Family

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On new optimism.

Published January 7, 2017 by mandileighbean

“The future’s just a fucking concept meant to keep us from being alive today.”
– “Six Feet Under”

“New Year’s is so weird, the way it makes you think about time. I think that’s why people put so much pressure on themselves to have fun.”
– “Modern Family”

Two posts in the same week from me? It’s been a while; my apologies. I know multiple new posts from me are unheard of (despite my many resolutions); something great must be happening.

And I can assure you that it is.

But let’s be real and start from the very beginning of this year.

Suffice it to say that on December 31, 2016, I let myself hit rock bottom (which is somewhat appropriate, bottoming out on the very last day of the year). I was the fattest I’d ever been and was utterly alone aside from the cat, which does little if anything to make the situation better. It was the first New Year’s Eve I remember ever being alone, and as a result, I went to bed well before midnight and completely missed the dawn of the new year. I mean, I was struggling to keep my eyes open at 9 pm.

Which is completely unlike me; hence, it was – and still is – time for a change. I made a list of everything I hope to accomplish in 2017 (lose 40 pounds, market my new book, learn how to paint, learn how to play piano, learn how to ride a motorcycle, update this blog every Wednesday [while getting back on schedule this upcoming Wednesday … some habits are REALLY hard to break], attend writing conferences to jump start my creative career, create a book trailer for my upcoming release) and so far, I have followed my schedule accordingly.

But to what end?

My newly optimistic (like the throwback to the title of the post? I’m clever in 2017!) foundation was rocked severely when a tragedy struck my workplace just as we all welcomed the new year; a sixteen-year-old revolutionary, a young woman who was as brave and confident and smart as anyone I have ever had the privilege of meeting, passed away suddenly, unexpectedly. The death of someone so young is tragic for so many reasons; it feels like the death of hope, and it’s a stark reminder that the future’s never promised or guaranteed. And this young lady in particular is a most grievous loss because she personified promise and potential. She was never hesitant to give her opinion, which was most definitely a good thing, because she was fucking smart. She had purple hair, she was enrolled in the AP Language course as a junior, she participated in Drama Club in such a delightful, enthralling way, and she just really lived – she gave life a run for its money in her brief time on this spinning globe in a way most of us never will.

Now, the old me (sorry for the seemingly cheesy and inauthentic avalanche of bullshit you may be anticipating now that I’ve used that phrase; but PLEASE stay with me because I’ve never been more REAL in my ENTIRE life) would have eaten my feelings and grotesquely used personal tragedy as an excuse to stuff my face and not move. I would have stayed as I am because it’s easy to simplistically label the world a cruel place and want nothing more to do with anything of it. It’s a defense mechanism to disengage and not try, and my juvenile and unhealthy tendency to revert to dramatics when shocked or rattled has always enabled me to return to this defensive mindset.

Sure, shitty things happen; that’s life. But that’s not all there is, so I embraced the future. I reminded myself that life isn’t as simple as good or bad. A life can’t truly be measured until it’s over, so I planned on continuing to try new things and make changes because my life isn’t over.

So I applied to the St. Augustine Mentor-Author Workshop. It’s pretty exclusive; you have to apply before you can register, and it’s a small-group atmosphere with the specific intention of helping accepted authors get published by a commercial publishing houses. The cost to attend and participate is nearly $3,000 (which I certainly don’t have) but I thought I’d apply anyway so I could say I tried and, obviously, I didn’t think I’d be accepted.

But then I was; I fucking was!

The ONLY problem is the cost, so I became really ballsy and started a GoFundMe campaign. Now, I hate asking ANYONE for ANYTHING (especially money; people get weird about money) but I had WONDERFUL SUPPORT from so many friends, and I currently have 3,649 people who have “Liked” my Author page on Facebook – if each individual gave just $1.00, I’d more than make my goal. And I need to say I tried; if I fail, fine – but I have to try. So I made the GoFundMe page on January 5th, around 5 pm. Making the campaign was surprisingly quick and easy. I also e-mailed Michael Neff from the St. Augustine Author-Mentor Workshop to ask about the last day to register so I could develop a calendar, a timeline (the actual event is at the very end of February). I’m still waiting for a response, but I am ENTHRALLED to announce that my campaign TOOK OFF! Before I went to bed that night – THE FIRST NIGHT – I was nearly one-third of the way to my goal! Friends, family, former students, people I’ve lost touch with have ALL donated in amounts from $5.00 to $300.00! I am COMPLETELY OVERWHELMED by the generosity. love and support from so many different people. The love is UNREAL. I feel like George Bailey from “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

I’m really starting to believe this could be the beginning of something NEW and AMAZING and BETTER. I NEVER thought the GoFundMe idea would work as well as it has so far. At the time of this post, I currently have $1,870.00 of $3,000.00. And it’s all because I took a risk and asked the universe. And I’m thinking it’s also because of Mollie Belasco, the young lady who passed, and her inspiring, wondrous, and all too brief life.

So here’s the link to donate: https://www.gofundme.com/expanding-my-writing-career

And here’s a writing prompt for you sit back and enjoy – the first of the new year!

 WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #1.2017: A company representative returns from a sales trip claiming to have met the devil.

 Frank Turner was already loosening his tie as he slowly trudged back to his desk after having been out of the office for five days on a business trip. He’d been out of the state as well, far out on the Western coast. He threw his briefcase thoughtlessly, almost recklessly, onto his desk, not giving a good shit about the papers or mug or the entire cornucopia of supplies that made up office living; no, office survival. Assorted supplies and a picture frame went tumbling to the carpeted floor, making enough of a commotion that most of the co-workers within ear shot turned and looked with shocked, anxious expressions.

“What’s the deal, Frank?” hissed Nicole through gritted teeth. She raised her eyebrows for emphasis, to impress upon Frank that a cool, calm and collected demeanor was highly valued in the work environment and currently, he was none of those things. She was going to continue scolding, but one look at Frank’s pale, contorted face was enough to shut her up.

“I’m sick,” Frank moaned. “I’m real sick. I think I might die.” His last words came out as a half-strangled sob. His emotions and all of the thoughts raging inside him overcame him, and Frank slumped into his chair and let his head fall to the desk cradled only by his thin, trembling arms. He was sobbing unabashedly, weeping like a woman.

Nicole was horrified.

“What do you mean, ‘dying’? Frank, what’s going on?”

He offered no reply, but cried and cried, big heaving sobs. The shocked, anxious faces of their coworkers were creeping closer now, crowding in around them like morbid looky loos at a car accident. Nicole felt the uncomfortable pressure of their presence and immediately resented it. She sprang into action and collected the garbage pail beside her desk before quickly moving to Frank’s side and dropping to one knee. She rubbed his lower back and said, “Frank, please, you’ve got to talk to me. Calm down and let me help you, if I can.”

“I’m beyond help. I’m a dead man,” Frank choked.

“What do you mean? What are you talking about?” Nicole was panicked by Frank’s desperation.

“I’m gonna be sick,” Frank bellowed. Abruptly, he fled from his chair and left it spinning as he hurried to the men’s room. Nicole rose to a standing position slowly, using most of her energy for thinking. With Frank’s physical presence removed, the uproar began to die down and the small space was soon filled with keyboard clicks, murmured conversations and ringing telephones. Nicole had been waiting for just such a return to normalcy and once it arrived, she discreetly strolled to the men’s room. She looked to her left and right to see if anyone was watching – no one was – and then ducked inside.

Frank’s ravaging sobs echoed loudly against the tiled walls and tiled floor. Nicole turned to lock the heavy pneumatic door to make sure no one intruded and then hesitantly called out, “Frank?”

There was a moment of stunned violence. Then Frank’s heavy, subdued voice said, “This is the men’s room, Nicole. You can’t be in here.”

Nicole smiled weakly but Frank didn’t see; he was locked in the farthest stall opposite the farthest urinal. She took two steps forward, emboldened by his rationality. “Frank, it’s okay. I’m just here to talk to you and check on you. What is going on, man? You’re acting…,” she paused, searching for the right word while trying to be delicate, but all she came up with was, “crazy. You’re acting crazy.”

“Maybe I am crazy,” Frank sighed. He offered no elaboration, and Nicole was growing impatient.

With a little bit of an edge, she said, “You have to let me know what’s going on, Frank. You can’t just barge into the office all hysterical and expect me not to want to know why, or expect to not try to help you.” Nicole took a breath and softened. “I’ve been sitting across from you for six years, Frank. You can talk to me.”

There was only silence and Nicole was afraid all was lost. She slapped her open palm on the wall of the stall nearest her and turned, ready to walk out and leave the little shit to figure out whatever was ailing him on his own. She stopped and turned back when she heard the click of shoes on tile. Rounding the corner of the line of stalls, Nicole saw Frank emerge from the last stall. He was sweaty and pale and entirely disheveled. He looked like he was in agony, in absolute misery, and Nicole’s heart hurt at the pitiful sight. His eyes were red-rimmed and his eyebrows were furrowed. The lines of his face were hard and sharp; whatever it was plaguing Frank Turner, he was in it. He looked to Nicole. “You’ll think I’m crazy.”

Nicole smiled in a small way, this time so Frank could see. She hoped it would diffuse some of the tension. “Try me,” she encouraged.

“I met the Devil.”

Nicole was shocked into laughter. Not wanting to be insensitive, she quickly recovered and covered her mouth. She leveled her gaze at Frank with a very serious expression. “You’re going to have to explain.”

Frank’s immediate response was to turn and retreat into the bathroom stall he had so recently exited. Nicole thought he was crazy, Nicole had laughed him, and so would everyone else. He had never felt more alone, and therefore more terrified, in his entire life. He collapsed onto the porcelain throne without an ounce of royalty about him, and then allowed his body to fall to the left, resting against the stall wall. He started crying again; what else was there to do?

Nicole knew she had fucked up, so she walked slowly but with purpose towards Frank’s stall. She paused just before the open door and only poked her head into the stall. “I’m sorry, Frank. Your response wasn’t anything I was expecting, that’s all. I didn’t know what else to do, so I laughed. I’m an asshole, I know.” Frank stared at her in complete agony and misery, and Nicole’s brain became fixated on the phrase “man on fire.” Frank looked like he was burning alive and in a grim way she would never admit aloud, Nicole thought that might be fitting given what he had just confessed to her. Frank only stared, he said nothing, so Nicole took a few more steps into the stall. She kneeled before Frank. “Please tell me what happened.”

