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On being random, dismantling and finally updating.

Published June 27, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s been over two months since the last time I posted, and there’s nothing I want more than to tell you I’ve been doing wonderfully interesting things, that I’ve been really and truly living. But that would be a hyperbole. I’ve been alive, yes, and I’ve done some fun things, yes, but nothing that should keep me from writing.

So let’s catch up, shall we?

I haven’t lost any weight, but I have gained some. I haven’t really been trying, as I’ve felt mostly unmotivated and uninspired lately. Is this summertime sadness? Is this some looming emotional, existential crisis that has finally landed? Am I just melodramatic? Rather than answer these questions, I usually eat a bag of potato chips (the ones that say “Family Size”) and fall asleep on my couch.

I think I’ve identified one behavior that needs to change.

I wish I had a camera that could take quality pictures of the moon and do its beauty justice.

“A heart that hurts is heart that works.”

I don’t fantasize about sex. I fantasize about intimacy; how sad is that?

I think a duck must have a perfect life. They just float on, no matter if the water is calm or choppy. They can take off and fly whenever they want. If the only dunk their heads in the water, they have food. It’s simple and free, and I am envious.

I am done romanticizing broken men, as if loving them adds something noble to my character.

“I don’t hold grudges. I believe that’s the shit that leads to cancer.”

The school year ended on a high note. The senior events I was charged with helping to plan (Mr. Manchester, Senior Prom, graduation) all went off without a hitch. I am proud of the work I’ve done.

“Nothing is ever over.”

I really need to use my upstairs more. I don’t have central air though, so during the summer, the temperature is almost unbearable up there. So I’m in pretentiously self-proclaimed “office,” but it’s dark in here. It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

“I know what I want, and I don’t mind being alone.”

It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

This is what a successful adult looks like, no?

The literary agent who requested the first fifty pages rejected me, but my original publisher is still thinking about it. What’s that saying, when God closes a door, He opens a window? I’m feeling ambivalent to everything, mostly because I’m sunburned and it hurts so I’m cranky.

I like collecting little, seemingly unimportant details of the people in my life to better craft my characters.

When school was in session, I realized that the worst thing about leaving my house each weekday morning wasn’t having to bid adieu to my comfortable bed and its cozy covers, but that I miss the early sunlight streaming through the windows and lighting the wooden floors. It’s beautiful, and I was sad I could never just sit and admire it. But now I can. I think that’s how life is supposed to work.

I do this thing sometimes where I just sit in my car. I might leave the engine running, or I might shut it off, but either way, I sit in the driver’s seat, scrolling through the social media garbage on my phone or playing Tetris. It’s wasting time, one of the most precious gifts, and I hate it. I don’t know why I do it. Is it exhaustion? Is it moodiness? I abhor how lazy I am. I had an idea for a scene for my third novel, but the details have faded. I remember it had something to do with a modest, upstairs library and someone watching on anxiously as someone else carefully surveyed the titles. I wanted to throw in visiting a favorite author’s grave, but there was definitely more to it, like dancing or something? I need to write things down more often … obviously.

“Wanting it doesn’t make you the monster, taking it does.”

Some days, I just waste the hours until I can go back to sleep.

“You can fail at what you don’t want to do, so you might as well do what you love.”

I’ve been in a miserable sort of funk, so I’m endeavoring to change my life. My friend thinks I need to be comfortable alone before I can be comfortable with someone. She recommended hiking, picnicking, wine on the beach, seeing movies, and getting coffee. I also think I should leave the state. I’ve been dying to go to Key West in Florida. This summer, I’ve decided to dismantle myself from the inside out, rebuilding to be more carefree, more creative, more in love with myself and less dependent on others. Some days, I have to talk myself into getting out of the shower, and even then, I change into pajamas.

But I’m trying to be positive, I swear. I’ve begun keeping a running list of things that make me happy to be alive (in no particular order).

  • fireworks on a summer night
  • driving my Jeep without its roof and doors
  • sunburn (as long as it turns tan)
  • books (even the shitty ones because they’re non-examples for my career)
  • clean sheets
  • hot showers
  • food, glorious food!
  • running and being sweaty after a run because it helps me to love my body
  • good movies
  • laughing
  • the national pride fearlessly displayed by soccer fans

“The effect you have on others is the greatest currency you’ll ever have.”

I recently lost a banana for 24 hours.

