Grief

All posts tagged Grief

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 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 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 being woefully unprepared.

Published December 29, 2013 by mandileighbean

sorrow

I’ve noticed that as I go through life, I truly take so many things for granted. I’m not just talking about the big ones, like that I’ll wake up in the morning and have breakfast and people who will love and support me, but the other things, the smaller things, too. When I walk through the heavy doors of the high school where I teach, glass framed by sturdy metal, I take for granted that the people I see every day will be there every day. I assume that just as I woke up, showered, dressed and arrived, so did everyone else. I fall into the comfort of complacency and a routine established back in September. I say hello to the principal’s secretary in the main office as I sign in and continue to the back and check my mailbox. Usually, a colleague representing the math department will be using the copier and we will exchange the polite and proper pleasantries as I silently and internally curse myself for not having arrived earlier to hog the copier, which may in fact be the only one working in the building at that given moment. Mailbox checked and copier in use, I proceed through the rear door, back down the hallway I came from, to my classroom to unlock the door and prepare for the day. The little things in that litany are things that could mean more than I’ve ever imagined.

For example, a beautiful, stylish and incredibly knowledgeable English teacher had a classroom across from mine. In between periods, as we both stood by our doors to greet students and ask students to remove their hats, we would roll our eyes in commiseration at the more difficult conglomeration of students we were charged with educating. I would ask about her children and her resulting hectic weekends. The conversations were pleasant, polite, and more often than not, I’d return to my classroom smiling and laughing because she had a wicked, witty sense of humor. Indeed, she went as far as to aid my father in essentially humiliating me during parent-teacher conferences because she thought it’d be funny to see me squirm. She was a real riot.

I wanted her to like me. I wanted her to accept me because I respected her so damn much. She was the kind of woman I’d be proud to be, had even hoped to be. Balancing a social life and a career with a beautiful family, being so well-dressed and knowledgeable without being pretentious or aloof – she was a wonder to behold, and I know I was blessed and privileged to share a department, let alone a hallway, with her.

I took for granted that I’d see her on Monday when we all returned from winter break, refreshed and perhaps already eagerly anticipating spring break. I took for granted she’d be there, just as I was there.

But this wonderful woman who meant so much to her family, friends, colleagues, students, and athletes passed away this morning. Those of us left behind are devastated by the tragedy and senselessness of losing someone so young and beautiful and brilliant, and we keep repeating statements like, “But I just saw her … but I just talked to her … but I was just saying” because we took for granted she’d be there and in doing so, were woefully unprepared for the day she is not there. According to Philip Roth, that’s the real human tragedy: being unprepared for tragedy. That is what we are; unprepared to say goodbye, and unprepared for how hard her absence has already and will continue to hit us.

Rest in peace, Tara Gardner. You were loved and will always be loved, just as you will always be missed.

sorrow1

On sadness – plain sadness.

Published June 9, 2013 by mandileighbean

funeral

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

 

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

On idols.

Published August 17, 2012 by mandileighbean

Today marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the death of Elvis Aaron Presley, the King of Rock and Roll.

Thirty-five years is a decent amount of time.  It’s strange to think that Elvis lived, laughed, loved, performed and perished all before I was born, before my parents even met, before I was even a thought.  Yet, here I am, mourning his death and spending an entire day reminiscing, watching corny films and old news reels, flipping through photographs and listening to scratchy, dated recordings.  Elvis and his legacy and his story have captivated me for as long as I can remember.  My father loves him, and I can remember watching a rebroadcast of the Aloha from Hawaii concert with my father, my mother and my twin sister crowded on the couch with the speakers vibrating from the effort of amplification.  My twin – who would absolutely murder me if she knew I was writing this in a place where anyone could see it – would sing along to “Fever” while shaking her hips as she stood on the couch, and I would pretend to be a crazed female fan, screaming at all the right times.  My twin was Elvis for Halloween one year, even.  He was, undoubtedly, an integral part of my childhood.

I made a pilgrimage to Graceland with a good friend, college roommate and fellow artist.  I spent hundreds of dollars and took hundreds of pictures.  I am dying to go back to experience more and learn more.

And as a result, Elvis is an integral part of who I am.  All my wildest dreams of not only becoming a successful, popular and beloved writer but of finding romance and connecting with someone as beautiful and talented as he was stem from watching him perform and researching his biography.  He is such an epic and elusive figure.  He was an enemy of the state, sure to corrupt the youth with his gyrating hips and soulful music.  But at the same time, he loved his mama and served his country.  He was a miraculous kind of contradiction that revolutionized popular culture, celebrity status, sex and music with an air of humility and authenticity that has yet to be replicated.  Sure, there were revolutionaries who came after him: the Beatles, Michael Jackson, my own beloved Bruce Springsteen, but he was the first.  Elvis is an original.

And because Elvis was a phenomenon unfamiliar to our culture, we didn’t know how to truly deal with him.  Parents scorned him, adolescent males wanted to be him and dyed their hair dark and gelled it to perfection and adolescent females cried and swooned and held out glossy photographs in quaking hands.  We loved him, but he was removed because he was rich and famous – wildly so.  Thus, his story turned tragic and he became one of the first, but unfortunately not the last, victims of the machine of Hollywood.  Everyone watched him implode and mourned the loss.

I’ve pontificated at length about Bruce Springsteen and how he is a romantic hero of mine.  I have to admit, and not just because I’m mourning the anniversary of his death, that Elvis is a greater romantic hero.  His songs and his personal life meld together in my mine to create a kind of colossal figure that is to be loved and admired and feared and pitied and mourned.  As always, Bruce said it best: “…it was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear, and somehow we all dreamed it.”  John Lennon, another performer gone too soon, said: “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”  Bob Dylan said: “When I first heard Elvis’ voice, I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss…Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.” Hell, even 50 Cent bowed to the King when describing the difference between him being in Vegas and Elvis being there: “That period was different. When Elvis was there, they were stopping everything. Elvis had the moment for real. While I’m here, it’s not all about 50 Cent, but it was all about Elvis.”

Elvis is an inspiration and a cautionary tale.  He is the stuff of American legend.  He is greatly admired and missed tremendously.  Of course, I am speaking personally and would never dare presume to speak for anyone else.  I really would love to meet a boy who looks like Elvis, who performs like Elvis, and who is as passionate as Elvis was.

I’ll leave with you a few quotes from the King himself, and wish you all a good night.

“I ain’t no saint, but I’ve tried never to do anything that would hurt my family or offend God…I figure all any kid needs is hope and the feeling he or she belongs. If I could do or say anything that would give some kid that feeling, I would believe I had contributed something to the world.” –Elvis commenting to a reporter, 1950’s.

“When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream I ever dreamed has come true a hundred times…I learned very early in life that: ‘Without a song, the day would never end; without a song, a man ain’t got a friend; without a song, the road would never bend – without a song.’ So I keep singing a song. Goodnight. Thank you.” –From his acceptance speech for the 1970 Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation Award, given at a ceremony on January 16, 1971. (Elvis quotes from copyrighted material with lines from the song “Without a Song”.)

“Man, I was tame compared to what they do now. Are you kidding? I didn’t do anything but just jiggle.”  –From the press conference prior to his record-breaking Madison Square Garden shows in New York City, 1972

“…the image is one thing and the human being is another…it’s very hard to live up to an image.” –From the press conference prior to his record-breaking Madison Square Garden shows in New York City, 1972

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.

 

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