Loyalty

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On being the Duckie.

Published February 21, 2016 by mandileighbean

prettyinpink

I love 80’s culture; movies, music, fashion – all of it. I’m something like a girl anachronism, born 18 years too late. I should have come of age in that decade of magic, of decadence. It was the last era of wholesomeness (even despite the extravagance). Things really seemed possible then.

One of the greatest artistic – and yes, I used the word “artistic” – endeavors from that decade is the movie “Pretty in Pink.” I wrote a blog post two years ago about when I met Andrew McCarthy and was irrevocably charmed. He was intelligent, charismatic, and incredibly talented. Because of my undying affection for the actor, I can honestly say I’ve seen that film close to twenty times. One such time was Wednesday night, when a good friend and I traveled close to an hour to watch the movie on the big screen. The film was released for a brief second time to commemorate its 30th anniversary.

We knew the lines, we knew the plot, and we knew the music. What sense did it make to pay to see the film? One could argue it did not make any sense at all, but then again, I was shocked to see how many others had traveled to see a movie they’d already seen. I have always had a decidedly human problem of thinking my inclinations and hobbies are unique and singular and special. I’m proven wrong time and time again, but in frustratingly human fashion, I’m still always surprised when I realize my passions are shared.

At any rate, the film as was entertaining as ever, and there was something thrilling about seeing it on the big screen. I could imagine I hadn’t missed my favorite decade, that it was opening weekend and I was enjoying it all in real time for the first time. In danger of overdosing on nostalgia that was never really mine to begin with, my good friend leaned over and asked me if I ever had a “Duckie” while attending high school.

For those of you who may not know, Duckie is a character from the film. He’s hopelessly, shamelessly, desperately, and even embarrassingly devoted to his best friend, madly in love and utterly heartbroken over the unrequited nature of the relationship. He admits he would die for her, stands by and patiently suffers as she chases after another guy, and even lets her go so she can fulfill her wildest, romantic dreams while his remain unfulfilled. It may not be as traumatic and dramatic as all that, but forgive me; I have never had a Duckie.

I’ve always been Duckie.

I’ve always been the friend in the background, lingering and pining secretly – sometimes creepily – for a friend I never really had a chance with. I remember at one high school dance, I was asked by a mutual friend to break up with her boyfriend for her; a boy who was my close friend and whom I had been crushing on fairly seriously. Why I agreed to be the harbinger of such devastation I’ll never know. Maybe it was because I was eager for any excuse to talk to the boy, and maybe because such an episode could escalate and strengthen the friendship. I hope it was because I wanted him to hear it from me, a real friend, because I could soften the blow and handle the whole thing delicately, properly. Whatever the reason, I took a deep breath to steady myself, to prepare myself, and left the gymnasium. I stepped out of the double doors and into the bright hallway, blinking against the harsh fluorescent lights. I looked for my friend, and he wasn’t hard to find.

He had tried to hide himself on the far side of a short but wide trophy case, but his long legs stuck out. He was sitting on the gross floor with his back against the uncomfortable and random brick wall. He was opposite the refreshment table, but despite the flurry of activity, he was looking down at the dirty floor with a can of soda clutched in his hand. He was out there all alone and looking especially despondent, like he already knew what was coming. I breathed a small sigh of relief; my job would be easier. I walked over and sat beside him.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” he said.

I figured it’d be best to just come out with it, do it fast like ripping off a band-aid. “Hannah wanted me to-”

“Yeah, I know,” he said. He cut me off, but didn’t say anything else. He took a swig from his can.

“Oh,” I said. I was slightly dismayed by the building, awkward silence. I looked down at my hands and tried to think of what else to say.

“You don’t have to sit out here with me,” he mumbled. He hadn’t made eye contact with me.

“I know I don’t have to. I want to,” I smiled. He looked up and returned the smile.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I remember we had a good time. So while being Duckie can be limiting and heartbreaking, it’s also pretty awesome because being a friend is awesome. Sometimes a friend is all a person needs.

Or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself as of late.

 

 

On changing.

Published July 9, 2015 by mandileighbean

“If you really wanted to mess me up, you should have gotten to me sooner.”

“She doesn’t even take it out on people when she’s having a bad day; that’s character.”

