FORGETTING THE PAST IN THE SUBTLETIES OF A DANCE
And so, there you are—the lights of the Cuatro Esquinas Mighty King Stadium glowing in the dark beneath the near full moon this cool night in November. And so, there we are—standing underneath the deafening buzz from a hometown crowd cheering, mouths agape with excitable pride. The roars. The idea that for once in a long while, this shit hole town had something to celebrate. And so, there they are, can they see what’s going on between us? Can they for once, understand something is going on? Or is it something invisible? Something ‘they’ don’t want to see, and so, we may as well blind ourselves from each other. And so…
“What the hell are you doing, Dude?” interrupted Mando, as he stepped on the balcony to join me. You see, the thing was that the Movies 6 crowd definitely seemed like a tough group to break. I understood that right off the bat when the guys introduced me to everyone as soon as we arrived at Eddie’s party. I got a few cold stares, and not so warm welcomes. So, in order to make an already awkward situation, less awkward, I decided to spend a few minutes to myself out on the hotel balcony.
I stopped the tape mid-sentence, and explained to Mando, that I’d gotten into the habit of recording things on a mini tape recorder. “Sometimes, I can’t keep up with my thoughts when I’m trying to write shit down. Nasty habit I picked up in New Orleans, I guess,” I told him. “At any rate, this helps me get these thoughts out as fast as they come, then I’ll just transcribe it all later.”
“And that works?” he asked.
“Sometimes it does, and sometimes it just reminds me of all the crap I’m better off not wasting my time writing down,” I replied.
“You were talking about the stadium lights, huh?” he took a space next to me on the small balcony and rested against the iron railing.
We both looked off into the distance at the stadium lights hovering over Cuatro Esquinas, a city only a few miles away from the hotel in McAllen. A seeming lifetime ago, the memories and experiences that left us with the scars of our youth still so fresh and raw in our hearts. Scars we still weren’t fully capable to let go of, and wanted none of that healing sense of closure to mend it either.
“Yeah,” I told him, “Looks like this year’s team got into the playoffs, eh? Playing this late into November, and all.”
“I guess so. I don’t follow much of that anymore. Not since we graduated,” he replied.
And what a stellar year that was for us. It all started with our championship football season. A championship season the city had gone without for a little over ten years. The seemingly endless drought that had become a monotonous humdrum existence full of false hopes, and dull realities that planted itself in the very foundations of a city that was always wanting more than what was realistically possible. It had been an era that, for too long, had been fueled by all of the “next games,” and “next seasons for sure.” Empty promises that over the years had quickly gone from full on battle cries to quieting whimpers among the dwindling optimists still left in the community. When we arrived, we were a mix of optimized talent and raw power that wore down our opponents Friday night after Friday night for those few months in the fall of our Senior Year–1990.
“How about you, Harlem Globetrotter?” asked Mando offering up a cigarette,
“You ever give that place a second thought? You ever give her, a second thought?”
“Who?” I asked. I knew all to well who he meant.
He snorted as he lit his cigarette and handed me the lighter. “Yeah, right,” he said, “who?”
In truth, of course I had. The tiny pink paper heart she’d placed in a small envelope, and had Sonya give to me before I left Cuatro Esquinas, the morning after our high school graduation, was the tiny pink paper heart with her name, Ruby, signed across the front of it. It still traveled with me, tucked safely in my travel bag, as I went from town to town across Texas, along the Gulf Coast, and back again. The same tiny pink paper heart I’d cling to in moments of my own madness, despair, at the thought of never experiencing that sense of losing myself in the grasp of someone’s eyes again, her eyes I’d hoped; no matter how far I roamed from this place I had to call home.
Certain things like the stadium lights, and certain moments like those that the cool winds of a late November can conjure up, made my feelings about her unbearable.
“Yeah,” I confessed, “Every once in a while I do. I was thinking, though, since I’m back in town and don’t have any real plans of leaving again any time soon, I may look her up. Maybe something can come out of it, y’know?”
Mando shook his head. “Nah, don’t bother. She’s moved on.”
I asked how he knew, and he said, ever so matter-of-factly, “because I helped set her up with someone, and it seems like they’re really hitting it off.”
His name was Marcos, and he was a fellow Pre-Law student friend of Eddie’s, he explained. Mando had taken a class with Ruby, in college, and as part of a study group they had to interview upper-class senior Pre-Law students. Eddie and Marcos were Mando’s obvious choices, blah, blah, blah. Halfway through his explanation, I lost interest. I, honestly, couldn’t give a ‘rats-ass’ about the rest of the details as I puffed each drag of my cigarette faster, and faster—exhaling the increasing rage out into the cold night air.
Basically, the gist of the whole scenario that played out in my head while Mando’s mouth moved in a painstakingly slow drawn out explanation was this: my ‘best’ friend introduced Ruby, the one who got away but I so hoped to reconnect with, to this mangy dog of a Pre-Law student friend of his and his brother’s. Meanwhile, I’m just supposed to patiently, quietly, and understandably take drag after drag of this cigarette, then swallow all of this maddening bullshit from someone I thought of as a ‘brother?’
“Well, there goes that, huh?” I exhaled.
