Mother

All posts tagged Mother

On physical impossibilities.

Published July 12, 2017 by mandileighbean

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

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

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

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

These days, you can’t fucking smoke anywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck. Shit. Balls.

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

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

What a world.Generic-smoking

On near misses.

Published March 31, 2016 by mandileighbean

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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 nasty surprises.

Published July 12, 2014 by mandileighbean

It has been just about two months since I last posted.  I am ashamed to admit that I let life get in the way.  The school year got the best of me – a clear indication my priorities were shuffled and rearranged about a thousand times.  I thought I fell in love, but thinking about it only makes me feel small, sad, and stupid, so I’ve now come to the realization that it wasn’t love.  I have yet to determine what it was, but it’s over now, and I don’t think I’m a better person because of it.

But I have been writing.  I am three chapters into the new novel.  I have a short story to share with you all as part of my “weekly” writing prompts.  My contract with Martin Sisters Publishing will expire next year, so I have begun the search for a literary agent.

I am hoping to close on a home of my own at the end of this month.

There is good, and there has been bad, and in this exact moment, I find it difficult to describe exactly how I feel, but maybe that’s okay.  We’re all entitled to feel numb and completely apathetic now and again, aren’t we?  I think it’s a coping mechanism or, even worse, a defense mechanism of sorts.  I don’t know why I’m feeling so pensive or cynical.  Maybe I’m simply hormonal?  Maybe it has something to do with the heartache I alluded to?  Maybe it’s the dark direction I steered my short story in?  Maybe I simply spend too much time alone?  Whatever the reason, I apologize.  And I also sincerely hope you enjoy this week’s writing prompt.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #15: “A mother discovers a feminine collection while cleaning her son’s bedroom.”

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            “What an idiot!  How could that not have sent up a red flag?” Kelly McCarthy asked no one in particular.  The question had to be rhetorical since she was sitting alone on the slightly worn – but still perfectly comfortable – couch in the living room of the home she shared with her small, loving family.  She was mindlessly eating some low fat, low calorie, low carb potato chips (but all the health benefits meant nothing when she was likely to eat the whole damn bag in one sitting) while watching her favorite true crime documentary channel.  Currently, the channel was airing some cleverly named show – with an alliterative title, most likely – about handsome boyfriends and husbands who were not who they said they were.  This lady had married this good-looking fella after only a few months and found herself bruised and abandoned and robbed.  Sympathy was hard to come by, however, because if this female had thought clearly and not been blinded by a strong jawline, she would have seen through the obvious fabrications and been alarmed by some universally troubling behavior.  These women were not like the sudden rash of young girls that were missing – some had been found but all who had been found were already dead – in a city farther north than the one she called home.  Those girls were too young to be anything other than naïve and innocent.  How could someone who had not even graduated high school know better, let alone really know anything about anything?  No, these women, these suckers, had no one but themselves to blame.  Kelly was shaking her head, feeling pity but mostly disbelief and borderline disdain, when the dryer’s buzzer sounded loudly throughout the one-story, ranch-style home.

            Reluctantly, Kelly peeled herself from the overstuffed cushions and shuffled her slipper-covered feet through the kitchen and into the cramped laundry room.  She listened to the textured bottom of the slippers scuff against the vinyl tiles that floored the kitchen, and she listened to the buzzing of the dryer now only a step away, but other than the low and constant humming of the television, there were no other sounds.  Kelly found herself home alone, as she usually did in the middle of the day throughout the week.  Her husband, Charlie, battled a sizeable commute to the northern part of the state and her son, Joey, was a sophomore at the high school, and though he was scheduled to come home early in the afternoons, around 2:00 PM, Joey never usually showed up until dinner time.  He was always busy with some kind of extracurricular activity and Kelly couldn’t be any prouder.  He was so popular and studious.  Over dinner, Joey always regaled his parents with stories of the humorous antics of juveniles and how Joey was truly an asset to the school community.  A smile formed on Kelly’s lips of her own accord as she thought of her son, her only child, her pride and joy.

