Remembering Santo Pelletier ‘20


People are vivid

and small

and don’t live

very long—

— Molly Brodak, “How to Not Be a Perfectionist”


I first met Santo during the fall of my freshman year, in Professor Myronn Hardy’s class, “The Aesthetics of Seeing: Poetry as Witness.” I took notice of them immediately; between their buoyant gait, inimitable laugh, thick head of curly black hair, and skateboard that went everywhere with them—they were impossible not to pay attention to. They were just so cool. I was floored. Everything that came out of their mouth was as hilarious as it was thought-provoking, and God knows they had plenty to say: I could have listened to them talk for hours. My first big friend crush at Bates, and I know plenty of other people who felt the same. Their joy was infectious and their manner was effortless. Each day, they sauntered into class with their skateboard beneath their arm, toothy grin emblazoning their face like a neon sign. Whenever I could, I kicked my desk closer to theirs, made eye contact with them, and responded to their classroom quips, but I was always scared to approach them. I was a dopey first year, high school class of 2018. I was a baby. There was no reason to believe they would pay me any attention. But they were always kind. Once, I wrote a poem about having a crush on a girl at school, and I read it aloud to the class. I was unused to sharing my poetry, and I wanted to throw up the whole time. When I looked up, though, I caught Santo’s eye across the classroom. A grin crept across their face, and then they spoke. “Bro,” they said emphatically. “That was so fire.”

One day, as Tasha and I ate lunch at a circular table near the commons stairs, Santo sidled over and smiled at us. I always saw them in commons, but I was always too timid to approach them, and they were constantly surrounded by cool upperclassmen. I don’t remember how they got our attention — could’ve been a “yo,” or a wave, or a clearing of the throat — but they sat and said something to the effect of “You guys are cool. We should be friends.” And that was that. To this day, I usually sit in that area of commons because that’s where Santo always was, and I made a habit of joining them whenever I could. Some days, they spent hours upon hours in commons. They couldn’t get work done anywhere else, they said, except sometimes the Den, where I sometimes found them squinting at their computer screen on dreary afternoons. Even now, I walk into commons and before I blink it away, I can see them curled up on a heater below a corner window, fast asleep, a balled-up sweatshirt serving as a de facto pillow.

When they weren’t camping out in commons, they zipped around campus on their beloved skateboard, whether standing or sitting. They loved sitting on their skateboard with their knees to their chest, and they had long since mastered the delicate art of moving the skateboard while sitting, using their hands to propel themselves as if paddling water. It was hilarious. They moved in such a distinct way. What else? They called their friends “buddy.” They loved going to Hearth and Pause. They slammed cigarettes constantly. They wore huge Carhartt jackets. They took lemon slices from the tea-making station in commons and ate them like oranges. Sociopathic shit, we joked, but they never wavered. They played their music loud, and they made plenty of their own music, too. They made countless Spotify playlists for their friends. Music was their love language, and they loved to jam on their guitar. They wanted to be a filmmaker, and they took plenty of pictures of their friends. There’s at least one of me that I don’t think ever got developed. I think I took one of them that day too. Hopefully, I still have that camera somewhere — I never developed that film, either.

Santo had a way of making everyone feel special. They moved through the world with an unmatched zest and zeal. Everything was an adventure, an encounter, a cause for celebration. Even routine trips to Walmart were a happy excursion. We could goof around in the aisles for what felt like hours. Santo was often a very solemn person, but they knew how to seek out little joys wherever they could, and as far as I could tell, this care was a lot of what kept them buoyant. Santo was also one of the silliest people I know. Yesterday, I saw a meme that put Kirby in the Cars universe, and I wanted to send it to them. They loved Kirby. They loved Tony Hawk trans rights memes. They also thought “pee is stored in the balls” memes were the funniest thing in the world. The joke literally never got old. They reminded me of a little kid sometimes, purely in the sense that everything was a wonder to them. They experienced everything as if it were their first time. They felt deeply and fully, and they loved with the same specific fire. If Santo loved you, you knew, because they always made it clear. There was no ambiguity, because Santo knew how much ambiguity could hurt.

Santo was one of my first older friends at Bates, and anyone with a close friend a couple years older than them can attest to the value of a relationship like that. They were my friend, but they were also a mentor to me. Friendship with Santo doubled as a sort of Queerness 101 course — even now, so many queer upperclassmen remember Santo, purely because they had such a strong presence in the community on campus. So many of my friends recall Santo’s camaraderie as integral to helping them understand their own queerness, and their generosity of spirit is one I have yet to encounter in anybody else. In one of their Instagram posts from June 2020, they wrote, “I have been and will always be trans and non-binary.” Another, one of their last before their death: “highly recommend changing one’s name it’s very empowering to claim your own name. nonbinary is power and power is love.” There was nothing like Santo in their own words, and there never will be. They went public with their name change two months before their death, and their choice of a name that translates to “saint” does not go lost on me. They designated Santo as their middle name and kept Torri as their first name, choosing to go by Santo or TS. I only wish they had gotten more time to live as Santo.

We talked about so many things. About queer theory and trans liberation and disability justice and deinstitutionalization. About Phoebe Bridgers and Bright Eyes and Taylor Swift and Frank Ocean and how we really ought to start a band, just for fun. About the poems I wanted to write and the films they wanted to make and the impossible joke of trying to make a life from your own art. About their time abroad in Amsterdam and their short stint on the college soccer team. About fucking off and growing vegetables somewhere on the West Coast. I was always welcome in Tucson, they said, but they might be out by July. They joked about picking me up at graduation next year with their bass boosted, cruising down Alumni Walk, throwing eggs at people we didn’t like before U-turning and getting the fuck out of there. I missed them so much after they graduated, but even after their impulsive move to Arizona, they always let me know when they were coming back to Maine.

I last saw Santo in November. We snuck them into Harvest Dinner (sorry, Christine Schwartz) and sat at a circular table in a windowed corner. They perched on the heater like a cat. It was like no time had passed at all. I have a picture of them on the side porch of my house that night, joint in one corner of their mouth, cigarette in the other, looking like a tiny frog in their huge red raincoat. We never ran out of things to talk about, but we always ran out of time in which to talk about them. This visit was no exception. And that was that. They crashed on a friend’s couch on campus overnight, and then they were gone. Our last text exchange took place on the evening of March 16th, and the silence since has been palpable.

There are no words for the Santo-shaped hole in so many of our hearts. Grief is agnostic to language, but words are all we have left. I didn’t know why I felt so odd hearing “I’m so sorry for your loss” until I told Myronn the news and he responded, “I’m so sorry for this loss.” In short: as devastated as I am, this is everyone’s loss. The world is in dire need of more Santo, not less. Anyone who was fortunate enough to encounter Santo during their short life will know what I mean when I say nobody was quite as alive as them. I am so sorry for this loss, because the world we share is much dimmer now than it was before the seventeenth of March. I was so lucky Torri Santo Pelletier chose me as a friend, and I will carry their memory with me forever.

To read their obituary in the Portland Press Herald, click here.

An on-campus vigil will be held on Wednesday, March 30th at 7:30 p.m. at the Benjamin Mays Center. Anyone is welcome to come and share in community and remembrance.

In celebration of Santo’s life, a gathering will be held at the Topsham Public Library at 25 Foreside Rd., Topsham on Saturday, April 9 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to OUT Maine, which can be found online through their website