On writing reunions and summer reading.

1-summe-reading-news

The beginning of July has been wonderful. I love the intense, dry heat as it is an excuse to be lazy and spend hours floating in a pool with a book in hand. I’ve had a slowly but surely diminishing pile poolside, and I’ve been nearly perfectly happy. It’s been difficult for me to carve out some time for reading during the school year that’s not dictated by my professional obligations. I’m hoping the I’m instilling reading habits in myself over the next two months or so will spill over into the Fall.

Nora Ephron wrote:

There’s something called the rapture of the deep, and it refers to what happens when a sea-diver spends too much time at the bottom of the ocean and can’t tell which way is up. When he surfaces, he’s liable to have a condition called the bends, where the body can’t adapt to the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. All this happens to me when I surface from a great book.

It’s been a long time since I’ve joyfully suffered from a literary case of the bends, far too long. I need to rediscover my love of reading and read in the totally immersive way I used to. Like in college. I always try to tell my students that they’ll never have the kind of time they have in college ever again to encourage them to use it wisely and selfishly. I read and read and read. I always had my nose in a book, whether it was for class or for pleasure. And I didn’t care if people thought me lazy. I didn’t feel a pressure to be doing something more constructive. Hell, if I’m being honest, I didn’t feel a pressure to do anything. While it’s true I had less responsibilities and was physically located in an atmosphere very much conducive to my bookworm lifestyle, there was something else at play that’s harder to articulate, a kind of freedom I worry I might never find again.

Anyway, while I was in college, I was reading A LOT of Stephen King. I had gone to see him read once or twice, had forced all my roommates to watch adaptations of his novel, and was head over heels, exclusively reading King. My love affair turned intense during my freshman year. I was living on the sixth floor of an older building on campus with four other young women. Our dorm room was huge; it was two large rooms (one for our beds and one for our desks) and there was a private bathroom through the room with our desks. It was also across from the laundry room and was where all the other Honors students stayed. There were parties and fun, but for the most part, the people I saw on a daily basis had their heads on straight.

I came home after class one day, super excited to continue reading Lisey’s Story by Stephen King. It was engaging and enthralling, and I was hooked. All I wanted to do was lay in bed and read, and I had been looking forward to doing so all day. But when I entered the dorm, I couldn’t find my book. It wasn’t where I had left it, which was where I always left it: on my pillow. When I turned to circle dramatically in despair and disbelief, I found my book in the clutches of my roommate Charlotte. Charlotte was a talented, gorgeous, intelligent, and wonderful young woman, one of the best roommates I had at college. I loved her. But I was pissed she had my book (but not as pissed as I was when she ate my cookie and left a note saying “Sorry, but I needed it,” but I guess that’s a story for another time). When I told her I was in the middle of reading it, she asked to finish the page she was on. I consented, and she placed a bookmark in the book. Charlotte assumed we’d be able to read the same book at the same time. I had my doubts.

But what a wonderful experience. I was ahead of her, so she and I could talk about what we were reading while I did my best not to spoil anything. She used a bookmark and I dog-eared my pages (I’m a monster, I know). When Charlotte had a bad day, I set up a “bool” hunt for her just like the ones that appeared in the book. It was a radical, inclusive way to read to literally share a book with someone, and I cherished every second of it.

Reading, though a solitary activity for the most part, can be an impactful and communal activity (hello, book clubs!) and I feel the same way about writing. Last week, I was able to catch up with elegant, fashionable writers I met a few years ago in St. Augustine, Florida at the Algonkian Writer’s Conference. We talked about our triumphs and tragedies pertaining to writing, and discussed why we keep going despite the disappointments and rejections. It was a much needed afternoon and I cherished every second of it.

32posswelcome-300x225
Joanna Elm

Joanna Elm, accomplished author and one of the attendees, chronicled the excursion on her wonderful, absolutely wonderful blog which you can read here.

So, I’ve been reading and I’ve been writing. I’ve sent a finished manuscript to five literary agents and five small presses. I’ve also begun working on entering a few contests.

And I’ve reached out to the University of Limerick and am still gathering all the necessary information to live and study there for a year.

Hope all is well with you, readers. ❤

On fountains.

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 connections.

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

Enjoy this week’s writing prompt.

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

050926-N-6751L-009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

building

On life … and how titles can be vague.

Life is a fleeting, funny thing- I think we can all agree on that.  Last night, I enjoyed some drinks and some nostalgia with wonderful friends.  As the night ended at a diner, the way nights in Jersey so often do, a waitress who had seated herself at the table beside ours went into some kind of diabetic shock.  My friend Raina is a nurse, and without hesitation, she rushed to the woman’s side and did all she could to keep her alert and comfortable until the paramedics arrived.  I watched her with a serious sense of awe, of how cool, calm, collected, and confident she was.  I was amazed that such a wonderful and beautiful human being could friends with someone like me, who did contributed nothing to the situation other than stunned silence and stares.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #7: “A woman gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she gets hired to sing backup for a famous musician.”

microphone

Emily was ten years too old – was there really a logical reason for someone to roam this Earth for ninety years?  What could there possibly be left to see or hear or do?  She had laughed until she cried, cried until she had to laugh, been heartbroken, believed herself to be infinite and immortal, believed everything to be meaningless, and then believed everything to be poignantly meaningful.  She had run the gamut from wildly and recklessly passionate to dangerously and stubbornly apathetic.  Had she not lived through some serious shit?  Had she not also merrily sailed through years of calm?  What could possibly be left?  Emily was ready for death.

Ah, but that was horse shit and she knew it.  The thought of going to sleep and never waking up still terrified her in a way that was inexplicable.  It was a sweeping, overwhelming kind of horror that could not be sufficiently articulated.  So, Emily reasoned, if it could not be explained, then what good was there in thinking about it?  Emily looked for something else to occupy her mind and she settled on the weather.  The snow outside was falling steadily and despite feeling hellishly cranky, Emily thought it beautiful to look at.  She watched the weather silently and calmly with her head turned to the side on the large but thin pillow.  She allowed herself to wonder, but only for a moment, how many more snowfalls she’d see, but she shut her eyes against the thought of her inevitable and impending passing.  She prayed for some kind of relief, for some kind of distraction, and in walked the nurse.