“I’m ripe with things to say. The words rot and fall away.”

So, here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m working on. You should hit “play” on the video that follows now, so you can have a soundtrack. Ironically, the song playing is not the one I quote in the paragraph that follows. I wish I knew why I do the things that I do.

“The thing about things is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said, and if he couldn’t make something mean something for me, I had to make up what it meant.”
– Amanda Palmer

Kelly dropped the box filled with odds and ends concerning the kitchen with an exaggerated, dramatic sigh of relief. The box landed on Charlotte’s tiny, cheaply and poorly made kitchen table, a piece of furniture she had salvaged from her grandmother’s home, a piece that had likely been in the home for forty years – a horrible blend of Formica and putrid pastels. For a moment, Charlotte had been hopeful the weight of the box would crush the table and put the ugly thing out of its misery, but she had no such luck. She watched Kelly similarly drop herself into a chair, sweaty and tired from a day spent moving, a day of manual labor. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she whined.

Charlotte offered a grin of commiseration. “I know, me neither.” She moved a few steps closer, resting against the back of a chair.

“Then let’s call it quits and do something better.”

“Like what? As you can tell, I haven’t got much of anything.”

Kelly thought for a moment. “You got playing cards?”

“I think so,” Charlotte said. She knew damn well that she did, but she was playing it cool for no other reason than it was a habit turned instinct. It was irrational – there was no way Kelly would give a shit about how those cards came to be in Charlotte’s possession, or how seeing those cards made Charlotte’s dumb heart skip a beat even now, even though she was nearly 1,000 miles away.

Kelly’s face of thoughtful concentration broke into a youthful smile of excitement. “Well, shoot – I’ve got beer and some of them crisps. How’s ’bout you and me play us a few rounds of cards?”

“Sure,” Charlotte smiled. Kelly scurried back to her neighboring apartment to scrounge up some beer and some snacks, and Charlotte headed to her bedroom. At the foot of her bed, upon the creaky floor, sat a box labeled, “PERSONAL.” It had been the only box Charlotte had personally moved, had tucked discreetly in her car and carried hurriedly across the threshold of her new apartment, lest anyone should see and ask about the contents, most of which meant absolutely nothing to anyone except Charlotte (hence the label). It wasn’t filled with lingerie or vibrators or dirty pictures or anything like that. The contents only embarrassed Charlotte because of their innocence, because only a prude would cling to a random assortment of objects that reminded her of people who had long since removed themselves from her life, or had been removed for any number of offenses. The items in the box would mean nothing to a passerby and that embarrassed Charlotte, like there was something shameful and almost juvenile about being anything but obvious.

She squatted somewhat uncomfortably to delicately open the box, lovingly unfold the flaps so that she had complete access to some of her memories, so that the majority of the contents were visible. Charlotte only needed to scan the contents for a few seconds before she found the deck of cards, quaintly contained in cardboard, beaten up from a few years of handling. A smile splayed itself unabashedly upon her lips as she reached into the box the same way a heart surgeon would reach into her patient’s chest cavity. With the same kind of epic patience, she removed the playing cards from the box and began walking back to the kitchen. The youthful, exuberant smile quickly became nostalgic and sad.

The playing cards were white with silver, loopy hearts decorating their backs. The hearts were cute, sure, but there was nothing remarkable about their appearance. They were a treasured item for Charlotte only because of the way the cards came to be in her possession. A few years ago, Charlotte had fallen in love with a beautiful, brilliant, and broken man. As a result, she had developed a constant need to be around him, to be close to him, and so, she invited him everywhere.

One night, she invited him back to her hotel room after a work conference. She and her colleagues had all been drinking for quite some time, right up until the lights came up for last call. The beautiful, broken man had joined them at the bar, at Charlotte’s request, of course. Charlotte had always envied the sort of effortless grace that surrounded him, the way he could suddenly appear anywhere at anytime and be welcomed and accepted. When he strolled into the bar without fanfare or pomp and circumstance, without having attended any of the conference because of a prior commitment, Charlotte was breathless with awe. It was like something of a horribly cheesy and romantic movie made for network television; he could have been walking in slow motion beneath a burning spotlight towards a strategically placed wind machine. The fact that he was walking towards Charlotte smiling was wonderful and she was so happy she could burst apart. She never ever wanted her time with him to end, and her colleagues and friends didn’t want to stop drinking, so a select few decided to buy some beer and return to Charlotte’s room. She turned to her beautiful, broken man and invited him. He played it cool – he was always so goddamn cool – and didn’t really answer one way of the other. Even when they were walking back to the hotel, just across the street, he wouldn’t accept or outright reject the invitation. When he climbed into his car, a lump formed in Charlotte’s throat. She would let him go and hide her disappointment, try and play it cool, so her parting words asked that if he did come, to bring playing cards. He waved somewhat dismissively and drove away. The copious amounts of alcohol she had consumed kept Charlotte’s mood from dipping too low and she scampered back to the hotel among friends, arm in arm, with high spirits.

