Stranger

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On being bold and priorities.

Published November 10, 2013 by mandileighbean

I freely admit that as of late, I have been something of a “Stranger Danger” when it comes to this blog, and to my writing career at large.  Teaching seems to be taking up every spare moment of my time, leaving me exhausted and uninspired.  I have always desired for teaching to be my career, but I never intended for it to become my life, to consume me.  I must then be bold, and align my priorities to my dreams.  No writer ever became successful by whining and making excuses.

That being said, I have an author event scheduled for Thursday, November 14th at Ocean County College in Toms River, New Jersey at 12:30PM.  The event is only open to students, faculty and staff, so if you are on campus that day, stop on by!  I will also have a table set up at the Ladies’ Night at Manchester Firehouse on Saturday, November 16th.

Au-Sauvignon-Bar-Paris

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #5: “A man traveling overseas meets the woman of his dreams, but they don’t speak a common language.”

     Michael had never been outside of the continental United States of America.  He had never even ventured to Alaska or Hawaii, let alone a country that was an ocean away.  He reasoned that most of it was because he was absolutely terrified of flying, and part of it was because of his never promising financial situation; he always seemed to be struggling, to register just a step behind.  Even in college, when he had wanted to study abroad in England, when he had access to financial aid, scholarships, and student loans, he had not been able to swing it.  As a matter of fact, the only reason Michael was seated by the window of a 757 airplane was because his father had died.  At the ripe old age of 57, John Sullivan had dropped dead of a heart attack.  Just about a month ago, just a few short months before he was due to retire; Mr. Sullivan had been in the break room of the warehouse at the seaport in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  He had been pouring himself a crappy cup of coffee into a Styrofoam cup when everything just suddenly seized up and stopped.  He couldn’t breathe or think, and so he simply collapsed and died.  There had been no goodbye for his youngest child, his only son; no words of wisdom, no teachable moment as he lay dying about life and love and what is really important.

There had been a horrendously depressing funeral where Michael had to practically carry his mother from one uncomfortable folding chair to another.  She wept and fell, popped another Xanax, called for her husband who was six feet in the ground, held her two daughters (Michael’s older sisters), popped a Xanax, stared off into space, crumbled, popped a Xanax, withered, and slept.  She had been more of a presentable widow, though she would be forever heartbroken, at the reading of the will.  John Sullivan, in death as he always had been in life, took great care of his loved ones.  Each child received $15,000 and a personal, sentimental memento (Michael had inherited his father’s varsity letter jacket).  His mother inherited everything else, aside from unremarkable amounts of money left to John’s one sister and six brothers.  Michael sat alone in his childhood bedroom sometime later, turning the check over in his shaking hands again and again.  His mother advised him to invest it.  His oldest sister encouraged him to save it, to simply put it away.  His other sister hugged him tightly and told him to do whatever he wanted because that is what their Dad would have wanted.  So he had kissed her, packed his bag, and here he was, flying across the Atlantic.

Michael had decided on France; he could not explain why he had chosen France, but it felt right.  Then again, maybe it was the valium and glass of vodka he had ingested and imbibed shortly after takeoff.  When he landed, there was a substantial terrifying amount of time where Michael panicked over changing currency, renting a car, and struggling to understand and be understood.  But despite initial terror and uncertainty, events had unfolded smoothly and before long, Michael had located his hotel, unpacked his bags, and hit the town.  Night had descended upon Paris as a familiar love, and Michael had trouble articulating the myriad of exciting feelings which were enveloping his saner, more rational self.  Sitting outside a populated bar, sipping from a glass of merlot, Michael felt smarter, stronger, sexier, and more alive than he ever had before.  Possibilities were endless and seemed more like guarantees than anything else.  He could be the life of a party- any party.  He released a short, anticipatory breath and leaned back against the faux wicker chair he was sitting in.  The emerald, checkered tablecloth created a desirable ambiance, but the outside of the bar was deserted and Michael did not want to be alone or lonely or anything of the sort.  He downed the rest of his merlot and hurried back inside.

The music was loud, but lacked the thumping bass so common to American nightclubs and as a result, was classier and more elegant.  Michael liked that; he liked that the interior was dimly lit but the lights reflected warmly against the mahogany, and Michael felt comfy, cozy, and right at home.  He slid against packed bodies that were not grinding mindlessly and sweating profusely, but talking – discussing lively topics.  This was where Michael was supposed to be – he was sure of it – and he bellied up to the bar, ready to order another glass.  His finger was poised in the air and his mouth was open, ready to call “Garcon!” but an intoxicating beauty cut him in line, speaking rapidly in French with a remarkable smile.  She had long, wavy, dark hair that fell past her shoulders.  Her eyes were dark and round, and caught the light in a similar fashion to the way that the mahogany did.  Michael’s mouth stayed open as he watched her, in her scarlet cocktail dress, move like liquid, in rolling waves of self-confidence and beauty.  He knew that he needed to know her.  He leaned closer to her, tapped her on the shoulder so that she turned towards him.  He extended his hand and said, “Hey, I’m Michael.”

After only a slight hesitation, she took Michael’s hand in hers.  Her grip was somehow feminine and firm, somehow perfect.  “Bon soir,” she greeted.  She liked his darker features and she liked his smile.  He was an American, a tourist, but there were worse things a man could be, she reasoned.  All of this assessment was hopelessly lost on Michael, who assumed she was providing her name, Dawn Soar.  He beamed and jerked his head backwards, towards the dance floor.  He asked her if she would like to dance and made a childish and endearing sort of pantomime.  She laughed at his innocence and brazen nature, but nodded and allowed herself to be led onto the floor.  There was a wizened veteran of the bar scene seated before the ivory keys, crooning beautifully.  Fearsome of awkward silence, Michael began talking and did not stop.  He told her everything, how much he missed his father, how much he worried about his mother, what this trip meant, how beautiful she was and how thankful he was that he had met her.  She listened patiently, a small, sad, concentrated smile on her pretty face.  She rested her head on his broad, masculine shoulder, which Michael assumed was a good sign.  They stayed that way for an eternity, swaying until the lights came up – the international signal that it was time to head home.  She looked up at him with sleepy, romantic eyes and explained, in her best French, that she could understand English but could not speak it, but would be thrilled to see as much of him as possible during his stay.  She also told him that her name was Antoinette, and Michael blanched because he had been calling her Dawn the entire time.  She wrote her number on a napkin and disappeared into the crowded Paris streets.

Michael woke with the dawn the following morning and purchased a translation book from the lobby of his hotel.

Paris-Bar

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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