I have an appointment on Friday to have my hair cut and colored. It’s going to be a dramatic change, but I feel like that is what the summer is for. I also plan on getting my first – maybe my only – tattoo before returning to school.

My friend Christine and I traveled to used bookstores in Manasquan and Belmar. The one in Belmar featured a truly amazing woman working the register. Christine mentioned that I was a writer and the woman asked some follow-up questions. She told me about Belmar’s BookCon and asked me to e-mail her. It’d be one hell of an opportunity to network and market myself. The only issue is that she wants current releases, but my first novel came out three years ago, and my second has yet to find a home. I sent her an e-mail anyway, because if I’ve learned anything it’s that you always have to try. She said she’d let me know and I want to be optimistic, but I also want to have realistic expectations – boy, that would be a first.

I spent the holiday weekend with family in Pennsylvania. It was incredibly relaxing to disconnect from reality. The first day, Dad and I went into the tiny, one stoplight town for some bags of ice. We ended up purchasing delicious soft serve ice cream. We sat together and the back of the flatbed, watching some locals play softball. The weather was gorgeous and it was a perfect snapshot of small town life. Dad said he’d only ever ate ice cream in the bed of a truck with one other girl and it wasn’t even Mom. It was quite the moment until Dad made me feel like we were dating.

The parade was rained out, but I was still able to see fireworks between the trees and above the mountains surrounding my aunt’s farm. I couldn’t remember the last time I sat and watched fireworks. I loved hearing the soft, faded pops in the distance.

Weekly Writing Prompt #24: “An army private learns that he has to go back for a second tour.”

truckbeach

Cory had parked his battered pickup truck in an utterly deserted parking lot along the shore. He was surprised by how empty it was. It wasn’t too late, barely even dusk. The sky was a wonderful shade of orange and everyone was missing it. Cory had made a resolution to not miss anything upon returning home two years ago from a year’s deployment in Iraq. He’d walked off his job at a store selling auto parts in a dying town. He’d driven across the country with his best friend, sleeping on rooftops and somehow living those cliched adventures Hollywood constantly chronicles, and returned home smiling. He’d visited with family members he hadn’t seen in years and years, but had been kind and thoughtful enough to keep in touch while he served overseas. It had been a pleasant 730 days back on American soil, but Cory was restless. He was plagued with a persistent urge to move, to never be settled. Cory knew he could rest when he was dead, and so he would, but only then.

And that was why Cory had been relieved when he learned that he was going to Afghanistan for a second tour. He sat in his truck with the windows rolled down, listening to the waves crash against the shore. It was a soothing sound and it was constant. Cory reasoned it might be soothing because it was constant; very few things in life were that way. He was reflecting upon his reaction, trying to rationalize it, understand it as an outsider might try to understand it, as someone who had never served and could never possibly understand might try. Cory drained the can of cheap beer he’d been drinking. All this thinking, this extraneous use of one of the most important organs in his body, required hydration. He needed to stay hydrated because he needed to keep thinking, needed to figure out a way to explain this to her mother without her falling to the kitchen floor in convulsing sobs. Suddenly frustrated, Cory chucked the can out of the open window, then slammed his palms against the steering wheel, flattening them. He exhaled deeply.

Cory supposed he was fortunate there was only one woman in his life he had to consider, had to disappoint and devastate. He was too young to be married, too young for a lot of things, but not too young to die apparently. Cory didn’t believe that, but he was anticipating his mother’s arguments. His dad might have understood, could have possibly been an ally, but he had left some time ago, had walked out a long time ago. It wasn’t something Cory thought about much, so he was surprised he was thinking of that now. His mood shifted from frustrated to simply exhausted. Cory ran his cracked hands along his haggard face and kept breathing.

He cracked open another beer. The constant waves that Cory had found soothing so recently now irritated and annoyed him. He turned the key back in the ignition and switched on the radio to some mind-numbing soft rock station. He left it playing low as a background noise, as a distraction. He didn’t want to get stuck inside his own head, but he guessed he should have thought about that before he isolated himself in his old pickup truck that was so old the engine was embarrassingly loud. People could hear him coming from miles away. But then again, that made sense because Cory had never been talented at deception, had never been good at hiding things. When his commander told him he was going to be redeployed, he barely hid the smile on his face, could hardly contain his excitement. Cory was ready to go, ready to return. Cory knew that sounded strange, utterly inconceivable, but he had people over there, he left people over there.