            It was a load of his clothes that had just been dried and were now patiently waiting to be folded and placed back in the drawers, or hung in the closet.  Typically, Kelly did not do her son’s laundry – he was nearly sixteen years old – but she had felt particularly generous this idle, random day and for no reason that she would ever be able to articulate.  Later on, Kelly would wish she hadn’t felt so – she would even raise red-rimmed eyes to heaven and demand of whatever God resided beyond the clouds why He had blindsided her with such terror and tragedy.  But before that moment, everything was normal and just as it should be. 

            She shoveled the random assortment of shirts and pants and socks and underwear into an empty laundry basket and trudged down the long hallway to her son’s bedroom.  It was the last bedroom on the right and its door was marked by a single poster, perfectly centered.  The poster advertised a poetry festival in a metropolis near her husband’s work in the northern part of the state.  Joey was such an intelligent, well-mannered boy.  He wasn’t like all those other boys his age, who were loud and aggressive and obnoxious and obsessed with their penises.  He was quiet and patient and obedient and enjoyed females, but not to the point where it consumed him.  He was balanced and healthy and beautiful and whole.  Again, Kelly caught herself nearly beaming when thinking of her baby boy.  She balanced the laundry basket on her particularly bony hip and turned the doorknob.

            The door was locked.  That was odd.  Joey’s door was never locked.

            Kelly placed the laundry basket on the floor and ran her hand along the molding that ran along the top of the doorway.  She was waiting to feel cool metal beneath her fingertips; the key to her son’s room.  She found it and unlocked the door, and pushed it wide open so she could traverse through the doorway with the laundry basket.  Her slippers shushed against the plush carpet and she gladly tossed the laundry basket on the bed, careful not to upend it of its contents.  It bounced jovially once or twice before rocking itself right.  Kelly walked to the dresser directly opposite the meticulously made bed.  She had developed the tactical plan of putting away the socks and underwear first because that would be easiest – Joey just tossed them in the top drawer of the dresser.  The pants and shirts would be decidedly more difficult as Joey had a system in place that Kelly had yet to decode.  A giggle tumbled from her mouth; how funny for Joey to be so organized.  She wondered where in his lineage she could attribute the trait, as both her and Charlie were both hopelessly sloppy.

            When she pulled open the uppermost drawer, a sound she had not been expecting met her ears.  Kelly distinctly heard something substantial sliding forward with the movement of the drawer.  It wasn’t the soft whisper of fabric, but something heavier.  Kelly pulled the drawer out as far as it could go without making it tumble to floor.  She looked within and she found a rather extensive collection of jewelry.  There were necklaces and bracelets and long, dangling earrings that younger girls would wear – colorful, gaudy, attention-getting.  Icy apprehension flooded Kelly’s stomach like the waters would a sinking ship because Joey did not have a girlfriend – not one that he ever mentioned, anyway.  Besides, there were too many pieces for one girl and there was no consistency in taste or style.  Kelly was under the impression that the jewelry had belonged to many different girls with unique and wonderful personalities, just as varied as the necklaces and bracelets and earrings.  Why would Joey have such things hidden among his undergarments?  And why was his door locked?  And if he had a girlfriend, why didn’t she know anything about it?  Why would Joey be keeping secrets?

            Whoa – Kelly stopped herself.  She stepped back from the drawer and shook her head, but still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong, terribly wrong.  Maybe it was all the reality crime television she had been ingesting lately.  That was all – she had simply seen too many shows about serial killers who were meticulous, guarded, and kept mementos of their poor, tortured victims, such as jewelry.  She brought a trembling hand to her mouth and slowly shook her head back and forth again.  Joey wouldn’t do anything wrong.  Joey wouldn’t harm a fly, not Joey, no, no, no.

            Her eyes slipped to the closet.  Snooping would only end in heartbreak and pain, as did it for all mothers who found more than they bargained for in the bedrooms of their children (pornography, cigarettes, marijuana, naked selfies, etc.).  But Kelly now needed to snoop for exoneration.  She needed to clear her son whom she had already condemned.  She moved to the closet door and slide the nearest door open.  It creaked unsteadily along the track, and Kelly’s eyes fell to the floor.  Joey’s shoes – so clean, so clean – were in neat and even rows.  Sneakers, boots, shoes for church; there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.

