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On obligatory new year resolutions and the value of introspection.

Published January 4, 2018 by mandileighbean

MAN_ON_A_LISBON_BUS

Hypocrisy, in my opinion, is one of the worst human flaws. I understand this sentiment is ironic because just about a year ago, I wrote a post which discussed hitting rock bottom and how I was going to change myself into the woman I have the potential of being, the woman I so desperately want to be. However, the year came and went and nothing changed. If anything, I got worse; the weight has ballooned into an unhealthy, unattractive number; creative writing has all but ceased; I still spend more nights than I care to admit to publically eating bad food and re-watching romantic comedies at home … alone.

But recently, I was forced to think about the last five years of my life. With the clarity hindsight provides, I was able to understand that I had been through several tumultuous periods and had tried to blindly just trudge ahead. The spirit is commendable, but in doing so, I developed many unhealthy coping mechanisms that have since cost me my health and happiness and, to a point, my sanity.

So that is my resolution for 2018: to get back to good, and to take my life back. To do that, I am going to spend more time doing what I love. I’ll read more and I will update this blog once a week (every Wednesday for Writer Wednesday … get it? I’m a sucker for alliteration). Granted they start on a Thursday this week, but I had snowmageddon to contend with. And would it really be me if I did something right the first time around?

I will progress my literary career in 2018.

I will start taking classes for my Masters degree.

I will diet and exercise and the goal is to lose at least 30 pounds by May 16th (when I see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway!). I want to go hiking at least once a month and really spend more time in nature. This, plus starting therapy, will help me regain mental health and stability.

I will begin making improvements to my home to make it cozier and to become more independent.

Putting all this in writing helps me to formulate a plan and in my attempt to avoid hypocrisy at all costs, helps me to stick to these resolutions.

And now for some creative writing; stay golden, readers. And be excellent to each other.

WRITING PROMPT #01.2018: After falling asleep on a twenty-hour bus ride to his mother’s house, a college student wakes up to discover that he’s been on the wrong bus the entire time.

I stood in the bus station, looking out at a deserted Main Street that was slowly but surely filling with snow. The winter wind was whipping itself into a frenzy; I could feel it slipping through the door in front of me, and it was enough to make me shiver in my jeans and tee shirt. I was woefully unprepared for the wintry mix outside because I had fully anticipated waking up as the bus came to a stop in Atlanta, Georgia. Yet here I was in Liberty, Indiana.

I couldn’t understand how it happened. Obviously, I boarded the wrong bus, but how could that have happened? How could I have made such a stupid, stupid mistake? I rubbed my cheek, felt the stubble that needed to be shaved. It was bristly against my palm and helped me come back to myself. Staring out the door would do no good. I needed a plan. I needed to think of some course of action, so I walked back to the uncomfortable bench that was no more than a piece of curved steel. It was cold against my lower back, as the thin cotton of my shirt was powerless against the cold that seemed to pervade everywhere. It helped me to prioritize; I would get myself some boots, a heavy coat, some gloves, a scarf, and a hat. If I was going to be lost, I could at least be comfortable doing it.

Behind the counter was an elderly, grizzled-looking man who just wanted to get home. He watched me approach without interest, with a cold detachment that I took as a bad sign. I had heard that people in the Midwest, although weird, were incredibly friendly. This guy looked like I could have walked up to him on fire, burning alive, and he would have yawned and apathetically watched me turn to ash. I did my best to smile, and as polite as humanly possible, I said, “Good evening, sir.”

He said nothing in reply. He only blinked back at me.

I swallowed hard and pressed on. “Could you tell me where the nearest clothing store is? I didn’t know it’d be- “

“There’s the Liberty Mall right next door. You might have some luck there.”

I nodded, mumbling my thanks as I pulled the straps of my duffle bag higher up on my shoulder. He nodded in return and turned away.

I was on my own.

Outside the bus station, the cold was overwhelming. I imagined my fingers and toes turning blue, then black, then falling off. I’d leave a trail of them the cops could follow to the doors of the Liberty Mall, where they’d find me all frozen and stiff and dead.

I didn’t used to be this dramatic.

I hurried over to the mall, walking close against the sides of the buildings to avoid all snow as best as I could. I wrenched the door open against the wind that was really starting to pick up, and the first thing I saw was a little, sad-looking department store that appeared to have ignore the turn of the last century. My feeling of disorientation was growing; what time was it? Had I traveled not only in the wrong direction for twenty hours, but had I also gone back in time?  The yellow lights that burned overhead burned low, so that everything was washed in a depressing shade of yellow and looked older than it was and sickly. There was a young woman who came from around the counter and walked to the very edge of the store’s boundary. She hadn’t noticed me, and she reached high up over head. I realized she meant to close the metal gate that rolled down, so I sprinted over to her.

“Miss, please! Don’t close that gate!”

She looked at me in alarm, scrambling back a few steps and wrapping her arms around herself. I felt bad but was grateful she’d backed away from the gate. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said, “but we’re closing.” She looked at me from the sides of her eyes, turning her head mostly away from me.

“I can appreciate that, but I don’t have any winter clothes and I’ll freeze to death outside.” I stopped just inside the store. “I’m supposed to be in Atlanta. I got on the wrong bus and I have no winter clothes packed. Can I buy some clothes?”

She slightly turned her head towards me and looked me up and down. “But I’ve already shut down the register.”

“I’ll pay cash. We’ll cut the tags off and you can ring everything up first thing tomorrow.” She didn’t move. “Or you can turn it back on while I look around. Please, miss. Please … what’s your name?”

“Caroline.”

