First Responders

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On life … and how titles can be vague.

Published November 25, 2013 by mandileighbean

Life is a fleeting, funny thing- I think we can all agree on that.  Last night, I enjoyed some drinks and some nostalgia with wonderful friends.  As the night ended at a diner, the way nights in Jersey so often do, a waitress who had seated herself at the table beside ours went into some kind of diabetic shock.  My friend Raina is a nurse, and without hesitation, she rushed to the woman’s side and did all she could to keep her alert and comfortable until the paramedics arrived.  I watched her with a serious sense of awe, of how cool, calm, collected, and confident she was.  I was amazed that such a wonderful and beautiful human being could friends with someone like me, who did contributed nothing to the situation other than stunned silence and stares.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #7: “A woman gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she gets hired to sing backup for a famous musician.”

microphone

Emily was ten years too old – was there really a logical reason for someone to roam this Earth for ninety years?  What could there possibly be left to see or hear or do?  She had laughed until she cried, cried until she had to laugh, been heartbroken, believed herself to be infinite and immortal, believed everything to be meaningless, and then believed everything to be poignantly meaningful.  She had run the gamut from wildly and recklessly passionate to dangerously and stubbornly apathetic.  Had she not lived through some serious shit?  Had she not also merrily sailed through years of calm?  What could possibly be left?  Emily was ready for death.

Ah, but that was horse shit and she knew it.  The thought of going to sleep and never waking up still terrified her in a way that was inexplicable.  It was a sweeping, overwhelming kind of horror that could not be sufficiently articulated.  So, Emily reasoned, if it could not be explained, then what good was there in thinking about it?  Emily looked for something else to occupy her mind and she settled on the weather.  The snow outside was falling steadily and despite feeling hellishly cranky, Emily thought it beautiful to look at.  She watched the weather silently and calmly with her head turned to the side on the large but thin pillow.  She allowed herself to wonder, but only for a moment, how many more snowfalls she’d see, but she shut her eyes against the thought of her inevitable and impending passing.  She prayed for some kind of relief, for some kind of distraction, and in walked the nurse.

The nurse had spent many nights with Emily, perhaps pulling the short straw and getting stuck with the cranky old woman through horrendous hours, hours where the human body was meant to be soundly sleeping.  The nurse was always obnoxiously cheerful and pleasant, which annoyed Emily who only pretended to be crotchety enough to pray for death.  Emily was also annoyed because the nurse was a young man.  Men, in Emily’s learned and wise and venerable opinion, were meant for manual labor and hard work, not for soothing and caring and all that womanly business.  Emily never exchanged more than a few words with the young man, and she only relented and did so because of his eyes.

The young man had absolutely phenomenal eyes.  There were a unique shade of emerald that a human being is blessed to see only once in a lifetime.  They shone brightly, as if chips of a broken Heineken bottle were stuck in the orbs to catch and reflect light.  Emily knew it was a piss poor analogy, and a disturbing rather than beautiful image, but she was dying.  She could do as she pleased.  She gave him a sneer that was slightly less repellent than usual as he came in, and then turned to continue to watch the accumulating powder.  He smiled merrily at her.  “Good evening, Emily.  How are you feeling?”

She grunted.

“Emily, my favorite part of our time together is the scintillating conversations we share.  Honestly, I’ve never been so emotionally and intellectually engrossed before.”  He was being scathingly sarcastic, but he gave her a quick wink to show it was all in fun.  Emily did her best to hide her grin in her hands as she pretended to cough.  The young man had traversed over to the machines that beeped endlessly and flashed all kinds of numbers and statistics that meant nothing to Emily.  She watched him and had the urge to ask him a question.  Despite it being completely out of character, Emily asked, “Did you always want to be a nurse, son?”

The young man was taken aback, clearly not anticipating any kind of conversation other than the usual nods and unintelligible moans and groans.  “What?” he responded, his decorum completely leaving him in favor of shock.

“Men usually aren’t nurses.  What brought you to this line of work?”

He laughed softly.  “You know, you’re right, but no one’s ever actually asked me that before.”  With the grin lingering about his lips, he took a few moments to give the question some serious thought.  Then he said, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer.”