The nurse had spent many nights with Emily, perhaps pulling the short straw and getting stuck with the cranky old woman through horrendous hours, hours where the human body was meant to be soundly sleeping.  The nurse was always obnoxiously cheerful and pleasant, which annoyed Emily who only pretended to be crotchety enough to pray for death.  Emily was also annoyed because the nurse was a young man.  Men, in Emily’s learned and wise and venerable opinion, were meant for manual labor and hard work, not for soothing and caring and all that womanly business.  Emily never exchanged more than a few words with the young man, and she only relented and did so because of his eyes.

The young man had absolutely phenomenal eyes.  There were a unique shade of emerald that a human being is blessed to see only once in a lifetime.  They shone brightly, as if chips of a broken Heineken bottle were stuck in the orbs to catch and reflect light.  Emily knew it was a piss poor analogy, and a disturbing rather than beautiful image, but she was dying.  She could do as she pleased.  She gave him a sneer that was slightly less repellent than usual as he came in, and then turned to continue to watch the accumulating powder.  He smiled merrily at her.  “Good evening, Emily.  How are you feeling?”

She grunted.

“Emily, my favorite part of our time together is the scintillating conversations we share.  Honestly, I’ve never been so emotionally and intellectually engrossed before.”  He was being scathingly sarcastic, but he gave her a quick wink to show it was all in fun.  Emily did her best to hide her grin in her hands as she pretended to cough.  The young man had traversed over to the machines that beeped endlessly and flashed all kinds of numbers and statistics that meant nothing to Emily.  She watched him and had the urge to ask him a question.  Despite it being completely out of character, Emily asked, “Did you always want to be a nurse, son?”

The young man was taken aback, clearly not anticipating any kind of conversation other than the usual nods and unintelligible moans and groans.  “What?” he responded, his decorum completely leaving him in favor of shock.

“Men usually aren’t nurses.  What brought you to this line of work?”

He laughed softly.  “You know, you’re right, but no one’s ever actually asked me that before.”  With the grin lingering about his lips, he took a few moments to give the question some serious thought.  Then he said, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer.”

Emily was disappointed.  Writing was not work by any stretch of the imagination.  She had wanted him to say rancher, or laborer, or soldier, something exceedingly masculine and handsome and wonderful she could think about later.  In essence, he had given her nothing to work with, and so she became bored with the conversation and turned her face away, back to the snow.

“What about you, Emily?  What was your dream?”

There was no thinking; her response was instinctual, as effortless as breathing.  “I wanted to be a singer.”

“Really?” the young man was amused by the answer.  “I’ve got to be honest; you don’t strike me as a singer, Emily.”

She turned to him with cold eyes.  “And why not?  What the hell is that supposed to mean, anyway?  I could sing as good as any of them!  I could move and put on one hell of a show, I’ll have you know!”

The young man crossed his arms over his chest and gazed upon Emily with real interest.  “So what happened?  Why are you here instead of up on the stage?”

“Because I’m ninety years old and knocking on death’s door.”

He smiled ruefully.  “You know what I mean, Emily.  Why didn’t you ever become a singer?”

She sighed.  “Well, I was making a name for myself at the local dive bars.  I was packing places to capacity, causing fire hazards and whatnot.  A couple of stories ran in the papers and this big shot from Los Angeles came to see me.  He was impressed by what he saw and offered me a shot.  I was to go to Los Angeles and become a backup singer for Frank Sinatra for a gig or two.”

“Frank Sinatra, really?” the young man asked.  She had his full attention now as he sat on the edge of her bed, open-mouthed.

“Oh, sure,” she smiled.  “I didn’t get to meet him or nothin’, because during my audition, I was nervous as hell.  So I downed some whiskey to calm the nerves and pull it together.  I must have overdone it, though, because I moseyed on up there and soon as I opened my pie hole, I vomited all over the mic.”  Emily started chuckling.  “Everyone was so disgusted.  I was escorted out by these burley guys who didn’t even want to touch me.  I didn’t even get a chance to collect my things.”  Her chuckles had turned into hearty guffaws.  She brought her wrinkled hands up to her wrinkled cheeks as her eyes wrinkled with merriment.  She was genuinely laughing, something she hadn’t done since Lord knows how long.  It was an infectious, melodious and beautiful sound and for a fleeting moment, the young man heard how Emily must have sounded when she sang and it was tremendous.  His smile stretched wider and he joined in the laughter.

Elderly woman's hand

On continuing to “dream, baby, dream.”

It is time to catch up with my life; frankly, it has been long overdue.  Every single weekend in April, I have had some obligation – all enjoyable, to be sure – that consumed my only free time, so to speak.  With the conclusion of this weekend’s activities, I have a moment to breathe and collect myself, smooth the wrinkles from my clothes, wipe the crumbs and debris away, and tuck bothersome strands of hair behind my ear.  I have a precious few seconds to compose myself before Monday starts.  It is a wonderful feeling I missed more than I believe I realized.

The first three weekends of this fourth month of the year were all about furthering my professionalism; three workshops dealing with subject matter and the future of the teaching profession.  As I said, all of the workshops were useful and I loved meeting colleagues from all over the state, but this last weekend was my favorite because it was filled with love, friends, and romance, and it inspired a few daydreams to implement when I am in danger of bleeding out from boredom.