Frank swallowed hard and then gasped for air. Was he burning or drowning? Did it matter? So long as there was pain, did the intensity of that pain validate or nullify its own existence? Frank didn’t want to think, so he decided to talk and to occupy himself with the explanation, the wondrous, fantastical explanation that was simultaneously horrifying and terrifying so that Nicole wouldn’t even believe him. But what else was there to do? Just cry? Frank closed his eyes, stayed slumped against the stall’s wall and said, “The first night there, after some bullshit ice-breaker workshop, they served a really nice dinner. I’m talking lobster and baked potatoes and hors d’oeuvres I can’t pronounce. I was looking to chow down, but I wasn’t really looking to make friends, so I claimed a table in a far corner and was perfectly content to be alone. It was an open bar, too. I was gonna stuff my face, drink until I was dizzy, and then stumble back to the room and call it a successful first night. I had a plan,” Frank insisted as his voice shook. He used his sleeve to wipe his eyes and nose. He sniffed loudly before continuing his story.

“But this guy, this fucking guy, comes and sits right next to me. I mean, goddam, he was practically on my lap. And he’s all smiley and greasy in a three-piece suit that was more than my monthly mortgage payment, and he was so good-looking. I know it’s weird that I noticed that, but think about how physically perfect this guy had to be for me to notice and to fucking be impressed.” He sobbed loudly. “I admit it, I was impressed. As creeped out as I was by his obvious lack of concern for personal space, I was so impressed. His teeth were white and straight, and his hair was elegantly and fashionably disheveled, like he used a fucking ruler to determine what strand fell where. Looking back, I realize how precise and calculated it all was, how awfully manipulative, but in the moment, it was all effortless and … and,” he struggled momentarily for just the right word but finally decided on “cool. He was just cool.”

Suddenly, Frank rocketed forward and let his forearms rest on his thighs. His posture was still all tight and jerky, and his expression was grotesque in its suffering. “I wanted to be him, you know? When he started talking, I wanted to just nod politely and blow him off, not encourage him in anyway. But within five minutes, I was fucking captivated, man. I was laughing and he was laughing, and then he was slapping me on the back and we just kept drinking and laughing and drinking and laughing.” He covered his face with his hands and cried. Nicole was wide-eyed and confused. Was Frank about to come out to her? He had a wife and kids, and Nicole wasn’t sure if she was worthy or responsible enough for the burden of such a weighty secret. She was about to just walk out and let fate take its course, whatever course that may be, but Frank inhaled sharply and kept talking.

“So the place is emptying out, like really clearing out, but him and I are still there, still yucking it up. I think I was even wiping my goddam eyes from crying from laughing so hard when he turns to me, serious as a heart attack, and asks, ‘What is it that you want from life, Frank?’

“I laughed and told him I was too drunk for introspection, but he persisted, he was insistent. So I told him I’d love to make a million bucks. I’d pay off the house and credit card bills, set Dennis and Jenny up for college at least a little bit, and take Michele somewhere really nice that she’d never been before, like Paris or Rome or something. He asked to see pictures of my family and like a goddam fool I handed them over without a second thought. He looked at them, and this was the first time I noticed something was off because he didn’t just look at them, but he really fucking studied them. He brought the pictures up real close to his face and tried to bore into their souls. I kind of snatched the picture back and was all determined to bid adieu when he tells me he can make it happen. He told me he could give me a million dollars, no questions asked.”

Nicole squinted her eyes skeptically. “You believed him?” She was starting to believe that Frank was in some real financial trouble now, maybe he got robbed blind in some kind of scheme, and she was in no position to help. She’d had Ramen noodles for dinner the past month.

“I was drunk!” Frank roared defensively. “I didn’t know what to think, so I entertained the idea and I kept talking. He said there was only one catch, that I only had to do one thing once I had the money.”

“What was that?” Nicole asked.

Frank swallowed hard again and finally met Nicole’s gaze. He was white as a ghost with a green tinge around his edges, like he could spew vomit any moment. “I’d have to kill someone I loved,” Frank said. His voice was cold and without tone or rhythm; it was mechanic and robotic, like he was saying something he’d rehearsed. “And if I didn’t, he would. He said he would kill someone I loved. Then he started laughing like a fucking lunatic and promised I could keep the money either way. All I had to do was shake his hand.” Frank broke down again and Nicole moved to rub his back. She tried to hush him, tried to soothe him, but it seemed futile. His wracking sobs caused his body to heave and Nicole thought he might just pass out from the effort.

“Frank, did you shake his hand?” Nicole asked tentatively, thinking some confession might help Frank, might be cathartic in some way.

