I’ve lived half a lifetime trying to get out of social distancing, and now I’m back at it again. “I tried to get out,” Michael Corleone says, “but they pull me back in!” Throughout my teens and twenties, I had few friends and no romantic interests. I could get along with and work with co-workers and classmates, and I could even manage a few phone friends, but for the most part, I’ve spent a lot of time feeling alone and with no one to talk to. Like Kate Moss was the definitive model of Calvin Kline when Calvins were cool, I was the definitive model for social distancing when ‘cool’ and ‘social distancing’ weren’t even in the same sentence.
In middle school, I thought high school would be like the Saturday morning TV show, Saved by the Bell. I thought that I’d have a cool group of friends, and we’d get into adventures. Any American sit-com was my oracle on countless aspects of life, but this particular high school fantasy wrapped itself around my mind like nothing else. Every year, I thought I’d finally be cool, I’d finally reach Zack Morris level of infamy and coolness. I would try to make friends and sometimes we’d hang out. I even tried to get a girlfriend by giving her flowers, but by senior year I was sitting at the lunch table by myself, reading books and writing screenplays by hand. If they weren’t going to love me in high school, they were going to see my movies in a few years.
Not much changed after high school. I met people at community college and got along with everyone at the 4-year college that I attended, but I never got into a clique. I was never really comfortable with that. I thought that only through a group of friends could life have purpose. I dropped out of college by the second year. If they weren’t going to love me in college, they were going to love me somewhere else. Somehow.
For the next decade, I built myself up. I went to karaoke at least twice a week, I wrote poetry just to perform it at open mic, and I found a friend or two that I got close to. By my 30s, I started to talk to therapists and soon I started a real dating life with real relationships, not just a patchwork of dates and phone conversations. Over those years, I kept writing and experimenting with writing. I began practicing meditation. By my late 30s, I felt just as confident about myself as a person as I felt as a writer. “I am not weird and never have been,” I could finally tell myself. And it felt good.
I think about why it was like that all those years ago. Was I really just an introvert that was afflicted with shyness? Was it just the cliquey nature of Lehigh Valley Pennsylvanians? Was I just too nice in a world where that’s looked down upon? It’s probably a mixture of everything, but I’m grateful for it. I have inner emotional resources that many do not have.
I told myself that I could handle this, that I could be isolated as long as this goes on, that I could dip my toes inside my old self while maintaining my newer, happier self. After a few days of this shut it, things got funny. I needed to talk to someone, even if it was just small talk. I’m not alone in my home. I have people to talk to. I even have people that I can call and talk to here and there. But it’s not the same. It’s not the same as my job, working with kids that say ‘hello’ to me in the halls. It’s not the same as attending my writer’s group and sharing ideas. It’s not the same as going to an open mic and reading what I’ve put my heart into. I tried to get out, but they pulled me back in.
I feel that things will get interesting these next few weeks. There’s so much more that I want to say about my predictions and deeper thoughts that I have. I’ll save that for later. I just want to say that I hope this makes us appreciate each other more. We need to start valuing human life more than “likes”. Relationships are and always have been the only real currency that matters.
Good luck, World. Rich or poor, many of us are now in the same boat. And it’s that thought that reminds me that I’m not alone as I was all those years ago.
Comments and feedback are welcome.
Letter to the Like-Minded Souls
by Marc Alexander Valle
Dear Like-Minded Soul,
Perception is a wave, threatening to crush the shores of anything and everything you feel inside and think you know.
I’m talking about their perception. And yours and mine. But mostly theirs. The people are scared. They’re uncomfortable, and it will not be accepted.
The advice, the suggestions, the offhand comments, the superstitions, the hungry mob, the fanatical religion, the authoritarian government, your parents, wanting you to be a doctor or lawyer or x-ray technician.
How can we ever just be when the belief that “we just are who we are” is a landlocked sea with dozens of tributaries?
The salty, the fresh, the toxic, the mother, the friend, the father, the sister, the brother, the pastor, the teacher, the teammate, the lover.
