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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 horrible realizations.

Published September 7, 2014 by mandileighbean

A new academic year has started, but I am mostly unsure as to how this makes me feel.  I’m excited for the return to normalcy and to see coworkers and students on a regular basis.  However, I am sure I will miss lounging and will soon loathe the stress the school year inevitably brings.  However, my friend is reading a book all about mind set, which emphasizes the axiom that life is 10% what happens to an individual, and 90% how the individual reacts to events and circumstances and whatnot.  I’ve been a notoriously awful “over-reactor.”  Perhaps a resolution for the academic year should be to stay positive and patient.

 

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WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #18: “A lawyer discovers that his client is guilty of the horrible crime for which he was just found innocent.”

 

Eliot Edwards (there was always something inherently to be respected about a man with two first names) rose beside his client as the honorable judge had instructed, as both men prepared for the verdict.  Eliot was cool, calm, and collected; his breath did not hitch as it entered and exited the two air sacks called lungs.  His hands did not tremble as he loosely clasped them in front.  He looked poised and professional, just as he always did.  Remarkably, the same could be said of the man beside, the supposed delinquent known as Harvey Miller.  For just about a month, Eliot and Harvey had been seated behind an elongated wooden table, listening to eyewitness testimony, and the coroner’s findings, and statements from detectives that seemed to prove that Harvey had brutally raped and then murdered four-year-old Lindsey Morris.  The state would have a member of the jury believe that Harvey pulled alongside the little girl’s front yard in his work van, casually rolled down the window, and called out her.  Merrily, happily, the beautiful, innocent girl skipped over and politely listened as Harvey explained that he was lost, and that his poor, poor puppy in the back was sick and needed a doctor and special medicine.  In her opening statement, the prosecutor took care to meticulously describe the way the little girl’s face most likely trembled with concern for the puppy and was consumed with an overwhelming – and irresponsible – desire to help.  Willingly, with minimal coercing because Lindsey came from a nice neighborhood with respectable, hard-working families living and loving in modest ranch-style homes, she would have climbed inside.  Most likely, she jabbered somewhat incoherently to Harvey, asking about the puppy and what was wrong and where he was from and what kind of car she was in.  As a result, Lindsey would have been woefully unprepared when she was led into the woods, holding onto a hand for comfort and reassurance and safety, knocked down, stripped and violated.

It was an unspeakable crime, and thinking over the lurid details often turned Eliot’s stomach.  He would look at Harvey, try to bore into the other man’s soul, to evaluate whether or not he was truly guilty.  Eliot didn’t think any human being could be capable of such apathy, of such inhumanity, but these things happened.  Harvey wasn’t overly altruistic, but he wasn’t irrational or unkempt or anything like a madman.  He seemed normal and even-keeled.  Sure, he had some dark moments in his past – an aggressive and physical altercation with his high school principal, and questionable accusations from several ex-girlfriends – but nothing that would precede such monstrosity as the rape and murder of an innocent child.  Eliot would not invite Harvey out for drinks or into his home, but a slightly uneasy feeling did not make someone guilty of murder.

As Harvey and Eliot stood, awaiting Harvey’s fate, Eliot felt fairly confident the jury would agree.  Most of the evidence had been circumstantial and there was no DNA evidence to speak of.  Granted Harvey had not been able to provide an airtight alibi for afternoon and evening in question, but the defense readily admitted Harvey was no saint and liked to tip the bottle back more of than not.  As such, memory lapses were common.  The jury foreman began reading the verdict sheet and Eliot knew his mind should be in the present, willing the juror to say “not guilty,” but he was troubled by a fact which had troubled just about everyone else involved in the case, cop and victim and lawyer alike.  Despite a thorough canvas of the crime scene and sweep of Harvey’s van and essentially ransacking Lindsey’s home, no one had been able to find her beloved turtle pin.  Lindsey had received the pin from her oldest brother, and he had bought it especially for Lindsey from the zoo during a class trip.  Lindsey was never without the pin – even wore it to bed when her mother’s typically watchful eye missed it.  Everyone believed whoever had the pin now must be the murderer, keeping it as a sick memento.  The pin seemed to be the key to the case and –