“Yes!” Frank exploded. “Isn’t it fucking obvious that I did?” He screamed in desperation, in fear, just a guttural, animal noise. “When I looked into his eyes to see if he was for real, something happened to me, Nicole. So I tried to look somewhere else, and I did, but only for a second. There was this odd birthmark on his wrist that caught my attention. It was all red and lumpy but kind of small. It was circular but had lines inside it. It might have made sense and been decipherable but I felt like I had to look in his eyes. I looked back up and … I can’t explain it and you wouldn’t believe me even if I could explain it, but something happened to me. It was my body that shook his hand, but it wasn’t me. Does that make sense? How could I agree to something like that? It wasn’t me.” Frank was pleading his case, desperate for Nicole to believe him. He needed some kind of validation.

But Nicole was becomingly increasingly suspicious and terrified. Had Frank killed someone? Was that where the extreme emotional display was coming from, some sort of unimaginable guilt? The only thing keeping her in the stall was the very plausible possibility that Frank was confused or wrong. What in the hell kind of a story was he telling, anyway? She leaned away from him, but she asked, “So what happened next, Frank?”

He had collapsed his chest onto his thighs. “I shook his hand and he laughed but it was scary. I knew I had to leave so I high-tailed it back to my room and just collapsed into bed. I slept in my suit and everything.” He looked up at Nicole. “The next morning, when I was sober, I showered and dressed and drank about a gallon of strong coffee, and I found the guy responsible for registration. He had a whole list of names of everyone who was there from every firm. I told him the guy propositioned me to kill someone for him, that the guy was dangerous. He asked me the guy’s name, and I told him, and he checked his list. He checked his list over and over with me standing right there and there was no Lou Sever on the list. He even let me check. When I couldn’t find anything, he said it was probably someone just fucking around and went about his business like nothing was wrong.”

“Did you call the cops or anything?” Nicole asked, striving to be rational and logical.

“I couldn’t, Nicole; I wasn’t even sure if the guy existed,” Frank said with disgust. He was unsure at the moment if he was disgusted with himself or Nicole. He supposed it could have been both. “So I went to the workshops that day, every single one even if I wasn’t technically signed up, and I looked for this guy. I searched high and low, talked to people and asked questions. I hung around the hotel bar like some pathetic loser, just waiting and watching for him to reappear. But he never did, Nicole. I never saw him again.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” she asked slowly, cautiously.

Frank laughed but without humor. “You would think so, especially when there was over a million dollars in my checking account. There were no recent transactions listed in my account summary and when I went to the bank, they all acted like I was insane, like the money had always been there. Michele called me and she was ecstatic. I tried to explain to her what kind of money this was, dangerous money with no sort of trail, but she was already on the way to spending it. And the worst part, the absolute worst part, is that she kept thanking me, like I had worked hard, or done something noble and righteous for this sudden windfall, but I didn’t, Nicole. I didn’t do anything good for that money.” His head fell into his hands.

“You didn’t do anything at all, Frank,” Nicole said. “You just shook some sick fuck’s hand while you were drunk. You tried to give the money back, or at least investigated, but everything was working in your favor.” Nicole grinned. “Maybe it’s a reward.”

“Not from a guy like that,” Frank protested with a deep pout pulling his lips down. “There’s no reward. For a few days, I thought like you, like maybe it was all gonna come up roses or something, I don’t know. I was almost happy flying home, and I let myself think about the future and how easy life would be. It was gonna be so nice,” Frank sobbed. He wiped at his eyes furiously. “But when I got home, Nicole, nothing was easy or nice. It was all completely fucked.”

“What’s wrong, Frank?”

“Michele took Dennis to the hospital because he was real sick. It was sudden and devastating and they’re saying he won’t make it. And he has a new fucking birthmark on his wrist,” Frank said, looking to Nicole with dead, empty eyes. “He has it, Jenny has it, Michele has it, I have it. We’re all going to die.”

Nicole jumped to her feet. She started to slowly back out of the stall. “Frank, I-“

Frank slowly stood. “I only came to work today to do the one thing to stop all of this. I have to kill someone I love.”

“Frank, be serious,” Nicole pleaded. Her voice quivered in its weakness and she kept backing up until her back slammed against the cool, tiled wall of the men’s room. “You just … we need-“

“I love you, Nicole,” Frank said and it was at that moment Nicole saw the blade in his hand as it just so happened to wink in the harsh fluorescent lights.

devil

On collisions.

Published October 25, 2016 by mandileighbean

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #31: Ben Jackson, husband and father of three, is killed on a car accident. Write about this event and how it affects the lives of the following characters:

  • Ben’s wife
  • Ben’s business partner
  • a police officer who was at the scene of the accident
  • Ben’s youngest child

 

By all accounts, Ben Jackson was a good man. He loved his family very much, and he showed up to work with a smile everyday. Ben never complained; he had nothing to complain about, really, and he knew it was all wasted breath. Ben Jackson had never intended to waste any breath as he fully understood how precious such breaths were. So when Ben breathed his last, when his breaths were brutally cut short, it was certainly not of his own volition.

He never even saw the other car coming.