The truth of the matter was that Cory had two families he would kill for, and be killed for. Both were small and close knit. They were equal that way, but the one at home was safe and would be okay. The other one, the one overseas, needed him. It was simple for Cory – they needed him and so he would go. Sure he was scared; hell, he was terrified, would be crazy not to be. But he wanted to go back. At home, he felt useless. There was a definite lack of adrenaline in his day to day routine, and he realized that being a soldier on active duty during wartime was like an addiction. Politicians vying for election would pontificate about the nobility and patriotism of sacrificing all for one’s country, and that was all well and good – Cory did not disagree – but war was bad. Horrible and horrendous things happened, but he would go back. He was returning without hesitation. He wouldn’t say it was because of something noble like patriotic duty, but he would argue that it was more than that. It was partly the addiction to adrenaline, partly the strong desire to stop feeling restless, and partly something else, something Cory was unable to explain.

Other soldiers would get it. Other soldiers would definitely get it. He remembered one mission, a snatch and grab gone awry, where a wounded soldier being transported on a gurney, most likely fatally wounded, had sat up and returned fire upon the enemy. Cory thought that was so cool, that a dying man’s last moments were spent doing his utmost to protect his brothers in arms. Cory wanted to be like that.

Things were bad over there. Enemy combatants were using American equipment to kill American soldiers. Now Cory didn’t have much of a mind for politics, would never willingly enter into a debate, and while some found that ironic or disappointing or whatever, Cory knew it wasn’t about that, about the politicians back home. It wasn’t about anyone back home, really, no matter what Hollywood or CNN tried to sell the American people. Soldiers kept fighting because of the guys to their left and because of the guys to their right. Brotherhood and loyalty called him back.

He thought about his buddy, John. They had just come back in from patrol. They all assumed they were safe, back on base. The atmosphere was relaxed and the squadron had gathered at a picnic table. John had just finished telling some hilarious and wildly exaggerated story from boot camp. He was drinking soda from one of those classic glass bottles, so with laughter surrounding him, John raised the bottle to wet his whistle so he could continue entertaining. That was John’s thing – never serious, always on. It eased the tension and though they claimed it was obnoxious and knew it was just John’s defense mechanism for the anomaly that was life as a soldier, his buddies greatly appreciated it. So they all watched John drink from that bottle with admiration gleaming in their eyes.

So they all saw the sniper’s bullet enter the bottom of the bottle. The glass shattered into thousands of shards, exploded. They flinched, some faces were cut, but they didn’t exactly look away, so they saw the bullet exit through the top of John’s skull.

Cory missed John. He missed everyone he had served with, those surviving and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. That’s why he was ready to go back, that’s why he would go back – always, no matter when he was asked. He would forever fight for the guy to his right, and the guy to his left.

That’s what he would try to explain to his mother.

Three U.S. soldiers pay their respects to their fallen comrades after a service held Saturday at the Iraqi National Parade Field to honor eight soldiers from the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division and three journalists who lost thier lives during the U.S.-led war against Iraq.  A helmet, rifle and pair of boots represented each soldier while three helmets marked "press" on the front represented the journalists lost during the war.

 

 

On helping best friends.

Published April 2, 2012 by mandileighbean

Most of the time, I wish that I was stronger. I have no problem finding strength in my friends and family members, and I admire so many of them for so many different reasons. When it comes to finding strength within myself, however, I usually come up short. I guess most of us – most of us humans – are like that, though. Self-realization is a scary thing, probably because it is also a very powerful thing. I guess in a way it can be limiting, too. To know your potential essentially defines your limits, and no one wants to be limited. Everyone, or at least mostly everyone (I know it’s dangerous to speak generally and universally), would like to believe they are capable of amazing things, and that they were promised a life of intrigue and wealth – but not just of the monetary kind. No one wants to be mediocre.

I don’t want to sound too cocky, but I really do believe I can be something more than average. What scares me is that I also really believe that my own insecurities and fears could trap me. I worry that I’m not strong enough to overcome those obstacles, and I’ll be complacent for the rest of my life because it’s comfortable.

I don’t know if any of this rambling has anything to do with the prompt. You tell me.