“…find the defendant not guilty,” the foreman read.  Eliot snapped to attention as Harvey clapped him heartily on the shoulder.  Eliot smiled and turned to shake Harvey’s hand.  Those behind them, and on the other side of the courtroom, dissolved into weeping and wailing.  They were family members of Lindsey, devastated by the outcome because they had all been so sure of Harvey’s guilt.  Eliot felt for them and his eyes ran over their downturned faces, their red-rimmed eyes, and their expressions of misery.  Eliot’s smile diminished.  He released Harvey’s hand so he could turn to hug his mother, the only supporter of Harvey’s, present for every single day of testimony.  She threw her beefy arms around her boy and Harvey was nearly being pulled over the wooden, glossy barricade that separated the audience from the members of the judicial process.  Harvey was pulled onto his tippy toes and with his body elongated, and bent at a rather awkward angle, the pocket of his button-down Oxford shirt hung low so that the tiny metallic object that had been residing within clamored to the tile floor.

Eliot saw it fall out of the corner of his eye.  He did not know what it was, but bent to retrieve it.  As he did so, he noticed it was a pin in the shape of the turtle.

All the wind seemed to be knocked from him.  Eliot dropped to his knees, breathing deeply through his nose to keep from vomiting.  He could feel eyes upon him, knew instinctively the eyes belonged to Harvey, and was suddenly terrified.

Eliot Edwards had sent a depraved lunatic free.

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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 needing a break.

Published March 26, 2013 by mandileighbean

Hello there, Stranger Danger!  It has been quite some time since we last spoke.  Unfortunately, not too much has happened, nothing terribly exciting.  Well, aside from the past three days, which were a complete whirlwind.  But – I am jumping ahead.  Let me begin with a highlight of the past two weeks.

The play was a roaring success!  The students were so talented, and sweet, and appreciative.  They made me cry and they made all the time spent, all the bruises, and all the frustrations completely worth it.  I was given flowers and a signed poster and a t-shirt, and was truly touched.  I know I kind of decided that I wasn’t going to be stage director next school year, but if Lee asks, I will say yes.

Lee was amazing.  I miss spending hours and hours with her every day.  She is so sweet, and she is beautiful inside and out.  I wish she had won The Biggest Loser at work.  She came close, though; second place!  I rounded out the top five and was only one pound shy of my goal weight!  I want to lose another fifteen before the end of the academic year, and then I am going to tone.  I am more motivated than I have ever been before, and believe I have a shot at making it this time – a real, bonafide chance.  That will most likely happen after this vacation, though – which brings me to my (slightly) harrowing tale.

I have been looking forward to Spring Break more so than is healthy and probably humanly possible.  I had plans to begin my second novel, to continue dieting and exercising and to really relax.  I used the word “need” whenever I talked about it, and I talked about it constantly.  Everyone at work was echoing similar sentiments; we all agreed that between the mold in the middle school, the split sessions, the bomb threats, Hurricane Sandy, the offensive bathroom graffiti, the new Danielson model of evaluating teachers, and schedule changes, the school year has sucked (pardon my lack of eloquence).  Personally, I believed that I was cursed for having such a year be my first full year as a teacher, and those suspicions were doubly reinforced when I tried to leave, to finally catch a break.  The rare occasions where I am selfish always seem to occur on the worst possible days.  I have always had the worst timing; even Mom says so.

“And the sky opened up, and God looked down, and He said, ‘I hate you, Amanda Bean!'”  Nothing that I plan ever works out; it never goes as planned, even despite all of my desperate, frantic prayers that are intermittent with sobs.  Nothing goes right for me.  In the film “Stranger than Fiction” with Will Ferrell, the main character discovers that his life is being narrated, and thereby dictated, by a female author.  To find out how his story ends, he must first determine whether his story is a comedy or a tragedy.  He keeps score in a little notebook, and soon believes that he is living a tragedy.  I now firmly believe that I have this in common with Harold Crick, the character’s name that I have just remembered.  Better yet, I would argue, and do so successfully, I’m sure that my life more closely resembles a Shakespearean tragedy.  However, if that is the case, then where, oh where, is the sweet release of death?

