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On near misses.

Published March 31, 2016 by mandileighbean

wakeupcall

For someone who believes in, and more often than not relies on signs from the universe, I’m constantly missing those signs. I’m frequently guilty of missing the point, as it were. It is usually only in hindsight that I am appreciative and finally realize that the Universe was trying to alert me to something.

I left Busco Beach ATV Park in Goldsboro, North Carolina around 9:30 yesterday morning. On the main highway in town, I was stuck in a line of cars waiting for the longest freight train I’ve ever seen in my life. I was patient and waited. Now I wonder if those ten minutes that felt like an hour made any difference, if those ten minutes affected my journey in a crucial way.

About 45 minutes later, I was merging onto I-95 and nearly had to swerve to avoid hitting a giant vulture and some other small bird feasting on a carcass in the middle of the interstate. I’d never seen vultures feeding in real life, only in the movies and on television, and it seemed especially stranger the birds would land and feed on such a busy road. It was a gruesome reminder of mortality, regardless if the location seemed unrealistic.

Some time later, I ran over a blown tire. The sound was loud and startling, but the collision was harmless. Another sign, perhaps, but of what?

The trip was mostly uneventful after the aforementioned incidents, aside from irritating pockets of traffic, until I reached Baltimore, Maryland. I was traveling over the bridge that ended in tunnels near the Port of Baltimore. I was being attentive, wasn’t distracted by my cell phone or iPod, but none of that positive, defensive driving seems to matter. Somehow, an orange construction cone (one of the big ones, shaped more like a tube and reminiscent of a garbage can) was left behind. There was no obvious construction, no other cones or material left behind – just the one thing. The car in front of the truck in front of me decimated the cone, smashed it all to bits. The truck in front of me slammed on its brakes, and I had no other choice but to do the same. I also swerved to the left, into the shoulder.

For a few terrifying moments, I was convinced I was going to crash into the concrete barrier, wedging my jeep between that median and the back end of the truck in front of me. I saw it all happen like some lame scene from one of those “Final Destination” movies. I’d slam against the steering wheel (would the air bag go off?) and there’d be blood gushing from my nose and mouth. My teeth, after thousands of dollars spent at the orthodontist, would be broken and shattered more likely than not. Would the windows bust from pressure of being squished between the concrete and the truck? I had my seat belt fastened, but what would that have really prevented?

But I’m okay. There was no crash, no sickening crunch of glass and metal, no screech of a scrape against concrete. The whole awful mess was avoided and I kept on driving, kept on going. There was no time to stop and investigate the accident that had almost happened, no time to figure out how it had been avoided. Pieces of the orange and white plastic flew by, circling end over end along the shoulder. The sound of my squealing tires reverberated in the air but only for a moment. Life kept moving.

And I was okay.

I think that’s the message from the Universe: Mandi, life changes and keeps going despite your personal dramas, and you’re okay. You’re going to be okay.

So I’m listening very seriously to my mom when she advises me to work on myself, to be happy with me. She seems convinced that once that happens, everything else will fall into place. I’m starting to agree. The ideology makes sense, but it’s also exhausting feeling guilty for absolutely everything that happens in my life. If friends hang out without me, I immediately wonder what I did wrong and try to figure out why they would launch an offensive to alienate me. If I was happy with myself, truly happy, I’d be able to realize that not everything is about me and how horrible I am. That realization makes me feel guilty, like I’m wrong for thinking badly about anyone ever when there’s so much wrong with me. Well, that’s an incredibly depressing attitude and I don’t want to be apart of it anymore.

Today, I got a manicure and a pedicure. Tomorrow, I’m trimming my hair and on Sunday, I’m coloring my hair. These may seem vain and shallow attempts at becoming okay with myself, but we all have to start somewhere, no? And truth be told, I’m happy with who I am on the inside. Sure, I’ve got some crippling insecurities and some awfully bad habits to work through, but don’t we all? I’m going to work on myself in the best way I see fit because I trust myself and I love myself.

There is a difference between narcissism and introspection.