“Please, Caroline. My name’s Dillon and I just rode a bus from Philadelphia for twenty hours. I’m embarrassed, I’m cold, I’m tired, and I’m hungry. Help me fix one of those things, please.”

Caroline’s hands dropped to her sides. Her eyes were big and brown and nice to look at it now that they were no longer narrowed with suspicion. “Be quick,” she said before she turned and went behind the counter. I thanked her again and again, what seemed like a thousand times over, and she only got me to shut up by pointing me in the direction of the outer wear – first right off the main aisle. As I turned, I could see the bulky jackets crudely stuffed against one another, hanging from circular racks. I breathed a little easier and slowed my pace, figuring I could take a second to enjoy the tiny victory. I passed a t-shaped rack filled with coats for infants, the sizes ran from 0-3 months, and I came to a complete stop.

Later, when I called my mom from a bar with a steak and a mound of mashed potatoes both smothered in gravy in front of me, she harassed me, berated me until I could explain how I managed to be so stupid. What kind of jackass gets on the wrong bus? I tried the empty, obvious answers; that the bus station was crowded and overwhelmed with holiday travelers. I lied and said I was half-listening when the man who sold me my ticket talked about transfers, so I fell asleep and forgot. She wasn’t satisfied. She knew I was lying even though she couldn’t see my face in the way that only mothers can. I did the only thing I could do; I broke and told my mother the God’s honest truth about the last 48 hours.

Staring at the infant jackets reminded me of Alicia. I had met her in college, after I had gone to the north and broken my mother’s heart. Alicia was an art major who didn’t give a damn about plans or responsibilities. I was intoxicated by her freedom and her wildness, and she helped me to let my guard down and to get into a little bit of trouble. It wasn’t anything serious; no legal troubles, but a few stories to tell with a big smile. I loved her. And I’d tell her all the time. I told her I loved her constantly. She never said it back, just took me into her arms, into her bedroom, into the nearest place that offered any kind of privacy and she’d let me show her how much I loved her. I never thought much of it; I was happy and it made me stupid, I guess.

I invited Alicia home to meet my mom. She was supposed to be on the bus with me.

But she sat me down in the kitchen of her on-campus apartment and explained that she wasn’t looking for anything serious. She said going home to meet a guy’s family was pretty serious, the way having a baby was serious. Alicia usually talked in long, winding paths that eventually got to some point. And I could usually anticipate the destination of her dialogue and patiently wait for her to get there. But this time, I was confused. “Who said anything about having a baby? No one said anything about a baby.”

Alicia looked at her hands between her knees. “I didn’t want to tell you because I saw this coming. I knew you were getting caught up.”

I stood up. “Tell me what?”

“I was pregnant.”

There was a moment of stunned silence. She told me she was on the pill, so how this could have happened seemed the obvious question to ask next, but her phrasing troubled me more. “What do you mean was?”

“Don’t worry, I took care of it.”

It was hard for me to swallow. My face felt hot, but I knew I was cold all over. “What do you mean you took care of it?”

“Don’t be stupid,” Alicia said. She rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean, Dillon. Don’t make me say the obvious.”

“You didn’t tell me?”

“I knew this was going to happen,” Alicia said. “You always take things too seriously. You get too invested. You’re gonna break your heart a million times over doing that.” She went to walk past me, to leave me standing there alone. As she passed, I grabbed her nearest arm and wrenched her back. She stumbled back to stand in front of me. Her face was pale, her eyes were wide, and her breathing had quickened. She was scared but I didn’t give a shit.

“You’re a fucking bitch.”

Alicia brought her hands to her face like I slapped her, like I was bringing my hand back to do it again. I still didn’t give a shit. “I love you! We’ve been sleeping together for two years, and you don’t tell me you’re pregnant? You don’t tell me you’re gonna get rid of it? That’s fucking weird, Alicia.”

Alicia came back to herself. “It’s my body, my decision. And I don’t have to explain myself to you! Just because I don’t buy into some Judeo-Christian definition of woman-“

“Oh, fuck off! This isn’t political! This is personal!”

Alicia pushed me hard. I moved back a step or two. She wasn’t strong, but she surprised me. “Don’t you tell me to fuck off, you petulant man child! I knew you’d be hypersensitive about this. Grow up, Dillon! You’re so pathetic, I-“

I shoved her. Hard. Hard enough so she fell back onto the carpeted floor of the living room, just a few steps away. I was losing control, and an apology rose to my lips, but I kept them shut tight. I had never laid a hand on anybody my entire life. I was a father, then I wasn’t. I was a gentleman, then I wasn’t.

Alicia was this smart, beautiful firecracker I tried to keep held securely in my hand. But firecrackers explode, go off, and the result was injury.

I left her lying on the floor. Confused, depressed, and desperate, I went back to my dorm room and drank until I fell asleep. When I woke, I only had thirty minutes to pack and get to the bus station. I blindly followed the crowds onto the wrong bus, going unnoticed because of the thronging crowds of holiday travelers, and then I slept.

“Dillon? Sir? Are you finding everything okay?”

I blinked and silent tears rolled down my cheeks. Caroline had caught me hundreds of miles away, in a different time and place. She found me vulnerable, crying in an outdated department store in a small town in Indiana.

On making things better … or worse.

