Vacations

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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 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 clinging to the past.

Published March 4, 2013 by mandileighbean

On Monday of this past week, I found the moon.  It was fat, full, gluttonous, and bright.  I have a picture to prove it.

moon

I have another resolution for this relatively new year: to be as artistic in possible in all that I do.

I deposited my second royalty check – $23.22.  From October 29th to December 31st, I have made $95.40.  I am not, and have never been, a “numbers person.”  I am not sure if this means I am doing well, average, or poor.  All I know is that I want to keep writing, and I suppose that is the most important thing.  I did little to no writing this week, which is possibly why this blog post is so scattered and superficial.

I am convinced that in a former life, I was happily married to Ricky Ricardo.

Running in the wind is romantic and freeing.  Running in the wind and the rain is stupid.

There is a dry, red, and raw patch of skin on my hand between my thumb and pointer finger.  When I stick the cap on the opposite end of the pen, the plastic irritates the area.  I have icky winter skin.  I am over the cold, bitter weather.

I am sick of being tired.

I am envious of Winona Ryder – or at least her hair, especially when it is short.  I remember feeling similarly after seeing, “Girl, Interrupted.”  I watched “Reality Bites.”  I liked the tone of it and I do sincerely miss the 1990s somewhat.  I really am a fan of the earthy, sloppy fashion that was considered chic.  I would like to bring that style back, but am unsure if I would be able to do so single-handedly, and am equally unsure if there would even be any other willing participants; I might have no other choice than to embark on a lone wolf fashion revolution.  Either way, I am going to dress and style my hair accordingly – I am excited to buy new clothes once I lose the weight.  Manufacturers really do not make fashionable habiliments for larger people.

winona90srevival290srevival

I am mostly excited for Spring Break and vacation in Florida.  I called my Aunt Kim tonight and squared away the details.  Dad and his friend Andy fitted my car with new struts and fixed a leak that had to do with the transmission.  I am constantly making a mental list of what I want to do before leaving.  Lately, the trip has been all that I have been thinking about.  I do not mind going alone, but Mom is thinking about coming along, and that does not upset me at all.

struts

Sometimes, when I wash my face, I make the water too hot and steam rises up from the sink basin in the bathroom, and the water burns my hands, and opens my pores so wide that they sizzle.  Once I was worried because for a brief moment, I could not get the cold tap to turn.  Eventually I did, and it made me think of that scene from “My Cousin Vinny” when Marissa Tomei and Joe Pesci are ironically analyzing the dripping faucet that is off-screen as litigators would in court.  Then I wonder how a casting director could match Pesci with Tomei (or vice versa).  I worry that such wondering makes me shallow.  Am I shallow?  Am I a bad person?

What if I do not find romance after my teeth are straightened and after I’ve lost the weight?  Will I have to conclude the defect is not my physical appearance, but in my personality, my very being?

I am going to take up painting this summer.

I need to write.

My last baby tooth, which never fell out, was pulled on the last day of February.  So long, Little Mandi.  The very last tangible remnant of my childhood was violently yanked from me.  It was for the best – it was causing an infection and discoloration – but I was sad to see it go.  I am reluctant to grow up and relinquish my sometimes irrational passions, and I am unwilling compromise between responsibility and desire; I don’t wanna.  But then again, I am getting braces.  Maybe it all works out and I will never have to escape my adolescence.

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The way to blast blubber this week was to give up extreme thinking.  I set a realistic goal of losing two pounds, and I lost 1.8 pounds; just two ounces shy.  I have lost 18 pounds total since beginning dieting and exercising and I am getting closer to my goal.  Chipping away little by little is okay; I am seeing results without being perfect or extreme, and that is both a very important and difficult lesson to learn.

On regrets and struggles.

Published July 7, 2012 by mandileighbean

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my sister and her husband and their children are visiting. I wouldn’t trade my time with them for anything in the world, but I was disappointed that I had to decline an invitation to the bar with friends. I’m worried about why I’m disappointed – I want it to be because my one friend is only visiting for a short time and I really would like to see him again before he returns home, but I’m afraid that I’m really disappointed because I actually believe I could go out and meet someone, and every time I deny myself such an opportunity, I’m signing my own death sentence of sorts. I know that’s melodramatic, but it’s eye-opening, none the less. I need to cut ties with juvenile notions and silly daydreams and become an adult. I am not going to meet the love of my life out at a bar because that is not the kind of girl that I am.

