Tag Archives: high school

What If He Is?

When I was in high school, my friend stopped an incident of bullying with one quiet question.

“Pam” (not her real name) and I were at the beach, standing at the water’s edge, 16 years old. A  group of three guys stood to our right. Another adolescent, male, swam alone in the surf. At the same moment, Pam and I realized the group next to us was angling for our approval.

“Look at him!”

Pam and I exchanged a confused glance.

“Can’t even swim.”

They pointed to the water, where the swimmer navigated the ocean like a dolphin.

“He looks like a total jerk.”

The boy — maybe 17 — caught a wave and rode it to shore. He rose to his feet and headed back out, diving through the breakers. His timing was perfect, a strong swimmer, at home in the crashing surf of the California coast. His skill was clearly a threat to the three fine gentlemen to our right.

“He’s a f – -!”

“Total f – -!”

“Definitely a f – -!” They gave each other high fives.

I said quietly, “Let’s go,” but Pam shook her head. Instead, she faced the three boys and spoke softly.

“What if he is?”

They stared at her. Then one pointed to the water. “F – -!”

She shrugged disarmingly and repeated, “What if he is?”

They looked at each other, then back at her. “Well, nothing, I guess.”

She held her ground for a long moment, then turned to me. “Let’s swim.”

For the next hour, we bodysurfed with the swimmer. We left the ocean together, streaming water, warm in the salty sun. He invited us to join his friends, and we feasted on iced tea, veggies, hummus, chips, guacamole. The pack of three glanced at us periodically, but didn’t approach. We never asked if the swimmer and his two friends were gay for the same reason they didn’t ask us: it didn’t matter.

What. If. He. Is.

Four simple words. Mightier than the sword.

Leave a comment

Filed under #KindnessInAction, bullying, GLSEN, high school, LGBT

Aprile Millo, Opera And Hollywood High School

Aprile Millo is known as “The Golden Voiced Diva”. She’s an operatic soprano, a huge success, a household name for opera buffs. Aprile is a grand beauty, dressed in gowns of the most elevated haute couture, at home onstage with the Metropolitan Opera.

But my view of Aprile goes back to the days long before she became famous, when we both attended Hollywood High School. We graduated, grew into ourselves, grew up. Aprile Millo became synonymous with The Golden Voiced Diva, and I wrote a novel. In Chapter 13, I described the first time I heard her sing.

In spite of the red carpet image that “Hollywood” conjures up, our high school dealt with gangs, violence, prostitution, poverty. The Hollywood High auditorium — our “opera house” — always smelled strongly of dust and faintly of mold. The acoustics were dismal.

The day began unremarkably. I handed my teacher the required “pass” to attend the Fall Music Concert, and hurried to the other end of campus. I crossed the quad with its crumbling asphalt, covered with litter. I was pleased to miss English, which was interesting only when the students challenged the teacher, who was determined to bore us all into an irreversible coma. I expected nothing of this assembly beyond a break from the routine.

I took my seat next to a friend, and looked around, mildly frightened. I was born into a film industry family, and had been raised on Audience Etiquette. Apparently, these kids missed the memo. Gangs yelled and cursed threateningly. Paper airplanes and spitballs zoomed in every direction. Conversations never stopped for performances. Proctors intervened only if fights broke out.

Then a girl I’d never met walked onstage. Aprile had long, untamed red hair. She wore blue jeans. I don’t remember the song, but it was classical. I do remember thinking that the musical director had made a terrible mistake — forcing a girl to perform a classical piece that this out-for-blood-audience would surely despise. Students at Hollywood High were beaten up for much less.

Aprile began to sing, and I caught my breath. Her voice was like nothing I had ever heard. Silky and tough, honey and grit — powerful enough to cut through the roar, gentle enough to take each of us by the hand. She held her body nearly immobile, her eyes locking onto the loudest groups. I followed her eyes. I remember with absolute clarity the looks of astonishment on one person after another, as they began to listen. Gangs quieted. Conversations tapered into silence. Paper airplanes glided to a smooth landing. When she finished, the auditorium was still. Then Aprile smiled – disarming, endearing, coltish. The applause literally shook the room.

When I wrote my first novel, I remembered those five minutes when Aprile Millo transformed a room full of howling hormones into a rapt audience. To this day, I’ve never seen anything like it. I tried to capture it in my novel, but at the same time, I know that Aprile’s voice is not meant to be “captured”.

Except for hearing Aprile sing, I had no contact with her during our high school years. But she gave me a gift that morning, years before she became The Golden Voiced Diva. I’ll carry her song with me always.

*Thanks to Aprile Millo for giving me permission to write this post.

2 Comments

Filed under Aprile Millo, high school, music, opera