Husband

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On physical impossibilities.

Published July 12, 2017 by mandileighbean

I’m going to save the apology for the lapse in posting and refrain from the typical slew of empty promises and resolutions. You know the drill; sometimes I post, sometimes I don’t, but please believe me when I say I always want to. Writing fulfills me in a way that nothing else really does (except maybe Popeye’s chicken), and it needs to be more of a priority. Also, they’re building a Popeye’s near me, so how’s that for a sign from the universe?

I’m proud of this week’s writing prompt for a couple of different reasons. First, it’s the beginning of a better writing schedule (last empty promise I make, I swear (well, other than that last one)). Second, I use first-person point of view, which is something I never do. Using first-person point of view feels like a confession or admission, like it’s too personal to build a character that isn’t just me with a different name. All my writing might be like that, now that I think about it. Third, it is personal and I think I tackle a very real fear for woman of a certain age without being melodramatic. This voice I use could be fleshed out into a very real and very endearing character were I to pursue and develop this idea further.

Hope you enjoy! Please comment and let me know what you think, and please share.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #3.2017: The day before helping her best friend give birth, a woman of thirty learns that she will never have children of her own.

These days, you can’t fucking smoke anywhere.

I mean, the hospital I get; no one should be smoking there for obvious reasons I don’t have to enumerate to make my case. But walking across the street from the hospital – and then ten more yards for good measure – seems closer to ridiculous than anything else. And doing so in ninety-degree weather isn’t helping my mood. It’s incredibly hard to be rational when I’m sweaty and uncomfortable and in desperate, desperate need of a cigarette. I’m filling up with something awful as I halt at the end of the hospital property, teetering on the curb before the busy highway in cheap flip flops. I look left and then right and then right again, because my mom raised me right, and then dart across.

All things considered, getting mowed down by a truck doesn’t seem like the end of the world. I should have lingered just a few moments more, maybe. But that kind of thinking is irrational and morbid and goddamn, I just don’t want to think anymore. I just want a cigarette.

It’s easy to find the other smokers, huddled shamefully beneath a weak-looking tree at the far end of a parking lot for a quaint plaza. The weak-looking tree is the only source of shade and as I approach, I realize everyone beneath the tree is dressed in scrubs and smiling and laughing; they’re all hospital staff and they’re all friends. I think I’ll stand just a few feet away. I’m in no mood to make new friends or yuck it up, but I don’t want to be a bitch.

Scratch that; I don’t know what I want.

Wait, that’s wrong. I know what I want. I want a cigarette. And in this poor, poor excuse for Shangri La, I will have one.

As I light up, I consider the irony of doctors and nurses who smoke. Why anyone willingly inhales carcinogens, myself included, is beyond me, but it seems especially asinine for people who spend their lives saving lives to engage in a wildly unnecessary and risky behavior such as smoking. But fuck me, right? Here I am, puffing away. I might as well enjoy the irony, like an extra in a film who gets casts as an Oscar winner. That kind of irony is less dangerous and more humorous, kind of like how I always thought I’d never have kids because I’d never find a good man. But after thirty long and lonely years, I found a good man – the best man – and he’ll never be a father because my fallopian tubes are too narrow.

I’ll never be a mother. Thinking it aloud in my head forces me to acknowledge the idea with a fatal finality, and I take a seat on the grass beneath the three. I want to take up as little space as possible, curl all up around myself, and shrink into nonexistence; the ultimate Irish exit.

Taking a long drag, I know I’m bordering on morbidity and irrationality again, but there’s definitely something crushing about finding out you physically cannot have children. It wasn’t a choice I made, part of some chic, progressive lifestyle (I’m not being judgmental; to each his own, man. Live and let live, I say). I knew I was lucky to meet Frank; for a while there I thought I’d die alone, like really and truly alone, where the only people at my funeral are friends who have outlived me and cemetery staff. I wanted love and to be loved so badly I was on the verge of doing something reckless and desperate, like online dating (that’s a joke; I don’t judge). Enter Frank, the knight in shining armor; a decent-looking man with a great sense of humor, steady income, and a tolerance for feminine bullshit that is otherworldly. He’s been so patient and forgiving, and I don’t deserve him; I really don’t.

But he deserves children. He wants them; we’ve talked about it. And I can’t give that to him.

I know there’s adoption and fostering and surrogates and a seemingly endless list of possibilities. I know, somewhere deep down inside that this doesn’t have to be the end of the discussion, but it’s different and anyone who says different is selling something.

So maybe I should amend my earlier assertion: I’ll never be a mother on my own terms.

I suppose that sounds kind of selfish and twisted and grotesque, but hey; that’s me all over. Like right now, I’m smoking this cigarette in the July heat when I’m supposed to be at Kathleen’s side, holding her hand and feeding her ice chips, the whole delivery shebang. I snuck out because I needed a cigarette because those roles will never be reversed. I can’t have kids.