THE PROMPT: “Best Friends Need Your Help”
You receive a phone call from your two best friends. “Hey, we’ve done something terribly wrong and need your help. We can’t talk about it over the phone. Please meet us at the spot where we made our pact back in high school. You know the place.” Nervously, you grab your coat and car keys.

THE PIECE:

Melissa had been sleeping pretty soundly when her ringtone rudely interrupted. Popping one eye open groggily, she reached out a thin arm to the lower shelf of her bookshelf and clutched the phone. She flopped over onto her back and squinted, narrowing her eyes to better discern the name printed across the display screen. Brittany was calling, which was strange because it was so late and like Melissa, Brittany had to be at work in just a few hours. It also struck Melissa as strange because she had just seen Brittany earlier. They had eaten a late lunch together, and made tentative plans for the upcoming weekend. Was everything okay? Sitting up, she answered the phone and called out, “Hello?”

“Melissa?” Brittany responded. She sounded breathless, and was talking louder than was usual.  Melissa’s trepidation rapidly increased.

“Yeah, it’s me. What’s up? Is everything okay?”

There was a pregnant pause, a moment of hesitation that terrified Melissa. Brittany said, “Helen’s with me.” Brittany swallowed hard. “Listen, Melissa; something really bad happened. Helen and I, we did something terribly wrong. We need your help.”

Melissa felt the blood pool in her feet after it drastically departed from every other part of her body. She felt cold and dizzy; like she could fall right back on the mattress and pass out. “Brittany, what’s wrong? What’s happened?”

More silence greeted Melissa and she absolutely hated it. Under normal circumstances, Melissa couldn’t stand being left out and not knowing everything. Under these circumstances, it was torture. Why couldn’t Brittany just explain things? What was so terrible that her best friend had to operate under such secrecy? Melissa could hear Brittany’s voice thicken with emotion as she said, “I can’t talk about it over the phone. We, we can’t talk about it over the phone.” Helen was speaking very fast in the background and when she grew silent, Brittany began speaking again. “Listen, please, please, please meet us at the spot where we made our pact back in high school.”

Melissa was confused, and not just because it was late and she was exhausted.  She placed a head on her forehead, as if that could calm the thoughts racing back and forth and refusing to form an orderly line so that they could be processed and filed appropriately. “Pact? What-“

“Melissa, you know the place. You know exactly where I’m talking about,“ Brittany interrupted, and she sounded like she was quickly losing patience.

“Okay, okay; I’m leaving now.” Melissa hung up the phone and took a moment to stare into the darkness of her room. She honestly did not remember making any kind of pact, and she was worried she wouldn’t show up at the right place. Or worse, she’d be too late and whatever mess her two best friends had gotten themselves into would only escalate and become some horrible, invincible monster that they would fall victim to. She wondered, very briefly, if she was being overdramatic, but she didn’t think so. Brittany’s tone and shady behavior were certainly causes for alarm as they were completely out of character. Back in high school, Melissa had idolized Brittany – Brittany had been smart across the board, and not just in a few subjects like Melissa. Brittany had been pretty in an unexpected way that made it all the more special (Melissa had often compared Brittany to the actress Molly Ringwald, and the two definitely shared a chemistry and appeal that were hard to define). Melissa had been overweight and remarkably lonely. Brittany had navigated the halls of the high school with an easy and enviable confidence that Melissa had always tried to replicate, but her imitation was only an imitation, and came off as lame. Helen was more like Brittany than Melissa, so the two together should have been a dream team of sorts. Together, they could have taken over the world and not one soul would have complained, or worried about the consequences. It seemed unfathomable that these two amazing woman who personified everything Melissa had ever wanted to be, would now be calling Melissa for help. What could she possibly do to help? She was weak, stupid, still overweight and afraid, always afraid. She felt her face flush with embarrassment even now, even years later when she was alone in her darkened bedroom, when she remembered how she had broken down and sobbed in Brittany’s old, red Jeep. They had been sitting in it, exposing themselves in ways that made them most vulnerable, parked at the lake that was one town over. They had spent the majority of more than one summer parked at that lake-

Melissa’s heart leaped into her throat. Helen and Brittany were at the lake. They would be parked by the second dock site when you took the thin, meandering road to the left of the parking lot. The water would be dark, and the moon would reflect off it beautifully, the way it had those summer nights, when the warm air would coax them from the jeep and onto the dock. It didn’t matter that the wood creaked suspiciously beneath their feet, or that the white paint was chipping. When you’re young, you’re immortal – or rather, you believe that you are, even in a place as dangerous as high school. Melissa flung the sheet and blanket far from her, scrambling into boots and a coat. She grabbed her keys from the hook beside the bedroom door, forgot her wallet with her license and everything important, and headed out to her car, barely remembering to shut the front door behind her.

