By Mary Valle


My last semester in college, I spent a lot of time taking phone calls from my brother Michael.  He was nearing the end of his working life and about to go on disability due to HIV. He’d call me, in Massachusetts,  from his office in Beverly Hills and I’d hog a communal phone which was shared by four or five other people. I came to dread the phone calls but I felt it was important to be there, breathing quietly, sometimes listening, sometimes not. He didn’t talk about anything, really. Movies he’d seen or things he wanted to buy.  “What do you see out your window?” he’d ask me. “Snow,” I’d say. “A Saab driving by. Some Finnish kid who lives in the woods scuttling off to his lean-to.” And he’d tell me about the sunshine and palm trees and diamonds and facelifts he saw out of his window. My heart hurt. I thought: I should be there even though I knew California was already finished for me. And that I didn’t want to be there, really. The last thing on earth I wanted to do was go back and I was in a state of ongoing panic due to not having the faintest idea what to do with myself when I graduated. So I listened and twirled the communal phone cord into knots.

Neither one of us had a “real” valentine that year. I cut a heart out of pink construction paper, trudged out into several feet of snow, and taped it to a tree. Then I took a Polaroid of it and mailed it to him. I have the photo now, tucked away amongst his other things. Someday I will give it to my daughter.



Mary Valle is a freelance writer living in Baltimore.  She is contributing editor at Killing the Buddha and a contributor to Believer Beware: First-person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith.  Her poems and drawings can be found at Instant Poetry.