And it’s obviously jacking me up real bad, but I can never ever say anything to Kathleen about this, especially not today, which is ironic because it’s the one day it’s dismantling my psyche. Kathleen’s my best friend – another love I don’t really deserve – and she’d be the most supportive person in the world. Seriously, if I told her right now about all of this, she’d Google solutions on her phone from her hospital bed, shouting search results to me as they move her into the delivery room. But it’s her day and I just need to handle my shit.

If I had a daughter, that’s a lesson I’d teach her, that being a strong woman means that sometimes, you just have to handle it. You can break later but in the moment, step up.

I could teach my son that lesson too, because really, strength transcends gender.

Great; I’m crying. I’m sweaty, smell like smoke, and mascara’s running down my cheeks. I’m a mess, and everyone will know and everyone will ask, and we all know that only makes things worse.

Fuck. Shit. Balls.

I haven’t told Frank yet either. Think he’ll leave? He won’t, like I said he’s a good man, but he’ll think about it. And who could blame him?

I take one last drag and stub the cigarette out on the curb behind me. I have to stretch to the point of almost laying down, so fuck it. I lay down in the grass with my head uncomfortably on the curb to watch the sky through the leaves of the weak tree.

What a world.Generic-smoking

On messy mortality.

Published April 21, 2014 by mandileighbean

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #14: An elderly couple disagrees about what to do with their sick house cat.

dyingcat

Frank’s oxygen machine was hissing quietly in the background, as it always did, amidst his pitiful gasps for air. Edith knew his health was rapidly deteriorating and that soon she would be alone in the house, shuffling in worn slippers from room to room as she swept and wept and waited for death. It would be horrible to lose Frank after more than fifty years of marriage, and Edith was beginning to accept that she wouldn’t be able to survive the trauma, but all that knowledge was damn depressing, so she shoved it down, ignored it as best she could. She was only even thinking about the inevitable end now because Stinky was dying and he was doing so in the middle of the kitchen. The damn cat didn’t even have the decency to hide his decay away under a bed or a dark corner of a closet. He was lying on the linoleum, on his side, and his breathing was rapid and shallow. She could easily observe his side rise and fall, rise and fall. His eyes seemed glazed over and when she called his name, or even made any kind of noise, he did not turn his head. Edith released a deep breath and bent to cradle the poor, pitiful animal in her arms. She lifted Stinky and carried him into the living room, where she laid him on the floor beside the couch where Frank lay.
Edith looked at her husband who, in all actuality, looked just as pitiful at Stinky did. Frank did not look at Edith or really acknowledge her presence at all. She cleared her throat. “I think Stinky’s dying, Frank.”
Frank grunted. “Best to make sure he’s comfortable and let him be about his business then.”
Edith paled. “That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”
Frank fully opened his eyes and surveyed his wife. In the time they had been married, just about half of a century, she had only surprised him maybe once or twice, and that was it. He prided himself on knowing her so completely, from her most shameful secrets to her wildest desires. If she took an extra breath, Frank knew it and even anticipated it sometimes. So the shock, outrage, and grief saturating her tone did a number on Frank. He had not been expecting such emotion – could never have anticipated it because Edith didn’t even like Stinky. As a matter of fact, as best as Frank could recall, Edith had hated the cat. She had only allowed Frank to cross the threshold into their home with the feline because he had bribed her with jewelry, sweet nothings, and wine … mostly wine. Edith never pet Stinky, and she’d always forget to feed him. The cat was constant fodder for her complaint, and come to think of it, today was the first day Frank could remember Edith ever using the animal’s name. Why would she express sentimentality over a creature she loathed? Hell, she sounded more upset than Frank did and it was his cat. He struggled to take a breath and wheezed, “What else can we do?”
Edith’s bottom lip quivered and ideas did not come easily, nor did the means to express them. She simply trembled for a few moments before she exploded. “We could take him to the vet, Frank. That’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?”
Edith’s tone was now angry and defensive. Frank’s confusion depended and when he spoke, it was with halting difficulty as it always was, but he spoke even slower and simpler, as if he were explaining geometry to an especially dense toddler. “Stinky’s very old, Edith. It’s his time. All the money, time, and energy spent at the vet’s office might not be enough to save him.”
“But you don’t know for sure and you won’t even try! You’re just giving up on him!”
Frank turned his worn and tired gaze on the poor wretch in question. The cat was dying and he certainly wasn’t taking his time to do it; Frank was fairly certain the cat would be dead within the hour. He looked pitiful and miserable, thin and bare. What would be the sense in moving him, dragging him out into the cold for a car ride, which he hated more than anything else in the world, the vet included? It made no sense and Frank always erred on the side of logic. “He might not make it to the vet, darlin’ –“
“Might; there’s that word again! If nothing’s guaranteed, then why not try?” Edith’s face was red, evidence of her misplaced passion. She had some vague and far away understanding that she wasn’t talking about Stinky, not really. But just who she was referencing eluded her at the moment and some instinct, some sort of sixth sense, told her it was better that way and kept her from tumbling down any rabbit holes.
Frank understood Edith was not going to let this go. His wife, whom he adored and praised and sincerely loved in the best way mere mortals can understand it, would rather he struggle to stand, pack up the damn cat, and hobble to the car, gasping and fighting for every single breath. Frank had emphysema and had been given a six months’ notice three months ago. He was on his way out and in a fit of what could only be sheer lunacy, his wife wanted him to die trying to get their dying cat to the vet’s office. It didn’t make sense and though Frank always erred on the side of logic, he also wanted to keep his missus happy. “Alright, alright,” he said. “Get the carrier.”
Edith should have been satisfied, but she was not. She was still an emotional mess, desperately terrified and overwhelmingly sad, and too afraid to admit and acknowledge why. She watched with her trembling hands over her equally tremulous mouth as Frank gripped the back of the couch and lifted his fragile, fragile body. He stopped breathing as he did so – did not have the energy to move and inflate his lungs – so when he came to a sitting position, after nearly a full minute of slow-motion movement, he paused to inhale deeply and greedily, wheezing. Both Frank and Edith knew he only had a few gasps left, only a handful of lungful inhales before Death would kindly stop for Frank. He let one leg simply drop from the couch, and it crashed against the carpet, as if it were completely useless. Frank winced. The other one would drop in the same fashion and dear God, Edith couldn’t stand it. She released a sob of epic proportions, so loud and shattering that Frank felt his heart momentarily stop. She rushed to Frank, thought better of it, and gently took him into her arms. “I don’t want you to die. I can’t live without you; what would be the point?”
Frank was too stunned, too exhausted, to move. He only allowed himself to be held.
“If you don’t think there’s anything worth fighting to live for, how could I possibly find anything? I know it’s selfish, I know it’s unfair, but it’s just sad, Frank. I’m so sad because I am going to miss you so damn much.”
Frank took a short breath. “I’m going to miss you, too. I love you, Edith. I always have and I always will. Life ends in death; always has and always will. We can’t change it, but we don’t have to dwell on it, either. Just love me, babe, okay? Love me like you always have until the end. It’s all I want.” Frank took his sobbing wife into his arms, and for the first time in many, many years, Frank shed tears of his own.
Somewhere in the background, satisfied the humans would be alright on their own without him, Stinky died.