I know that I am guilty of being melodramatic, particularly with that last line, but I earnestly believe that I cannot win for losing and that if it weren’t for bad luck, I would have no luck at all.  Every time I look forward to something, it inevitably and devastatingly crumbles.  My reality NEVER meets my expectations.  As a result, I recently marched myself into the fairly swanky convenience store beside the Shell gas station where I was temporarily stranded (Exit 118 off I-95 South in Thornburg, Virginia) and purchased a pack of Marlboro Red 100’s – cigarettes.  I planned on smoking as many as it took to keep from drowning myself in my “pity-pool-of-tears” party.  I only smoked one, though I did so down to the filter.  I was distracted by the healthier urge to write and the 24 ounces of coffee that I also purchased.

I was about an hour and a half away from Missy’s house when my car overheated.  The needle was BURIED in the red and steam was POURING from the engine.  I called my dad asking him if I should pull over, or what else I could do, and he began listing the WORST CASE SCENARIO; that my car would have to be left in Virginia and be towed, that I could not have the Spring Break vacation I had been salivating over.  Being a dramatic, young woman, I began to cry.  Dad said, “Jesus Christ!  This is why you can’t go anywhere!” and, essentially, blamed me for the whole incident.  Naturally, I cried harder.  I then called John, and he was SO cool, calm, and collected and totally talked me off the ledge.  Working together via cell phone, we were able to get the car a couple of more miles.  It overheated again, and I had to pull over and there, on the side of the interstate, in the cold and in the dark, I was going to have to wait nearly two hours for Missy to come and find me.  There my car would sit, abandoned.  I was back on the phone with Dad (I had over forty calls in total that night from Missy, John, Dad, and Mom) when flashing yellow lights suddenly appeared behind me.  I was kneeling on the passenger seat in the front, remarkably disheveled, searching for a flashlight to check the fans in the front of the engine.  My high heels were near the pedals, on the floor by the front seat.  My eyes went wide and I was worried that my life was about to turn into that scene from “Taken.”  I was waiting for Dad to say, “Mandi, these men are going to take you.”  Luckily, it was only Steve from the Virginia Department of Transportation.  He wanted to make sure everything was okay, and I am fairly certain he can read minds because he explained why it took him so long to leave his truck and to come to my car is because he had to call it in to the local police.  Could he have seen my wide eyes, wild hair and trembling lips?  Maybe.

But Steve was a godsend.  He looked under the hood, added anti-freeze and that may have fixed the problem, but a new problem emerged right there before our eyes, as unbelievable as it may seem: my battery was dead.  This was most likely because I had left my lights on while parked and waiting for the engine to cool down.  Steve explained that he had a soft bumper and would push me to the nearest exit, which was only about a mile away.  There was a Dairy Queen where I could park and wait for Missy.  He pushed me all the way there, gave me his card and left me with the knowledge that three hours ago, right where I had been stranded, a helicopter landed to fly an elderly woman to the hospital after her car and trailer flipped, with her, her husband, and their dog inside.  The woman did not make it.  The scene was chaotic and horrifying.  But I was okay – I suppose that was his message.  He was smiling when he walked away.

I made it to Missy’s after she came to rescue me with Jimmy.  She drove three hours to get me somewhere safe, even though she had two little ones at home and work the next day.  She sacrificed a lot for me, and John had been so calm and helpful and reassuring.  They were excellent.  I owe them SO much.