I’m not missing any more signs.

vacation

On talking to the dead.

Published April 14, 2015 by mandileighbean

Friday, April 10, 2015 marked 90 years since the publication of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the novel that essentially changed my life by confirming the kind of woman – the kind of human being – I wanted to be.

I couldn’t let such an occasion, such an anniversary; pass without some kind of commemoration.

So I drove three hours and 40 minutes to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rockville, Maryland.  I drove down I-95, which I have become so accustomed to that traversing that interstate is painfully boring.  I had my iPod blaring, but my mind was essentially blank, other than lingering upon the object of my affection and then Gatsby and then back again.  The object of my affection tried countless times to convince me of similarities between him and Jay Gatsby, of which there are admittedly a few.  We sent each other text messages late into the night while watching the film adaptation of the novel, discussing themes and characterization and life.  I only knew the novel was published on April 10th because of this man.  Gatsby was (is?) our thing.  So now, perhaps unfortunately, the fictional world of Jay Gatsby and my first heartbreak are inextricably linked forever and ever, amen.

Maybe that realization, that my favorite book is forever tainted by the inevitable disappointment of romance, made me somber and weird inside, but I was certainly reserved as I pulled into the church’s parking lot.  I parked in the further possible spot, closer to the adjacent school than the actual cemetery, but did so for no discernible reason.  In hindsight, I supposed I wanted to be ignored and inconspicuous, didn’t want to be a nuisance of any kind.  That notion seems laughable though, especially when I consider how absurd I must have looked, emerging from a piece of shit car – part of my front bumper is missing – in a fancy black dress too elegant and too formal for the impromptu graveside visit, with a fancy black coat that made me sweat but offered respite from the persistent mist.  I was alone, as always, and walking around aimlessly.  I’m sure I looked out of place and had anyone been around, I’m sure they would have chalked me up to some kind of weirdo.  To be fair, I guess that’s exactly what I am.

The entrance to the cemetery is across from a sign that reads, “BEAN BLVD.”  That cannot be coincidence; I don’t care what kind of logic is thrown at me.

I saw a gate, but it was small and unremarkable, so I assumed there must be a main gate somewhere, adorned with ironwork and a plaque or a sign – something.  Looking around furtively, worried I might just be trespassing, I followed the low, wrought iron fence around the perimeter of the cemetery but found no other entrance.  I traced my way back, which maybe took all of two minutes as the cemetery is rather small, to that first gate.  The latch, with its peeling paint, was worn enough to almost be rendered ineffective.  I considered it a particularly cruel kind of irony that this humble, rather shabby cemetery serves as the final resting place of the man who imagined Gatsby and the extravagant, opulent world in which that character existed.  I sighed and opened the gate, gingerly lifting the decrepit latch and gently shutting the gate behind me.

The grave was incredibly easy to find, partly because the cemetery is so small and partly because his marker is so large.  It’s off to the right of the short, winding path that just ends through the tiny, enclosed area.  I followed it, careful not to tread on the hallowed ground of those resting eternally, but had to leave the path eventually.  My heels sank into the soggy ground and I berated myself for my inconvenient melodramatics.  But then I faced Fitzgerald’s grave.

It’s a simple headstone.  It has his name, the years in which he lived and breathed and made the literary world a far better place.  His wife’s name is below, as are her years of existence.  Perpendicular and impressive is a stone slab that bears the last lines of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, the work that is often considered the great American novel.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

I was the only one mourning and paying homage to a brilliant and destructive man, but I hadn’t been the only one.  There was evidence of other grievers.  There was a bloated, yellowed with the age, rain-soaked paperback copy of The Great Gatsby.  I leaned close and found it was open to pages 116 and 117, where Nick warns Jay that the past cannot be repeated, but Jay is deaf and insistent.  “Can’t repeat the past?  Why, of course you can.  Of course you can.”

There was a sodden bouquet of roses, decimated by the rain, soaked and scattered, looking especially tragic and mournful.  Perhaps the passage and gray skies and the cemetery added to that impression.

