Film 365 · Music

As I Walk Through the Valley

In high school, I lived vicariously through my friends. Anxiety was never a stranger. And I noticed early on that loud noise (no matter how enjoyable) and flashing lights triggered an uncomfortable experience for me. Instead of going to places like Trenton Point for their shows, I’d listen to the stories instead. I learned about bands like Vally Lemons and Inkbag (I later met band member Angela Ink years later when working on an article on the South Texas Rolleristas, a local roller derby team).

I experienced the action via recorded video tapes and mixed cassette tapes. Never first hand. In fact, my first concert was in college and it wasn’t for entertainment purposes but networking.*

In college, I met Ronnie Garza. We had a few classes together, but mostly we went to the same poetry events. Ronnie’s poetry was another level compared to what I wrote—shit, what I still write. We stayed in a somewhat sporadic contact (thank you, Facebook!) after college. I stopped attending poetry events. I became a father. I went through a terrible break up with Jeanna. There is a laundry list that I can give here, but the result is the same: I forced myself into exile. I needed a break from living my life on the stage (though, anyone who follows my social media knows that isn’t true – I mean, *motions to everything on the blog*).

Early last year, or late 2015, I ran into Amado Balderas at Barnes and Noble. After ducking out to use the restroom, I ran into Ronnie and we started talking about the project he was working with Charlie Vela. They wanted to make an in-depth documentary of the Valley music scene. He told us both (Amado later ventured to look for me) how they’re interviewing everyone who’s ever had a foot in the growth of this scene.

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The film premiered at South by South West 2017. And, last night, it had its home premiere at the Edinburg City Auditorium. Looking at all those in attendance, it felt like a micro high school reunion. Former classmates to teachers stretched as far as the eye could see. Even in the documentary, I caught glimpses of people I knew attending the concerts. And I cringed at their attire. While mine hasn’t changed much, I still shudder to think of all the clothes I wore in high school.

Hearing the stories again (some for the first time), I remembered that feeling of my youth. Sitting in awe and experiencing these stories as if I were there. I felt the chill of recognition and nostalgia run up my spine. This film is essential for anyone who grew up in the Valley, as well as, those who are still growing up here. I strongly urge those who happen upon this post to head over to Netflix and request this film.

The documentary was followed by live performances of several South Texas bands. Only a few were familiar. Performing last night: Ralph & the Cruisers, Rio Jordan, DeZorah, Confused, and Panteon. (I’m gonna be completely honest, I was only interested in the last two bands.)

It took me a few years, but I finally attended one those concerts I heard so much about in high school.

Thank you, Ronnie and Charlie for making this movie.

* I attended a Christian concert as president of Sigma Tau Delta while trying to woo over the Campus Crusade for Christ to partake in our organization’s book drive. I didn’t have much fun, but at least there wasn’t any loud noises or flashing lights.
Personal

In Remembrance

It may have been a tad ungrateful of me; I’m sure my mother made me realize that sometime between receiving the gift (which caused, I’m sure, a negative facial reaction) to returning to the store from which it was purchased. If memory served me well, it was a Polo shirt—you know the kind. The one with the horse embroidered by the collar—and khaki pants. As I pulled the outfit out of the bag and grimaced, my aunt gave me a quizzical look. “You don’t like it?” she asked sweetly.

Where do I begin? I remember the endless mocking I’ve received from wearing my CK tee to school. How I experienced a label switch at a drop of a hat. From misfit loner to preppy poseur. Sure, labels mean nothing to me these days (and maybe they didn’t mean much to me then), but when you’re still trying to find your place in the world, these things meant the world.

“Maybe we’ll find you something you’ll like when we return it,” she said. We did.

A few years later, after high school graduation, my aunt offered to buy me a late graduation present. I shuddered. Memories of clothing that didn’t fit my personality came rushing back. “How about you buy me a book instead?” I asked meekly. And she did. Something called House of Leaves, a book that would later defeat me in college.

Today, I attended the RGV premier of the music documentary As I Walk Through the Valley (more on that in another post), my phone exploded with notifications. Some e-mail. A text. Several from Facebook. The movie was winding down, it seemed. What was the harm in looking now?

Of course, I’d think that.

Even before I started looking at the likes, comments, and replies, a post by my cousin stood out. “My mom died,” it read.

The sound of the film faded. My mind went utterly blank. My aunt Wanda died. Aunt Cookie. The lady who couldn’t understand her nephew sometimes, though she tried. I fumbled with my phone. I couldn’t comprehend. Is this really happening? Breathe.

I called Mom. I needed some sort of semblance. Some sort of understanding what this (not-so) cryptic status update meant. My cousin had called my brother. Through sobs, she told him that her mother was gone. He called Mom and broke the news.

Aunt Cookie, as I knew her. No idea where that nickname came from, or who was the first person to call her that. Gone. Ceasing to exist in a blink of an eye. And parts of me screamed for me to well up in tears. Because this is the woman who had rather me be honest with her than wear something I hated to please her.

I still can’t comprehend it. As much as I understand the words. Understand the story my mother told me later on in the night. What happened. How it happened. When it happened. And the hardest decision my uncle might had to make in his entire life. I still can’t fathom that it’s true.

Gone.

Not sure if I’ll keep this post up. This is just me. Trying to make sense of the world.