Thursday, October 23, 2008

Now I'm dancin' for my life

I´m driving through the wind burnt countryside of Bolivia, from La Paz to Cochabamba, from all dead yellow, to springtime green, and Donna Summers is singing about looking for some hot stuff tonight on the cd player because our driver loves this music and we listen to it for hour after winding road hour. I hear it, and all of a sudden I´m six again, in my wood panelled family room with the brown carpet and brown floral couches, holding on to one of the back pockets of my dad´s jeans. My older sister, Caroline, is holding on to the other pocket and the three of us dance around the coffee table (also brown) with Chris and Kim, my little brother and sister, trailing behind us. We are a crazy, dancing-fool train, going in circles around the table until our cheeks are red and our backs sweat and my dad´s pockets threaten to rip. Nothing is better than this. Nothing is better than all of us dancing.

A few years later, Caroline and I take the plants off the tall windowsills that flank the fireplace in the family room and carefully place them on the coffee table. The windows are taller than us, and the sills so wide that we can step up and stand on them, enclosed in them like a go-go dancer cage. We sing with Kim Wilde about being a kid in American, though neither she, nor us, are American. No one cares. We dance our pre-teen hearts out, make up cheer moves with Tony Basil because Mickey is so fine. He blows our minds. We don´t have a clue what any of it means, but it doesn´t really matter because it´s good music to dance to and that´s all we hear. When my dad sees us, he laughs: he´s raising his girls to not be afraid of anything.


This is a Bonnyville wedding, which means that my mom has sewn matching dresses in different colours for me and Caroline and that we have driven the hour and a half long drive from our door to the doors of the community hall that my second cousin has rented out for his wedding reception. There is no caterer here: this is a country wedding old-school style where all of the neighbours are invited and the women bring steaming hot casserole dishes of cabbage rolls, lasagne, chilli and something that looks like chicken but tastes like fish. Most of them are covered in breadcrumb toppings that you only get if you are at the start of the line. There are freshly baked buns, squares with coconut and pink frosting for dessert and a cash bar, though all my alcoholic relatives complain about this, and there is, of course, a dance floor. After we eat, the tables are pushed to the sides with a few chairs left for the old folks to sit on while they visit, though even they will take a few turns around the room when the steel guitar gets going.

My dad is a dust devil on the dance floor, twirling and tossing my mom about with a reckless abandon that leaves her looking like an ecstatic loose wheel about to be flung free. Her face is a picture of frightened joy. My dad makes up his own moves, dodges some near misses with the shuffling old people, burns up the dance floor. Everyone talks about what great dancers they are and I´m proud as all get go.

I´m eleven or twelve, shy around the boys but plenty old enough to like them. I´ve noticed a boy my age that I´ve never seen before, so it´s a safe bet we´re not related. He has curly brown hair, a white dress shirt and the bluest eyes. I want so badly for him to ask me to dance, but he doesn´t, so I twirl and swirl with my cousins, my dad, my sisters and brother, always aware of where he is in the room. His older brother dances with Caroline, but my blue-eyed boy only sits quietly on a chair with the old people. When our eyes finally meet, we both look away quickly. I keep dancing - dance so fast that my hair is flying around my face, dance until my cheeks are as red hot as my shoes, dance until the cake has been cut and the late lunch cleared away: I´ll dance, boy or not, and I´ll love it.

The evening is almost over and I´m certain now that the beautiful boy is never going to ask me to dance and it hasn´t occurred to me that I could ask him. I am standing against the wall, taking a breather with my cousin, when an old man I don´t know stumbles up and begins talking loudly to us. My cousin looks afraid. I´m still pretty innocent. I know about getting drunk, but have never been even close to it myself. My parents like to give us sips of their drinks when we go out for dinner, banking on the idea that if they don´t make a big deal of drinking, we won’t make a big deal of drinking, so far, this has worked out pretty well for them.

But this old man at my country cousin’s wedding is very drunk, and both my cousin and I are nervous and polite girls who try to make sense of his nonsense, but just before he passes out and my cousin tries to break his fall with her already substantial breasts, he throws up all over her and some of it splatters on to me. Her face: horrified. I imagine mine is much the same. There is a commotion and all the other, less drunk men come rushing in to pick him up and straighten him out. My aunt helps my cousin wash up as best as she can in the bathroom and I wash my left arm off in the sink beside them. I hear them talking about what the old man was really after from us,and I don’t understand completely, but it, and the puke, make me feel sick, so I leave the bathroom and sit down in the hall on one of the chairs that border the dance floor.

While I am sitting there, smelling like old man vomit and wondering if I’m going to cry, the boy I had been eyeing all night and finally forgotten about, comes up to me and asks me if I want to dance. I look up at his pretty blue eyes and say, no. He turns and walks away.

Later that night on the dark drive home, my mom asks me why I didn´t dance with the nice looking boy with the curly hair. I tell her that it was because of the old man puke. It takes me months, maybe years, maybe until my first real crush into love until I can admit that I didn´t say no because of the old man, but because I liked that blue-eyed boy, and that I wasn´t as afraid of saying no to him as I was afraid of letting him take me for a spin on the dance floor.


Ramón said...


I'm always amazed at how incredibly difficult it is to say yes to the things or people I want, much less take the risk of going after them.

Angela said...

hey ramon,
i'm not a fan of pablo coelho, but there's one bit in the alchemist when he talks about a man who always lives on the edge of having the life he really wants, but stays there, half-way contented, because it's too hard to take what he wants. i read that and i though, huh. so true. so weird. it's terrifying to have what you want.