He sent her a text later saying he couldn’t find playing cards and was just going home. Charlotte sighed heavily and thought her best recourse was to just keep drinking.

About twenty minutes later, there was a booming knock at the hotel room door. It sounded particularly authoritative and Charlotte was worried it was the cops. Were they being too loud? Her one friend raced to the bathroom to hide while the other pressed herself further into the bed, as if the mattress could swallow her whole and conceal her. They had left Charlotte to answer the door and so she did, despite feeling suddenly and incredibly nauseous. She opened it and saw no one. No one was there.

She whipped her head to the right and gazed down an empty hallway.

Looking to the left revealed her beautiful, broken man. He was leaning against the hallway wall like some leading man from Hollywood. His arm was bent at the elbow so he had one hand behind his head and rested his weight against the wall through the point of that bent elbow. His right leg was crossed behind the left one and the toes were pointed down at the plush carpet. In his other hand, he twirled a pack of playing cards. He was smiling, quite pleased with himself and the effect it all had on Charlotte. There was certainly something gorgeous about him, something more than his appearance. His demeanor drove her wild – she would never able to pull off such an entrance, but he had.

And it had been for her. What more could a girl possibly ask for?

But nothing had come of it. He was with some woman with a checkered past and too much makeup. Charlotte’s grandma was worsening, and so she had left it all, run away. But she kept the playing cards to remind herself that for one night, she had gotten exactly what she had wanted, that she had been perfectly happy. The cards symbolized possibility – if it happened once, couldn’t it happen again?

 

On admiration and remorse.

Published July 29, 2014 by mandileighbean

I’m having trouble finishing the margarita my mother made me.

I still haven’t closed on the house I am eager to buy, but I have not lost hope. If I could be patient, which is admittedly a virtue I most certainly lack, then I could see the process through. I long to stamp my feet and pout like a petulant child until I get my way, which is silly for any number of reasons, but mostly because it would not work.

An independent company specializing in literary marketing contacted me via my author page on Facebook. The pricing seems rather steep, so I am going to do some more research. I hope to find similar companies and what services they offer for what prices. I need to market my book if I hope to get anywhere. I was banking on an agent to do that, but that search has been difficult and disappointing. Again, I truly need patience. I find some solace in reminding myself that I am not the only twenty-something (soon to be closer to thirty than not) who has an imagined pendulum swinging above her head, wanting to have so many things before an invented age for reasons she cannot articulate. Such is life.

The novel is coming along, but at a painfully slow rate … unless that is impatience, striking again.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #16: “A con man starts to admire the achievements of the man he is impersonating.”

barfly

 

Larry sat at the end of the bar that was farthest from the door. The place was dark and cool, and Larry found sitting as far away from the entrance as possible, what with its sporadic bursts of garish sunlight and random gusts of stifling summer heat, kept the establishment as poorly lit and properly air conditioned as most patrons preferred. However, the bar was lacking in patrons at this particular moment, and Larry attributed the absence of alcoholics in varying stages of addiction to the time. Truth be told, it was rather early to be enjoying liquor – at least in public – well before the social norm of five o’clock. But Larry didn’t really give a shit because Larry had endured one hell of a day. He downed the shot of whiskey before him, shuddered, and ordered another.

Technically, Larry was unemployed, but that didn’t mean he didn’t make a living. To the casual passerby, Larry seemed to be a legitimate businessman of sorts. He had the right kind of shiny shoes that looked terribly expensive even though they weren’t. Larry’s pants were meticulously iron and pressed, and kept painstakingly neat so that they were much more impressive than the tags would have the observer believe. Larry’s shirt was plain, just an average button-down with a muted sort of pattern made from a heavy kind of fabric. It was uncomfortable and caused Larry to sweat no matter the temperature. So while each element of Larry’s outfit was subpar, the sum of its parts was enough to impress but not intimidate. Larry looked official yet inconsequential; he was forgettable and that was the point. In Larry’s particular line of work, it was best to blend in, to claim a sort of camouflage among the general public. Larry was an identity thief, and he was damn good at it.