            So what was the deal with the duffle bag thrown carelessly into the corner and out of sight?  Unless, of course, someone was looking for just such a suspicious detail as Kelly was.  Slowly, shaking, she dropped to her knees and reached into the dark recess of the closet.  She pulled the bag, scratching the vinyl with her nails and sending chills up and down her spine.  Breath moved in and out of its own volition, but it did not seem to be all that willing.  The necessary oxygen came in jerky spurts and Kelly feared she would hyperventilate and pass out.  What if Joey came home and found her like this?  What would he think?  What would she say?  Kelly inhaled, exhaled, and unzipped the bag.

            There were dark colored sweatpants with a dark colored sweatshirt, rope, gloves, and the light reflecting off of something metallic and sharp – a knife.  Kelly screamed and threw the bag from her.  She scrambled back against the bed and slumped into a seated position.  This didn’t make sense, couldn’t add up to what she was assuming.  No, those girls were missing from up north, from where Charlie worked.  Why would Joey ….

            Joey had taken an interest lately, hadn’t he?  Joey traveled up to work with his father whenever he could, whenever Charlie offered.  That wasn’t often enough, though.  Not to commit murder – surely not!  Joey would have to go up after school, take public transportation, and he couldn’t.  Well, Kelly supposed he could, but he wouldn’t.  After all, he had all those obligations which he never gave specific details about and which never culminated into something tangible, even something as simple as a telephone call from a club advisor or certificate of participation with the principal’s rubber stamp.

            What the hell was going on here?

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On connections.

Published January 6, 2014 by mandileighbean

I am a writer, in part, because I believe that life is all about making connections with other human beings. Love is what matters, in all its varying forms and intensities. Writing, for me at least, offers an opportunity to explore those connections and to invent such connections. When lives become entwined with others, it is a beautiful, brilliant, terrifying and almost surreal realization. We matter to others, and others matter to us. How can that relationship ever be ignored or dismissed? I don’t think it can, and I think a lot of my writing expresses that. That theme becomes a constant in my writings, and I apologize if it becomes redundant, but I think the importance of love bears repeating.

Enjoy this week’s writing prompt.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #9: “An air force pilot is ordered to destroy a public building in a major metropolitan city.”

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Michael Ryan loved to fly. It was the only reason that he joined the air force and became a pilot. It hadn’t been so much about patriotism, or a fervid desire to destroy any enemy, or even the way ladies reacted to a young man in uniform. For Michael, it had always been about the sky. Riding high and knowing there were others looking up and wondering about whom you were and where you were headed was an amazing sort of ego trip. There was something completely self-indulgent and simultaneously totally freeing about being alone in the clouds with just your thoughts and instincts. Michael Ryan truly loved to fly. The opportunity to do so, coupled with the benefits of working for the government, made the career choice a no brainer.

He was flying high when word came over the radio that he was to destroy the Geysler building. Momentarily, Michael had been shocked. The peace and privacy of the cockpit had caused him to temporarily forget the absolute madness and chaos ensuing below, back on the ground. Enemy forces had surprisingly invaded from the shores. Ships had landed and once boots were on the ground, blood ran in the streets of so-called important shore towns. It had been an impressive, coordinated, and alarmingly secretive attack that, from Michael’s point of view, was remarkably successful. Smoke billowed from burning buildings and flames shot toward the sky. Michael was able to observe the certain carnage occurring below with a cool detachment because of his position; he was literally looking down on everyone else. His mind had eventually drifted to other things – whether or not those things were more important was fodder for a different story, for a different day – but the order over the radio brought him back into the present moment and current conditions.

Apparently, the government had ample reason to believe that the Geysler building was a base of operations for enemy sympathizers. Being that the building offered numerous amenities and was a safe haven for the enemy where there should be nothing of the sort, the government decided it needed to be neutralized and removed. Made sense as far as Michael could tell, and he radioed back in the affirmative, that he was on his way and would destroy the Geysler building.

