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.

The Santa Poem by Marc Alexander Valle

(Feedback is welcome)

The Santa Poem

My brother told me that Santa doesn’t exist. He showed me where all the gifts were stashed. G.I. Joes were everywhere. I felt a thrill throughout my body. Finding that Santa doesn’t exist is a double-edged sword. Your childhood is almost over, but now you have the advantage in gift begging. You can manipulate your parents into getting you what you want, and now you have someone to blame when you don’t get it. I’ll probably lie to my kids about Santa if I ever have any. When they find the gift stash, I’ll still lie to them. One Christmas, our dad made us leave a can of beer for Santa. He said that he wanted to see if Santa would drink it. The can was empty in the morning.

The Bucket: A Flash Nonfiction by Marc Alexander Valle

“Wax on, wax off,” I said. Tanya laughed. I continued with more impersonations.

After the fourth minute, it was indisputable. The second grade blackboard was clean. I would have to impress her another time.

“Alright,” she said. “Mrs. Reed makes us dump the water in the sink when we’re done.”

Tanya approached the sink. I followed.

“I got it,” I said, taking the bucket from her.

“Mrs. Reed told you how to dump it, right?”

“Yeah! Watch.”

I grabbed the handle with my left hand and lifted. It wobbled. I held the bottom with my other hand. All I needed was to get it above the sink, way above, as high as I could get it without getting water on the counter.

Tanya stepped forward, “Mrs. Reed said–

I tilted the bucket.

“Just make sure you pour the water sl—

I dumped all of the water into the sink in one shot. Nearly all of it splashed back.

Tanya backed off a step.

I backed off a few.

But it was too late.

“Oh my God! You got water all over my dress.”

I looked at myself, “Yeah, I got it on me too.”

“Why’d you do that? You were supposed to pour it in.”

“I didn’t know.”

Students got out of their seats, looking over.

“Ooohhh, weeee,” they said.

I turned to Mrs. Reed’s desk.

She was walking towards us. I placed my hands in front of me to cover the water.

The Bin: A Flash Memoir ©2018 by Marc Alexander Valle

“My mom says I gotta separate the laundry before we can play games,” Sal said. “Want to help?”

It was my first sleepover and this was new to me. My mom never let me touch the laundry. I said yes.

“Whites, darks, and lights,” he said. “That’s how you pile them up, Marc.”

I dug into one of the two bins that was closest to me.

This is dark.

Toss.

This is light.

Toss.

This is white.

Toss.

Until all three piles formed into mounds.

“You’re a liar,” he joked. “You’ve done this before.”

“Nah-uh. First time.”

This is dark.

Toss.

This is light

Toss.

This is white.

Holy snap! It’s got doo-doo on it!

Toss!

I backed away from the bin.

“What’s the matter?” Sal said, continuing his work.

“Nothing.”

“You’re not gonna help?”

“Yeah. I gotta go to the bathroom.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, can it wait? Just a little more, right?”

That had to be the only dirty underwear in there.

Maybe it was just a one-time thing.

“All right,” I said.

I stared at the bin. Another pair of white underwear stared back.

“It’s just clothes,” he said. “It’s not gonna bite.”

I couldn’t tell if it was soiled. It was too crumpled up. Not enough light.

I’ll grab the elastic. You can’t do boom-boom on the elastic.

“I’m done on my end,” he said. “Anymore?”

Maybe I can pretend I don’t see anything.

“What’s the matter, slowpoke?” he said, laughing.

I kept staring, debating, not wanting him to know that I knew.

“Marc, anymore?”

Stuck in the Middle: A Flash Memoir

“Tell her that she’s not my friend anymore,” Tina, who was sitting to my right, said.

I turned to Linda, who was sitting to my left, “Tina said that she’s not your friend.”

“Tell her I don’t care,” Linda said. “She’s not mine.”

I turned to Tina, “She said she doesn’t care.”

“Well, tell her I don’t care either and that she’s a liar.”

I turned to Linda, “That you lied that one time and she doesn’t care.”

“She doesn’t?”

“No,” I said.

Linda looked around me, to Tina.

“You don’t care that I lied?” Linda said.

“What?” Tina said.

Two minutes later.

“Yes, you were, Marc,” Tina said. “You were trying to get us to fight.”

“But you told me to tell her all that.” I said.

“You didn’t tell her everything I said.”

“I did.”

“You’re mean, Marc.”

“But I didn’t do nothing.”

Life Lesson #2: Drama loves company. Do as little favors as possible.

Bucket Ruckus: A Flash Memoir

“Wax on, wax off,” I said. Tanya laughed. I continued with more impersonations.

After the fourth minute, it was indisputable. The second grade board was clean. I would have to impress her another time.

“Alright,” she said. “Mrs. Reed makes us dump the water in the sink when we’re done.”

Tanya approached the sink. I followed.

“I got it,” I said, taking the bucket from her.

“Mrs. Reed told you how to dump it, right?”

“Yeah! Watch.”

I grabbed the handle with my left hand and lifted. It wobbled. I held the bottom with my other hand. All I needed was to get it above the sink. Way above. As high as I could get it without getting water on the counter.

Tanya stepped forward, “Mrs. Reed said–

I tilted the bucket.

“Just make sure you pour the water sl—

I dumped all of the water into the sink in one shot. Nearly all of it splashed back.

Tanya backed off a step.

I backed off a few.

But it was too late.

“Oh my God! You got water all over my dress.”

I looked at myself, “Yeah, I got it on me too.”

“Why’d you do that? You were supposed to pour it in.”

“I didn’t know.”

Students got out of their seats, looking over.

“Ooohhh, weeee,” they said.

I turned to Mrs. Reed’s desk.

She was walking towards us. I placed my hands in front of me to cover the water. It was useless.

The Accidental Atheist

“I am an atheist,” Mrs. Holis, my sixth grade teacher said. “I believe that when you die that’s it. There is no heaven. No hell. Nothing. You’re just a body and when you die you go back into the earth”

My eleven-year-old mind could neither conceive nor understand an end to consciousness. I took this to mean that when you die, you sit in a casket fully awake until the end of time. I carried this image all through middle school.

Two years later, walking home from the mall, she emerged from a porch with another lady. She saw me.

“How are you?!” she said.

“I’m fine. How are you?” I said.

“Great. Are you doing well in school?”

“I guess.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound too good.”

“I know.”

She took out a brochure. “Well, I just want you to know that God loves you…”

“Okay.”

She handed the brochure to me. I took it. “And Jesus is our lord and savior.”

“Okay.”

“Do you believe in the Lord, Marc?”

“Yeah.”

“And do you believe in Jesus?”

“I guess.”

“Well, do you believe that God sent down his only begotten son to save your soul?

“I don’t know.”

“Well, this literature will help you understand the sacrifice that Jesus made for you. Okay, hun?”

I took the pamphlet and looked at the pictures on the way home. I then tossed it over the bridge and into the Jordan creek.

I felt a sense of relief deep inside knowing that she was no longer an atheist.

She might have been wrong back then. I might have to sit in a casket until the Earth explodes. Thank God.