But why would he? No one ever really looks for the car speeding through a red light; the car just comes, as careless and reckless as any harbinger of death would be. That might be melodramatic – it was no sullen, hooded figure gliding just above the pavement  with a sickle clutched in a bony hand. It had been a kid; a simple, pimply kid who was too busy sending text messages in the group chat and making plans for a Friday night he was certain would come to look up. So confident in his immortality as only the young are, he assumed the car in front of him had disappeared from his stolen glances at the road because the traffic light had changed color from red to green. In reality, the car had made a legal right on red, but the teen driver wasn’t really paying attention. He accelerated forward the way young, inexperienced drivers are apt to do – in sudden, scary bursts – and in just a moment more, he slammed into the side of Ben Jackson’s car, right into the driver’s door.

Ben’s affordable Kia Rio folded like a cheap suit and a jagged piece of metal from the poorly constructed door (later, no one would mention the recall at the service because to do so would be impertinent) severed his femoral artery. He bled out in just four minutes, just before the paramedics arrived.

Officer Bobby Gillis, responding to the scene, was unnerved by the lack of carnage for a crash with a fatality. The teen’s car had managed to travel unscathed to the far side of the relatively busy intersection before he collided with the deceased, a Mr. Ben Jackson. Officer Bobby Gillis was slightly bent at the waist, looking in through an open window at Ben Jackson’s face. The face was peaceful, like the man could be sleeping instead of being dead. Office Bobby Gillis released a deep breath and straightened up, looking across the way for his partner. Once he showed up, the pair would travel to the deceased’s home and notify the next of kin. Officer Bobby Gillis swallowed hard and ran a trembling hand across the back of his neck a few times. He needed to get his mind right, to focus on the task at hand, which in essence was to break someone’s heart, some undeserving stranger who as of yet had no idea a loved one was gone, dead and gone. His face felt tingly and he knew he must be pale, and he shut his eyes tight against the vision of the peaceful dead man that would haunt him at night for months to come.

Imagine if Officer Bobby Gillis knew what a great guy Ben Jackson was. How harder would the tragedy have landed on the officer if he knew Ben Jackson was on the road during the workday to pick up lunch for his colleagues, his treat? No good deed goes unpunished, and for a generous lunch, Ben Jackson had paid with his life. What a sick joke.

But neither Officer Bobby Gillis nor his partner knew the intimate details of Ben Jackson’s life and as such, both were better composed as they climbed wooden, creaking steps to a front door of a home that looked like every other home in the neighborhood. There was nothing remarkable about it, nothing to alert anyone to the fact that someone inside had been marked for death. Officer Bobby Gillis continued to grapple with his existential crisis until he noticed the toys in the yard and the small bikes in the driveway. His stomach flipped over and for a moment, just a moment, he debated running back to the cruiser and locking the doors. He’d rather avoid the whole, ugly mess.

But his partner had already knocked.

When the door opened, a gorgeous blonde with legs for miles answered the door. She was smiling, but it didn’t quite meet her big, baby doll eyes. Officer Bobby Gillis chalked it up to being uncomfortable and confused, which was how most pedestrians felt when the law came knocking on their door. Officer Bobby Gillis’ partner asked if the children were home.

“Just my youngest,” said the beautiful woman. “Jimmy and Josie are at school.” Her face paled considerably but somehow remained radiant. Officer Bobby Gillis credited contoured makeup. “Is everything okay? Did something happen to my children?”

The partner answered that no, nothing happened to the children and that they were safe. Then he asked if they could come in. Though the woman gave no response, she opened the front door wider and stepped back, which was as good an invitation as any. The officers crossed the threshold, softly shutting the door behind them, and followed the beautiful woman into the kitchen. She shakily sat in a chair, watching with impossibly wide eyes as the officers seated themselves opposite her.

Officer Bobby Gillis let his partner do all the talking.

And as the partner explained the tragedy, the beautiful woman didn’t make a sound. She blinked those big, baby doll eyes a lot, blinked them until a few tears rolled down her cheeks. Officer Bobby Gillis credited shock for the muted reaction, and considered that quite possibly, this woman was doing her best to keep it together for the little one that was somewhere inside the home. Officer Bobby Gillis and his partner offered expected but genuine condolences and then excused themselves. Once outside, Officer Bobby Gillis said, “Well, that sucked.” His partner agreed and Officer Bobby Gillis said, “That’s the absolute worst part of this job, man.”

Inside, the beautiful woman was still sitting at the table. Her name was Lisa and she had been married to Ben Jackson for ten years. They had known each other in high school, but waited a few years after they graduated college to get serious. It was a safe bet for Lisa, a sure thing; he was making money as a financial adviser and Lisa had never been any good at anything, not skilled enough to have a career. She also was never any good with money, so she had been content to be taken care of (financially, at the very least). That is, she had been content.

Phil Evans, Ben’s business partner, came walking out of the bedroom from down the hallway, tucking his expensive button-down shirt into his equally expensive pants. “Who was that?” he asked.

“The police,” Lisa said. Her voice was flat. “Ben’s dead. There was a car accident.” She blinked. “He didn’t make it. He’s dead.” She blinked again. In a moment more, those big, baby doll eyes landed on Phil.

Phil collapsed into the chair recently vacated by Officer Bobby Gillis. His eyebrows were scrunched up, like he was confused and trying to solve some exceedingly frustrating problem. “What?” he asked, even though he had heard Lisa perfectly. He didn’t know what else to say – what was there to say? – and he was buying time, time to think and figure it out.