Friday night was Christine’s wedding and it was breathtaking.  I genuinely believed I was witnessing some sort of fairy tale brought to life before me.  Christine looked positively gorgeous and as twilight fell upon the meticulously manicured grounds of the estate, I felt all the wind rush around me and out of me, vacating my lungs like rats on a sinking ship.  I know it is a crude analogy that does not really fit with the rest of the image, but I suppose that is the point, precisely what I’m going for.  I feel sheepish admitting, no matter how silly or common it may be, that in that moment of Christine’s complete happiness and beauty, I succumbed to a sudden, vicious and crippling attack of loneliness.  There I was, surrounded by all the things in life that should be celebrated and that make all the unfortunate events in between worth it, and I could think only of myself and only of the negative.  I am not proud of it, but there it was all the same and unsure of what else to do, I cried.  I cried for how pathetic I am, for how beautiful Christine was, for how happy her and James were and are and always will be, for the friends around me, for the lights and the decorations and the love and the smiles and the good food – I cried for all of it.

leeweddingleewedding1 leewedding2

Saturday was Liz’s bridal shower.  It was held at an adorable place called Café Paris in Metuchen.  I went to the shower straight from the hotel where I stayed at for Christine’s wedding, so I looked less than spectacular, especially since I had fallen asleep without washing my face.  Mascara caked inside my eyelids and as a result, my eyes were bloodshot.  I can only imagine what kind of first impression I made.  I would be more horrified but since I knew the people I was sitting with, it could have been worse.  Lauren, Lindsay and Christina are all happily in love, and Meghan is planning her wedding.  I slung back mimosas.  Tim and Liz are two of the greatest people I have ever had the privilege, honor, and blessing of meeting.  Both – Tim in particular – shaped me into the woman I am today.  They introduced me to an amazing organization and collection of people that taught and inspired and supported me more so than I ever deserved.  Tim and Liz getting married is evidence that sometimes, good things do happen to good people and that love is alive and well.  It makes me happy and it makes me cry.

lizshower

Today, during mass, the priest blessed a couple who had been married for 60 years.  I turned to my little brother and smiled.  I wonder if he thinks it’s weird that I’ve never brought anyone home to meet Mom and Dad.  I wonder if what he wonders even matters.  I wonder if the blessing was a sign from God that it is going to happen for me one day, or if it was just a coincidence that I was surrounded by marriage all weekend.  I wonder if this all stems from that hormonal time of the month, a beer or two too many, watching “When Harry Met Sally” alone in an empty hotel room after the wedding, or because my next novel idea is about an engagement that is wrecked irreparably.  Do I want to wreck it because I am bitter, lonely and resentful, or because I honestly think the plot is entertaining?

I worry that I am a broken record; I know this is not my first blog entry of this nature and I am can confidently guarantee it will not be the last.  Is that a bad thing?  Am I throwing another spontaneous pity party?  Am I sticking to what I know because it’s comfortable?

 

I need to start living – meeting new people, experiencing new things.

On statistical success and all the other kinds, too.

I just finished The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, and I highly recommend it to everyone; absolutely everyone.  That book is remarkably beautiful and NEEDS to be read.  It is poignant, original, and genuine.  The juvenile was unappealing at first, but this novel is masterfully crafted and every element is incorporated for a wonderfully and remarkably literary reason.  Green is gifted, truly, and the story and heart within transcends target audience, age, gender, etc.  Everyone and anyone should read this book.

“But you keep the promise anyway.  That’s what love is.  Love is keeping the promise anyway.  Don’t you believe in true love?”
“…the definition of humanness is the opportunity to marvel at the majesty of creation or whatever.”
“I believe the universe wants to be noticed.  I think the universe is improbably biased towards consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.  And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it – or my observation of it – is temporary?”

– Excerpts from The Fault In Our Stars, John Green

As of Wednesday, November 29th, I have sold 34 print copies of my debut novel Her Beautiful Monster, and 12 eBook editions.  The eBook number only includes Kindle versions, so I anticipate that number will increase.  Also, I have been receiving positive reviews from colleagues and acquaintances and it means everything to me.  I am so touched and so proud.  I sent signed copies with personal notes to Maeve and Mike, the real couple that inspired the couple in the novel, and to former professors, Dr. Bronson and Dr. Nicosia.  Dr. Nicosia received his, and had an e-mail sent to the entire English faculty at Montclair State University.  He is a remarkable man and I am honored to count him as a mentor.

On storms and stories.

Currently, I am anxiously awating the arrival of what is supposed to be one hell of a summer storm. I can hear thunder rumbling low in the distance, like the growl of a frightened dog that begins back in its throat as it backs up and straightens the hair on its haunches to stand at attention. The skies are gray, but the dying sunlight is somehow still managing to poke through here and there so that above looks more like a worn, thin sheet with a bald light bulb shining behind it, like the side of a child’s hand-crafted fort. The oppressive heat that plagued us yesterday and for the vast majority of today has finally started to abate and I am considering taking Jane Eyre out onto the back porch so I can simultaneously read one of my favorite books of all time, and have a front row seat for the storm.

Normally, I like to read one book at a time, but there is so little time and so much to be read, that I’ve decided I can manage two books at a time. I read a chapter a day from Glenn Beck’s Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure and as much as I want from Jane Eyre. This way, I can broaden my literary repetoire and still adhere to my beloved favorites. A major benefit will be feeling inspired – reading other creative work to fuel the dying fire of my own.

Let’s hope it works and I can break free of my slump.

PROMPT: “Time out!  Time out!  We can call that, right?”

PIECE: Jacob bounced the quarter against the laminate countertop of the bar which jutted out from the wall, but despite all his athleticism and silent prayers, the coin did not go into the shot glass.  Instead, it bounced wildly away from him, rolled off the other side and just beneath the humming fridge.  The fridge was surrounded by a crowd of partygoers who seemed to quite enjoy their prime location – near the drinking games and the fun times while having liquor and beer close at hand and easily accessible.  It could take Jacob quite some time to maneuver through the bodies to the coin, and then return and get the quarter into the glass.  During that retrieval time, his adversary across the bar could easily get his quarter into the shot glass and play would continue on, and Jacob’s team would lose and it would be all his fault.  He would have to endure friendly teasing that would, in time, become annoying and he’d be forced to chug beers as a consequence and normally he wouldn’t mind one bit, but at the present moment, he was already quite intoxicated and vomiting was a possibility.  He couldn’t puke, not tonight, not when Rebecca was standing by the window, making idle chatter with a female companion who seemed utterly bored and boring.  Trying to think quick but the alcohol did slow him down some, Jacob called out, “Time out!  Time out!  We can call that, right?”