She sped along the highway, thankful it was late so that she could speed and so that she could catch every green light. Melissa had to slow some when she got into the sleepy town that housed the lake within, not wanting to attract any unnecessary attention. As she drove, her nostrils were suddenly filled with the pungent smell of frying oil, and she could almost feel the chunks of salt that would stick to her fingers amid the grease as she ate the French fries. The memory was so clear and so completely filled her senses, but came unexpectedly. Was it because she had passed a McDonald’s, or because she, Helen and Brittany had always stopped there before heading out to the lake? She felt decidedly uncomfortable in her own skin and had a strong desire to just turn around. If Melissa could pretend as if she had never answered the phone, then she’d be infinitely happy. However, that was not a logical choice of action, and she sighed heavily as she turned into the parking lot at the lake’s shore, anxiety building. She stayed to the left, and noticed how creepy the road really was. If someone wanted to kill someone and dump the body somewhere, this would be the place. Oh Lord, what if Helen and Brittany had done that? They weren’t capable of such an atrocity. Were they? Melissa felt nauseous as she came around the bend, and worried she would vomit all over herself when Brittany and Helen came into view. They were parked alongside the trees on the wrong side of the road, standing outside Brittany’s car – which was a new, blue economy car as the jeep did not live through the college years.
Melissa pulled in behind them, killing the headlights and the engine. She felt tears crowd around the edges of her eyes and never before had she felt so helpless. Tremors wracked her body as she slid from behind the driver’s seat. Her door shut loudly behind her, smashing the silence all around them into dangerous shards. Slowly, haltingly, she walked over to her two friends. “Are you guys okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, we’re okay,” Helen said. “We’ve calmed down since we called you. I’m sorry if we scared you, but we were pretty shaken up when we called.”

Melissa’s heart started working double time. “Why? What happened?”

“Look,” Brittany said sadly. Melissa had made her way over to the two young women, who stepped to opposite sides to allow Melissa to see what they had been crowded around. A dog lay dead. A collar hung heavily around its neck. Blood had slowly leaked from the dog’s mouth, and it’s back legs were bent at impossible angles. It was a sad sight to see, and when Melissa looked closer at Helen and Brittany, she could see they had been crying.

“Did you guys hit the dog?”

Brittany nodded, and began crying again. “We were coming to the lake, you know, like we used to, and he came out of nowhere! He darted right out in front of us, and there was nothing we could do.”

“We weren’t going that fast, but by the time we saw him it was too late, and –“ she paused to gulp down the tears that were welling up, and then said, “we hit him pretty hard.”

Melissa knelt down to look a little closer at the dog. She was close to smiling – an accident was no big deal. An accident was easily remedied. She looked up at Brittany and Helen. “The way you two were talking, I thought you had killed someone.”

“But we hit a dog! This was someone’s pet!” Brittany said.

“Why couldn’t you talk about it over the phone?”

Helen shrugged. “We panicked, and just wanted you down here. We needed someone to tell us what to do.”

Melissa laughed, though there was not much humor in it – more a tone of surprise than anything else. “So you called me, to tell you what to do?”

Helen and Brittany didn’t exactly answer Melissa’s inquiry, but they looked to one another, and then dropped their eyes to the pavement. Melissa stepped closer to Helen, who was nearer, and asked for her cell phone. They would call the cops and go from there. It was sad, but it was just an accident. Melissa was about to dial when she paused. “What pact were you talking about?”

Brittany eyed Melissa skeptically. “Are you telling me you don’t remember?”

Helen popped a hip and rested a thin, bony hand upon it. “You don’t remember how we promised to stay friends forever, no matter what? We did that the summer after senior year, before we all went to college.”

Melissa smiled. “I remember. I just considered that more of a promise than a pact.”

Helen and Brittany both smiled softly.

The three girls were different, but all felt very silly.

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