Was there ever a place?
We built forts of pillows to fight them off, didn’t we?
And we flew off into space, didn’t we?
I’m at an age where I’m halfway there, the day that I don’t care what anyone thinks and how they see me, and I think to myself that when I get there it’ll be okay, Shangri-la, high above the waves.
But why so long?
Why so close to the end, if in fact there is a mountain sanctuary?
The people are uncomfortable. And they’re comfortable with their discomfort. And it rattles me.
There’s nothing to do but to step forward and find
your family, your people, the dreamers, your kind.
And hold on as long as you can. But never too tight.
The hungry mob were once dreamers too.
Feedback and comments are welcome.
by Marc Alexander Valle
One of the earliest memories I have of my mother is her teaching me how to spell words.
She would draw the stick figure picture and write the word beneath it.
I asked her multiple times to run this lesson for me.
My mother didn’t have a diploma, but she somehow knew the value of stimulating the visual cortex.
It didn’t raise my verbal IQ by much.
I was a decent student in mid-level classes, and I scored below average on my SATs.
I don’t know what it did to benefit my education.
I just know that if you asked me to choose between my sight or my hearing, I’d probably have to give up music.
Then there’s the story of the mother, who lifted a truck to rescue her son.
I don’t believe she did it, but I believe that she tried.
A creative non-fiction piece. Please comment, if you’d like. Feedback is welcome.
Please comment, if you’d like.
Please, I welcome FEEDBACK. Feel free to comment.
First published in Potato Soup Journal on October 20, 2019
Daybreak on the Banshee
by Marc Alexander Valle
The women cried and wailed and prayed behind us, and my 7-year-old mind thought the dead body would look like something from the movies. I never saw a dead body before, and I was certain that it would look like a skeleton from a cartoon or at least Freddy Kruger. It would definitely be something that comes out only at night.
I stepped forward with my father and older brother towards the casket. All the conversation and noise in the room became silent inside of my head. I could only hear my thoughts, and all I could think was that I had to let dad step forward first and to be careful.
The toy soldier in my pocket poked into my thigh, and I readjusted it.
“What’s wrong?” my father said.
I looked up at him. “Nothing.”
I peered into the casket, and took in a deep breath.
It was my adult cousin, the one who lived down the street. No skeleton or wounds or blood or winkled skin. Just my cousin. It reminded me of a wax figure. My cousin. Then the silence fell to the back, and I could hear the wailing and the prayers of the woman once more.
“That’s it?” I said to my dad.
“Yeah,” he said. “Quiet.”
I felt compelled to go into my pocket and leave my cousin the toy soldier amongst all the flowers. I didn’t dare.
Death had only been a concept to me. Outside of television and movies, I only had urban legends. There was the time they found a dead body down at the end of the street in tall weeds. My older friend, Vic, said that it was done by a serial killer, who broke free from the Allentown State Hospital. He said that the escapee planned on killing all of the adults and torturing the children to exact some form of revenge. Despite my father’s assurance against this claim, I feared a man was roaming the streets with a gun that night. I couldn’t sleep. They ruled it suicide the next day, and I was relieved.
There was the story of the boy, who drowned in the Lehigh River next to Bucky Boyle Park. They said he swam too close to the whirlpool that swirled in the center, and he couldn’t swim back. For that reason, they told us kids to not even so much as step into the water.
Then there was the story of the boy, who fell out of a window in our former Brooklyn apartment complex. They said his ghost haunted the court yard. I had nightmares about him until we moved.
The wailing and the prayers grew even louder, and it began to make me sick to my stomach. I had enough of looking and standing still.
I looked back up to my father.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I said.
“Quiet,” he said, then took my hand and we walked away.
Back in the car and on our way home, my father reminded me and my brother that although our cousin was dead in the physical form, he was still alive in spirit. And that spirit is everlasting and although we cannot see him, he’s still with us. The moment he described my cousin, I imagined the translucent ghost of Christmas past from a TV version of Christmas Carol.