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The next day, Mom and Dad drove down to my car.  I did not see my father, but he assessed the problem (which was simple; the car needed antifreeze), fixed it, and went back home because he had to pick Mike up from his camping trip.  That’s seven hours in the car for me.  Mom spent the entire day in traffic to come down, only to drive me to my car the following day.  All that time, all that money (gas, tolls, etc.) for me.  Dad even filled my tank with gas (which was unbeknownst to me, and I purchased $2.51 of gas and spilled it all over me).  And after driving through the McDonald’s Drive Thru in first gear, it was smooth sailing.

I made it to Vero Beach, Florida.  I spent the day outside in the beautiful sun.  I had my phone interview – which was a live radio interview – on the beach.  The interview was conducted by an incredibly sweet, professional, and talented junior by the name of Jeida from Atlantic City High School.  I thought it went extremely well, and Jeida ended the conversation by letting me know she wanted to interview me AGAIN in the near future.  And while the interview was going on (and while my hot wings were getting cold, but I’m not complaining because they weren’t worth the trouble; I have braces now), I began to schedule another interview with Montclair State University’s Alumni Association.  I got some sun, some sand, some good food, to experience the local flavor, and most importantly, to relax.  Life is good.

It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

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On nasty surprises.

Published September 5, 2012 by mandileighbean

Today was the Staff Orientation at the high school for the entire district and man, it was a long day.  When I walked out of my classroom at 5:30PM, the lights in the hallway were literally off.  I practically shut the place down.  I’m proud of all that I got done today, but it was really unnecessary to be there so late.  I wasted some time lollygagging with colleagues, but I managed to work some good karma, helping others shuffle textbooks in and out of their rooms and find their portfolios.

I came home and ran.  It felt good; it helped me to work out some of my stress and I had forgotten how good it felt to be sore, to have blisters and to have tangible evidence that you are making a difference.  I weigh in on September 16th.  The goal is at least five pounds lost.  Hopefully, I’ll have good news.

I heard back from my editor.  My gallery pages are scheduled to be completed this week.  I am so excited!

I’m trying to keep this short and sweet because tomorrow is the first day of school and while I feel prepared, I am confident it will be a restless night.

PROMPT: While digging in a cereal box for the toy surprise, a child makes a grizzly discovery.

PIECE: Mikey had his father teach him how to set the alarm on his wristwatch the night before.  Thankfully, Dad didn’t ask too many questions or wonder at Mikey’s sudden interest in the somewhat more complicated features of his watch.  Mikey set his alarm for 6:00AM, a whole hour before he had to be up and getting ready for school.  He figured that sixty minutes would be more than enough time to slink out of bed, to pad noiselessly in bare feet down the hallway and down the stairs, to creep into the kitchen, to hunch before a low-mounted cabinet and open it slowly so the joint didn’t creak too loudly, to retrieve the new cereal box and the surprise toy within.

He had seen Mom removed the box of cereal from one of the yellow, plastic shopping bags after returning home from the grocery store.  He had been irritated by the way she handled it so carelessly, just tossing it into the cabinet, not seeming to care if it tilted and fell against the others.  Did Mom not know about the prize inside or the intense satisfaction of being the first to find said prize?  Immediately, his eyes flicked to his older brother, Jimmy.  Jimmy was currently elbow-deep in a bag of Doritos and Mikey didn’t think he’d seen the cereal box, but he couldn’t be sure.  Jimmy was sneaky.  Jimmy thought that because he was older, everything was his.  Those two inclinations proved to make life difficult for Mikey.  But this time, just this one time, he would be hailed the victor.

The alarm clocked beeped at a truly annoying high pitch three times before Mikey slammed down on a small, metal button on the side of the clock face.  His eyes shot to Jimmy, who seemed to be asleep.  Was he faking?  Mikey hypothesized that if Jimmy were feigning slumber, then Jimmy would move when Mikey moved.  As soon as Mikey’s feet hit the floor and the board creaked beneath his weight, Jimmy would sit up and demand to know what he was doing.  Then again, Jimmy might really be fast asleep and besides, Mikey hadn’t woken up so early for nothing.