A few minutes later, Michael had positioned himself appropriately and was resting his finger on the trigger, waiting for approval to fire. Through the windshield, he could see into the windows of the building. He was fairly close and was beginning to wonder if he was too close and if he should alter his position – after all, he was still green around the gills and hadn’t destroyed anything outside of practice targets and the like – when something caught his eye. In a window to the bottom left of his vision, was a young woman. She had blonde hair pulled back in an effortless ponytail and a full face. She was wearing a green sweater and on her lap, she held a toddler. The toddler had blonde hair as well, and that shared genetic trait made Michael assume the two were related, even though he was too far away to discern their facial features in any kind of conclusive analysis. As Michael watched, the woman smiled as the toddler stretched out a pudgy hand with splayed fingers and placed it, in a gesture that could only be described as lovingly, upon the woman’s swollen-looking cheek.

It was a touching image, poignant though brief, and it gave Michael pause. Were they the enemy? How could a child and his mother be the enemy of anyone? What sort of tactical maneuvers could those two possibly be planning? What other sort of children and family were in the building? For the first time in his career, Michael was putting real thought behind he was doing.

As he watched and thought, the woman turned to the window and for just a second, Michael thought he knew who she was. The woman bore an uncanny resemblance to someone Michael had known in college; a beautiful and brilliant girl who had lived on the same floor as him junior year. He remembered that she liked to paint and usually had it all over her hands in all sorts of shades. Either because she didn’t know or didn’t care about her filthy, multi-colored hands, she would constantly use them to pull her hair back, only to let it fall freely about her face. She was beautiful in a careless, dangerous way. Michael had called her Bohemia before he learned her real name at a party, because of her predilection to wear printed tunics over yoga pants or leggings. As a matter of fact, he had announced loudly that Bohemia was alive and well once he had noticed her presence at the party. She had smirked – she never really smiled, like smiling was thoughtless and too easy of an expression to offer to the world – and walked over to challenge him and ask him what he thought he knew about bohemia.

They talked for a while about all sorts of things, things Michael had not discussed with anyone since, and ended up in her dorm room, where they had passionate and amazing sex on a gross futon Bohemia had saved from the curb. In the morning, she had made him tea in a cool, antique-looking teapot and after some awkward pleasantries, they parted ways. He saw her occasionally in dining halls and in the quad in the warmer weather, but the most they would exchange was a small nod or tiny wave; nothing more. What if that was Bohemia in that window? What if that was her son? What if, after college, she had fallen in love with a beautiful man and had a traditional wedding and started a family? What if that family was in that building? How could he blow that to smithereens?

Michael did not think he could eliminate Bohemia. As a matter of fact, he had decided that he wanted to find Bohemia and see how she was, to find out what had happened to her. That had been a real connection Michael had made, no matter how short lived, and as he hovered above life exploding and imploding beneath him, he felt depressed. He felt no connection. There had been no tether composed of love or brotherhood or anything so noble to keep him grounded, and so he had found isolation and alienation – not solace – away from the Earth in the air. He was missing so much.

He didn’t listen for the approval. He didn’t wait for an order. He turned around. Michael Ryan was heading home.

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On being woefully unprepared.

Published December 29, 2013 by mandileighbean

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I’ve noticed that as I go through life, I truly take so many things for granted. I’m not just talking about the big ones, like that I’ll wake up in the morning and have breakfast and people who will love and support me, but the other things, the smaller things, too. When I walk through the heavy doors of the high school where I teach, glass framed by sturdy metal, I take for granted that the people I see every day will be there every day. I assume that just as I woke up, showered, dressed and arrived, so did everyone else. I fall into the comfort of complacency and a routine established back in September. I say hello to the principal’s secretary in the main office as I sign in and continue to the back and check my mailbox. Usually, a colleague representing the math department will be using the copier and we will exchange the polite and proper pleasantries as I silently and internally curse myself for not having arrived earlier to hog the copier, which may in fact be the only one working in the building at that given moment. Mailbox checked and copier in use, I proceed through the rear door, back down the hallway I came from, to my classroom to unlock the door and prepare for the day. The little things in that litany are things that could mean more than I’ve ever imagined.