dyingman

On absence making the heart grow fonder.

Published May 31, 2012 by mandileighbean

It’s been quite some time since I posted anything; I know, and I’m sorry.

My oldest sister, Missy, and her husband – we call him Wags – moved to Virginia yesterday. Jack, their youngest – just about to be one year old – went with them. Jimmy drove down with my mom today. I am devastated. Jimmy is my whole world. I love him something awful, and I am honored and blessed to call him my godson. He was sleeping when I left for work this morning, and I desperately wanted to wake him up, to make him give me a hug and a kiss and to tell me he loved me, to promise he would miss me and force him to smile. I didn’t do anything like that. I acted responsibly, maturely, and drove off to the high school.

But then I came home and found his little, white tee shirt on my cold, wooden floor. The brightness had dulled considerably because of the wash and wear, and because of the various activities a nearly four-year-old will find for himself to get into. Delicately, I lifted the shirt to my cheek. The fabric was soft but worn and I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I just released a single, guttural sob and that was all.

I am anxious for the school year to end. I am miserable. I worry that the students are not taking away anything of value, that they don’t respect me and view me as a peer rather than an educator. I also worry that the administration sees me in the same light. I’d like to believe I’m doing the best I can, but I don’t think that’s true. I’m going through a rough time – maybe it’s depression – and that makes me lazy, selfish, weak and complacent. I don’t know how to break the cycle.

I went away for Memorial Day. A handsome, young man named Isaac danced with me at a bar. I think he wanted to kiss me, or for me to kiss him, but I panicked and left, seeking out another beer rather than intimate contact. The rest of the time spent in Ocean City, Maryland was absolutely horrible and I’ve relived it so many times that it feels silly and extreme to put it in writing.

I need summer. I need an escape.

One of my students wrote an absolutely stellar short story for Creative Writing. It inspired me to write more and to write better. I cannot wait to talk with her tomorrow and tell her how talented she is, how that talent cannot be wasted and how I’ll do anything to help her. I really do believe she could be published.

I need to lose weight. It’s always been a struggle and the events of the holiday weekend prove I need a change and my weight is the best place to start because I can control my body – as a matter of fact, it’s the only thing in my life I have control over. The helpless feeling that constantly plagues me needs to stop.

