only nodded.  I sat and sobbed and felt stupid and small for a few minutes more before I returned to the car.

On the way home, Dad stopped at a roadside produce stand.  The sky was cloudier than before and was threatening rain, but Dad didn’t seem to care as he pulled in the gravel drive.  He put the car in park and told me I could stay where I was, that he’d just be a couple of minutes.  I watched him climb out of the car and shut the door.  He trotted over to the cart, heading straight to the watermelons.  He made small talk with the woman running the stand, asked about an antique car under a blue tarp, kept secure with heavy-looking rocks.  He bought a watermelon and more tomatoes that was practical, breathlessly explaining to me that he had made out like a bandit, that it had been a real deal.

On the way home, Dad showed me houses he had looked at with Mom before deciding on the unassuming, one-story ranch.  He showed me two, both painted white with finished basements.

On the way home, Dad made the radio louder and sang along to the country songs he knew and loved.

On the way home, I smiled at Dad and was thankful – incredibly grateful – for all of the trips home he had made, and for all of the trips home he would make, and for the trips home we got to make together.

In loving memory of my grandpa, Charles Louis Thogode.

In loving memory of Ron Kubik.

In loving memory of Nick Ott.

 

On bowling … seriously?

Published July 27, 2012 by mandileighbean

When I woke up late this morning, my migraine was still present, but not as intense.  It returned full force when I ventured to the mailbox.  I had filed for unemployment insurance on the advice of my father and sister because I haven’t been working this summer and thought some extra money in the bank wouldn’t hurt if I relocate.  However, I did not realize that the Board of Education in Manchester has me on file for the remainder of the maternity leave, which runs through October.  I freaked out because I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to make a fraudulent claim or cheat the system or anything like that.  Truthfully, it was an oversight that I tried to rectify by calling the office but I was put on hold, transferred, put on hold again and was then informed it would take two hours for my call to be answered.  I just sent in the requested document and will try to call again tomorrow.  It stressed me out so much; the pain was in the back of my head, my neck and the small of my back.  My hands felt swollen and numb, and for the life of me, I could not breathe at a normal pace.  I thought I was going to make myself pass out.  My mom kept telling me to relax, to help myself and I couldn’t, and then I thought she was mad at me, so I started crying.  I went and retreated to my bed and resigned myself to just watching the ceiling fan revolving slowly, around and around.  I don’t know why I get so wrapped up in my own head and delude myself into think I am responsible for and thus have control over everything.  It’s kind of narcissistic – I’m so self-involved that it’s killing me; taking a substantial, physical toll on my body.  Or maybe it isn’t as bad as all that, and I’m romanticizing everything like I always do because the haunting reality is that me and my life are mediocre at best, and that scares me because more than anything else, I want to believe that I am unique and deserving of special recognition.

I’m doing it again, aren’t I?  I’m thinking too much and am about to trap myself in my own head, right?  Damnit; I’m a glutton for punishment, dude.

The picture to the right accurately illustrates what my migraines feel like.  Unfortunately, it does not accurately depict my features.  My teeth are far from straight and my eyes are a muddy kind of brown, a shade that would make a domestic goddess hurl if it were plastered against a new, white carpet (which is my subtle way of hinting that my eyes look like poop).

Tonight’s prompt is about bowling.  Now, I have nothing against the sport or the people who participate, but I do not play it.  I have no desire to bowl, really.  That’s somewhat amusing because the last two times I’ve gone bowling, I’ve done really, really well.  I defeated someone who was in a league and a boy who was trying to impress me.  Figures, right?

Enjoy it if you can, but I won’t blame you if you don’t.

PROMPT: A man aspiring to be a pro bowler loses to his young daughter.

VERSUS

PIECE: Bob was sitting at the end of the designated lane in a grotesquely-colored and wildly uncomfortable, plastic chair.  The chair was one half of a pair and sat before the dated computer monitor and accompanying keypad that allowed bowlers to enter their names and, if need be, adjust their scores.  The scoreboard had been expertly composed by Bob, who was not putting on the required bowling shoes, which always felt too large, smelled bad and looked clownish.  Despite the obvious drawbacks, Bob loved bowling.  He had recently gotten it into his head that he not only could but should become a pro bowler.  He had been getting closer and closer to bowling a perfect game during league nights, and was making quite the name for himself on the local circuit.  Enjoying a day off, he decided to bring little Melanie down to the lanes with him for some practice.  It’d be beneficial for the dream he was embarking on, and it would be nice to spend some time with his youngest daughter.  Melanie had trotted off to find a pink, perfectly-sized bowling ball and now she was returning, sweating and panting from the effort.  “It’s heavy,” she complained, cautiously stepping down the two steps.  Bob went rushing over.

“Mel, if it’s too heavy, you can’t bowl with it,” Bob said, smiling.

“But it’s the only pink one I could find, Dad! Please let me use it!  Please!”  Her brows were gathering at the center of her forehead and her bottom lip was slowly sticking out further and further.  Bob was no fool; he knew a storm was fast-approaching.

“Okay, okay, you can use it,” Bob soothed.

“Yay!” Melanie erupted, now beaming.  She dumped the ball onto the contraption in the middle of the lane and looked expectantly up at her father.

“You’re going to go first, okay kiddo?  We just have to wait for the bumpers.”  Bob looked around anxiously, searching for an attendant he could flag down.  Upon requesting and paying for the lane, he had mentioned that he needed the bumpers for his young daughter.  That had been some time ago, at least ten minutes, and there were no padded rubber bumpers on the lane.

“Why do we have to wait, Daddy?  I don’t need bumpers, and you definitely don’t need bumpers.”

Bob’s smile returned, wider than before.  “Are you sure you don’t need bumpers?  You liked playing with them last time.”

“I’m a big girl now, Daddy.  I don’t need them, I promise.”  Melanie was at her cutest when she was pleading and Bob understood it was dangerous.  It was okay now, when she was seven and Bob was the only man in her tiny universe, but one day, all that would change and he’d be in a world of trouble.

“Okay,” Bob acquiesced as he always did and probably always would.  “Go ahead then, little darling.  It’s your turn.”

Melanie stepped up to the start of the slick, wooden floor.  She held the pink bowling ball in both hands and though she was clearly struggling, she stuck out her bottom lip and attacked the line at something of a gallop, sliding to roll the ball down the lane after swinging it back between her legs for momentum.

The boll rolled dead center, crashed into the pins and knocked them down – every last one.

When all was said and done, Bob had scored an 80.  Melanie had scored a whopping 152.

Next week, Bob wasn’t at the league games.  Instead, he had stopped at a department store on the drive home from work, and purchased a chess set.  He thought maybe he could be the next Bobby Fisher.

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