Emily was disappointed.  Writing was not work by any stretch of the imagination.  She had wanted him to say rancher, or laborer, or soldier, something exceedingly masculine and handsome and wonderful she could think about later.  In essence, he had given her nothing to work with, and so she became bored with the conversation and turned her face away, back to the snow.

“What about you, Emily?  What was your dream?”

There was no thinking; her response was instinctual, as effortless as breathing.  “I wanted to be a singer.”

“Really?” the young man was amused by the answer.  “I’ve got to be honest; you don’t strike me as a singer, Emily.”

She turned to him with cold eyes.  “And why not?  What the hell is that supposed to mean, anyway?  I could sing as good as any of them!  I could move and put on one hell of a show, I’ll have you know!”

The young man crossed his arms over his chest and gazed upon Emily with real interest.  “So what happened?  Why are you here instead of up on the stage?”

“Because I’m ninety years old and knocking on death’s door.”

He smiled ruefully.  “You know what I mean, Emily.  Why didn’t you ever become a singer?”

She sighed.  “Well, I was making a name for myself at the local dive bars.  I was packing places to capacity, causing fire hazards and whatnot.  A couple of stories ran in the papers and this big shot from Los Angeles came to see me.  He was impressed by what he saw and offered me a shot.  I was to go to Los Angeles and become a backup singer for Frank Sinatra for a gig or two.”

“Frank Sinatra, really?” the young man asked.  She had his full attention now as he sat on the edge of her bed, open-mouthed.

“Oh, sure,” she smiled.  “I didn’t get to meet him or nothin’, because during my audition, I was nervous as hell.  So I downed some whiskey to calm the nerves and pull it together.  I must have overdone it, though, because I moseyed on up there and soon as I opened my pie hole, I vomited all over the mic.”  Emily started chuckling.  “Everyone was so disgusted.  I was escorted out by these burley guys who didn’t even want to touch me.  I didn’t even get a chance to collect my things.”  Her chuckles had turned into hearty guffaws.  She brought her wrinkled hands up to her wrinkled cheeks as her eyes wrinkled with merriment.  She was genuinely laughing, something she hadn’t done since Lord knows how long.  It was an infectious, melodious and beautiful sound and for a fleeting moment, the young man heard how Emily must have sounded when she sang and it was tremendous.  His smile stretched wider and he joined in the laughter.

Elderly woman's hand

On Gary Sinse.

Published August 20, 2012 by mandileighbean

I’m no one special – far from it if my greatest fears are to be realized – but I’ve been blessed enough to have some special things happen to me and my loved ones.  I got to meet Gerard Way, the lead singer of My Chemical Romance which, despite all the torment I endure from some friends, is one of my favorite bands.  He signed his comic book and talked to me for about a minute and it was nice. My friend Maeve had set the whole thing up for my 19th birthday and it meant the world to me; still does, actually.

Melanie and I traveled to Maine to vacation – but really, I was mildly stalking Stephen King – and we got to see the real Pet Sematary and meet incredibly nice people.

I visited the location where “Friday the 13th” was filmed.

Oh, and this one time, I saw Stephen Colbert walking out of a hardware store in Montclair, New Jersey.  I also saw him at Church for Palm Sunday.

But of all the random and cool things that I have been blessed enough to experience, last night was the most amazing.

Those closest to me, but particularly my college roommates, know of my love for Gary Sinise.  He stars in “CSI: New York” and most famously portrayed Lieutenant Dan in the movie, “Forrest Gump.”  He also portrayed Stu Redman in the television miniseries “The Stand,” based upon one of my favorite books of all time by my favorite author of all time, Stephen King.  Basically, Gary and I have a history in the sense that I have been stalking – again, mildly so – him for years.