Published October 6, 2016 by mandileighbean

About three weeks ago, I went on a date with some guy I met online. We met on the boardwalk, which I liked. He looked only a little bit like his picture, but I’m sure the same could be said for me – I’ve definitely gained weight since the pictures I posted were taken. None of the mattered, really, because he was INCREDIBLY smart – knew more than a little bit about nearly everything. The conversation was great – enthralling, interesting. We talked for four hours, until the restaurants closed. At one point, he was explaining the scientific reasoning behind why men tend to react with violence while women are more emotional and tend to react with malicious manipulation. He posed a hypothetical question, asking me what I would do if a woman I hated, like really hated, keyed my car. I told him I’d go to the police, and he had to alter the scenario and tell me that wasn’t an option. I think he wanted to prove that eventually I would become violent (although in retrospect, I don’t see how that helps his argument at all, so maybe I misunderstood because he was SO much smarter than me). That inspired the short story below.

But some more about the date: he said “you see” a lot and removed his glasses to pinch and massage the bridge of his nose and pushed air through his nose awkwardly, almost like snorting but not exactly. In hindsight, it seems pretentious and textbook intellectual, but in the moment, it wasn’t so bad. There were even a few moments where I nearly convinced myself he was handsome, sitting on a bench overlooking the beach, calmly explaining the cosmos to the young woman beside him as a chilly wind whipped the finer strands of hair about his face.

But I think it was just the moonlight and me endeavoring to force a fairy tale where there wasn’t one. I haven’t heard from him.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #30: “Let’s just agree that we both hate her, okay?”

“Let’s just agree that we both hate her, okay?” Ashley pleaded. She was sitting in her Chrysler Sebring convertible with her best friend. The engine was running to keep the heat going; it was unseasonably cold, and tiny tremors assaulted Ashley’s body. The cloth top did little to keep the icy wind from seeping in and making the interior cold and uncomfortable. She watched her breath escape her lips in tiny, white puffs, disappearing as soon as they appeared. Despite the heat blasting from the vents, Ashley was shivering. For a moment, but only a moment, Ashley wondered how her best friend was faring, if she was as cold. But Ashley’s concern was fleeting. She wasn’t looking at Danielle, but stayed focus on the lone break in the curbing that served as both the entrance and exit of the parking lot. Neon lights and halogen bulbs lit up the night sky around them, and Ashley used the glare of the harsh and unflattering lights to peer into windshields and survey the colors of incoming cars. Oncoming headlights would blind her momentarily, but she would shut her eyes tight against them for a just a few seconds, all she could spare, and then she’d stare hard and long to make out the figures in the cars, to determine the exact shade of the paint of the exteriors of the cars. Ashley’s eyes shifted restlessly from side to side, scanning and searching for one driver in particular, one woman that was scheduled to meet a man in the diver bar that owned the parking lot. The man in question happened to be the love of Ashley’s life (at the very least, Ashley had convinced herself that was the case), and the woman in question was the current topic of conversation.

“I’m not going to do that,” Danielle refused. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared through the windshield. She forced her breath out of her lungs in short bursts, emphasizing her displeasure. Not unlike Ashley, Danielle wasn’t so eager to make eye contact. Everything had gone too far, much too far, and Danielle was having trouble comprehending that the woman gripping the steering wheel in tight, pulsating waves was the same woman she’d known for years and years, and had claimed as her best friend. Ashley was unrecognizable to Danielle. Sure, she looked the same, but the jealousy and ager that consumed Ashley and simmered somewhere just beneath the surface of her skin had caused her to mutate into something ugly, something horrible.

“Then why are you even here?” Ashley asked. She finally turned to face Danielle. Her tone was sharp so that the question was more of a piercing challenge. In her juvenile rage, Ashley wanted Danielle to leave so that Ashley could feel abandoned and awful, and thereby rationalize her unnerving desire to cause destruction and excuse her cowardly and dastardly behavior.

“To talk sense, Ashley; I need to convince you that this is really dumb, not to mention illegal. We need to leave before you do something stupid.”

There was a beat of silence. It was the calm before the storm; after just a moment more, Ashley slammed her palms against the dashboard and growled. It was a subdued scream that turned animalistic and cold and hard. Danielle felt uneasy but turned toward Ashley, willing to make eye contact and survey if Ashley was even present in the conversation, if she was even listening. “Go to hell,” Ashley sneered. “You don’t know what this feels like, okay? Save your self-righteous bullshit for your students.”

“If you weren’t acting like a child, I wouldn’t have to treat you like one, or talk to you like one,” Danielle retorted. “What is keying her car going to do, honestly?”

Ashley thought for a moment. “It’ll make me feel better.”

Danielle rolled her eyes. “Yeah, maybe, but then what? Will it make Russ suddenly realize he’s been a douche? How will it prove you were the right choice?”

Silence settled upon the pair. The truth was that Ashley couldn’t answer Danielle’s questions because Danielle was right. It was stupid, completely asinine, but for the moment, Ashley didn’t care. She wanted to feel satisfied and to feel justified – she wanted to feel better about the whole messed up situation between her and Russ and their feelings (or lack thereof). “Why can’t you just let me have this?” Ashley demanded of her best friend. Her voice cracked and allowed the tears to finally spring up.

“What kind of friend would I be if I let you be a stupid, awful, petty bitch?” Danielle asked. She extended her arm to rub Ashley’s back as she sat behind the wheel and cried. “You’re better than all of this, and you deserve better than Russ.” Danielle spoke in softened tone, doing her best to soothe Ashley and her broken heart. “Let’s get out of here, okay? We’ll get milkshakes and fries and talk shit.” Danielle laughed to show Ashley that she honestly believed there was a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Danielle needed Ashley to know that eventually, things did get better.