He pulled the covers back very, very slowly – inch by inch – so as not to make a sound and so he was able to make his movements as slow as possible.  After what seemed like an eternity, Mikey was free of the burdensome covers.  Keeping his movements lethargic, he sat up in bed like a zombie from one of the movies he wasn’t allowed to watch but that Jimmy could.  Jimmy would tell him all about the gruesome, violent parts and then tease Mikey when he asked for the light to be left on.  He didn’t need light now – it would definitely wake Jimmy up.  Barely breathing, Mikey twisted his body around, swinging his legs softly against the sheets.  Though the mattress creaked as he slid for his feet to touch the floor, Jimmy remained motionless.  Mikey said a little prayer and tiptoed across the room, nimbly avoiding the toy cars and playing cards left out from a few nights before.  The moonlight that stole in through the window illuminated the landscape just enough for Mikey to make out dangerous shadows.

Once he was out of the bedroom and in the hallway, he could breathe easier.  Mikey kept an even pace – to break into a run would be foolish and loud – and took the stairs one at a time, placing his weight as evenly as possible.  He was proud for the amount of physical restraint he was displaying, but it completely dissipated when he reached the landing.  Jubilation filling his veins, Mikey tore through an archway to his left and slid to a seat before the cabinet, his pajama bottoms navigating easily across the linoleum floor.  He wrenched the cabinet open, retrieved the cereal box, and slid a slightly shaking finger beneath the cardboard flap.  Eagerly, he slid his finger across the edge of the box – a paper cut be damned – and crudely ripped at the other flap.  He never thought he’d be so thankful for cheap glue.

Mikey lifted the plastic bag containing the sugar-coated corn flakes and struggled for a moment or two before the thicker plastic gave way and ripped satisfactorily.  His fingers were sweaty and had trouble gripping the edge but once they did – boy; that was all she wrote.  Mikey let the plastic bag fall back into the box and he plunged his innocent, little fist inside, feeling around for the prize.  His fingers brushed against something that was firmer than corn flakes, and he seized it.  He brought it triumphantly out from the box, a few corn flakes falling to the floor.

It was a human toe, bloodied around the end from which it was removed from the body it, until recently, belonged to.

Mikey screamed and screamed and screamed.

On absence making the heart grow fonder.

Published May 31, 2012 by mandileighbean

It’s been quite some time since I posted anything; I know, and I’m sorry.

My oldest sister, Missy, and her husband – we call him Wags – moved to Virginia yesterday. Jack, their youngest – just about to be one year old – went with them. Jimmy drove down with my mom today. I am devastated. Jimmy is my whole world. I love him something awful, and I am honored and blessed to call him my godson. He was sleeping when I left for work this morning, and I desperately wanted to wake him up, to make him give me a hug and a kiss and to tell me he loved me, to promise he would miss me and force him to smile. I didn’t do anything like that. I acted responsibly, maturely, and drove off to the high school.

But then I came home and found his little, white tee shirt on my cold, wooden floor. The brightness had dulled considerably because of the wash and wear, and because of the various activities a nearly four-year-old will find for himself to get into. Delicately, I lifted the shirt to my cheek. The fabric was soft but worn and I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I just released a single, guttural sob and that was all.

I am anxious for the school year to end. I am miserable. I worry that the students are not taking away anything of value, that they don’t respect me and view me as a peer rather than an educator. I also worry that the administration sees me in the same light. I’d like to believe I’m doing the best I can, but I don’t think that’s true. I’m going through a rough time – maybe it’s depression – and that makes me lazy, selfish, weak and complacent. I don’t know how to break the cycle.

I went away for Memorial Day. A handsome, young man named Isaac danced with me at a bar. I think he wanted to kiss me, or for me to kiss him, but I panicked and left, seeking out another beer rather than intimate contact. The rest of the time spent in Ocean City, Maryland was absolutely horrible and I’ve relived it so many times that it feels silly and extreme to put it in writing.

I need summer. I need an escape.

One of my students wrote an absolutely stellar short story for Creative Writing. It inspired me to write more and to write better. I cannot wait to talk with her tomorrow and tell her how talented she is, how that talent cannot be wasted and how I’ll do anything to help her. I really do believe she could be published.