For example, a beautiful, stylish and incredibly knowledgeable English teacher had a classroom across from mine. In between periods, as we both stood by our doors to greet students and ask students to remove their hats, we would roll our eyes in commiseration at the more difficult conglomeration of students we were charged with educating. I would ask about her children and her resulting hectic weekends. The conversations were pleasant, polite, and more often than not, I’d return to my classroom smiling and laughing because she had a wicked, witty sense of humor. Indeed, she went as far as to aid my father in essentially humiliating me during parent-teacher conferences because she thought it’d be funny to see me squirm. She was a real riot.

I wanted her to like me. I wanted her to accept me because I respected her so damn much. She was the kind of woman I’d be proud to be, had even hoped to be. Balancing a social life and a career with a beautiful family, being so well-dressed and knowledgeable without being pretentious or aloof – she was a wonder to behold, and I know I was blessed and privileged to share a department, let alone a hallway, with her.

I took for granted that I’d see her on Monday when we all returned from winter break, refreshed and perhaps already eagerly anticipating spring break. I took for granted she’d be there, just as I was there.

But this wonderful woman who meant so much to her family, friends, colleagues, students, and athletes passed away this morning. Those of us left behind are devastated by the tragedy and senselessness of losing someone so young and beautiful and brilliant, and we keep repeating statements like, “But I just saw her … but I just talked to her … but I was just saying” because we took for granted she’d be there and in doing so, were woefully unprepared for the day she is not there. According to Philip Roth, that’s the real human tragedy: being unprepared for tragedy. That is what we are; unprepared to say goodbye, and unprepared for how hard her absence has already and will continue to hit us.

Rest in peace, Tara Gardner. You were loved and will always be loved, just as you will always be missed.

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On Boston.

Published September 30, 2013 by mandileighbean

One of the facets of my personality of which I am most proud is my predilection to travel, to throw caution to the wind and simply drive.  Last weekend, I traveled to Boston with Raina.  Originally, I was attending an author event for Stephen King and then Raina and I were going to meet up with Liz.  Unfortunately, traffic and random construction prevented me from spending the evening with Stephen King, my literary idol.  Fortunately, I was with amazing friends and we had a wonderful time.  I was captivated by our conversation, by the scenery and the understated beauty of Boston.  Our hotel room overlooked the harbor and I knew it was exactly where I was supposed to be at that moment.  If only I felt so certain more often in life.

WEEKLY PROMPT #2: “A young mother is told that her children have been killed in a drive-by shooting.”

 driveby1COLD

“Alright, you lazy piece of shit, have it your way!” Brenda screamed out into the absolutely frigid night air.  Her breath hung before her as puffy vapor, and she hoped her words hung there just the same, regardless of their vulgarity or of the volume at which they had been shouted.  As a matter of fact, Brenda was damn near ready to pray that her degradations echoed in the still winter air, bouncing back to her nightmare of an ex-boyfriend from any number of surfaces, all coated in snow and ice.  She muttered more slurs and curses as she worked to shut her window against the cold, revolving the crank as fast and as hard as she could to see the glass barely inch along.  Much like her ex-boyfriend, her car was total piece of shit and she focused on the lack of power windows to black out the frustrated and terrified wailings of the children only barely buckled in the backseat.  They were her daughters, ages two and five and both had been fathered by the piece of shit who wanted nothing to do with any of them, and who had just stormed back inside his trailer, evidenced by the screen door in extreme disrepair banging against an already battered frame.  “Fucking asshole,” Brenda screamed to release the fury, but with the window finally rolled up, the space seemed cramped and lethal and the words seemed especially cruel as they settled heavily onto the girls like ash from some great disaster, eruption, or explosion.  If Brenda really stopped to think about it, she would realize her daughters were constantly covered in such debris, but she didn’t want to do that because guilt was an ugly and messy thing.  Thinking was half the problem, anyway; Brenda spent most of her time pondering and contemplating, and what had it gotten her?  Where had it brought her?  Here, to this absolute train wreck of a life?  Well, fuck you very much; Brenda did not want to be here any longer, so she slammed the shifter into reverse and peeled out of the tiny drive, letting the gravel fly.  She was going to speed towards relief, towards her apartment and her couch and a large tumbler filled with vodka.

