Mothers

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On physical impossibilities.

Published July 12, 2017 by mandileighbean

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

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

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

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

These days, you can’t fucking smoke anywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck. Shit. Balls.

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

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

What a world.Generic-smoking

On 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 stranger mothers and familiar daughters.

Published March 27, 2012 by mandileighbean

I was feeling really blue when I awoke this morning – completely suffering from a case of the Mondays. I was listless during work, and struggled to find motivation to do anything other than sleep.

I felt infinitely better this afternoon, when my friend Melanie and I walked the deserted boardwalks of Seaside Heights. Among the caged stores and waves crashing in the distance, we talked about everything and anything. Walking against the wind, with sand stinging our faces, we admitted our fears, bad habits, and desires. It was relaxing and rejuvinating.

I felt ready to tackle what I consider a very difficult and very personal prompt. This prompt unnerves me for two reasons, the first being it deals with my mother. I love my mother deeply, although I must admit that I do not know her. There are times when I was confident I had my mother figured out, but she continues to surprise me. I’ve considered her the stronger of my parents my entire life – that she was a little colder, refrained from showing emotion and told us kids “no” when she had to. But now that I’m older and wiser, and Mom feels like she can talk to me as an adult about adult worries, I realize that my mother is vulnerable, and that she has feelings that can be hurt. I think this realization was subconsciously playing at the back of my mind when I decided the route this prompt would take.

Also, it reminds me of myself when I was about five years old. I wouldn’t let my twin sister inside our room after I had retreated there, hurt and embarrassed because I had been yelled at by my mom. Tears streaming down my face, I had fled from the dining room table in hysterics. I wailed with each step and had no idea my twin sister was right behind me, step for step, worried and eager to make me smile and forget the whole thing. I closed and locked the door behind me, and for as long as I live, I will never forget the desperation in my twin sister’s voice as she begged me to open the door and let her in. I will never forget how she raised her tiny fists again and again against the door.

I will never forget how cold I was, how selfish I was, and how I did not open the door.

THE PROMPT: “Your Mom at Five”
Today’s exercise is courtesy of Leslie Pietrzyk, a novelist and short story writer who lives in Alexandria, Virginia. Imagine you are your mother. You are five years old. What are you seeing / thinking / doing?

THE PIECE:

It was late, much too late for a five-year-old girl to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but Kelly Ann was just that. Her eyes were as wide and as bright as the moon, shining just as clearly. Her eyes were a wonderful shade of green that altered ever so slightly depending on her outfit. Her eyes were beautiful, but all of the character in her face came from her nose – a little too large with nostrils that were a smidge too wide, but shaped in a more attractive than abrasive manner. It was reminiscent of a pig – but the cute, small, pink kind and not the wild boar kind – and she would grow into it before the cruel teenage years.

            At this moment in her remarkably young life, Kelly Ann was not dwelling on her eyes or her nose or her mouth or her ears, and the only thought she gave to her less than clean, knotted hair was to push it back and out of the way because it had a troublesome habit of falling into her face, obscuring her view and tickling the tip of her nose. Kelly Ann didn’t have time for useless things like hair because she was in the middle of quite the captive conversation with Thumbelina and Pebbles. Kelly Ann was enthralling the ladies with her adventures from outside earlier in the day, when the sun had been high in the sky, and she had tried pedaling as fast as she could. Kelly Ann had been bicycling through the paved streets of the neighborhood with a kind of reckless abandon that only the very young – or the very foolish – could afford, sometimes lifting her hands from the handlebars and her feet from the pedals, so that her own momentum would take her places. She hadn’t been slowed by any of her nine brothers and sisters, or by her stressed and harried mother. Kelly Ann was free, speeding along hills, navigating curbs and weaving across the road as she saw fit. It had been a wonderful day, and she had been thankful for every breath in a small, genuine way – the only way a five-year-old could be thankful.

            She was just about to relate how Mean Mr. Polly had tried to squirt her with the water hose as he tended to his garden near the edge of his lawn when Kelly was interrupted by loud yelling. Kelly Ann had been so enveloped in relating her melodrama that she hadn’t heard the voice, which seemed to be coming from outside and which seemed to be growing steadily louder. Kelly Ann narrowed her eyes, annoyed at whoever was making such a ruckus. If Ma woke up and found her awake at this time of night, it would be catastrophic.

            But at that time enough, and with an imagination such as Kelly Ann’s, maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Ma woke up, because what if the boogeyman was out there, yelling and making all sorts of noise to get all the children up and out of bed so he could gobble all of them up? Shivering slightly before going completely still, Kelly Ann inhaled sharply and let her beloved – albeit uncommonly dirty – dolls tumble to the uncommonly dirty, carpeted floor. Kelly Ann’s face fell as she decided what to do – wake up Ma? Should she maybe sprint to Ma’s bedroom and dive beneath the itchy blanket to curl beside Ma’s thin body, at least until the boogeyman left and the terrors passed? To do that, though, would mean admitting to Ma she had been awake and the wrath of that woman would be worse than that any boogeyman who made a scene on the front lawn.