I need to lose weight. It’s always been a struggle and the events of the holiday weekend prove I need a change and my weight is the best place to start because I can control my body – as a matter of fact, it’s the only thing in my life I have control over. The helpless feeling that constantly plagues me needs to stop.

 

PROMPT: Eggnog Regret
  After drinking a few too many eggnogs at your annual holiday party, you wake up the next morning realizing you did some things you now regret. Write an e-mail to your boss that will ensure you get a raise next year.

Dear Mr. Jones:

First, let me begin by sincerely hoping that this message finds both you and yours doing well, and enjoying the holiday season.

Second, let me profusely apologize for my behavior at the annual holiday party. I would like it to be known that I was highly intoxicated and while that knowledge does not, in any way, shape or form, excuse my behavior, I hope that it serves as an explanation. Had I not foolishly ingested so much eggnog, I would not have been so forthcoming with private information, so lax about the dress code and appropriate behavior, and I most certainly would not have vomited on anyone, especially not your beautiful, intelligent and doting wife.

Speaking of, Catherine is truly a remarkable woman and I do admire her greatly. It is always a pleasure to see her and speak with her, and that makes what I did all the more appalling. I promise that it was never my attention to publicly humiliate your wife or call your character into question, and I assure you that I honestly and truly believed everyone knew that her breasts were fake. I also assumed you had paid for them because when we were issued our bonuses, you were walking around the office with a wide and goofy smile and somehow, your slacks seemed tighter. Thus when I saw the three of her appear at the party, I believed the augmentation to be common knowledge. With all due respect, her breasts do not look at all real. I’m sure others noticed but unfortunately, I was the only one drunk enough to say so. And by “say,” I mean scream an awkward question across a crowded room filled with mixed company.

I would ask you not to think badly of Matt. He pulled me aside to keep me quiet; he tried, as a valiant gentleman would, to salvage some of my dignity. We retreated to a corner where I could compose myself and leave quietly, but his brown eyes were shining and his lips were slackened with mischievous, adolescent glee and I mistakenly took us as co-conspirators. I was hurriedly whispering to him about something inconsequential and trivial, and he was beginning to laugh. I took this as an indication that I was being charming and casually leaned in closer, casually doubled over. I was sitting in Martha’s computer chair – worth the money, by the way, because it is absurdly comfortable; I have no idea how she gets any work done at all; I’m impressed she just doesn’t fall right asleep – and Matt was kneeling before me so when I doubled over, our mouths were closer than they had been previously and I was drunk and he was handsome. I don’t really know what else to say other than I’m sorry. I know it was wildly inappropriate to have a raucous make-out session in the middle of all the festivities and there is absolutely no professional occasion where my shirt should be removed, but it happened. I think we would all benefit from putting this episode behind us and moving forward.

I particularly think that Keri would be most advantageously served by my aforementioned sentiment. To be honest, I have no idea why it was necessary for her to scream the way she did, attracting all sorts of attention towards Matt and myself. Personally, I think she acted out of spite and jealously. She’s always been a bit of a bitch – sorry, but I can think of no other word – and she’s had it out for me since day one. Remember when she filed that report with HR, claiming I only sharpened my pencils when she happened to be on the phone? I only started doing that after the report and the others in the nearby cubicles think it’s a real riot, so all I’m really doing is fostering community and how could that possibly be a negative thing? Furthermore, Keri’s screaming and pointing and shouting and crying is what made me nauseous – on top of all the eggnog – and had she acted like a professional and not been so “high school” about everything, I wouldn’t have vomited. It was out of sheer embarrassment I left Matt sprawled on the carpeted floor, grasping for my hand, and walked over to your wife. I think I was going to ask her to borrow a shirt but then I saw those two melons – they’re not real breasts anyway, so I can call them what I want – staring at me, almost daring me to make a move.

