I WAS SOCIAL DISTANCING BEFORE IT WAS THE NORM

     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.  

Daybreak on the Banshee: A Flash Memoir by Marc Alexander Valle

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

Mav The Writer: The Lost Years

There’s a time in my life that I cannot write about. There’s no story there that would be of interest to my audience. I even get bored, thinking about it. From my teens to my very early 30s, I neither acted upon nor reacted to the world.

I did my thing. I wrote in various mediums, I went to karaoke twice a week, I read my work at open mics, I had my artwork in a gallery, I went back to school and earned my degree, I experimented in photography, and I worked various low-paying jobs with colorful people. But for the most part it was my lost years. I took no risks and barely ventured out of my comfort zone. I hardly dared to ask out females, fearing what they might have thought of me.

Is time ever really lost? Does the brain collect and process data and turn it into wisdom no matter the circumstance? And do movies, books, and music count as life experience?

I got into a shoving match in second grade, and it’s one of my sweetest moments. Some kid bullied my best friend on the playground. He was high up on himself, because all the girls followed him around during recess. I cursed at him and pushed him to the ground. All the girls came after me and yelled at me. The bully stood back up and cried. It felt good.

The world acted, I reacted, and in turn I existed. Beginning, middle and end.

We grade our lives on curves and our view of ourselves is rich with self-talk rebuttals.

I see no good in those years except that it makes my story different.

To excavate our lives for a happy ending can be a brutal endeavor, but a necessary one if the left foot is to move in front of the right and the right foot is to move in front of the left. I still can’t write a lick about that era.

Hour of the Muse by Marc Alexander Valle

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