The lyrics to the Beatles’ song “In My Life” paint an accurate picture of so many people and places that I recall; that shaped me; places and people that I loved and still love.
I grew up in Santa Cruz, California, a sleepy/hippy beach town in the 70s and 80s. People will ask, “So, where did you go to high school?”
My answer is often long and involved and begins with, “You know that elementary school behind St. Joseph’s Shrine off of West Cliff Drive? That used to be a high school…” and so the conversation begins.
Marello Preparatory High School; the Few, the Proud, the Prep; the place where the Catholic kids from Holy Cross went; the high school where parents threatened to send their kids if they got in any more trouble…it was known for a variety of reasons.
It was a high school that resided in one large, two-story building whose walls once hemmed in Jesuit seminary students. My graduating class had a mere 31 students. My junior year, our principle was just 29-years-old. Our coaches were not only athletes, but also dads, police officers, and, sweetly enough, a Jesuit Priest by the name of Father Tom.
Marello initially meant one thing to me: anonymity. A fresh start. A place where nobody knew me; where no one knew about the violence in my family; where I had a clean slate; a place I could reinvent myself and keep all of my secrets stowed away.
That quickly changed as some of my intuitive teachers crept inside my life; teachers who saw through my spunky, cheerleader-self; teachers who called me into their rooms, asking the right questions: What’s really going on at home? Do you need to talk?
They saw into my academic struggles, and gave me secret homework assignments to bolster my knowledge and fill in the gaps.
They noticed my spark and joy when I wrote a poem or newspaper article.
They sat with me when my tears could no longer be contained, and validated my reality, perhaps for the first time ever.
They modeled joy! I mean, what faculty has an annual water balloon fight with its students? What group of teachers puts together a band (The Disciplinarians), and performs for their students? Ours did. They saw that we needed more than just math and science and history; we needed joy and passion and play.
I’ve just finished writing my third book, Pink & White, and I chose to do something daring and transparent in it: tell the truth. I didn’t do this because “it’s important”, or because someone will be touched by my story, or because I feel like a victim, or a survivor. I HAD to tell my story; it seeped out of my pores. It flooded my dreams. It lurked in my resting moments. It yelled at me during the night. It screamed into my nightmares.
Have you ever tried so hard to make everything look wonderful on the outside, only to feel as though you were dying on the inside? I lived my life like that for so many years. Let me tell you, it is tiring. I finally surrendered.
When I walk down West Cliff Drive, and see the ride-tiled roof of Marello—now Gateway Elementary—I smile and am filled with dozens of images, feelings, and thoughts. You see Marello wasn’t about a place…it was about the people. I suppose that’s how it is for all of us who hold a place so dear; the place is inanimate…the people inside those walls and out in the field overlooking the Pacific Ocean, they made that school a sanctuary.
I hear the echoes of voices that told me the truth: you are enough; you are beloved; you have promise. And I marvel at the words of St. Joseph Marello: “Take a beautiful soul as your model, and walk in its footsteps at all costs.” I am thankful for all of those beautiful souls…
“…I know I’ll never lose affection, for people and things that went before…”