So I was standing there in my bra, looking down at my own melons, and compared to Catherine’s, they were inadequate. They were smaller than most men would like and could hardly be described as perky. My left one is definitely bigger than my right. I thought about these things, and Keri was still screaming, and Matt was still grinning and I wanted to grin like Matt, but Keri wouldn’t stop. I was becoming angry – incensed with anger – and I wanted to rip my shirt off like the Hulk, but Matt had already discarded it, so I decided to puke right then and there, all over the very melons that had started the whole thing.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I started writing this e-mail, truthfully, in an attempt to keep my job. I realize now my previously stated goal is nearly impossible and I also realize now that I am perfectly okay with that. Did you know Matt called me today? He apologized to me; can you believe it? He wants to get coffee and talk. That’s practically a date, right? I mean, wouldn’t you say so? Then again, you probably wouldn’t know because it’s been years since you’ve been in the dating pool and you had to resort to filling your wife with silicone to keep her interesting. I think that’s kind of sad, and I’m sorry.

I also realize that I don’t want to work in a place where Keri works, or where people like Keri work. She’s mean to me and I’ve never done anything to her, and that’s the worst kind of meanness that there is in this world.

So, I quit.

Tell Catherine I really am sorry.

Hugs and Kisses,

Joan

On being thankful.

Published May 11, 2012 by mandileighbean

Today was long day. I taught, stayed after, and did three hours of home instruction. I am definitely exhausted, and am most certainly looking forward to crashing and burning.

I was a little upset I wasn’t able to go for a walk today, but congratulated myself for not overeating. I treated myself to a tablespoon of chocolate syrup in my coffee – an activity which is highly recommended.

🙂

I cannot stop listening to Phillip Phillips. He’s a contestant on American Idol. I think he’s devastatingly handsome and his voice is incredibly alluring and sexy. It makes me long for a romantic relationship moreso than I already do. In working on today’s prompt, I soon realized that absolutely everything I write essentially boils down to that one desire. I do not necessarily think there’s anything wrong in doing so, but I do hope to live a life filled with varied experiences so my writing can vary accordingly. I don’t want to become a broken record, and as much as I enjoy being restless, I do not want to remain unfulfilled in any regard.

PROMPT: Thankful I’m a Writer
  Finish this sentence: I’m thankful I’m a writer because …

I’m thankful I’m a writer because I relish the fact that it is both a blessing and a curse. I love duality and contradiction because I believe that power and universality lies within the abstract. Being a writer allows me to search for such power in my own life, and thereby allows me to feel things more poignantly because I subscribe specific meaning to every blessed detail of my life. If that makes me pretentious or self-righteous, then so be it. Being a writer simultaneously scorches and soothes – every set back is a catastrophe and every joy is a major triumph. I used to worry that such exhilarating highs and devastating lows were evidence of manic behavior and it’s a definite possibility that I am crazy, but so what? Being a writer has freed me; I am unashamed. We are only here once. If we lose a day, we never ever get it back.

I believe that being a writer has completely informed and shaped my philosophy on life – I have been heavily influenced by practically everything I’ve read and thereby firmly believe that my life has a plot and accompanying themes, that I am the protagonist and that my friends, relations, loved ones, acquaintances, and enemies are characters. It all has an important meaning, so I think and think and think. I am constantly analyzing while that may also mean I am constantly anxious and stressed, it also just goes to show that I care, and that I care deeply about everyone who comes into my life. I highly value connections – how can that possibly be a bad thing? Life has a special inherent value that is meant to be indulged and shared. My belief system, which stems from being a writer, allows me to detect, analyze, and ascertain life in an extremely vivid and engaging way. As a writer, it’s almost as if I’m more involved in life; like I have a greater emotional investment because everything matters. Everything means something, and I communicate that through the written word. I report back and hopefully inspire – I offer up my dreams, my heartaches, and my desires so that others may live theirs, even if it is vicariously. Writing is a community – we all share our wildest dreams, worst fears, and grandest desires and from that we dream bigger and learn that everything has value, that symbolism could be lurking anywhere and that we have something worth sharing.

Somebody save me.

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