There are people you see often and think you know: the tennis pro at the club, the barber you see every couple of weeks, the market clerk who remembers your name, the co-worker you chat with at the coffee machine.
In my case, there’s the woman who engineers my radio show: I see her every Sunday. We share laughs and stories, and I sincerely appreciate everything she does to make my time on the air run smoothly.
I realized I didn’t know her at all the day she came in with her head shaved.
“Wow,” I said. “What a change! Did you decide to do that because summer’s coming?”
“No,” she said, wiping her hand over her newly hairless head. “Mischelle has cancer and is going to have chemo, and she’s worried about losing her hair. I wanted to show her how I’m right there with her.”
Marisol Valle is a board operator and on-air personality at Alpha Media, but she is so much more. Born in Indio 37 years ago, Marisol is the oldest of two; she has a brother, David. However, her mother is the oldest of nine daughters, so she has cousins and family everywhere around the Coachella Valley.
“I could never get away with anything,” she laughs.
Marisol graduated from Palm Springs High School in 1997. She went on to take classes at the California State University, San Bernardino, and then attended the Academy of Radio and Television Broadcasting.
“I’d love to have my own talk show on the radio, specifically taking on subjects that affect women and the LGBT community,” she says.
Was it difficult coming out to her parents? “My dad says he knew all along. My mom was angry at first, but that was because I hadn’t told her. They’re fine with me. It’s just not an issue. I was always a tomboy, but I dated boys and found them attractive. I guess I would describe myself as bisexual rather than lesbian, but I just don’t like labels.
“In my 20s, I had a better idea of who I was, and when I met Mischelle, I knew she was someone special.”
At the time, Marisol was working at Desert Arc in their social recreation department, shepherding Arc participants to events like the Special Olympics. “I was moved to the behavior-modification department as an instructor, doing vocational training, and subsequently became supervisor of that area. It was there that I met Mischelle. She was one of my staff.”
Marisol and Mischelle Avalos have now been together for 10 years, the last three of them married. “We were married under the Marilyn Monroe statue when it was in downtown Palm Springs,” she laughs. “Now that it’s coming back to Palm Springs, we’ll be able to celebrate our anniversary there every year!”
In addition to her job at the radio station, Marisol today works as a special education assistant at Shadow Hills High School, tutoring in math.
“I realize math is difficult for everyone,” she says. “I understand math, but I never really liked it. I now know how important it is in every aspect of your life, and I try to pass that along to all the students. You need to know math, even if it’s only so you can help your own kids with their homework. Besides, you never really know when you’re going to need to use algebra: It’s about problem-solving, and you want people to be critical thinkers in the world.”
Marisol would like to go back and complete her undergraduate degree: “As I get closer to 40, I realize the best way to motivate my students to complete their education is by doing it myself. I like being a positive role model for the kids, but I really need to do it for myself.”
Mischelle was diagnosed with cancer in May.
“She’s had five rounds of chemo so far,” says Marisol. “The sixth round will be the last, and so far, the results are looking good. The main thing is that she’s still working (at a Palm Springs animal shelter), and she has received so much love and support and words of inspiration from everyone.”
Have they thought about having a family of their own?
“I like children … at least other people’s children,” Marisol says with a hearty laugh. “When we first got together, we talked about it, but it’s a big responsibility. Maybe we’ll adopt. There are so many kids out there who need a loving family, and exposure to the diversity a nontraditional family can bring. Maybe we’ll decide to be foster parents. It’s so important the difference you can make being part of a child’s life.”
Currently living in Desert Hot Springs, Marisol and Mischelle are great examples of people in your life whom you may not really know—but who are making an impact on the world while following their own path.
As Marisol says, “I’m looking forward to the next chapter on the journey.”
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.