“Ben’s dead,” Lisa repeated. Her voice cracked and tears came easier now. “Ben’s dead.”

Phil covered his face with his hands. “Shit,” he breathed. His breath was tremulous, speeding up and slowing down in a jerky kind of pattern that typically signaled tears. He didn’t want to cry in front of Lisa, didn’t feel he had the right to mourn Ben’s passing in Ben’s house. Phil’s recent sense of decency was odd and ill-timed, as he had just slept with Ben’s wife and had been doing so for months. “Lisa, I-”

Down the hall, Jeremy was softly crying. He was just waking up from his afternoon nap and rather than sit across from Phil and face the physical manifestation of everything that was wrong with her, Lisa hurried down the hall.

In her absence, Phil found himself able to cry.

death_in_the_hood

On Biscuit.

Published April 10, 2016 by mandileighbean

I am by no means an “animal lover.” I have never owned an animal poster, not even the psychedelic ones by Lisa Frank that featured crazy colors and tigers. I’m not particularly saddened or offended when animals die in movies; I can move on quickly. I bypass the viral cat videos, and just smile and nod politely when someone insists on showing me one of these videos. I suffer patiently when people talk about their pets like children. I would not be fulfilled in a career that entailed cuddling with pandas.

That being said, I really and truly loved my dog Biscuit, and am surprised by how depressed and devastated I am that we had to put him down on Thursday.

We all knew he was dying, and I thought realizing it would make accepting it and then dealing with it easier. I was wrong. We knew he was not doing well because Biscuit was 16 years old, which is pretty old for any dog. Also, he had a vascular growth near his rectum that had become infected and bled continuously at a slow drip. The day of his death, Biscuit wasn’t moving, wasn’t eating, was constipated and simply didn’t look healthy. Dad and I convinced Mom to take him to the vet (Dad was at work, though), so we had a 6:00pm appointment. The prognosis was bad, and the vet gave us three options: surgery, which could cause incontinence and greatly affect Biscuit’s quality of life; steroids, antibiotics and stool softener, which might work but was more of just a band aid; and euthanasia. Mom and I talked about it, and we decided to put Biscuit down. It broke our hearts, devastated us, but it was best for Biscuit, the best dog I’ve ever owned.

When he got older, he’d sometimes sleep with his tongue sticking out. It was adorable.

When I first met Biscuit, he jumped up to say hello, but scratched my leg pretty badly. I still have the scar.

When I was suffering from a terrible, severe complicated migraine, Biscuit climbed up onto the couch and cuddled with me. He knew I was in miserable pain and wanted me to feel better.

Biscuit had big, googly eyes and one over sized, yellow, wonky tooth. He was still the cutest dog ever.

Biscuit cuddled with Sam on her bed and as he left her room later, he looked right at her and peed on her doorjamb. It was liked he knew she’d be trouble and was showing his support for the family. Sammy likes Teddy better anyway.

Biscuit would wait for my mom outside of the bathroom. It was like he was in love with her. We called them Brian and Lois, a nod to the similar, inter-species couple from “Family Guy.”

Biscuit would lay on Dad’s chest and they would share ice pops. Dad loved Biscuit.

Biscuit only ever bit my dad, and it was totally my dad’s fault. He kept pulling a bone from Biscuit’s mouth, and we all heard Biscuit growl, warning Dad to knock it off. Dad wouldn’t – he never does – and we told him Biscuit was going to bite him. Dad just wouldn’t listen – he never does. He said, “Biscuit would never bite the hand that feeds him,” and went to take the bone again, but Biscuit did bite him. Dad called him a motherfucker.

Once I moved out, Biscuit would always sleep with me if I spent the night at my parents’ house. He did the same when he spent a week at my house while my family was on vacation in Florida. He was perfect gentleman – he never peed anywhere.

Biscuit’s last meal was sharing chips with me. The only time he left his bed on the last day of his life was to say hello to me.

I walked Biscuit for the last time at the animal hospital.

Mom and I kissed Biscuit. We told him he was a good boy, told him that we’d miss him. Mom held him as he took his last breath.

They gave us locks of Biscuit’s hair and angel pins to remember him by. I get to keep the fur. Mikey gets the collar.

The veterinary assistants called Biscuit a “perfect gentleman.” He was the best dog.

Mom was a mess. I’ve only seen her cry four times in my life; after a bad, bad fight with Dad, when her father died, and the two times Sammy has left for rehab. She technically cried when Bijou (our other dog) was out down, but she swears that doesn’t count because it was only out of guilt – she hated that dog and to be fair, he was a pain in the ass.

We left Biscuit on the cold, steel table with a towel over his precious, little face. I was surprised by how hard the loss hit me. I really fucking loved that dog. I knew the end was near – he was at least 16 years old, just to reiterate the point – but I was so very sad.

I made a colleague make the middle name of her new puppy Biscuit. When I get a dog, no matter the sex, I will name it Biscuit.