            A new round of yelling was starting up, and Kelly Ann listened with all her might, closing her eyes tight to aid in the effort. Was it unintelligible growling, or were there English words? What kind of monster yelled out to be let inside? How scary could a monster be if he had to beg? The voice sounded like it was demanding, like it was telling and not asking, but it didn’t really sound dangerous. Kelly Ann opened her eyes, now more intrigued than ever. It wasn’t a monster at all, but someone she might know. She rose from her scabbed knees to stand on her bruised feet and then paused again to listen hard. Her nightgown, which was really some worn, smelly tee that one of her two older brothers had used for gym class, hung just below her knees. The fabric rustled gently against her thighs as she padded soundlessly to the bedroom window opposite the bedroom door. Breathless with excitement – and an ashamed twinge of fear – Kelly Ann stood on tip toes and gripped the windowsill in tiny, grimy hands. She pulled herself up as much as she could, and peered out of the window and down onto the lawn below.

            It was Daddy. Daddy was on the lawn, yelling for someone to come downstairs and let him in. Kelly Ann’s face broke into a radiant smile, and she released a breath she had been holding just in case it was a boogeyman down on the grass. Daddy’s face was red and looking up at her window. He must have seen the light, known that Kelly Ann was up, and was trying to get her attention. She raised one of her tiny, grimy hands to wave, and she saw Daddy smile big. He jumped into the air, waving both of his arms above his head, and called for Kelly Ann to come downstairs and let him in. Careful not to shout and wake Ma, Kelly Ann showed her Daddy the thumbs up sign and then disappeared from sight.

            Once again, she padded soundlessly across the room to light switch beside the bedroom door. Once again, she employed her tippy toes and stretched until she could stretch no more so she could flick of the bedroom light, lest Ma knew she was awake. Once she was safe among the shadows, Kelly Ann slowly, slowly, slowly opened her bedroom door, simultaneously biting down on her full, bottom lip as if that action would not only keep the door from creaking, but also keep Ma snoozing peacefully down the hall.

            With the door open, Kelly Ann peered up and down the hallway. She saw no one and released a tremulous breath. The only movement came from dust mites, gracefully floating in the random shafts of moonlight that reflected through the upstairs windows to light upon the floor. The only noise Kelly Ann could hear was her own breathing and the ticking of the big clock downstairs in the living room. As far as she could tell, the coast was clear. She crept along the hallway and tip toed down the stairs, making sure to lightly tread along the carpet running down the middle and to jump over the trick step that always seemed to squawk at the worst possible moments. Enthralled by her stealthy abilities, Kelly Ann began to imagine that she Agent 99 from that show “Get Smart” and that she was really rescuing her Daddy from a group of masked bandits that had gathered on the front lawn. He was depending on her, he needed her and Kelly Ann was going to save the day.

            Kelly Ann reached the bottom of the stairs and took only a few steps towards the back door, which was through the kitchen that was straight ahead before she stopped dead in her tracks, terrified and open-mouthed.

            “What do you think you’re doing?” Ma sneered, standing just inside the kitchen doorway with her hands on her hips, and her shoulders so tensed that they were all the way up by her ears.

            Kelly Ann turned to her mother slowly, fighting an oncoming pout and averting her eyes. “I – I was just, I was just gonna let Daddy in.”

            “Don’t you dare,” Ma growled. “If he wants to go out drinking with his friends after work, and not come home to help a woman with ten children, then he can stay out, the bum!” The last part was more directed at Daddy than at Kelly Ann, and Ma turned her body more towards the door to prove it. She sneered at Daddy, and Daddy just looked back at Ma helplessly through the window.

            “Come on, Helen,” he pleaded. “It’s cold and dark out here, and it’s late. Let me in and we can talk.”

            “Not a chance in hell, Charlie!” she shouted. Ma was fighting mad.

            Daddy rolled his eyes in exasperation, and in doing so, landed them on Kelly Ann. He smiled brightly and waved. “Hey, Kelly Ann, come on over and open the door for Daddy!”

            Kelly Ann beamed back at her father and forgot that her mother was in the room at all. She took a few more steps forward before she felt Ma’s icy, iron grip around her arm. “Get upstairs and go to bed!” Ma ordered. Kelly Ann offered her father a small, sympathetic look before turning and bounding up the stairs.

            Kelly Ann was crying. She wasn’t scared anymore – well, she was a little scared of Ma and what she would do to Daddy, but she was very sad that she couldn’t save the day. Daddy had been depending on her, and she had fallen short of the mark.

As always, please comment to offer critiques, responses, and pieces of your own.

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