Dirty Dancing

By 11:30 am that morning my mother and I were arguing. The wedding of her daughter’s friend was later that Saturday afternoon and as of yet I had not given her a definite answer on whether I would be attending with the family or not.

My mother of course attributed my vacillation to the “new” girl I was dating.

“Que no la ves todos los dias en el collegio” her voice trailed off as I made my way out our home’s front door. Her pleads fell on near deaf ear as I headed to meet my date for a day’s outing.

I can’t tell you what we did. Perhaps we visited Griffith Park. Or maybe we trekked it out to the Will Rogers State beach as we usually did (site of our first date). Maybe we just drove around Los Angeles a while and wasted a careless Saturday as we often did back then. Those were the days of a gallon of gas at $1.40 and we had the week’s earnings and much more to spare.

In any event, we returned back to my parent’s home by about 3 pm and gladly found the home empty. A golden opportunity by all stretch of the imagination (to me anyway).

It wasn’t all tawdry (well I choose to believe it wasn’t and she’d certainly wouldn’t want me to go any further). I do recall though that after enjoying ourselves and more I turned on the television. Then I plopped down on my bed and snacked, told jokes and hoped that perfect days like these would continue on forever after. (Spoiler Alert: They have not)

As we rested and laughed the television set flickered the ominous “Breaking News” graphic and Channel 7 News anchor grimly reported on the terrible news of that August 31, 1997.

The news was sobering. A young, spirited and beloved young woman was dead and in an instant the spell of youth was broken and the realization that people (even the most revered) died unexpectedly hit us both like the heaviest of hammers. It made me think of she who I had just made love too. Lovely, flawless, soft, white and vulnerable (just like I was…except I am brown skinned).

It was difficult to laugh and smile as the news looped the only available video over and over. Uninformed of speculation began in an instant and so did the tributes of a figure head who I hardly knew of but who’s untimely death resonated somehow.

The day’s spell was broken!

I had hesitated introducing the young woman I was falling in love with (or was I?) to my family because I considered her too foreign for them to understand. They had chosen other women for me in their mind and I knew she did not fit her description. Nonetheless, the incoming news rallied my spirits and gave me the impetus to ask her for a date to a wedding as only East Los Angeles can coordinate. Today was the day for Nicole to meet my family and I would do it proudly on a public stage.

Convincing her though was not easy. Simply because I had mustered up courage to introduce her didn’t mean that she wanted to attend a celebration that she wasn’t suitably dressed for or that she wanted to meet a culture that I had not previously described kindly.

But my Nicole is tough and she had my assurances and in little time we made ourselves ready and headed to the back yard wedding reception in your typical East Los Angeles neighborhood (consult to Born in East L.A. for a visual. By the way…BIESLA is a classic film starring notable 70s icon Cheech Marin…my parents quoted it for years).

When Nicole and I arrived I felt the weight of several dozen eyes upon us. Her hard squeeze of my arm indicated to me that she felt the same weight in triplicate and I quickly recoiled and cursed my previous “carpe diem” attitude. Commitment and being committed though are strong forces so together we chose to make our way past chain-link fence and down the concrete driveway. A path that was chock full of brown faces. Wrinkly brown faces, judgy brown faces, scowling brown faces, indifferent brown faces, unknowing brown faces, caught-by-surprise brown faces, too-young-to-know brown faces, encouraging brown faces, drunk brown faces, leery brown faces, why-are-we-here-a-princess-just-died brown faces and then FINALLY my parent’s brown faces.

The introduction was awkward. The cacophony of my people’s wonderful syncopated yet loud music drowned out her attempts to say hello and all they sat shocked and glancing at me for direction or guidance.

I did not have any!

Music was bountiful though, I had a gorgeous young woman by my side and my basic instinct required us to dance. We chose then to get lost among the sea of couples occupying the dance drive-way and evade the awkwardness of an unwelcome and unpleasant meeting. A get-together that I had haphazardly conjured up and  seriously regretted.

Nicole and I entered a gauntlet. Within a few minutes of dance she found herself accosted by the occasional harsh bump at the hips (not by moi)  or the elbow to the mid-section by the ladies on the dance floor. Salsa is a finesse dance but she found herself to be in an uncomfortable mosh pit jockeying for a little room. In her face I saw dread and somehow she continued on. Her body language told me that she belonged there and that no one would force her off an uncomfortable dance floor. It was me who broke and not soon after entering the space we left and bid my family adieu.

The day taught us much. It taught me much! I loved this woman. For her strength of character, for her youth, for her fighting spirit.

It taught me that I wanted to protect her. That I should not put her in peril if I could help it.

Soon after I pronounced my love for Nicole. It wasn’t as romantic as I would have planned. I panicked and said it in the worst of states (we had our first fight over it) but I meant it. I had loved her months earlier, maybe even the first time I met her.

Nicole and I have danced many a times after that date. I hope to dance many dances more in the years come.

I am glad to report though that the English have not yet reported another watershed in our history and I sincerely hope the they never do.

Pip pip cheerio amigos!