 

PROMPT: Eggnog Regret
  After drinking a few too many eggnogs at your annual holiday party, you wake up the next morning realizing you did some things you now regret. Write an e-mail to your boss that will ensure you get a raise next year.

Dear Mr. Jones:

First, let me begin by sincerely hoping that this message finds both you and yours doing well, and enjoying the holiday season.

Second, let me profusely apologize for my behavior at the annual holiday party. I would like it to be known that I was highly intoxicated and while that knowledge does not, in any way, shape or form, excuse my behavior, I hope that it serves as an explanation. Had I not foolishly ingested so much eggnog, I would not have been so forthcoming with private information, so lax about the dress code and appropriate behavior, and I most certainly would not have vomited on anyone, especially not your beautiful, intelligent and doting wife.

Speaking of, Catherine is truly a remarkable woman and I do admire her greatly. It is always a pleasure to see her and speak with her, and that makes what I did all the more appalling. I promise that it was never my attention to publicly humiliate your wife or call your character into question, and I assure you that I honestly and truly believed everyone knew that her breasts were fake. I also assumed you had paid for them because when we were issued our bonuses, you were walking around the office with a wide and goofy smile and somehow, your slacks seemed tighter. Thus when I saw the three of her appear at the party, I believed the augmentation to be common knowledge. With all due respect, her breasts do not look at all real. I’m sure others noticed but unfortunately, I was the only one drunk enough to say so. And by “say,” I mean scream an awkward question across a crowded room filled with mixed company.

I would ask you not to think badly of Matt. He pulled me aside to keep me quiet; he tried, as a valiant gentleman would, to salvage some of my dignity. We retreated to a corner where I could compose myself and leave quietly, but his brown eyes were shining and his lips were slackened with mischievous, adolescent glee and I mistakenly took us as co-conspirators. I was hurriedly whispering to him about something inconsequential and trivial, and he was beginning to laugh. I took this as an indication that I was being charming and casually leaned in closer, casually doubled over. I was sitting in Martha’s computer chair – worth the money, by the way, because it is absurdly comfortable; I have no idea how she gets any work done at all; I’m impressed she just doesn’t fall right asleep – and Matt was kneeling before me so when I doubled over, our mouths were closer than they had been previously and I was drunk and he was handsome. I don’t really know what else to say other than I’m sorry. I know it was wildly inappropriate to have a raucous make-out session in the middle of all the festivities and there is absolutely no professional occasion where my shirt should be removed, but it happened. I think we would all benefit from putting this episode behind us and moving forward.

I particularly think that Keri would be most advantageously served by my aforementioned sentiment. To be honest, I have no idea why it was necessary for her to scream the way she did, attracting all sorts of attention towards Matt and myself. Personally, I think she acted out of spite and jealously. She’s always been a bit of a bitch – sorry, but I can think of no other word – and she’s had it out for me since day one. Remember when she filed that report with HR, claiming I only sharpened my pencils when she happened to be on the phone? I only started doing that after the report and the others in the nearby cubicles think it’s a real riot, so all I’m really doing is fostering community and how could that possibly be a negative thing? Furthermore, Keri’s screaming and pointing and shouting and crying is what made me nauseous – on top of all the eggnog – and had she acted like a professional and not been so “high school” about everything, I wouldn’t have vomited. It was out of sheer embarrassment I left Matt sprawled on the carpeted floor, grasping for my hand, and walked over to your wife. I think I was going to ask her to borrow a shirt but then I saw those two melons – they’re not real breasts anyway, so I can call them what I want – staring at me, almost daring me to make a move.

So I was standing there in my bra, looking down at my own melons, and compared to Catherine’s, they were inadequate. They were smaller than most men would like and could hardly be described as perky. My left one is definitely bigger than my right. I thought about these things, and Keri was still screaming, and Matt was still grinning and I wanted to grin like Matt, but Keri wouldn’t stop. I was becoming angry – incensed with anger – and I wanted to rip my shirt off like the Hulk, but Matt had already discarded it, so I decided to puke right then and there, all over the very melons that had started the whole thing.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I started writing this e-mail, truthfully, in an attempt to keep my job. I realize now my previously stated goal is nearly impossible and I also realize now that I am perfectly okay with that. Did you know Matt called me today? He apologized to me; can you believe it? He wants to get coffee and talk. That’s practically a date, right? I mean, wouldn’t you say so? Then again, you probably wouldn’t know because it’s been years since you’ve been in the dating pool and you had to resort to filling your wife with silicone to keep her interesting. I think that’s kind of sad, and I’m sorry.

I also realize that I don’t want to work in a place where Keri works, or where people like Keri work. She’s mean to me and I’ve never done anything to her, and that’s the worst kind of meanness that there is in this world.

So, I quit.

Tell Catherine I really am sorry.

Hugs and Kisses,

Joan

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