“Fine,” Ashley growled. She wanted to hold onto her anger because she wanted to be in control of something. She couldn’t change how Russ felt and she couldn’t deny Danielle’s logic, but she could decide how she felt, dammit, and she was going to be angry, downright furious. Without giving it much thought, Ashley abruptly changed gears and had every intention of peeling out of the parking lot and leaving the whole aborted revenge plot behind her – in more ways than one – and Ashley would have done just that.

Unfortunately, a young, beautiful woman with bouncy hair, tits that were a cause of envy, and a smile that belonged in toothpaste commercials, came walking up between Ashley’s car and the car beside it. The young, beautiful woman was not paying attention to anything other than her phone, busily composing a text message to let a popular man named Russ that she was walking into the bar, and that she had just parked. Her green Hyundai had pulled in just as Ashley had started crying, and were it not for the tears in her contemptuous eyes, Ashley might have seen the vehicle, recognized it, and done something else, anything else. As fate would have it, neither Ashley nor Danielle saw the young, beautiful woman’s car enter the parking lot, and so neither woman knew she was even there, where she was supposed to be, where they had anticipated and expected her to be. The young, beautiful woman walking between Ashley’s car and another was busy envisioning the entrance she would make and entertaining the endless romantic possibilities her rendezvous offered. She didn’t see Ashley’s car turning and accelerating fast enough to make the tires squeal, so hell bent was Ashley on making an exit the same way the young, beautiful woman was intent on making an entrance that would impress the entire bar. The young, beautiful woman never saw the impact coming.

The left headlight rammed against the young, beautiful woman’s shin, hard enough to break it and hard enough to knock her to the ground. The collision happened just outside of Danielle’s window, just outside of the front passenger door. She thought she saw bouncy hair pass by her field of vision on its way to the pavement, but she couldn’t be sure. It was dark and her attention was elsewhere. But Danielle and Ashley heard flesh and bone smash sickeningly against metal and plastic and rubber. They knew they’d hit something, but the enormity of the tragedy had not landed home yet. The front tires ran up and over the young woman’s body before Ashley could slam on the brakes and screech to a halt. “What the hell was that?” Ashley asked.

Danielle had a sinking, awful, terrible suspicion, but how could she say it aloud? How could she tell Ashley that in trying to avoid a misdemeanor, they had committed a felony? How could she explain that in trying to do the right thing, they had made everything worse, much worse? Pale and trembling, Danielle could only state the obvious. “You hit something,” she said.

“Yeah, but what?” Ashley asked. Danielle shrugged, was too shocked and too stupid to articulate anything meaningful or useful. Ashley threw the car in reverse, unknowingly rolling her tires over the young, beautiful woman a second time. The car jostled its occupants from side to side as it traversed speedily over the body. Ashley thought returning to the parking spot and surveying the scene from that vantage point was the best way to assess the damage and understand what had happened. It wasn’t until the sickening thud of the tires rolling over something soft and alive reached her ears a second time that Ashley understood that it was bad and wrong, all bad and all wrong. She put the car in park and battling nausea, Ashley threw her door open and climbed out of the car and onto legs that were wobbly and weak, and didn’t quite support her weight. Hobbling as if she were the victim instead of the perpetrator, Ashley stumbled to the front of the car, using the vehicle to support her weight. She crossed the front of the vehicle, placing palm over palm as she desperately tried to steady herself and walk, and when the body came into view, she promptly vomited.

pedestrian-accident

On fountains.

Published July 7, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s sweltering in my house. I was dripping sweat earlier. I went outside earlier, to try and benefit from the meager breeze coming from the bay, and my outdoor furniture was wet from a storm that had passed by earlier but I didn’t even care. That’s how hot it is.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I think I’m building character.

My life is quiet and small and plain. Again, I’m not telling you this for sympathy or vague reassurance that my life is not the way I perceive it (that just makes someone feel crazy, doesn’t it?). I’m telling you this to illuminate my character, because this realization makes me restless. I always feel like I’m wasting my time and my youth, that I should be doing more, more, more. So I’m taking baby steps to do just that.

On Wednesday, I went to Princeton with one of my best friends. We strolled the campus like we belonged there, despite me being clad in clothes purchased from Old Navy and not J. Crew or Ann Taylor or anywhere else equally as impressive and expensive. Not only that, but an intrusive coffee stain that was too large to be ignored assaulted the lower-half of my shirt in a way that simply screamed I didn’t belong, that I was totally and completely faking it. But I didn’t let my general sloppiness ruin the trip – I’m not that dramatic.

I dragged my patient and impossibly too kind friend to the university to peruse the F. Scott Fitzgerald archives. I anticipated manuscripts and pictures kept under class in a far and quiet corner of the library. I assumed the public had free and easy access to the most personal belongings of a literary genius, but I was so wrong. We had to register, received photo identification cards to enter a restricted part of the library, wash our hands, lock away our belongings, and specifically select which aspects of Fitzgerald’s life we wanted to access. We did this without complaint (which is saying something considering the heat of the day was blistering and my dear, dear friend never intended to spend 150 minutes looking at the personal affects of some dead author), and were shown into a reading room. There, I made plans to visit Great Neck, Long Island for a long weekend (the setting that inspired The Great Gatsby) and to travel to Hackensack, New Jersey (specifically to see the Newman School, which Fitzgerald attended). My friend and I both flipped through a sort of combined scrapbook of Scott and Zelda, compiled by Matthew J. Bruccoli (the only Fitzgerald biographer that matters) and Scottie, Scott and Zelda’s daughter.

Scott’s drama teacher wrote, “Good God, save the soul of the man with the spark!” in reference to Fitzgerald. What a tragedy; what a shame.

We were presented with a facsimile of the manuscript of The Great Gatsby, complete with edits and revisions in Fitzgerald’s own handwriting, not to mention the entire manuscript was handwritten. I nearly cried.