My parents’ house is weird without Biscuit. He had such a personality. I think even Teddy misses him, too (the morbidly obese chihuahua we also own). He’s been laying in Biscuit’s spot by the door, but it’s not the same.

Dad’s using Biscuit’s bowl to keep change in.

Biscuit loved to be outside. He’d lay on the front porch for hours, basking in the sunlight and surveying his kingdom like Mufasa from “The Lion King.” He was totally Transcendental.

I miss him. I almost cried writing this, and I don’t even like animals all that much.

On near misses.

Published March 31, 2016 by mandileighbean

wakeupcall

For someone who believes in, and more often than not relies on signs from the universe, I’m constantly missing those signs. I’m frequently guilty of missing the point, as it were. It is usually only in hindsight that I am appreciative and finally realize that the Universe was trying to alert me to something.

I left Busco Beach ATV Park in Goldsboro, North Carolina around 9:30 yesterday morning. On the main highway in town, I was stuck in a line of cars waiting for the longest freight train I’ve ever seen in my life. I was patient and waited. Now I wonder if those ten minutes that felt like an hour made any difference, if those ten minutes affected my journey in a crucial way.

About 45 minutes later, I was merging onto I-95 and nearly had to swerve to avoid hitting a giant vulture and some other small bird feasting on a carcass in the middle of the interstate. I’d never seen vultures feeding in real life, only in the movies and on television, and it seemed especially stranger the birds would land and feed on such a busy road. It was a gruesome reminder of mortality, regardless if the location seemed unrealistic.

Some time later, I ran over a blown tire. The sound was loud and startling, but the collision was harmless. Another sign, perhaps, but of what?

The trip was mostly uneventful after the aforementioned incidents, aside from irritating pockets of traffic, until I reached Baltimore, Maryland. I was traveling over the bridge that ended in tunnels near the Port of Baltimore. I was being attentive, wasn’t distracted by my cell phone or iPod, but none of that positive, defensive driving seems to matter. Somehow, an orange construction cone (one of the big ones, shaped more like a tube and reminiscent of a garbage can) was left behind. There was no obvious construction, no other cones or material left behind – just the one thing. The car in front of the truck in front of me decimated the cone, smashed it all to bits. The truck in front of me slammed on its brakes, and I had no other choice but to do the same. I also swerved to the left, into the shoulder.

For a few terrifying moments, I was convinced I was going to crash into the concrete barrier, wedging my jeep between that median and the back end of the truck in front of me. I saw it all happen like some lame scene from one of those “Final Destination” movies. I’d slam against the steering wheel (would the air bag go off?) and there’d be blood gushing from my nose and mouth. My teeth, after thousands of dollars spent at the orthodontist, would be broken and shattered more likely than not. Would the windows bust from pressure of being squished between the concrete and the truck? I had my seat belt fastened, but what would that have really prevented?

But I’m okay. There was no crash, no sickening crunch of glass and metal, no screech of a scrape against concrete. The whole awful mess was avoided and I kept on driving, kept on going. There was no time to stop and investigate the accident that had almost happened, no time to figure out how it had been avoided. Pieces of the orange and white plastic flew by, circling end over end along the shoulder. The sound of my squealing tires reverberated in the air but only for a moment. Life kept moving.

And I was okay.

I think that’s the message from the Universe: Mandi, life changes and keeps going despite your personal dramas, and you’re okay. You’re going to be okay.

So I’m listening very seriously to my mom when she advises me to work on myself, to be happy with me. She seems convinced that once that happens, everything else will fall into place. I’m starting to agree. The ideology makes sense, but it’s also exhausting feeling guilty for absolutely everything that happens in my life. If friends hang out without me, I immediately wonder what I did wrong and try to figure out why they would launch an offensive to alienate me. If I was happy with myself, truly happy, I’d be able to realize that not everything is about me and how horrible I am. That realization makes me feel guilty, like I’m wrong for thinking badly about anyone ever when there’s so much wrong with me. Well, that’s an incredibly depressing attitude and I don’t want to be apart of it anymore.

Today, I got a manicure and a pedicure. Tomorrow, I’m trimming my hair and on Sunday, I’m coloring my hair. These may seem vain and shallow attempts at becoming okay with myself, but we all have to start somewhere, no? And truth be told, I’m happy with who I am on the inside. Sure, I’ve got some crippling insecurities and some awfully bad habits to work through, but don’t we all? I’m going to work on myself in the best way I see fit because I trust myself and I love myself.

There is a difference between narcissism and introspection.

I’m not missing any more signs.

vacation

On the point being to keep trying.

Published March 21, 2016 by mandileighbean

nevergiveup

“In the stories, though, it’s worth it. Always worth it to have tried, even if you fail, even if you fall like a meteor forever. Better to have flamed in the darkness, to have inspired others, to have lived, than to have sat in the darkness, cursing the people who borrowed, but did not return, your candle.”
– Neil Gaiman, The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a terrible adult. It seems that I never fold laundry, I owe everyone money, I always forgot to check the mail, and I’m constantly drinking spoiled milk. On good days, I am able to convince myself that these minor defeats give me character and make me interesting; they give me something to write about.

And I keep trying, because that’s the point, right? The point is to keep trying.