There were many pens, an obvious but touching nonetheless tribute to an insanely talented author.

There were many pennies, what I mistakenly assumed was an Irish tradition until I took to Google.  Coins are left on graves for many reasons, but there are three reasons that appear to be the most common.  One reason dates back to Greek mythology, and coins are left as payment for the ferryman that transported souls across the river Styx.  The second is related to the military and dictates that leaving certain coins is evidence of a particular relationship.  For example, pennies are left by any living soldier visiting a veteran’s grave while nickels are left only by those who attended boot camp with the deceased.  The third reason is to simply leave evidence that one visited and was there.  How narcissistic is that, having to leave proof of our existence at the proof of another’s existence?

My favorite token was a small bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey with an accompanying shot glass.  Next year when I make the trip, I plan on bringing daisies – though I despise the fictional Daisy Buchanan I completely understand what it is she represents, as despicable as it is – and a bottle of gin or some other antiquated kind of alcohol.  I plan on having some shots and hanging out for a decent amount of time, telling Fitzgerald how much I admire him, how much many admire him, and that I hope heaven allows for him to see how important he has become.

Much like the title character of his greatest literary achievement, Fitzgerald died alone and in obscurity.  Apparently the priest who presided over his funeral services did not even know who Fitzgerald was.  Fitzgerald considered himself a failure, and drank himself to death, falling dead in the apartment of his girlfriend, some tabloid reporter that he may have shacked up with to aid his dwindling screenwriting career in cruel, unforgiving Hollywood.

I devoured Gatsby when I was fourteen years old.  I have read it at least once a year since, and have convinced myself that I am Gatsby.  And as I stood at Fitzgerald’s grave, pondering the possible autobiographical content of his greatest novel, I realized that therein lies the magic of the novel; we are all Gatsby.  We all want too much and at times, we can want to reclaim some version of our former selves, tirelessly and obsessively chasing after some enchanted object that we think will fix everything.  We are continuously disappointed, but we keep right on chasing, reaching in everlasting desperation.

I thought Philip Roth had it right, that the real human tragedy is that we are all woefully unprepared for tragedy.  Now I think Fitzgerald was right, that the real human tragedy is that we are never satisfied.  We want too much.

I said a few prayers, thanked him, and empathized with the dead author.  I explained that I was a writer and that I feared my talent – if I may be so arrogant in insisting that I have some – would go undiscovered.  I told him I was afraid of dying alone, of having absolutely no one to mourn at my graveside, let alone any fans.  I delicately turned the pages of the soaked novel, carefully turning pages made nearly transparent by the rain and other elements.  I turned to the part where Nick pays Gatsby the sole compliment of their friendship, when he tells Gatsby that Daisy and Tom and Jordan are a rotten crowd, and that Gatsby is worth the whole damn bunch put together.  Nick is glad he said that, even though he disapproved of Gatsby from the beginning to the end.  It is a beautiful sort of sentiment, and I wondered if Fitzgerald, like Gatsby, had a friend in the end who got someone for him.  I softly kissed my fingertips and let them trail along the cold stone as I began the brief walk out of the cemetery, back to my piece of shit car, parked suspiciously outside the adjacent Catholic school like some kind of inappropriate joke made in poor taste.

I drove back home, traveling for four hours, stopping to eat at McDonald’s and then almost immediately wanting to die as the food upset my stomach terribly.

Despite the bizarre and spontaneous nature of the trip, the irritating traffic and uncomfortable way the greasy, cheap food sank in my stomach, the trip was inspiring.  I began to develop an idea for a third novel.

And it’s all thanks to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  So I will return again and again to give thanks and pay homage because he communicated universal truths without restraint.  He was unashamedly who he was, embracing his genius and his insecurities and his worth and his faults all simultaneously.  Fitzgerald was wonderfully and beautifully human and wrote to be inclusive, to help everyone understand that we are all guilty, that we are all beautiful and deserving of love, that we can all be great.  We all reach out, trembling, for the green light.

And it’s okay.

fitzgrave

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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