But what about the girls?  Easy; she’d drop them off at her mom’s place.  She never said no and besides, didn’t Ma owe Brenda a great deal for essentially dismantling her formative years by providing no central male figure, and being a hot mess of a role model?  Brenda thought so, or at least she thought she read something like that somewhere important.  With a plan in mind, Brenda felt calm and steady.  She took a deep breath in and let a deep breath out, not surprised by the accompanying smoke because it was freezing in the vehicle.  The heater only rattled to prove it was on but not necessarily that it was working, offering only superficial and minimal relief from the extreme temperatures.  Brenda shivered, but gave no thought whatsoever to the two darling girls in the back, clad only in thin, stained nightgowns with matching backpacks – soiled and practically empty – strewn across the floor of the vehicle.  The crying had slightly subsided, perhaps because the girls had realized, at even so young an age, that their parents were radically unstable and simply could not care for them.  Maybe they were finally becoming accustomed to shuttling between filthy, cheap apartments littered with bottles, syringes, pipes, and burns in the ugly, itchy carpets.  It was possible the girls quieted their sobs because the preternaturally knew it would all be over soon, either because one of their two sets of grandparents would finally adopt – rescue – them, or they would die.  Having no sort of concept whatsoever about the latter, the girls may have been consoling themselves with thoughts of their grandparents, but it is far more likely and certainly plausible that the girls were too physically exhausted – hungry, malnourished, and in desperate need of a bath – and mentally drained to even cry.

Brenda, on the other hand, was still simply pissed.  Not only did that douche bag not keep the kids like he was fucking supposed to – like he had agreed to – but she was out of cigarettes, too.  There was sincerely no way in hell she could survive the remainder of the ride to her mother’s home, let alone the lecture she’d certainly receive upon arrival, without some menthols.  Brenda also firmly believed that vodka is best served from embarrassingly cheap glassware, that is truly only thick plastic, alongside a nice, long drag of a cigarette.  And therein lay her plan for the evening, sitting her tired and frankly unappreciated ass on the couch, and drinking and smoking until both her vision and hearing were drastically impaired.  She owned the sofa and ignored its repulsive condition; she had plenty of vodka because she always made damn sure she would never run out.  All she needed were the smokes.

For the first time on the drive, Brenda seriously considered her surroundings (it was nothing short of a miracle that there hadn’t been an accident).  They were in an awfully shady and decidedly dangerous part of town.  She had only been this far east once, and that had been because the douche bag extraordinaire had needed a fix.  Brenda figured she now needed a fix herself, but her craving was not illegal nor did it incite theft or murder.  She certainly had her misgivings, but pulled into the essentially deserted parking lot of the Cumberland Farms on the corner.  It was well lit and practically empty, so Brenda assumed the chances of danger were lowered.  Or had her need for self-medication risen to an alarming new level?  Fuck it – she was tired of thinking.  She put the car in park and made to kill the engine and remove the key from the ignition, but she stopped.  She whipped her head back to the girls, who simply sat and stared stupidly back at their wrecked, crumbling mother.  Their eyes were red and swollen, as were their thin, tiny lips and the whole of their faces glistened from tears and spit and sweat.  They had finally gone quiet.  Brenda cleared her throat.  “Mama’s just got to run inside the store, okay?  Mama will leave the car running so you don’t freeze, alright?”