My author page on Facebook has been experiencing more activity than usual, and I want to capitalize by composing a riveting, engaging blog post, but I’ve been lacking inspiration. I’ve also been lacking motivation. I haven’t written anything. I haven’t graded anything.

Last week was rough.

My twin sister returned to rehab a week ago today. I try to remind myself that relapse, whether or not anyone likes it, is a part of recovery. I force myself to consider the alternative, about where else she’d be if she wasn’t trying to get help. Neither scenario does much to lessen the disappointment, the frustration, the anger, or the sadness. It’s a gross, turbulent mess of emotions that I’m trying to compartmentalize and shrink so that they can be better processed and dealt with appropriately. But it’s hard; it’s so hard.

But I keep trying, because that’s the point, right? The point is to keep trying.

“Because, perhaps, if this works, they will remember him. All of them will remember him. His name will … become synonymous with … love. And my name will be forgotten. I am willing to pay that price ….”
– Neil Gaiman, The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury

That wasn’t entirely true, what I said earlier, about not having written anything. I’ve written some things, but nothing I’ve been thrilled with or necessarily proud of. I worry my writing – the themes, the characters, the dialogue – is repetitive. I worry I’ve written all of this before, and that might be because the object of my affection is every character I’ve ever written, is the epitome of every romantic fantasy I’ve ever had, and so it all comes back to him in one way or another. What’s especially troubling, and simultaneously amazing about being a writer, is that I invented this man before he appeared before me in the flesh (talk about a god complex, huh?). In college, before I had ever met this man, I started a novel and wrote, “He couldn’t watch her fawn over another man, couldn’t tell her how he felt because it was too late and he’d ruin it for her.” Swap the genders of the pronouns and I am my own prophet. It’s crazy; I said everything I should have said to him years before I met him. How depressing.

I wrote a poem, too.

I put the kettle on for tea
and pulled my leggings from the dryer
I hope there’s time for breakfast
before I go about setting the world on fire

Burning devastation – turn it all to heat and ash
There’s something freeing about going mad
To face the world with wild, reckless abandon
To give in, to be selfish, to be ignorant and bad

Consequences will come swift and sure
Rolling quickly like so many rocks downhill
But it could absolutely all be worth it
For the liberation that accompanies the kill

What does being so reserved get you,
maybe a curtsy and a smile?
None of the mystery, intrigue and danger
that can go along with being vile

But I don’t think I’d really go so dark. It’s easy to not consider anyone or anything else other than my own wants and desires, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s difficult to do what is right, at least sometimes.

But I keep trying, because that’s the point, right? The point is to keep trying.

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 time.

Published November 5, 2015 by mandileighbean

I have a REAL problem with procrastination, and not just with work. Let’s face it; few people actually enjoy completing work in the proper setting. There’s a sad, small thrill in doing something other than assigned tasks in the workplace. Am I wrong?

I’m upset because I procrastinate in life – in general. I put off adventures and impassioned conversations and daring risks because I have erroneously convinced myself that there will indeed be time. I have erroneously convinced myself that things are permanent and everlasting. This is most likely because I absolutely despise, even abhor, change. Rather than deal with this phobia and its fairly obvious implications regarding my mental health, I simply ignore change. I deny its existence. This is not only unhealthy, but ineffective. I am left unsatisfied and heartbroken, often times disappointed.

To further illustrate this point, let me offer you an example. There was a fashionable eatery located just before the on-ramp for 195 called the Java Moon Cafe. It always seemed so cool, for lack of a better term, and each time I passed, I always made a resolution to stop in and check it out. It was the inspiration of a myriad of possibilities and opportunities, the perfect setting for my ceaseless coming-of-age tale. Traveling to Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida – whenever access to I-95 was required – I would always watch the building emerge and fade from my window, also catching glimpses in the rearview and side mirrors. There it always was, and I assumed there was where it would always be.

But coming home from Virginia last night, I was saddened to discover that the lights were out. The entire property was encased by a chain link fence. It was being sold to be repurposed and reimagined. The Java Moon Cafe was no more, and lost were the opportunities my overly active imagination had fancied. I could not sit at a table, cup of coffee cooling beside me, typing away on some riveting work of fiction. No handsome stranger would ask what I was working on. No conversation would necessitate more cups of coffee as the sun sank and faded, welcoming twilight to spread its inky black net of stars across the sky. The smell of the pine and cedar – or whatever wood it was made of – would never linger in my nostrils. I would never witness the charm of the imitation log cabin. It was gone, closed off from me forever because I always thought there’d be time.

I felt this way about the original Yankee Stadium, tore down and renovated despite the historical, sentimental significance. Progress for progress’ sake. I felt this way about the Twin Towers, never being able to step inside a landmark prominently featured in the famous New York City skyline. It is a selfish comment to make concerning a tragedy of that magnitude, but it is nevertheless true.

My New Years’ resolution will be not to wait. When something strikes me, I will venture out. I will entertain whims because life is short. Moments are fleeting.

In other news, the BookCon went very well. I am endeavouring to sign and sell more books in different locations to expand my audience, to be more inclusive. No more waiting around to do something; the time is now. There is no later.

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