It was genuinely serendipitous how the whole thing came together.  The other night, as referenced in my most recently posted short story, my family and I watched a documentary about Sinise’s band entitled, “Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good.”  It was incredibly moving as it showcased the band’s dedication to honoring veterans, wounded warriors, first responders and those who gave all through their performances and visits overseas.  My father and I watched in awe as two of the female singers pulled a young serviceman on stage and serenaded him, hugging him and cooing in an endearing and yet incredibly embarrassing display of affection.  We cried as Sinise visited family after family, location after location and spent an impressive majority of his time and money in honoring those who serve.

I turned to my dad and said, “How great would it be if he could perform at the fundraiser for Nick?”

Dad laughed and said, “Yeah, he could pull me on stage.”

What started as a joke turned serious when I did some research on Sinise’s foundation, which monetarily and charitably aided veterans, first responders and their families.  I wrote a letter, requesting the foundation participate in Nick’s fundraiser but unfortunately, the request was not timely enough as Sinise is booked solid through the end of the year.  I clicked around and discovered that the Lieutenant Dan Band was playing at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson – only thirty minutes from home – in four days.

My mind began to put together a wild kind of scheme – if Dad wore his uniform and we both wore our pins commemorating Nick’s memory, then maybe, just maybe we could get his attention and he could sign a DVD copy of “Forrest Gump” for us to raffle off.  Hell, maybe we could even meet him and take pictures.  It seemed doubtful, but it was worth a shot.  I bought the tickets and told Dad it was a done deal, we were going.

The day of the concert I slept in later than I wanted.  Dad and I were rushed, as he came home from work and immediately showered, shaved and changed into his uniform.  He had me type up a letter and enclose a flyer detailing the specifics of Nick’s fundraiser so that if we couldn’t speak with Sinise, we could at least pass along a letter … possibly.  As I went to the mall to pick up a copy of the movie, Dad decided to go ahead to the park where he was not charged admission, got the letter and flyer to Sinise, made friends with the New York Fire Department and then met Gary Sinise.

I shit you not (pardon my French).

When I showed up, the band was doing sound check, so I only got to watch from the stage.  As I had the camera, the merchandise for autographing and the pen, I was nervous we wouldn’t get a second chance.  I gave my dad a real hard time about meeting Sinise without me and blamed him for botching the entire operation.  It was in jest though because as the day progressed, I met amazing men and women who answered the call on September 11th and have continued to do so ever since.  I met first responders, firemen, veterans and other heroes and there were several times I could not hold back the tears.  The stories I heard and the characters I met were priceless and had I not met Sinise, the day would have been a godsend for other reasons.

When the concert started, I loved it.  I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but the band sounded amazing and the crowd was into it.  Then my dad WAS pulled up on stage and serenaded.  Then we DID meet Gary Sinise backstage and I do not exaggerate when I say he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, celebrity or otherwise.  He talked to us for a solid five minutes; he bonded with Dad about being in Iraq and the crazier aspects of the war, and he suffered through my gushing.  I talked about The Stand and “CSI: New York.”  I made him sign everything we brought and hugged him more times than he was probably comfortable with.  But he did it all with a smile and was never anything but gracious and friendly.

Why am I telling you this?  It isn’t to bore you with a long-winded, personal anecdote, or to impress you with my celebrity encounter.  If I am being honest with myself, which is this new thing that I’m trying, I am telling you this because I hope it restores your faith in humanity as it did mine.  Gary Sinise really does use his celebrity for good.  He pays the band members out of his own pocket as the ticket sales from every show go to charity.  Sinise will pass the time with anyone, is genuine and compassionate and just all around spectacular.

Here is the DVD Gary Sinise signed. It will be raffled off at Nick’s memorial scholarship fundraiser in September.

I asked Gary Sinise to sign my battered copy of Stephen King’s novel The Stand.

And Gary Sinise signed it, like an awesome gentleman. It says, “To Mandi, Take Care, Gary Sinise.”

Here’s photographic evidence of the encounter.

And last but not least, here is a picture I will cherish for a long, long time.

The only bummer of the day was that the incredibly attractive young man who took the pictures for my dad and me (since my camera battery died, of course) did not seem too interested.  Alas.  Also, I can’t help but think this whole enterprise was guided by some divine intervention.  I honestly believe Nick had my back the whole time.  He is sorely missed.

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