We read letters from Zelda to Scott, which chronicled the beginnings of their relationship, as well as the more tumultuous aspects of the courtship and marriage. I compiled a list of Zelda’s best quotes.

  • … it’s so easy, and believing is much more intelligent
  • And still I’m so mighty happy — It’s just sort of a “thankful” feeling — that I’m alive and that people are glad I am
  • There’s nothing to say — you know everything about me, and that’s mostly what I think about. I seem always curiously interested in myself, and it’s so much fun to stand off and look at me …
  • … something always makes things the way they ought to be …
  • I love you sad tenderness — when I’ve hurt you — That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels — and they bothered you so — Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget
  • … It seems as if there’s no new wisdom — and surely people haven’t stopped thinking — I guess morality has relinquished its claim on the intellect — and the thinkers think dollars and wars and politics — I don’t know whether it’s evolution or degeneration
  • To be afraid, a person has either to be a coward or very great and big
  • … free to sit in the sun and choose the things I like about people and not have to take the whole person
  • It is odd that the heart is one of the organs that does repair itself

I loved the eccentric, charming and dangerous and alarming details I learned about their love, like how Zelda consulted a Ouija board, and how she blamed Scott for her mental illness but firmly believed he could cure her.

We read Scott’s letters with a painstaking clarity, as we knew of the end he didn’t see coming. It was heartbreaking, really.

I decided the goal is to  write the last chapter of my next book in the Nassau Inn, to truly channel the passion and vibrancy and tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I found some places I’d like to visit in France, places Fitzgerald went to and found some kind of inspiration, whether for writing or living large.

We wandered around campus for a while longer, sneaking into classrooms, disrupting tour groups, and feeling – even if for just a little while – that grand things were still possible for us.

We ventured into the cathedral on campus and a Starbucks and a book store to beat the heat.

We traveled to Asbury Park for some live music and great company. It was a great day, the kind summers are made of. I intend to have more like them.

I was inspired to write the following short story. Enjoy!

FOUNTAINS
by Mandi Bean

Carlos knew that the equator separated the globe into northern and southern hemispheres, and Carlos also knew that the farther south a person traveled, the hotter the weather became. However, Carlos could testify to the fact, and possibly even prove, that the farther west a person traveled, the same phenomenon occurred. He had lived on the eastern shore of New Jersey his entire life and could say without hesitation, could say with near absolute certainty, that the middle of the state was a burning, boiling wasteland in July – the most uncomfortable Summer month to begin with – and that it served no real purpose. Carlos had traveled west at the request of his fashionable, trendy girlfriend and now regretted it something fierce.

They were traipsing about the campus of Princeton University so that his girlfriend could admire the rich history and breathtaking architecture and blah, blah, blah. It was ninety-three degrees and Carlos was miserable. He felt damp and disgusting in places he didn’t even know could sweat. Still, he took it all in stride, trying to keep his girlfriend happy and blissfully unaware of his discomfort. He said nothing as they walked innumerable staircases to gawk at old buildings and open fields that meant something to someone somewhere, sure, but that person was not Carlos. His mood dangled precariously between “thoughtfully quiet” and “crankily homicidal,” and he offered his girlfriend only interested smiles as she prattled on and on about tradition and excellence and whatever.

Carlos only perked up as they neared the center of the sprawling campus. There was a pool, six inches deep at the most, with a fountain at its center, an impressive, enigmatic modern sort of structure spouting water. Carlos took his girlfriend’s hand and rushed towards it, the way someone might rush towards a miraculous pool while stranded in a desert. But this pool and fountain was no mirage; children splashed here and there, supervised by patient adults who smiled and nodded with a calculated, weary sort of encouragement. Carlos reached the pool’s edge, where wide, flat stone steps led down to the water. He was smiling wide, with a youthful exuberance, and he turned to his girlfriend. “I’m going in,” he stated and sat down to remove his shoes and socks.

His girlfriend offered a sweet smile, totally enchanted by Carlos’ juvenile need to cool and comfortable, by his childish ambitions. He was a beautiful young man with dark features that made him appear to be super intellectual, but in reality, he was nothing of the sort. But his girlfriend, equally as beautiful, was not disturbed by Carlos’ lack of desire for education and all things brainy. It kept her in check, kept a balance in the relationship. “Go right ahead,” she smiled. “I’ll wait here.”

Carlos paused and looked up at her. “You’re not coming in? This heat is brutal.”

She shook her head and seated herself beside Carlos. “It’s hot, but I’m okay. You go in, though. I can’t tell you’re dying to.” She leaned against him for a moment to kiss his cheek. That was all the permission Carlos needed, and he took off, splashing with reckless abandon to reach the fountain at the center. That spewing, falling water was the most efficient way to get cool. He passed the laughing, shrieking children and paused at the base of the fountain. The water fell on him in the most refreshing way and he was content to simply exist, it simply be in a world where water was free to fall where it may. What a time to be alive, what with fountains and pools to keep the intense summer heat at bay. He closed his eyes and attempted to wash away the sweat and sourness of the July sun.

After a few moments, he opened his eyes and leveled his gaze. He was surprised to find another adult, another wanderer about campus, engaging in the same activity. She was gorgeous, and Carlos also noted the way the woman had been equally as daring, had strode in the same way Carlos had, not caring for the onlookers or any kind of judgments. There was only the oppressive heat, and the refreshing relief of the water, roaring down from the fountain and tinkling as it reached the pool surface. They both appreciated the opportunity, had seized it, and now stood breathless, together in their choices and ideology, but separate in their strangeness to the other.