Larry hadn’t worked “on the books” in quite some time. When he was strapped for cash, or forced to lay low, he always managed to pick up odd jobs. With his seemingly limitless set of skills, good looks, winning personality, and luck, he had been living comfortably, even leisurely, for years. Larry had managed to be so comfortable because he shunned guilt and lived by the rules of apathy. He never thought about the people he impersonated and stole from, and only imagined them as fictional roles. Larry was a nice guy – a good guy, even – so there was no possible way he ruined lives, engineered poverty, or tore families apart. Honestly, how could the actions of one lazy, simple man such as Larry, drag someone kicking and screaming back to that proverbial square one, forcing him to start all over and begin again, work twice as hard only to get back to where he was? Larry was not so destructive, not such a monster. He was just a thief and besides, there was more to life than money and possessions, right? Everyone loved to preach about a life of substance. Sometimes, especially when drunk, Larry could convince himself he was actually aiding those he robbed blind, forcing them to experience the spiritual truth that life goes on regardless of what one had in the bank. Unfortunately for Larry, he wasn’t as inebriated as he needed to be and he had realized only a few hours earlier that he was miserable little shit, a parasitic being who had nothing to offer anyone and would die alone; he would leave this world without anyone to noticing, let alone mourning.

Larry had never been one for enduring an existential crisis of any kind. He assumed he lacked the emotional intelligence for such self-engineered disaster and misery because, given the choice, Larry would do just about anything other than sit and think. He was only participating in the activity now because of Ryan Schmuacher, the identity he was currently employing. Larry had only chosen to become Ryan because of his impressive credit score and substantial amount of money in the bank. He would use both assets to obtain a credit card, replenish the wardrobe, and then take a trip (standard operating procedure at the end of a job because it was best to cut and run before anyone got wise enough to start looking). Larry used a very special, and very illegal, type of software to hack into websites that promised free credit scores for such valuable information and he always followed that internet search up with another one – simply entering the name into a search engine and perusing through whatever materialized on the screen. He had done this a thousand times and never had such a search given him such pause, such hesitation, such … remorse.

Ryan Schumacher had been born into a less than wealthy family in some small, Southern town that become the picturesque setting for dumb oil paintings featuring snow covered barns that sold like hot cakes during the holiday season. His parents had sacrificed everything to help Ryan afford medical school, where he excelled. He specialized in pediatric oncology – kid cancer. He forwent the bar scene, the hookup culture, the flashy cars and exotic trips, to try and save the lives of little dudes and dudettes who were truly innocent victims, who had done absolutely nothing to force their own bodies to betray them, cutting themselves down before their prime. It was a truly selfless vocation, something to admire, and the picture of Dr. Schumacher with a two-year-old boy, smiling despite the chemotherapy treatments and all its devastating side effects, had impacted Larry. He hadn’t been able to erase the vision from his mind, hadn’t been able to lift a single penny from Dr. Schumacher’s account. Larry took everything from everyone to benefit himself and it knocked him on his ass to finally and truly realize that there were people on the planet that gave everything to everyone to benefit everyone.

Larry drained the second shot of whiskey, shuddered, and ordered another. He missed the bartender’s apprehensive gaze because he covered his miserable face with trembling, selfish hands and pondered his life. What had it all been for? What difference had he made? Was it too late?

remorse

On nasty surprises.

Published July 12, 2014 by mandileighbean

It has been just about two months since I last posted.  I am ashamed to admit that I let life get in the way.  The school year got the best of me – a clear indication my priorities were shuffled and rearranged about a thousand times.  I thought I fell in love, but thinking about it only makes me feel small, sad, and stupid, so I’ve now come to the realization that it wasn’t love.  I have yet to determine what it was, but it’s over now, and I don’t think I’m a better person because of it.

But I have been writing.  I am three chapters into the new novel.  I have a short story to share with you all as part of my “weekly” writing prompts.  My contract with Martin Sisters Publishing will expire next year, so I have begun the search for a literary agent.

I am hoping to close on a home of my own at the end of this month.