There was no response, not that Brenda thought there would be, and so she hurried from the car.  Her slipper-covered soles fell softly onto the sidewalk and scurried closer to the light and warmth of the interior of the convenience store.  Just to the left of the entrance were two formidable-looking men, hooded and avoiding any unnecessary and undue attention.  They were certainly suspicious and inexplicably made Brenda slow her pace, feeling the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention.  Shrugging it off, Brenda slipped inside and strolled to the counter, doing her best to display a winning smile.  The clerk behind the counter was a male and attractive, so Brenda made a concerted effort to bat her eyelashes and laugh breathlessly for no apparent reason.  “Hey there,” she crooned.  “Do you have Pall Malls?”

There was the sound of screeching tires, but no one seemed to notice; not the two men dressed and ready for danger outside, or the two inside the store.

“Uh,” the clerk turned to face the massive wall of nicotine behind him.  His eyes roamed over the rows and rows of packs, all different colors.  He turned around after a moment.  “Yes, yes we do.”

“Do you have 100s in the orange pack?” Brenda asked, leaning over the counter so that her small breasts squished together to look bigger.  They were nearly falling out of her tank top, but her shame had departed with her pride and her figure some time ago.

Shots rang out; many, many shots, too many shots to count, just one pop after another.  The glass windows shattered and instinctively, Brenda dropped to her knees.  She couldn’t see anything, clapped her palms across her eyes and screamed.  She tried to curl up as small as she could to try and stay safe and alive.  The clerk had done much the same on the other side of the counter, and both stayed hidden until they heard tires peel away and could smell rubber burning against pavement.  They rose to face one another.  An odd, eerie silence followed immediately after the shots, where Brenda and the clerk were both frozen – rooted to the spot – and it had nothing to do with the weather.  Brenda locked eyes with the clerk, as if doing so made everything else go dark and become nonexistent.  She had a feeling, a horrible and inexplicable feeling that something terrible had happened, that the shots had been pointed pebbles carelessly launched at her fragile life and now it was shattering and splintering and cracking.  The clerk was the first to break the eye contact, turning away and leaning low and to the right to use the telephone.  He was calling 911.  Brenda didn’t know how she knew that, only that she did, because her ears were fuzzy, like they had been plugged with cotton.  She felt nauseous and overwhelmed and alone, so very alone.  She turned and thought she might stumble to the door, but to her surprise, she was running.  She burst through the door and found the two men dead at her feet, blood splashed and spattered this way and that.  Her eyes darted between them to her car.  The vehicle could only have been a few feet away, but Brenda believed the distance to be the greatest she had ever crossed in all her life.  She was screaming, trying to scream their names but she knew it was unintelligible and more guttural than anything else.  She collapsed against the rear passenger door and worked for a moment before she wrenched it open.

Both the girls were slumped over, bleeding steadily.

driveby

On life changing news.

Published May 14, 2012 by mandileighbean

The copyright came through for my novel. 🙂 I have to make a copy of the certificate, and send it to Martin Sisters Publishing. One step closer, my friends; one step closer.

PROMPT: Life-changing News
  You go to the doctor for a regular checkup and she gives you some life-changing news. Write this scene.

PIECE:

I felt the paper beneath me and could hear it crinkle as I shifted nervously from side to side. I was trying to sit still, honest, but I was too nervous. The migraines had been getting worse, and using Google to self-diagnosis had been a disaster; I was convinced that at any moment, I would die. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt and without any kind of medical training, that the blood vessels in my brain were too small, restricting blood flow. Lack of blood to an organ meant lack of oxygen which meant death, and if my brain were to die, what would be left? These thoughts had been running through my seemingly lively brain for the past week or so; from the time I underwent the MRI and the CAT scan to the time I was now breathlessly waiting for the results. Filled with nervous energy, I was not only swaying on the paper runner, but I was wringing my hands, like some female character in a Shakespeare play, moments away from a horrendous downfall. My fingers, which felt swollen and numb, kept stumbling over the mood ring on the middle finger of my left hand. It glowed an ugly shade that bordered between brown and green, indicating that I was stressed. I sighed, frustrated with the obvious – why couldn’t the cheap conglomeration of metal and plastic tell me something that I didn’t know – and I heard my mother clear her throat.