Carlos breathed a simple “hey.”

The woman nodded, and kicked water up at Carlos. That was her greeting; that was it. Aside from the playful smile, she had offered nothing, not even her name. But Carlos was game. He returned the splash. In a matter of moments, Carlos and the woman were doing their best to drown each other. Their raucous laughter and innocent challenges drowned out that of the children and even the most dutiful of supervising parent stole a glance at the two grown adults making complete asses of themselves in the fountain on the campus of Princeton University.

But, as do all things in life, the splashing lost its appeal and became old and tired. Carlos looked back to his girlfriend and found her reading (there was always a book in her over sized bag). He waved goodbye to the gorgeous, wild and free woman he had spent the last ten minutes with. Without really thinking about it, Carlos returned to the studious, safe and responsible woman waiting for him out of the water. He supposed that was the way it was supposed to be, that for every soul willing to get lost at sea, there had to be another anxiously waiting on shore.

As he came nearer, dripping wet and breathless and smiling, Carlos’ girlfriend looked up and barked a laugh. “Am I glad you drove,” she teased, “because you would never ever get into my car like that.”

Carlos bent to swiftly kiss her before she could protest or squirm away.

fountains

 

On Andrew McCarthy and being un-pretty in any color.

Published December 26, 2012 by mandileighbean

The world was supposed to end on Friday, December 21st. However, I am proud to report that I am still here, along with the rest of the world. Actually, aside from the raging winds knocking the basketball hoop in the driveway onto my car (which cracked the windshield and prevented me from entering the vehicle on the driver side) and an increased police presence at work, Friday was awesome. The days leading up to this posting were also quite awesome; I spent Christmas in Virginia with my nephews and now I am in The Sunshine State – vacationing in Florida. Though I traveled close to eighteen hours from home, I could not escape the fears and insecurities which essentially plague me.
I am slightly terrified that I am more skilled at picking up and impressing women than I am with the opposite sex. It makes me feel like a loser and terribly lonely. Last night, I went to the more prestigious branch of the Ocean County library to listen to Andrew McCarthy speak about his book, and to have him sign it, and get a picture. I was really dressed up in a red, lace number, complete with black stockings and black high heels. I curled my hair and rouged my lips and made sure my eyes looked smoky in varying shades of lilac, lavender, violet and purple. I thought I looked seductive, mysterious or, at the very least, pretty. When I walked into the library, no one seemed too impressed though. I didn’t see any heads turning to watch me pass and no one struck up a conversation even though I was clearly flying solo and obviously unattached.
I slid into an uncomfortable, plastic chair at the end of an aisle that was near the center of the large, dimly lit room. It did give the place a certain ambiance and that set my mind reeling with romantic, optimistic possibilities. I turned to the woman beside me. She was older than I was, with red hair and small eyes. About her was a decidedly academic and impressive air. I asked her if she would mind if I put my bag on the seat between us and she politely replied that no, she wouldn’t mind and that it would certainly be all right. An awkward sort of silence descended, as if both of us were waiting for the conversation to continue but neither of us really wanted to bear the weight of that responsibility. Eventually, I bit the bullet and asked her if she read a lot and that question and the resulting threads of conversation carried us to the start of the program. I learned that she was also an aspiring writer, but spending hours alone in a locked room putting words onto paper did not really appeal to her; she freely admitted to being a herd animal and to being dependent upon human interaction. I commiserated and confessed that I was turning into a writer recluse myself, and supposed that could either explain or rationalize my chatty behavior of the evening.
The conversation was cut short as an older, chubby, and balding man came to the podium with his chest puffed out, as if he believed the small audience assembled before him were just as interested in him as they were in Mr. McCarthy. He cracked a few mildly funny jokes and then introduced the man of the hour. I watched him climb onto the stage with baited breath and slight trepidation not because I was starstruck, but because I was nervous. What if he was completely narcissistic? What if he spoke at length about Hollywood and acting and did not even mention writing or his process? Or worse, what if he attempted to discuss the craft of writing and it became painfully clear that he had no idea what the hell he was talking about?
Refreshingly, none of my fears came true. He did talk about himself, but that’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it? The book is a memoir and he is a celebrity- are they not more inclined to be something of an attention whore? After all, if one is a writer, an actor, a painter, a musician or any kind of artist, one is constantly demanding to be noticed because creations are parts of the artist himself, some pieces more personal than others. However, the key for any artist, in my humble opinion, is to strike a healthy balance, which McCarthy did. He spoke of how he came to be an actor, of how he came to be a writer, about his character flaws and insecurities, of his family both past and present, and of his tastes. He confessed to being a huge Springsteen fan and mentioned that the song “Badlands” is especially important to him and holds a special, significant meaning for him. Clearly, I only fell more and more in love with this romantic hero from my younger years.
He stated a couple of ideas which struck me and will stick with me for some time, I believe. He mentioned that he sucked at journaling and that he found his entires to be self-indulgent and repetitive; I couldn’t agree more. He talked about how traveling allayed his fears and as he traveled, he wrote to keep himself grounded; that inspired me to take my iPad along on the family trip to Florida this year. He also made up my mind- I will travel to Ireland, England and France. McCarthy was genuine, honest and authentic. He is who he is and did not apologize. He wanted to do things and he did them; he did not plan, he was just passionate and pursued those impassioned ideas, goals, aspirations. McCarthy also said that the aforementioned passion was what moviegoers and fans responded to, that there was something in his eyes that confirmed he was right where he was supposed to be doing what he was supposed to do. According to McCarthy, that something was pure, unbridled joy because he felt at home in the world and, perhaps more importantly, in his own skin. I truly enjoyed myself.