There is good, and there has been bad, and in this exact moment, I find it difficult to describe exactly how I feel, but maybe that’s okay.  We’re all entitled to feel numb and completely apathetic now and again, aren’t we?  I think it’s a coping mechanism or, even worse, a defense mechanism of sorts.  I don’t know why I’m feeling so pensive or cynical.  Maybe I’m simply hormonal?  Maybe it has something to do with the heartache I alluded to?  Maybe it’s the dark direction I steered my short story in?  Maybe I simply spend too much time alone?  Whatever the reason, I apologize.  And I also sincerely hope you enjoy this week’s writing prompt.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #15: “A mother discovers a feminine collection while cleaning her son’s bedroom.”

serialkiller1

            “What an idiot!  How could that not have sent up a red flag?” Kelly McCarthy asked no one in particular.  The question had to be rhetorical since she was sitting alone on the slightly worn – but still perfectly comfortable – couch in the living room of the home she shared with her small, loving family.  She was mindlessly eating some low fat, low calorie, low carb potato chips (but all the health benefits meant nothing when she was likely to eat the whole damn bag in one sitting) while watching her favorite true crime documentary channel.  Currently, the channel was airing some cleverly named show – with an alliterative title, most likely – about handsome boyfriends and husbands who were not who they said they were.  This lady had married this good-looking fella after only a few months and found herself bruised and abandoned and robbed.  Sympathy was hard to come by, however, because if this female had thought clearly and not been blinded by a strong jawline, she would have seen through the obvious fabrications and been alarmed by some universally troubling behavior.  These women were not like the sudden rash of young girls that were missing – some had been found but all who had been found were already dead – in a city farther north than the one she called home.  Those girls were too young to be anything other than naïve and innocent.  How could someone who had not even graduated high school know better, let alone really know anything about anything?  No, these women, these suckers, had no one but themselves to blame.  Kelly was shaking her head, feeling pity but mostly disbelief and borderline disdain, when the dryer’s buzzer sounded loudly throughout the one-story, ranch-style home.

            Reluctantly, Kelly peeled herself from the overstuffed cushions and shuffled her slipper-covered feet through the kitchen and into the cramped laundry room.  She listened to the textured bottom of the slippers scuff against the vinyl tiles that floored the kitchen, and she listened to the buzzing of the dryer now only a step away, but other than the low and constant humming of the television, there were no other sounds.  Kelly found herself home alone, as she usually did in the middle of the day throughout the week.  Her husband, Charlie, battled a sizeable commute to the northern part of the state and her son, Joey, was a sophomore at the high school, and though he was scheduled to come home early in the afternoons, around 2:00 PM, Joey never usually showed up until dinner time.  He was always busy with some kind of extracurricular activity and Kelly couldn’t be any prouder.  He was so popular and studious.  Over dinner, Joey always regaled his parents with stories of the humorous antics of juveniles and how Joey was truly an asset to the school community.  A smile formed on Kelly’s lips of her own accord as she thought of her son, her only child, her pride and joy.

            It was a load of his clothes that had just been dried and were now patiently waiting to be folded and placed back in the drawers, or hung in the closet.  Typically, Kelly did not do her son’s laundry – he was nearly sixteen years old – but she had felt particularly generous this idle, random day and for no reason that she would ever be able to articulate.  Later on, Kelly would wish she hadn’t felt so – she would even raise red-rimmed eyes to heaven and demand of whatever God resided beyond the clouds why He had blindsided her with such terror and tragedy.  But before that moment, everything was normal and just as it should be. 

            She shoveled the random assortment of shirts and pants and socks and underwear into an empty laundry basket and trudged down the long hallway to her son’s bedroom.  It was the last bedroom on the right and its door was marked by a single poster, perfectly centered.  The poster advertised a poetry festival in a metropolis near her husband’s work in the northern part of the state.  Joey was such an intelligent, well-mannered boy.  He wasn’t like all those other boys his age, who were loud and aggressive and obnoxious and obsessed with their penises.  He was quiet and patient and obedient and enjoyed females, but not to the point where it consumed him.  He was balanced and healthy and beautiful and whole.  Again, Kelly caught herself nearly beaming when thinking of her baby boy.  She balanced the laundry basket on her particularly bony hip and turned the doorknob.

            The door was locked.  That was odd.  Joey’s door was never locked.