“Would you stop shifting? You’re making me nervous, and believe me – we don’t have anything to be worried about,” she said. My mother spoke plainly and clearly; there was not a shred of nonsense or frivolity in her speech. Being so certain was supposed to make me feel comforted, but instead, it made me feel hostile and argumentative; that had always been our relationship.

“What if I’m dying, Mom? What will you say then?”

“You’re being dramatic.”

“So? I might be living on borrowed time; I can be whatever I want.”

She rolled her eyes. “I don’t have time for this.”

I laughed. “Neither do I!”

My mother inhaled sharply, storing enough breath so that she may force some sense into me via her vocal abilities but as my luck would have it, the doctor walked in. She was pregnant – about to burst, actually – and I saw her rotund belly, full of life, before I really saw anything else. She hadn’t been anywhere near when I was sent through a cylindrical tube that shook, rattled and rolled. Nor had she made eye contact and offered a comforting smile when there had been needles and tubes and that awful, cloying smell of sterilization. Despite her recent and poignant absences, she had a pleasant face so that when she smiled, I did feel … okay. She had a round, dark face with dark, straight hair and exotic, dark eyes. She wore a white lab coat over plain black pant and a plain black turtleneck. Her accent was thick, but it didn’t distract from the all-important meaning of her speech. I saw my mother’s round, green eyes dart back and forth between me and the doctor, like she was waiting for my anger and anxiety to explore. I wondered the same thing myself – would this be a showdown? Would the results of the test send me into a blind fury?

She sat across from me on an office chair with four wheels that was covered in an unremarkable plastic that was the most hideous shade of blue I had ever seen. Maybe I only hated it because I imagined she ascended it like some kind of throne; like she was taking a regal, royal seat far above and removed from the chaos of the coliseum below, and she would decide whether or not I lived or died with a simple turning of her thumb. “Hello Amanda, I am Dr. Gupta, and it a pleasure to meet you.”

“You too,” I replied, amicably enough. In hindsight, I realize my gritted teeth may have been less than friendly.

“So I’ve looked at the results of your tests, and your MRI came back fine,” she said, smiling. My breath caught in my throat. If both tests were fine, she’d mention them together, at the same time, right? The color left my face and pooled at my feet which, much like my fingers, suddenly felt swollen and numb. What did it matter how my feet felt? She was about to tell me I needed brain surgery or something equally as frightening.  I saw myself robbed of my faculties, one by one, while my family and friends looked on helplessly. I’d be dead within five years, give or take, and why? Because I had really bad headache who symptoms mirrored that of a stroke? Because I couldn’t talk or remember my name, and because I couldn’t see out of my left eye, only rotating diagonal lines, some black and some white? I could live with those minor inconveniences, because really that’s all they were and all they would be if I were just allowed to live – that’s all I wanted. Tears crowded at the front of my eyes as I braced myself for the impact of Dr. Gupta’s devastating diagnosis. I wanted my mom to scoop me up into her arms and sob, and simultaneously promise me that everything would be okay.

“Your CAT scan came back positive as well, so I think you need to cut some stress from your life,” Dr. Gupta advised. She was smiling.

I looked to my mother, confused. What had the doctor said? I was fine?

“Why are you so stressed, Amanda?”

 

The rest of the visit was a blur. I remember Dr. Gupta suggesting I remove caffeine and chocolate from my diet, and that I should increase pleasurable activities. More than anything else, I remember her saying I was going to be fine. Silent, I walked behind my mother a few paces to the car. My mother was silent as well, but I knew her mind was a flurry – she was trying to think of the right words to say. On my best day, I was delicate and temperamental. How was my mother to know what my reaction would be on a day such as this, when I received what should have been the greatest news of my life?

Upon arriving at the driver’s side door of her large, white Ford Expedition, she turned to me. “Well, that was good, right?”

I started sobbing.

Was I disappointed I wasn’t dying? Was I missing the possibility of the dramatics that would have ensued, had I been given my expected death sentence? Why was I not leaping for joy? I hugged my mother tightly and sobbed and heaved and carried on in a somewhat empty parking lot on a brisk day in February.

 

What the hell was wrong with me, indeed.

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