The lights came up and there was a question and answer session. Some zealous, older woman asked about three questions and talked as he talked, talked over him even. I raised my hand, but he did not call on me, so I did not raise my hand again. That was cowardice and I mentally berated myself in my seat. We rose to form a line in the short, wide hallway where a table was set up and piled high with copies of his book. While waiting, the woman I had spoken with earlier resumed conversation. She agreed to snap a picture of me with McCarthy, though declined having the favor return – she confessed that she never gets her picture taken with people because she finds the whole process uncomfortable. We spoke about writing again, as well as brief snippets of our personal lives. She is currently unemployed and has previously worked in a pharmacy. She’s been married for a year and lives in Manahawkin. When it comes to writing, she’s having trouble getting started and developing a plot. We agreed to exchange e-mail addresses as both of us would like to widen our writing circle.
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Then came the moment of truth; I met Andrew McCarthy. He took his book from me, said hello and asked how I was. He asked who the book was for, and I told him it was for me, and that my name was Mandi with an ‘i.’ Quickly, with a light laugh, I added, “Don’t judge me.” McCarthy put down the marker, stopped what he was doing, turned to me, looked at me, and laughed. I made him laugh. I entertained him. That has to count for something, right?
Having thusly roused a chuckle from a teen idol, I was feeling pretty damn good and special and unique and all that jazz when I drove down to Atlantic City to see my oldest friends. I love them all so, so, so much because no matter what happens, we can all get together and make each other smile. We smile about the good times and joke about the rough times and it is perfect. I was having a wonderful Friday night … until we went to the club.
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I know I have been gaining back the weight that I lost, and I know that my teeth need to be straightened and whitened, but I have never been as aware of my flaws as I was that night, watching prettier girls become the centers of attention in assigned, miniature melodramas. No one approached me. Well, that’s not entirely true; when Heidi was being wooed, the possible interest had his friend chat me up to keep me busy. I saw through this ruse and called the friend out on it. This seemed to impress him, believe it or not. He said he never had a girl call him out like that before and in turn, he called me out for feeling superior to the whole scene. He was right, but that did not repel him and we kept talking and I was actually having a nice time, but I kept pushing him away with both my words and body language. I figured that since we both knew he wasn’t romantically interested, the whole thing could be over and done with and I could then avoid feeling lonely, lame and like I was the biggest loser in the universe. My persistence in insisting made him feel bad, I think, because he went to the bathroom and never came back. I was expecting as much – had encouraged him to do as much – but it still stung. All my confidence from earlier fled and I wanted to leave. I wanted to go home and cry in my room and watch “Pretty in Pink” and forget the whole thing ever happened. It’s ironic, isn’t it, because here I am, memorializing the whole incident via the internet.
McCarthy talked a lot about insecurity and about how crucial it is to shed that fear. I think he’s right, but I also think to shed the fear and to become the master of insecurity, one needs certain tools. Emotionally and mentally, I feel that I am a catch – that I will care and love someone in unfathomable amounts and be loyal and true – but physically I know I leave a lot to be desired. McCarthy also talked a lot about paradoxes and I believe there is power in paradoxes and contradictions and that is what people gravitate to. Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes” (forgive me if that was not an entirely accurate quotation). I know that I am a walking contradiction and that I am positively filled with paradoxes, but that does not make for someone guys want to grind against for a night in a sweaty, smoky club. The true, swift kick in the ass is that I don’t even want to be THAT girl until I’m in the club, and I’m so clearly the only girl who doesn’t want to be that girl. I preach and pontificate about being true and genuine and cling proudly to my self-proclaimed title of “woman of substance,” but then I find myself near tears, desperate to suddenly assimilate.
I can’t be the only one, right?
This upcoming year, the year of 2013, I am going to fix the things I don’t like about myself so that I can become more attractive, appealing and well-rounded. It is not just about getting the attention of males – though it is certainly a factor and I admit that freely because The Boss says it don’t matter what nobody say, ain’t nobody like to be alone – it is about getting the exterior to match the interior. I want to be beautiful inside and out. That being said, I would also like another crack at McCarthy. I would love to meet him again, hand him a copy of my book, tell him how great I really think he is, and snap another photo in which both of us are beautiful.
Wish me luck.

On nearly a quarter of a century.

Published September 17, 2012 by mandileighbean

I turn twenty-four in two days, which means – and excuse me for stating the obvious – that I will have been upon this spinning globe for nearly a quarter of a century.  Have I accomplished everything I hoped to at this point?  What do I really have to show for twenty-four years?  Have I anything to be proud of?

I would like to think that the answers to those questions are not black and white.  I have a full-time teaching job, but I am still living with my parents in my childhood bedroom.  I am having a novel published, but I am single and lonely and at times, that makes me miserable.

If nothing else, I believe that the past twenty-four years have taught me many, many lessons, but the most significant lesson of the past has been this: to take the good with the bad, and then deal with it.  I need to be thankful for what I have and take my blessings into consideration.  Everything that I want will not suddenly appear before me when I want it to.  I have to learn how to be patient.  I find it ironic that I am so petrified of death and of wasting my time as I simultaneously wish it away and focus so much on some ambiguous future while ignoring the present.  I cannot have it both ways; I cannot be young and careless and reckless, and be wise, mature and responsible.  What I should wish for when I stoop to extinguish the candles on an ice cream cake is to find a healthy balance.

But then that wouldn’t be me.  What I’m going to wish for is a whirlwind romance and literary success.  I will keep dreaming big, planning an impossible future, but will vow not to forsake the present.