The two teams broke out into riotous laughter, but seemed to acquiesce to Jacob’s request.  The metallic dings of the coins against the counter were silenced and the volume level of conversation increased.  Pleased with himself and smiling, Jacob scrambled over to the fridge and dropped down to his hands and knees.  He turned his head to peer underneath the fridge and his coin should have been right there at the end, bisected by the fridge, half concealed and half revealed.  It was not there, however, and Jacob was baffled.  Where could it have gone?  Did some tightwad, some poor college student, pick it up, not realizing it was a vital component for the intense and competitive game underway?  Jacob rose to kneeling and rested on his heels.  He looked around again, but found neither coin nor culprit.  Sighing heavily, Jacob called out, “Does anyone have a quarter?”

“I do,” called Rebecca from the window.  Mouth agape, Jacob slowly turned his head, so slowly he was sure those around him could hear it creaking.  He turned his head as if he were in a horror movie, turning slowly to try and comprehend the illogical and all too real monster behind him, waiting and ready to pounce.  That’s not what Rebecca was; she was a dream, a beauty, an intellect, a vision.  Hurriedly, he rose to his feet and did his best to walk over to her without weaving and swerving, and thereby revealing just how intoxicated he really was.  Jacob assumed he pulled it off because Rebecca’s smile did not fade as he neared.

“Hey Rebecca, thanks, “ Jacob said as he took the quarter from her outstretched hand and halted to stand beside her.  “Why don’t you come on over and join in the fun?”

“Jake, have you seen these lights?” Rebecca asked, sounding distracted and far away.

Moving closer to the window, Jacob paused a moment to gaze out of the window and into the night sky.  He saw few stars, their brilliance muted by the city lights, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Then suddenly, there was a giant orange flash across the middle of the sky.  It happened again shortly thereafter, and Jacob was near breathless when he said, “I saw that just now.  That’s crazy; how long has that been going on?”

“Since I got here,” Rebecca answered.  “I think they’re getting closer.”

Together, Jacob and Rebecca watched open-mouthed.  The lights were indeed getting closer.  They did not speak, but only stared.

In the morning, both were dead.

P.S. – That storm I was waiting on never arrived; such is life.

On not knowing.

In retrospect, today seems totally indescribable.  It wasn’t exactly busy, it wasn’t exactly boring, I cried really hard, I laughed really loud and I ate some good food.  Today just … was, I guess.  As a writer, one of the hazards of the job is that you look for deeper meaning and symbolism in EVERYTHING, absolutely everything.  When the meaning and/or symbolism is not easily found or discerned, I go into panic mode.  I feel restless, unsure about life, and suddenly quite overwhelmed by the enormity of the universe and existence.  I so desperately want for every single, solitary moment of my life to be filled with meaning – with excitement, drama, romance, mystery, intrigue, etc. that when it’s not, I feel empty and wasted.  Sometimes, I worry about whether or not I have bipolar disorder because my changes in mood and manic fits seem to fit the description.  Or is it just that I’m passionate, and should that be viewed as a negative thing?  I believe the stronger one reacts to a situation, the more that person is emotionally invested in the situation and has therefore developed a deep connection.  I want deep connections with others more than anything else, more than stable employment, riches and all material possessions.

Does that make me crazy?

To be honest, I had some difficulty composing tonight’s piece.  Maybe it’s because I’m not ready to look back on college with a sense of nostalgia because I’m anxious about moving forward.  Maybe it’s because I’m lazy.  Maybe it’s because I’m unmotivated, uninspired and selfish.

Maybe I just think too much.

 

PROMPT: “Four college bandmates who haven’t seen each other in years travel back to their former campus for a reunion.”

PIECE: Eric stood outside the ornate-looking double doors that served as the entrance to the so-called “ballroom” on campus.  He was rocking back and forth on his heels, in expensive shoes that pinched his toes and that had been purchased for this very occasion.  He had been so excited to see Tom, Ted and Joe; as he was driving up the coast of the Garden State, he had been reminiscing about old times and glory days.  He remembered the way his thin chest had swelled with pride when the four of them, cleverly named Quatrain of Pain, had played at Homecoming and the student body had embraced them and really liked their sound.  That night, beneath the lights in the Student Center that hung over the stage, Eric believed for the first time that his dream was attainable.  He could be rich and famous and followed by adoring fans.  Hell, after all, he had the girl.  He remembered looking down and into the crowd for that wide smile, and remembered wanting to vomit right then and there in front of everyone when he realized that smile was not meant for him.  In reality, Kelly had been smiling at Tom.  To make matters worse, Tom had been smiling right back; smiling and winking and shamelessly flirting with the one woman Eric had ever really and truly connected with.  The last time Eric and Tom had a conversation had been that night, and it had been brutal, just short of flying fists.  It had been the end of a friendship, the end of the band and the end of a dream.  Eric had watched Tom leave with Kelly, scowling even as he slipped an arm around her tiny waist.  He had been animatedly saying something and when Kelly looked back over her shoulder at Eric, Eric had wanted to die.  Taking a deep breath, Eric returned to the present and eyed the double doors with a real sense of trepidation.

On the other side of the door stood Tom and he was looking out at the crowd.  People with beaming, genuine smiles moved from table to table, mingling and catching up.  Tom shoved his hands in the front pockets of his khakis and remained where he was.  He had wanted to join in the frivolity, but something was holding him back, nastily whispering in his ear that he had no right to show up, not after what he had done to Eric and Ted and Joe.  He had ruined the band, ruined a shared dream and then systematically and swiftly cut them from his life.  When he walked in and had spotted Ted and Joe across the room, serving as the center of attention for a small crowd who were all laughing with their heads thrown back, he had started to walk over, smiling in spite of himself.  He had halted suddenly when he saw Kelly walking over.  The break-up had been apocalyptic; Kelly had undergone a procedure which ended a life Tom had helped her create, but never said anything to Tom about it until it was over.  Tom had shoved her hard, bruised her and said some harsh things he could never take back.  He stayed where he was, lonely and self-pitying.

Ted and Joe had made it out of college unscathed.  Sure, they had been upset when the band disbanded, but they had each other and so they survived.  After college, they had moved in together.  Ted worked at an engineering firm in the city and had just started dating a coworker.  Joe was playing music in local bars with different bands at night after doing custodial work at the local baseball stadium during the day.  He was planning to move out with his longtime girlfriend, but was waiting for the right moment to tell Ted.  For now, they would reminisce and have a good time and save all the complicated, messy bullshit for the morning.