“Do you think Freddy Kruger could beat a ghost?” I said to my older brother.
“I don’t know,” my brother said.
“Cause Freddy’s got claws,” I said.
“You’re dumb,” he said. “Nothing can beat a ghost.”
I looked back out the window and noticed that it was a beautiful day. When I got home, I would go outside and play with Mitch. Mitch was fun, and he would let me lead. We’d race and play with our toys, and I’d give him the soldier that was scarping my thigh, and I’d tell him that I don’t think I like funerals.
It was a beautiful day. No clouds were in sight, and I could see a faint moon above, immersed in blue sky. A couple of sparrow streaked across it. A gust of air from my father’s window blew into my face. The sun touched everything. And there was plenty of time before dark.
by Marc Alexander Valle ©2019
Special thanks to Door is a Jar, who first published the story in the Spring of 2019.
The 500th Block of Vincent Child
by Marc Alexander Valle (mavthewriter)
Vincent Child watched as the young man assaulted the old man across the street. He wasn’t sure if it was a robbery and didn’t know what to do if it was. So he stood still, watching the young man grab and shove the old man in front of the tenement on the narrow one-way street.
Vincent looked around. No pedestrians. Only him and the two men on the sunless block. A knot formed in his stomach and he could feel the cold breeze more intensely, cutting through his black jacket and tan pants. The men continued to struggle.
He wished he hadn’t turned this corner. Yesterday, he turned onto another street. That was his usual route for the last ten days as he substitute taught for an eighth grade teacher at Jackson Middle School. But he’d read an article that said that if you change certain routines in your life, you can change your brain waves and create positive thought patterns. So he turned onto the 500th block of Chester St, a slightly downhill block of apartment buildings and tightly parked clunkers, then he crossed the street.
“Give it,” the young man said.
“No!” the old man said.
The young man punched the old man, who fell behind a parked Cadillac. The young man crouched down. Vincent could see neither of them now. He could hear sirens getting closer and wondered who they were for.
He looked around again. A woman pushing a stroller walked his way. He believed that she hadn’t seen the struggle across the street, but he figured she would soon. And when she did the woman would believe that he was a coward. She would tell the police that he did nothing and the news would quote her as saying, “No one did anything. He just stood there.”
Vincent pulled his cell phone from out of his jacket. He turned it on and waited.
What icon do I press? Do I call 911? Are they already coming?
“Help!” he heard from the old man.
The young man was standing back up. “Stop!” he said, looking down and kicked.
“Give it.” He kicked again.
“Hey,” Vincent said. “Hey!”
The young man looked over. “I called the cops,” Vincent said, raising his phone to the young man. “The cops.” The siren were blaring and getting closer.
The young man crouched down again behind the Cadillac.
“What’s that?” the woman said.
“I don’t know,” Vincent said, “Two guys fighting.”
The woman shook her head and kept walking with the stroller.
Vincent kept looking at her as she walked away, then turned to the Cadillac.
He could neither hear, nor see either of the two. He turned back to the woman with the stroller. She was nearing the corner. He turned to the Cadillac. Still no commotion. Then back to the woman as she turned the corner. Then back to the Cadillac.
“Hey,” Vincent said.
He turned and started walking down the block.
“No! Stop!” he heard someone say behind the Cadillac. “No!”
It sounded like the young man. But it could have been the old man. He wasn’t sure.
“Hey,” he said.
No response. No commotion. Vincent backed closer to the corner.
He heard the sirens, blaring and getting closer.
The cops are on their way. I’m late.
They were blaring and getting close.
I’m sure they’re coming here.
He turned the corner.
“A 67-year old man was beaten to death yesterday on the 500th block of Chester St. at 9:00 am. Police were alerted by neighbors–
Vincent Child put down his phone on the desk. The incident he saw took place at 7:00 am. A full two hours before neighbors called. It’s impossible to have been the men I saw. He exhaled and stood up.