To be fair, bars are different from clubs. I’d probably fare better at a bar because no one’s grinding to a manufactured beat. Usually, everyone is just drinking and playing pool. That kind of crowd is definitely more my speed.

But what’s more important; spending time with family visiting from out-of-state, or tracking down a potential future husband? It is these kind of mundane struggles that life is filled with, and they create regrets. Anyway, that’s my belief. I am totally open to other explanations, and freely admit that I could be over-thinking things, as I am known to do.

I also do not want to be obsessed with romance. I want there to be more to me than stolen glances and cheap caresses.

Don’t we all?

PROMPT: A dentist is stabbed while he waits in line at the movies.

PIECE: Dr. Ellis was a dentist and a mediocre one at that.  He wasn’t terrible but he didn’t have as many repeat patients as he would like.  He wasn’t excellent and sometimes, he did forget to numb patients.  He was competent, but not worthy of any particular praise.  He was average and some nights, that fact bothered him.  Some nights, the fact did not.  Tonight belonged to the latter category; he was much too intoxicated to give a damn about anything, let alone his professional reputation.

Janice had left him.  Dr. Ellis had come home and found that everything seemed somewhat off.  The little hairs that were typically useless were standing at attention, so he decided to investigate.  Setting his briefcase on the floor just inside the front door, his expensive shoes with the clicking soles traversed up the wooden staircase and kept left.  He entered the master bedroom and went to the closet.  Throwing the curtain doors aside, Dr. Ellis realized that it was as he feared; Janice’s things were gone.  He moved to the dresser on the other side of the room and pulled out the top drawer on the right side – her side – only to find it empty.  Stomach flipping end over end, he made a detour to the bathroom to deposit the contents of his churning intestines into the porcelain bowl.  Wiping his mouth with his forearm, Dr. Ellis took shaking steps into the kitchen.  He poured himself a glass of water, spilling it slightly here and there, before sitting at the table.  The top was marble and Janice had picked it out.  He had admired her taste until now.  Now, he wanted to smash the table to bits and chuck said bits at Janice’s face, marring her beauty with tiny nicks and cuts that drew blood.  It was violent and animal-like and he should know better, but so fucking what?  She had left him out of the blue – he was entitled to be bitter.

The tears and the trembling came and in this completely emasculated state, Dr. Ellis discovered the letter in the middle of the table. She started off with the typical bullshit: she didn’t know when they started to become strangers, only that it happened.  She thought he was always far from home, even when he was beside her because his mind was always somewhere else, always moving a million miles a minute when she desperately needed him there, in the present, with her.

She took a paragraph to explain that she did not leave him because of problems between the sheets.  She used five to seven sentences to be absolutely clear that she did not care that he had trouble getting it up more often than not.  Janice wanted it to be known that she wasn’t that kind of shallow woman, and that Dr. Ellis should not feel like any less of a man.

But him not really providing for her, neglecting her and not proposing marriage – all of that  should make him feel like a complete and total douche bag and less of a man, she wrote.  Janice was devastated that she had wasted years on the dentist and didn’t intend to waste another second.

So she was gone.

Dr. Ellis got good and liquor-ed up and went to the movies.  He hadn’t paid the cable bill, but needed some kind of mindless, visual stimuli to keep the pain at bay for at least another 90 minutes. Unfortunately, Dr. Ellis needed such relief on a rainy Friday night – everybody and their fucking brother was the local cineplex.  He swayed in the never-ending line, blinking slowly and licking at his dry lips.  He wondered if the woman in the ticket booth would notice that he was three sheets to the wind.  If she did, would she say anything?  It was hard to tell.  If she was good-looking, should Dr. Ellis say something?  Was that too soon

Dr. Ellis was so absorbed in his own thoughts that he did not hear the guttural screams from behind him.  He did not catch the winking metal as it was caught in the overhead lights.  It was not until he felt a searing pain in his side that he realized he had been stabbed.  Clutching his side, he fell to the ground and looked up.  A wild-looking woman with sweat-slicked hair and wide eyes stood above him and she was shrieking.  Most of it was unintelligible.  He was able to catch the words “no” and “Novocaine” and “numb” and “dick.”

Heh.  So numb was Dr. Ellis to everything around him that he had lost his girlfriend and his professional reputation, and maybe even his life. Still, he couldn’t care.

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