 

Wish me luck.

PROMPT: “The only thing I’ve got left is my pride.”

 

PIECE: I was sitting at the bar on a wooden stool that was mostly uncomfortable and tottered from side to side on legs that were clearly uneven.  I had been speaking with a boy – twenty-five but not yet a man – that I had been fawning over and lusting after for years, literally years.  We had made a trip to a chic, bustling New England city to visit a mutual friend.  She was currently in the restroom, probably puking and then cleaning herself up.  We had been in the bar for hours, since before the sunset, and now it was long after – most likely just an hour or so before last call.  We were all pretty intoxicated and it would only take the suggestion of one to call it a night for us to head home.  A natural silence had descended upon my current conversation, and I had decided to pass the time by picking at the label on my bottle of Coors Light.  The conversation was idle and slurred and not worth continuing; both he and I knew that.  Therefore, I was shocked when I felt his breath hot against my ear and neck as he whispered, “Let’s go somewhere real quick, okay?  It’ll be just you and me.  There’s something … I want to tell you.”  He paused between words because he was lying.  There was nothing to tell me.  He wanted to do things and have things done.  My body tensed and I didn’t dare breathe with him so close, speaking the way he was in the husky tone with the implications.  He thought my silence meant I needed more convincing, so he kept talking.  “I know how you feel about me.  Everyone does, and I’ve never taken advantage of it, have I?  I mean, I’m a good guy and we’re good friends.  It makes sense, doesn’t it?”

I turned to look at him.  I saw the glassy eyes that were trying to focus on me but were failing.  I felt his hand upon the small of my back, moving in small circles in what was an intimate gesture.  I should have thrown myself at him; after all, I’d been waiting for years to be one of his chosen ones.  But I didn’t because it was cheap.  He was drunk.  I was drunk.  There was no meaning, no significance, nothing to build on there.  I wanted to cry and I wanted to be alone.  Sliding off the stool, I looked him in the eye as best I could and said, “All I’ve got left is my pride.”

On being loved by men.

Published June 23, 2012 by mandileighbean

PROMPT: A flight attendant learns that one of the passengers has brought a weapon on board.

PIECE: Moriah loved being a flight attendant.  She was always meeting new people, travelling to new places and completely enjoying herself.  Currently, she was aboard 6606 – domestic to West Palm Beach, Florida.  It was a trip she had made a million and one times and thus far, everything had been going smoothly and just as expected.  The seatbelt light had just turned off and passengers were now free to move about the cabin.  Her own voice had made the announcement and contrary to the societal norm, she loved the way her voice sounded as it was reproduced over the PA system.  She liked its cool edge and authoratative undertones that were masked by an extreme and liberal application of politeness.  Moriah thought her voice would sound just as delightful on the radio, or even floating to one from television speakers.  Moriah was convinced she had the look to go along with the voice as well; she could feel men’s eyes rove over her and she obviously saw the way women’s eyes squinted with distaste fueled by jealousy.

Women were not fond of Moriah, and they never had been.  She had breathed a loud sigh of relief when she realized this small flight would be comissioned by herself and two gentleman, one of which she had already slept with about a year ago, and one who was a fabulous as the day was long.  The flight promised to be easy; and there was a young gentleman near the front of plane, seated on the end of the aisle, who had given her the eye in a way which was anything but discreet.  Moriah liked to imagine that the gentleman was flying for business and she would be regaled with dinner and dancing and wild, seemingly endless romps between satin sheets of the four star hotel he’d most likely be staying at.  Then, she’d never see him again.  Yes, Moriah got along much better with men, just as she preferred to live her life in a ceaseless state of transition.  She could fly from place to place just as she could move from bed to bed.  Nothing was permanent, and Moriah thought that freeing and beautiful.

She was at the attendants’ station, preparing the drink cart for its casual stroll down the narrow aisle when Mitch, the attendant whom she had bedded, marched to her.  His fists were clenched at his sides and his lips were pinched shut.  His eyes looked tragic and desperate and Moriah instantly became alarmed.  She took a moment to send up a silent prayer that Mitch’s poor attempt at casualness had been believed by the passengers.  “What’s wrong?” she asked, swallowing down her rising fear.

“There’s a man in the third row, on the end, that brought a knife on the plane.  The marshal’s just about to subdue -”

There was screaming and shouts to the Lord.  Moriah’s stomach fell out through her bottom, but her weakened knees were able to carry her past Mitch, just a few steps, to peer out the corner.  The air marshal was twitching on the floor, blood spilling out from the slice across his neck and pooling around his soon-to-be lifeless body.  Moriah screamed and clapped her hands to her cheeks.  What should she do? Her mind was frantic and she couldn’t remember what was expected of her.  Turning back to Mitch, she discovered him barracading the cabin door, protecting the pilots and the passengers by extension.  That was good, that was good; Mitch was brave and strong, and he was a man, so he would make everything okay.  Moriah believed that.

She turned back to the mayhem before her.  Passengers whose faces were all just pale, sweaty blurs of human features were cowering in their seats.  Allan, the other flight attendant, was calmly speaking to the armed man, the man Moriah had been wanting to sleep with just a few moments ago.  The armed man’s dark eyes flitted from Moriah to Allan.  He seemed to be listening to Allan but as sudden as a striking snake, he had grabbed Moriah, pulled her close against him, and Moriah assumed the pointy pressure at her throat was a result of the knife.  Her assumption was confirmed by the way Allan seemed to deflate.  Allan was still speaking, but Moriah wasn’t listening.  She was terrified.

How could this be happening? Men loved her.

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