On chance encounters.

I love how I write an empassioned entry about my new and strong resolve to update regularly, and then miss a day.  That’s me in a nutshell: weak, but full of rationalizations for said weakness.  I must be incredibly difficult to love.

Wednesday was a great day, though.  I went to Barnes and Noble and though I spent more than I would have liked, it was well worth it.  I purchased a trendy bookbag that perfectly fits the Bohemian – and let’s be honest, sometimes pretentious – style I am currently going for.  I also purchased the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe, a set of sketching graphite pencils and a sketchbook.  One of my summer resolutions is to take up painting.  That is a somewhat daunting feat, so I’ve broken the goal into baby steps: I’ll start with sketching.  My good friend and college roomie is an artist in every sense of the word, and on Tuesday, she’s going to take me sketching with her.  Hopefully she’ll be able to show me the ropes so I can create something decent.  Purchases in hand, I went to the cafe to have an iced coffee because it was hot as hell and to get some reading and writing done.  I did read “The Offshore Pirate” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and wrote a little bit, but nothing I’m immensely proud of.  I’m still working through a dry patch and feeling decidedly uninspired.  I have ideas that have potential, but currently, I am failing exceptionally at executing them.

What I remember most about my time spent at Barnes and Noble was a beautiful man who seemed to sketching out designs on graph paper.  He was using one of those multi-colored pens that changes color when you click it – either red, green, blue or black.  When he sneezed, I said, “God bless you.”  He thanked me and offered me a warm smile, and I gushed as I tried to focus on sweetening my iced coffee (which I completely blotched.  It was disgusting and I threw it out before I was halfway finished. I don’t blame the barista, though. I don’t think I was drinking it fast enough because the ice melted and made it watery).  I stirred in the sugar and made note of his shaved, dirty blonde hair and dark green eyes.  He was of a thin yet athletic build and his skin was tanned from being in the sun.  He was dressed in earth tones and wore a thick, leather bracelet on his right wrist.  He had a trendy knapsack with what looked like a sleeping mat rolled up and stuck underneath the top flap.  I wondered if he had taken a bus to the shopping center.  I doubted he had a car; he would never condescend to such consumerism, or be so ignorant of the adverse effects of automobiles on the environment.  Then again, if he were taking a bus, that’d make him a hypocrite and wonderfully complex.  I had fallen in love with him in the 27 seconds it took me to prepare my coffee with half-and-half and sugar, but turned away from him to find a seat at the bar against the full-length windows.  I could have engaged him in charming conversation prehaps, or at least asked his name.  I wanted him to ask me what I was reading or what I was writing, but I did nothing.  When I saw him exit the store and cross before the windows once or twice, I smiled but remained still, flicking my eyes back to my book or the screen of my iPad.

I’m a chickenshit, is what it is.

Later, an old friend of mine from childhood invited me out for drinks for happy hour and a great hole in the wall in Seaside Heights.  I accepted but with a strong sense of caution because this friend only reaches out when something heavy is going on.  She, regretably, is kind of a hot mess and things have not changed.  I had fun and it was nice to escape from the mundane quality my life is so reluctant to relinquish, but I could not do that every night like she can.  I came home so drunk that I ate rancid spaghetti sauce that had been left out on the counter since before lunchtime.  I awoke with a dry mouth, a pounding headache and a palpable sense of shame.  It was a gross feeling.

Today was better.  I had lunch with my artist friend – she’s also a spectacular musician – and also ran into a very good friend who’s been missing in action as of late.  She’s married, domesticated and wonderfully mature.  She wears elegant dresses and goes out for cocktails with her husband and their friends like a real adult.

This weekend should be just as entertaining.  Hopefully I’ll remember to update as it happens.

The writing prompt I’ve been working on has been giving me real problems.  I don’t particularly think the prompt is all that great, so I am continually and readily disengaging in the creative process.  That ends tonight, though.  I will finish the damned thing if it’s the last thing I do.

PROMPT: Unusual Phobia.
  Create a character with an unusual phobia.  Write a scene in which the character faces the phobia.

The most common fear among human beings is death, followed closely by public speaking.  Then again, it might be the other way around but regardless of the accuracy of the aforementioned statistic, Melissa Grander feared neither death nor public speaking.  The activity which caused her body to seize, her palms to sweat and her mind to waver between insanity and unconsciousness was dinner conversation.  It was not a common fear by any means, and Melissa made peace with the fact with the rationalization that she was not a common young woman.  Exactly what made her so uncommon eluded Melissa and at night, when she lay awake watching the dusty ceiling fan in her bedroom slowly rotate around and around, she worried that she wasn’t uncommon or unique and that she was just weird; simply bizarre.  After all, who can’t hold a simple conversation over a meal?  Who can’t engage in a dialogue over dinner?

The answer is Melissa Grander.  She could not be charming, witty or even responsive while eating.  It was effort enough to make sure nothing spilled and stained her blouse, that her teeth were clear of debris.  To add the societal pressure of being interesting was more than she could comprehend.  Her need for silence at mealtimes left her lonely and alone.  Other than her family who were supportive and understanding, Melissa did not have many friends.  Having to decline every single dinner and lunch invitation led to a notable drop in those invitations, to the point where Melissa was left off the list because everyone knew she wouldn’t come out anyway.  Melissa also knew she could never join in the group brunches, lunches and dinners and could never do so with a romantic prospect, so she stopped dating altogether.  When the occasional male interest made his intentions known, Melissa panicked and aborted the whole thing, assuming that once the young man found out how abnormal she was, he’d be completely turned off.  Who wanted to be a lover and a savior and a doctor and a therapist?  Wasn’t that too much pressure?

All of Melissa’s social interactions stemmed from her weekly trips to the mall.  She didn’t necessarily make purchases, but she flitted around like a regular social butterfly from kiosk to kiosk and department to department, making small talk with various employees who all found her to be pleasant, compassionate and most importantly, normal.  She could eat alone at the food court without anyone thinking twice, and satisfy her need for human interaction in the small, superficial doses she could handle.  It was kind of ideal, albeit sad and temporary.  Would these workers come to her funeral?  Would they send her cards if she was sick in the hospital?  Melissa knew that they wouldn’t, but the fear did not outweigh her fear of conversation during meals.

