Homeowner

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On trying not to be ungrateful and having perspective.

Published March 24, 2015 by mandileighbean

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“He asked me, ‘How do you keep fighting?’
And the truth is I don’t know
I think it’s funny that he asked me
‘Cause I don’t feel like a fighter lately
I am too unhappy

You’d think I’d get perspective

Can I not accept that my own problems
Are so small?”

– Amanda Palmer, “Bigger on the Inside”

People probably think there’s someone living on my second floor because I’m far too lazy to climb the stairs and turn off the light.  But the truth is that I live alone.  I purchased a home independently and for a woman of 26, that’s not too shabby.  I know that I should be proud of myself and feel accomplished.

But the truth is that I live alone.

In the novel Frankenstein, the monster admits, “I am malicious because I am miserable.”  Conor Oberst expresses a similar sentiment in his song “Lovers Turn Into Monsters” when he writes, “Lovers turn into monsters at the loss of all affection, almost like it was the affection that kept them from being monsters.”

I am alone and miserable, and that makes me malicious, that makes me a monster.  Unfortunately, I’m not even a beautiful one.  I have the career, the house, the car, and my braces will be removed soon.  I’ve published one novel and written my second.  But what does that list of achievements really mean at the end of the day if no one else is impressed enough to single me out in a special and unique sort of way?  My friend half-heartedly joked that I most likely need therapy because I cannot see, or assess, my self-worth unless it is validated by someone else.  That’s weak, isn’t it?  Isn’t it cowardly?  Should I not be brave or confident enough to be alone, to be by myself, to be with myself?  Romantic poets, specifically Wordsworth, talk about “blissful solitude,” which, for me, is a personal oxymoron.  Solitude does not make me blissful, but is that because I’m my own worst enemy?

Last night, I ate dinner alone – as I do most nights – seated across from a vase filled with a dying, wilting bouquet.  I’ve been trying to convince myself the scene was romantically tragic, like I can wear my loneliness in an ironic, fashionable way, like a worn and frayed denim jacket that’s adorned with many pinks, each one displaying incredibly funny and witty social commentary.  Unfortunately, I’m falling short of that mark.  I’m more of a sniveling, unsympathetic victim than an alluring, inspiring heroine.

My mother asked, “If you died, who would be affected?”  To be fair, we were discussing financial planning and we all laughed because it was only poor phrasing and nothing more, devoid of malicious intent.  But man – what a question.

WRITING PROMPT #22: “A couple of goth high school students get busted shoplifting and are sentenced to do community service with Habitat for Humanity.”

To sixteen-year-old Morgan, everything looked like a nail, as she was one hell of a hammer, one that continuously shocked and surprised her mother who was baffled by the complete disappearance of the beautiful baby girl she had once held.  The pacifier and dresses with bows and lace gave way to jet black hair and jet black nails and thick, black eyeliner that made Morgan look more bruised and broken than anything else.  But Morgan’s mother supposed that was the look Morgan was going for, a tormented soul, as Morgan believed she was victimized and persecuted in only the way that a sixteen-year-old girl can.  No one understood Morgan and as a result, everyone was out to get her and no, no one else possibly knew what that was like because Morgan was different; she was special and unique and sensitive and intelligent.  For wanting to be accepted while simultaneously being an alternative to everyone else, while complaining about being ignored and not wanting special attention, Morgan could sure pat herself on the back.  Morgan blamed those contradictions, and the competitive, capitalistic society that put possessions before people, for her shoplifting spree with Alexis.

Morgan claimed that she and Alexis, her best friend, had tried to steal the designer handbags to be ironic.  Morgan asserted that the two girls were making a statement about the dangers of consumerism and the loss of identity, that she had only snatched the purse to transcend the lame chains of the reality that was created by everyone around her except her.  Impassioned though her speech was, it was all bullshit, and the juvenile court judge knew it.  Consequently, Morgan and Alexis were sentenced to do community service with Habitat for Humanity.  And now here she was, hammering nails into boards that created some sort of shell, or foundation, for a home.  Morgan assumed the charitable deed should fill her with some kind of positive feeling, but it didn’t.  It was a waste of time in Morgan’s opinion.  After all, there were murderers and rapists who needed their souls cleansed more than Morgan needed it.  The message, the point of it all, was utterly lost on her.

So she let her hammer fall to the ground.  Morgan released a heavy sigh.

A moment or two passed and then a handsome man shuffled over, bent to retrieve the hammer from the grass, and handed it back to Morgan.  “Here you go,” he said cheerfully.

Reluctantly, Morgan reclaimed the tool.  She said, “Thanks.”  Her tone was flat and even, nearly dead.

“Having fun?” the man asked, evidently entertained by the complete misery issuing from Morgan.

“That’s rhetorical, right?”

He smiled wider.  “Oh, come on; the weather’s amazing, we have air in our lungs, and we’re helping our fellow man.  Life is good, is it not?”

Morgan shrugged.  “You could argue that we’re perpetuating competitive, capitalistic dogma that decrees my house must be nicer than yours for me to feel complete.”

“Why argue at all?”  Morgan only blinked at the man.  So, he added, “Besides, we’re not just building a house.  We’re providing someone with a home.  Don’t cheapen it by claiming materialism.”

“I’m not cheapening anything,” Morgan argued.  “This family only thinks they need this house because -”

“What do you know about this family?” the man interrupted.

“What?”

“Tell me; what do you know about this family?”

Sheepishly, Morgan hesitated before she admitted that she knew nothing about the family, not their names, not their background, nothing.  Slowly, the man nodded.  “This family thinks they need this house because they do.  The father, the bread winner, died unexpectedly last year in a car accident, which left the ailing mother to care for five children.  I say ‘ailing’ to be polite, but she’s dying.  She’s dying of cancer.  The youngest is ten and the oldest is 24, so they need somewhere to live when the mother dies in about a month.  The oldest needs to house his siblings in an affordable shelter and then, somehow, he needs to figure out how to be an adult, how to be a father and a mother, and he needs to figure out how to be sacrificial without being bitter.  He needs to find a healthy balance between being there for them and being here for himself.”

Morgan gulped.  She was swallowing her shame.  She said, “You’re the oldest.”

The man smiled.  “I am.  And it’s a beautiful day.”  He clapped Morgan on the shoulder and continued on his way, walking back towards where he was helping to assemble the foundation of his future.

perspective

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.”

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            “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?

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