            Kelly placed the laundry basket on the floor and ran her hand along the molding that ran along the top of the doorway.  She was waiting to feel cool metal beneath her fingertips; the key to her son’s room.  She found it and unlocked the door, and pushed it wide open so she could traverse through the doorway with the laundry basket.  Her slippers shushed against the plush carpet and she gladly tossed the laundry basket on the bed, careful not to upend it of its contents.  It bounced jovially once or twice before rocking itself right.  Kelly walked to the dresser directly opposite the meticulously made bed.  She had developed the tactical plan of putting away the socks and underwear first because that would be easiest – Joey just tossed them in the top drawer of the dresser.  The pants and shirts would be decidedly more difficult as Joey had a system in place that Kelly had yet to decode.  A giggle tumbled from her mouth; how funny for Joey to be so organized.  She wondered where in his lineage she could attribute the trait, as both her and Charlie were both hopelessly sloppy.

            When she pulled open the uppermost drawer, a sound she had not been expecting met her ears.  Kelly distinctly heard something substantial sliding forward with the movement of the drawer.  It wasn’t the soft whisper of fabric, but something heavier.  Kelly pulled the drawer out as far as it could go without making it tumble to floor.  She looked within and she found a rather extensive collection of jewelry.  There were necklaces and bracelets and long, dangling earrings that younger girls would wear – colorful, gaudy, attention-getting.  Icy apprehension flooded Kelly’s stomach like the waters would a sinking ship because Joey did not have a girlfriend – not one that he ever mentioned, anyway.  Besides, there were too many pieces for one girl and there was no consistency in taste or style.  Kelly was under the impression that the jewelry had belonged to many different girls with unique and wonderful personalities, just as varied as the necklaces and bracelets and earrings.  Why would Joey have such things hidden among his undergarments?  And why was his door locked?  And if he had a girlfriend, why didn’t she know anything about it?  Why would Joey be keeping secrets?

            Whoa – Kelly stopped herself.  She stepped back from the drawer and shook her head, but still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong, terribly wrong.  Maybe it was all the reality crime television she had been ingesting lately.  That was all – she had simply seen too many shows about serial killers who were meticulous, guarded, and kept mementos of their poor, tortured victims, such as jewelry.  She brought a trembling hand to her mouth and slowly shook her head back and forth again.  Joey wouldn’t do anything wrong.  Joey wouldn’t harm a fly, not Joey, no, no, no.

            Her eyes slipped to the closet.  Snooping would only end in heartbreak and pain, as did it for all mothers who found more than they bargained for in the bedrooms of their children (pornography, cigarettes, marijuana, naked selfies, etc.).  But Kelly now needed to snoop for exoneration.  She needed to clear her son whom she had already condemned.  She moved to the closet door and slide the nearest door open.  It creaked unsteadily along the track, and Kelly’s eyes fell to the floor.  Joey’s shoes – so clean, so clean – were in neat and even rows.  Sneakers, boots, shoes for church; there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.

            So what was the deal with the duffle bag thrown carelessly into the corner and out of sight?  Unless, of course, someone was looking for just such a suspicious detail as Kelly was.  Slowly, shaking, she dropped to her knees and reached into the dark recess of the closet.  She pulled the bag, scratching the vinyl with her nails and sending chills up and down her spine.  Breath moved in and out of its own volition, but it did not seem to be all that willing.  The necessary oxygen came in jerky spurts and Kelly feared she would hyperventilate and pass out.  What if Joey came home and found her like this?  What would he think?  What would she say?  Kelly inhaled, exhaled, and unzipped the bag.

            There were dark colored sweatpants with a dark colored sweatshirt, rope, gloves, and the light reflecting off of something metallic and sharp – a knife.  Kelly screamed and threw the bag from her.  She scrambled back against the bed and slumped into a seated position.  This didn’t make sense, couldn’t add up to what she was assuming.  No, those girls were missing from up north, from where Charlie worked.  Why would Joey ….

            Joey had taken an interest lately, hadn’t he?  Joey traveled up to work with his father whenever he could, whenever Charlie offered.  That wasn’t often enough, though.  Not to commit murder – surely not!  Joey would have to go up after school, take public transportation, and he couldn’t.  Well, Kelly supposed he could, but he wouldn’t.  After all, he had all those obligations which he never gave specific details about and which never culminated into something tangible, even something as simple as a telephone call from a club advisor or certificate of participation with the principal’s rubber stamp.

            What the hell was going on here?

serialkiller2

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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