Melissa was solitary, and as a result, she enjoyed solitary activities.  During her social visits to the mall, she would bring along a book to read near the fountain in the center.  The bubbling and tumbling of the water into the stone basin provided the perfect white noise to drown out the buzz of consumerism around her, so she could afford to become lost in a literary world where she could live vicariously.  She, Melissa Grander, was the young female protagonist with the painted nails and nasty habit of chain smoking, who moved from bed to bed every night and searched for the solution to her looming but not named existential crisis in seedy bars in a big city.  Melissa could be hunting ghosts in an old, Victorian manor, foiling an assassination attempt against some world leader, or falling in love barefoot and breathless while caught in the middle of a surprise summer storm.  Anything was possible for Melissa while she was reading.

Her favorite author was James Prince, a master of the paranormal thriller.  His characters were so authentic and painfully human, despite their supernatural abilities and/or origins.  While the setting and circumstances of the plot were extreme, the themes were perfectly applicable to her humdrum life and Prince’s writing became universal.  She had a large intellectual crush on him and filled idle time with daydreams about chance encounters and resulting romances with Prince.  It was childish and juvenile and at the back of her mind, Melissa realized she was stunted emotionally.  Sighing, she’d close the book and head toward the exit.

One random Tuesday, Melissa was heading out the automatic doors near the salon.  She paused to warily observe the gray, swirling skies and the thick raindrops beginning to pound the pavement.  Her umbrella was shoved beneath her backseat and she hesitated, not wanting to become drenched and uncomfortable.  Her feet shifted in thought, as did her dark, expressive eyes, which widened when they fell upon a cardboard cutout to her right.  It was James Prince, in the most scholarly of poses with his strong, calloused right hand curled about his strong, impressive chin.  His eyes were kind but a million miles away, and a deep shade of brown.  A small smile hung about his lips without actually landing.  It was a beautiful picture and she took a step or two towards it, like she was physically compelled to do so and could not resist.  Underneath the torso of the author was a slit, and beneath that was an entrance form.  There was a contest being held; one lucky winner would be chosen to have dinner with the author, and win a signed copy of his newest book, yet to be released.

Melissa’s breath caught in her throat.  This was incredible; this was serendipitous!  If she entered and if she won, she would have to face her fear!  She could be normal with his assistance; she’d have to shape up for James Prince.
Melissa hurried over and filled out about thirty cards, shoving them mercilessly into the slot, crumpling corners in her haste to get as many forms as she could into the cardboard cutout.  The winner would be announced in one month.

Melissa went to the mall every day and entered again and again.  She stopped making her social visits, completely forgot about her uncommon phobia and was graced with that proverbial eye of the tiger.  She was focused only on winning and the opportunity of being healthy.  The irony that her behavior to do so was unhealthy was lost on her.

A month later, the winner was announced.  Melissa Grander would indeed be having dinner with James Prince.

The big night came and she sat upon a bench on her front porch.  Her hands twitched in her lap and she was barely breathing.  Every pair of headlights that washed over her made her nauseous; the limousine would be arriving to pick her up at any minute.  She had index cards in her tiny bag, each with vague responses to typical questions one might ask over dinner.  Melissa hoped she’d be able to keep it together.  She’d honestly rather die than mortify herself before James Prince, the love of her sad, delusional life.  Sighing sadly, Melissa automatically rose as headlights flooded the drive.  Her moment had come at last.  She gathered her wits and her bag and trotted over to the rear door of the limousine when it was opened from the inside.  There sat James Prince.

“Oh my God,” Melissa breathed.

On tattooed maps.

I firmly believe that every morning should be filled with chocolate chip oatmeal, and music by the Dresden Dolls.

It’s gray and rainy, but my spirits are high. I am excited for tonight, when I will be meeting up with some friends from college. I miss them and the memories we share. I know that the small reunion tonight won’t magically revert life to the way it was in college, which was remarkably carefree and filled with social activity, but it doesn’t hurt to be nostalgic now and again. This theme came through in today’s prompt, and I’m sure some will be able to relate.

Enjoy. 🙂

THE PROMPT: “St. Patrick’s Day Hangover”
You wake up the morning after St. Patrick’s Day and don’t remember much of the evening (thanks to too many green beers). You also notice some discomfort on your forearm. When you roll up your sleeve, you notice a tattoo of a map. Panic sets in as you realize that you now have a tattoo on your arm, but curiosity takes over as you wonder where the map leads.

THE PIECE:

Did you ever notice that after a night of some hard-drinking, you can never sleep in? At least, not the way you want to? I’m sure there’s some medical reasoning that explains why I always wake up at 6:45AM instead of 2:30PM, but I’m not as interested in the reasoning as in the cure. Waking up early after a night of drinking always ends badly. I either rush into the bathroom to upheave my insides into a certain porcelain bowl, or I just get up and leave because I cannot fall back to sleep due to an overwhelming sense of grossness that only a pot of coffee and shower can cure. I usually try avoid these situations because of my predilection to wake so early, but who says no to green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, especially when that someone is half Irish?

I was a textbook victim of peer pressure as friend after friend called to invite me to the Big Apple for March 17th. At first I politely declined and wished them safe and enjoyable travels, but they persisted. “It’s on a Saturday this year,” Brandi whined on the other end of the telephone. “That never happens! Dude, you won’t miss any work and won’t have to call out the next day!” She made some good points and she could tell I was relenting, so she added, “Everyone’s going. You’ll be the only one home, and then what will you do all day?” I paused for just a moment or two before I caved in. Brandi was happy, and immediately made my plans for me; I’d be at her house at 7:30PM on Friday night to sleepover and then bright and early the next morning  – after some Bloody Marys – we’d be on our way to the city, via the train.

The Bloody Marys are the last thing I clearly remember.