The seventh grade students would be arriving in ten minutes. He’d wanted to avoid seventh grade. He heard they were bad this year, but he was sent to cover one period after his break. The teacher’s lesson plan was at the center of the desk:
Students will be wrapping up their projects on How My Community Feels. If finished, tell them to post drawing on the corkboard. Some students are finished. Have them read a book.
Vincent walked over to look at the drawings. Most drawings had children playing. Some had children with family. A few had people arguing. But in one drawing there was a man on the ground with another man standing above him. Vincent read the words below it:
I saw a man get beat out my window and no one did nothing. Makes me scared.
Vincent looked at the image again. At the edge of the paper, a woman in purple held onto a yellow stroller. Behind her, a man dressed in a black jacket and tan pants. The man in the black jacket looked back at the two men with wide eyes and an open mouth. He saw “Period 3, 7th grade” labeled at the top of the paper. Vincent was in period 2 now.
The school bell rang.
Vincent took his black jacket and hung it in the closet. He doubled checked his pants and saw they were blue today. The students could be heard down the hall, yelling and getting closer. Part of his job was to serve as hall monitor in between classes, but he could only stand still, listening to them yelling and getting closer.
Vincent looked over to the drawing again and studied the face of the man with the black jacket. He had the vertical face his mother always said he had and noticed shaky lines to make him look more scared. He put his head down and took a deep breath.
Vincent turned to the door again. He could hear the kids coming down the hall, yelling and getting closer. Yelling and getting closer.
Marc Alexander Valle ©2019
Twitter, Instagram, Youtube Channel: Mavthewriter
I’d always play with those bugs that curl into balls. They called them roly-polys. I’d dig them up in the dirt and touch them with a small twig so they could roll up. I always wondered what it would be like in that ball, only seeing myself in shafts of light. Was it warm in there like when I’d stick my head into my winter jacket? Does he feel untouchable in there, safe and sound? Can he fall asleep?
I’d cover my entire body with the blanket at night so the zombies wouldn’t see me. If I can’t see them, they can’t see. This bed sheet, my midnight steel.
I’m a grown man and now believe that nothing is free from harm. Not my body. Not my life. Not my world. Not my dreams that can turn into nightmares right before I wake and throw off this thin bed cover.
But I still cover up completely even if it’s for a few seconds late at night, trying to fall asleep, and I wonder what all the boogeyman fuss was about. And maybe that was the Universe’s evolutionary plan with those roly-polys. Like the ancestor to the roly-poly lived in a world of bigger bugs, predators, boogeymen, and the only ones that survived were the cowards that curled into the ball.
I lie in bed waiting to feel dozy. Two hours will have to do. Just two hours.
When I wake, I will shed this bed sheet one more time to meet the day that will always arrive regardless of my fears, or what childhood I had, or how strong my daddy was, or what goals I’ve planned or failed to meet.
Just two hours. A few hours will have to do.
by Marc Alexander Valle ©2019
Reality is a conversation with yourself.
That’s how I was going to start the poem. I became inspired to write it while I was waking up. I had to use the bathroom quick first. It was going to be my greatest poem. By the time I got to the computer, I forgot what I was going to say.
Reality is a conversation with yourself. A conversation full of narrative threads and spider-web worldviews.
I won’t have to worry about being fast enough at age 80. A machine will be in my head with a connection to the future form of the cloud and all my past thoughts will be at my disposal. I will write my great poem.
Reality is a conversation with yourself. A conversation full of narrative threads and spider-web worldviews, born from the fire of existence.
I’ll go to bed that night and have the best sleep of my life and have a dream better than all the dreams I’ve ever dreamt. I’ll revisit old memories intertwined with old fantasies that will turn into new adventures. I’ll get to use all of my collected knowledge to solve riddles and puzzles and unlock the greatest mysteries of the world. Did Socrates exist? Who was Shakespeare? Where was Jesus during the unrecorded years? I’m not sure if I’ll ever wake from that dream that night. No one ever really knows with those sorts of things.
© 2019 Marc Alexander Valle