Sunday morning, I sat up lightning fast, like I’d been shocked by a cattle prod. I was afraid I’d have to puke, but my stomach felt okay. I pushed a knotted mass of hair up and away from my eyes, and looked around. I was back in Brandi’s living room, sitting on the floor. My back and bottom were stiff and sore, and I was kind of pissed that I slept on the floor, as there were two vacant couches to my left and right. I slapped my forehead to release some anger at my stupidity, and realized I was sore in two new places; my forehead and my forearm. Grimacing, I twisted my arm before my eyes this way and that. I could move it fine, but there was a kind of pulsing ache that enveloped it. I let it fall lazily into my lap and gingerly, I began rolling my sleeve back. My grimace turned into sheer horror when I began to see colored lines drawn onto my skin. I stopped being so delicate and nearly tore my sleeve clean off in my insane need to confirm what I already knew; I had gotten a tattoo. I was the jackass, the idiot who gets drunk and forgets she hates needles and cannot get a tattoo because it would be unprofessional as an educator of young, impressionable minds. Cursing silently, I crane my neck to try and see what the picture is of. For a moment, I was worried it’d be Robert Pattinson’s face, or Backsteet Boys’ lyrics I found particularly meaningful. But my brows furrowed into confusion because it didn’t make sense. They were cardinal directions and lines and arrows, and damn it. It was a map.

Why the hell was there a map on my arm?

I whipped my head from left to right, scanning the room for Brandi. She was beside me on the floor, snoring loudly with her mouth open. I shook her, called her name. She responded with something unintelligible. I tried to wake her up again, and she called me dirty word and rolled over. It did not take a rocket scientist to realize that my best friend would be no help. Sighing, I decided I needed to get a move on. Some coffee and a shower would clear my head, and then I could set about finding a tattoo removal service and carry on as if nothing had ever happened. Slowly, very slowly, I clamored to my feet and stood straight. I held my arms out to the side and waited for the world to spin, but it didn’t. I surprisingly felt pretty good, all things considered. I grabbed my purse and overnight bag from beside the door to the mud room – which I’m sure were placed there by the wonderfully kind and thankfully sober woman known as Brandi’s mom – and headed out. I thought about leaving a note, or waking Brandi up to say goodbye, but a text message would suffice.

As I slipped out the front door, icy March wind assaulted me, lifting my already matted hair up above my head, twisting it in ways that would be painful to untangle later. I tried to smooth it down, my ankles wobbly in the high heels that now, on a Sunday morning on a deserted residential street, seemed wildly inappropriate and out-of-place. Wobbling but not falling, I made it to my dilapidated truck and it roared to life so loudly that I was embarrassed, peering out of all the windows to see if neighbors were rushing out onto their front lawns to see what plane had just crashed in the front lawn. But no one stirred, no blinds twitched, and my cheeks cooled and I backed out of the long, gravel driveway onto the biggest effing hill I had ever seen in my life. The hill was the only drawback to visiting Brandi, as I was constantly rushing to the front window to see if my truck had indeed begun rolling backwards and created havoc. Luckily, I had made another trip unscathed; the tattoo on my arm notwithstanding.

The hill ended anti-climactically, with a pizzeria on the left and the largest lake in New Jersey dead ahead. One had to either turn left or right, and right would bring me back to the highway which would lead me home. I was in the middle of turning the wheel when I looked up at the street sign. Why I did this, I don’t know; I had made the trip a million and one times and never before had I cared to note the name of the streets. Hell, if pressed to recite Brandi’s address at gunpoint, I would fail. So I read the signs, discovered I was at the intersection of Iowa Avenue and Brady Road, and was prepared to continue on, to make the right and do nothing with the newly learned information. But the same something that made me look at the street sign made me look at my tattooed forearm, and there was the intersection, etched into my flesh very clearly.

There was also an arrow pointing to the left.

I had never been left down Brady Road – that brought you further into the quaint but very rural town, and I had never had any occasion to check things out, or any real desire to do so either. Now, though, things were decidedly different. Last night, I had clearly sat through some pain to obtain the skin map I was now reading. That undoubtedly meant that it was important, and that the map lead somewhere worth visiting. I bit my lower lip in thought for just a few moments, before turning to the left and following Brady Avenue farther from home and deeper into the unknown.

I rolled along slowly, constantly checking my arm and the street signs. Brady Road eventually turned into Prospect Point Road, which ended in a choice of either going left or right. I knew I had another choice, which was to turn around and head home and finally put an end to the insanity. What did it matter where the map led? I had been drunk – that was it. I checked the map on my arm, and it indicated that I turn right. I decided to continue the map because right was right – had it said left, I would have shook my head, laughed at my silliness, and turned around. But right was a good direction; its name had nothing but positive connotations. Turning right led me to Route 181 and I followed this barren, meandering country road until it met up with Route 15, a road that was more familiar to me as it could bring me home. If I were to call it a day and stop the treasure hunt, it would have to be if and when the map told me to turn off Route 15. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it all to end. I wasn’t sure what I would find at the end, or what I would regret if I just gave up and went home. But the uncertainty of it all, the not knowing, was the most excited I’d been in months. Being a teacher – well, just a substitute until the economy finally picked back up – was routine. While no class was ever the same, the schedule was, as were the faces and the expectations. Getting up early meant going to bed early, and my social life had tanked. The outing with Brandi for St. Patrick’s Day had been my first social activity in God knows how long. And even then, everything inside of me had told me to cancel – to be responsible with my time and money and just stay home. Everything inside of me told me to play it safe. It wasn’t a matter of self-preservation as much as it was cowardice. The largest part of me wanted to be comfortable and complacent.

There was a tiny part of me, though , that didn’t want that at all. It was that part that had me following a tattoo on my arm on a Sunday morning, miles from home. I wondered at the origin of this brazen voice, as it certainly couldn’t truly belong to me. This reverie ended when I came to a stop light, and had to slow down. I checked my arm, and was surprised to find that I was to turn in at the diner on the right, just a few feet ahead. My stomach grumbled in agreement and I thought what the hell? If nothing else, I could get some breakfast. The parking lot was empty, so I found a spot close to the entrance with ease. Once the engine was silenced, nervousness and nausea assaulted me in alternating waves. What if there was a masked gunman waiting inside, and I was his getaway driver? What if everyone inside was dead, because some virus had infiltrated the diner and though I had the antidote, I had been too late? Or worse, what if there was nothing at all inside? Disappointment scared me more than anything else, and I decided to take a moment to prioritize and get a grip. I flipped down the visor and did my best to make myself look presentable in the mirror. I pulled my hair up and back, aside for a few loose strands that hung casually about my face. I wiped dark eyeliner from beneath my eyes with my thumb, and did the same with the excess lipstick around my mouth.

I didn’t think I looked too bad, and smiled with a strange kind of confidence that felt out-of-place. Then again, nothing I did that morning was making any sense so hey – why not feel pretty? I climbed out of the truck, and the door slammed shut loudly behind me. No one else seemed to be moving about, and I pulled my coat tight around me, warding off the cold and the sinking suspicion that I was doomed to life of mediocrity and that even when I did something crazy, like get a tattoo, it was still mundane.

The bell above the door rang as I entered and I released a breath I had only been
vaguely aware of holding. There were a few people inside, none of whom were dead. Two old men in flannel coats at the counter turned to observe me, then turned back around, as if I was more of an irritating disturbance than I was interesting. A harried looking older woman came out from behind the hostess stand and asked me how many. My face fell. I was always just one and it was taking its toll. Even drunk in the Big Apple, I had been lonely. So many bodies packed crowded bar after crowded bar, and not one male had been intrigued to ask my name, or offer to buy me a drink. The confidence so recently enjoyed fled, and I opened my mouth to tell her I was still just one, when a masculine voice said, “There you are.”

Both the hostess and myself turned to the voice. A handsome young man was standing beside a booth. He had dark hair that was in danger of being too long, and dark eyes that shone in a peculiar, unexpected way. A small, coy smile played upon his thin lips, and his hands were shoved deep in the front pocket of his jeans. His flannel shirt hung off his thin but strong body. I smiled in spite of myself, and turned to look behind me, just in case the real object of his attention was somewhere else. When I turned back around, he was laughing and waving me over. I looked to the hostess for some help or clarification, and she offered none, but returned to her station, as if this was the most normal thing in the world. On ankles that were once again wobbly, I walked over to the booth and sat across from the young man. He sat, only after I was seated, and said, “I thought you weren’t going to show, and then I would have been heartbroken.”

I raised an eyebrow, and leaned forward to whisper, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know who you are.”

He shook his head slowly from side to side, the smile fading ever so slightly, and he leaned back in the seat. “I’m Sam. We met last night, remember? We were both at McSorely’s.”

I covered my face with my hands. “I am so sorry, but I don’t remember anything from last night.”

“Then why are you here?”

I lowered my hands and looked at Sam. He wasn’t smiling anymore. The humor had left his expression entirely, and I was afraid he was insulted. Did he think I was lying? I laid the forearm with the tattoo on the table and lifted my sleeve. “I woke up, saw the tattoo and thought it might be important. I followed what my arm said, and it brought me here.”

Gently, he took my arm into his hands to better study it. The physical contact sent shivers along my body, and I wondered if he felt the tremors. If he had felt them, did he chalk it up to the cold, or did he suspect something else? He laid my arm back down on the table, and met my eyes. “I drew this on your arm last night. I was not with you when you decided to get it tattooed there, though.” It was obvious to me he was trying to hold back laughter, and my face grew hot. I didn’t want him to laugh at me. I was done being embarrassed, so over it. I snatched my arm back and rolled down the sleeve.

“Why did you draw on me?”

“So you would know where to meet for breakfast.” He paused a moment before asking, “Do you really not remember?”

“Why would I lie to make myself look like a jackass?”

Absent-mindedly, Sam rubbed his lips with his palm. He was deciding something and whatever he decided, it made him lean forward to talk in a serious tone. “Last night, or really early this morning, I saw you sitting at the bar. I thought you were beautiful, so I sat down next to you, and started some lame conversation about snakes in Ireland.” He paused again, watching my face closely for expression. He must not have been deterred or alarmed by what he saw because he continued, saying, “It worked, and we had the best conversation I have ever had in my entire life. I don’t know how long we would have sat there. You told me about your book, and how you wanted to move to Maine. You told me about how you were terrified of being boring, and that you wanted to stay young and reckless forever. I was going to ask you something else, but your friend came over and said you had to go.” Sam suddenly dropped his eyes. “I couldn’t let you leave without making plans to see you again, so I invited you to breakfast, because we had also discussed how we both can’t sleep in after drinking.” He leaned back in the booth, and still didn’t raise his eyes to mine. I thought he was finished, but he cleared his throat. “Your friend told me you couldn’t, because you didn’t live in the city and that the two of you were going back to her house, which you told me was in Jefferson. I just so happen to live in Jefferson, so I suggested the diner and you said yes.” Here, he raised his eyes to mine and said, “You said yes without hesitation.”

I was blushing. The heat ran from my neck all the way through the top of my head. I dropped my gaze and tried to breathe smoothly. Idly, I picked at the paper placemat and again, I waited for him to continue. Sam wasn’t saying anything though, and the silence was building and becoming uncomfortable, so I decided to break it. I said, “So you drew the map on my arm so I would know how to get here?”

Sam nodded.

I laughed. “Then I must have gotten it tattooed because I was afraid it would wash it off, and then I wouldn’t-“

“You wouldn’t remember,” Sam finished. He ran a hand through his hair and started to slide from the booth. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to – I just wanted – ugh, forget it.” He went leave, and I panicked. I didn’t know him from a hole in the wall. He could have been a serial rapist and murderer, but I didn’t want him to leave. I reached out across the table and grabbed his arm to stop him.

“Please don’t leave. I’m sorry I ended up being such a drunk, sloppy mess, but look – I got it etched on my skin with a needle because I wanted to make sure I made it here.” Sam looked at me. I didn’t know if he was waiting for something else, but I said, “Let’s have another great conversation, okay? Hell, it could be exactly the same if you wanted. You have a second chance to wow me.” I smiled lamely, knowing I sounded desperate and dumb. I slowly slid my hand from his arm, more than ready for his departure.

Instead, Sam surprised me. He slid back down the booth to seat himself across from me. He smiled genuinely and asked, “So what time did you get up this morning?”