Mando swung his arm and slapped me on the shoulder, “Meh, don’t worry about it, Bro. She was out of your league, anyway.”
Mando lit another cigarette, but couldn’t stand the cold night air any longer. He offered his cigarette to me after only a couple of drags as he bitched and complained. “I’m going back inside,” he told me as he slid the balcony door open, “Hey, everyone! No worries, he’s not a ‘jumper,’ he’s just out there over thinking things.” I heard the Movies 6 crowd laugh when Turo cried a drunken and hearty, “Animo, bro! No se me aquite!” and the door slid closed behind Mando.
I turned the balcony chair around to face the window, and turned my back to the stadium lights in the horizon. I recalled for a drunken moment, the final time Ruby and I stood face to face under the glow of those stadium lights on graduation night, and how she could drown out the rest of the world for me—all of the nonsense of those teenage trivialities crashing around us– with only the sweetest of glances from her wondrous green eyes. I looked up at the palm tree by the hotel window, admiring its leaves only slightly swaying in the deadening chill of the cold night breeze, and exhaled.
“Fuck this,” I said to myself, “I’m going back inside.”
When I walked back in from the balcony, I tried my best, once more, to get along with the Movies 6 crew congregating in the bedroom. The majority of the crew seemed lost in a mishmash assortment of over-stimulated, and immature banter. The scene just wasn’t there for me, even though Mando and Turo advised me to lower the intellectual bar, so to speak, so I could fit right in.
I got up after a few minutes and went down the hallway towards the kitchenette for another drink. Maybe, also, to squeeze my way in to the next card game that Cynthia, Carlos, and David were playing when I first arrived.
David Sanchez didn’t seem to be the talkative type when I met him. He was Eddie’s friend from Cuatro Esquinas, though we hadn’t met until this night. There was something to his quiet aloofness, as though, he’d seen more than he was readily willing to admit. And, thus, his face seemed aged beyond his twenty-one years.
Carlos Trevino was the highly sociable type. He seemed like the type of guy who could make friends with a rabid hyena. The sorta person that didn’t shy away from cueing in on a person’s nuances. Carlos had opened the door to the hotel room, and I greeted him with a guyish, “Hey what’s up?” when Mando introduced us. He lowered his voice to replicate mine, and said, “Doing great, Johnny Cash, how are you doing?” He is that guy.
Cynthia Barrera only looked up from her card game long enough to give me a fake smile, and quick “Hey,” when we were introduced. I still didn’t know what the actress, Yolanda Andrade, looked like, but I could only say that Mando’s overall description of what Cynthia looked like were fairly accurate. She was pretty in the way college types are pretty, in that bookworm-ish sort of way. Which fit perfectly, of course, with what seemed to be her claim to any sense of notoriety among the Movies 6 crowd. She was a third year Senior at The University of Texas, in Austin. “Not third year as in she’s been a senior for three years,” Mando introduced, “she’s not stupid. What I mean is, she’s graduating after only attending college for three years.” I got the picture, and realized she had no real connection to Movies 6 other than being very close friends with Carlos. It made me wonder what her type was doing hanging around with this crowd. Moreover, why she’d be dating someone like Mando–two personality types that really shouldn’t mesh, in my opinion.
Once I got back to the kitchenette, I couldn’t find the bottle of vodka, or Cynthia, or Carlos. I asked David, shuffling cards as if there were another game coming up, whether he’d seen them–or the bottle, for that matter.
David remarked that Carlos and Cynthia had taken the bottle to one of the rooms in the back. He wasn’t quite sure if they’d joined everyone else or if they had gone into another room by themselves. I told David, they definitely weren’t in the room where the rest of the crew was. David didn’t reply; he just shrugged his shoulders and kept on shuffling the cards quietly.
“Something I shouldn’t disturb, you think?” I asked after a few seconds of staring down the hallway impatiently.
“Not that I know of, but anything’s possible with that little Chief,” David replied alluding to Carlos’ all-too-capable of intentions. I couldn’t care less, either way. I was just thirsty, and the night was still fairly young. So, I left David in the dining room area playing solitaire. He was looking increasingly bored with everything. I could relate.
I found Cynthia on the bed, laid on her stomach, with her head rested on a pillow. Carlos was sitting knees to his chest on a sofa chair pulled up close to the bed. They were watching CMT, and, “Waiting so edge-of-our-asses on Mary Chapin Carpenter’s, I Feel Lucky, video,” Carlos sneered.
“Man, we should’ve just gone to Cadillac’s instead. At least I’d have access to more beer, you know?” he added.
“Why don’t you just go get some more? Here are my keys.” Cynthia pulled her car keys from her skirt pocket and tossed them on Carlos’ lap. “And just leave me alone, I want to wait for the video.”
“Can I sit here?” I gently interrupted, before sitting down on the bed anyway.
“Sure, plenty of room,” smiled Cynthia.
“Or you can come sit on the sofa chair,” Carlos looked annoyed. “I’m about to leave in a sec’, anyway…uhm, what’s your name again? …Humberto? In vitrio? …” Carlos continued sarcastically. He grinned as he adjusted the loose FOSSIL watch on his wrist.
“Stop it,” ordered Cynthia intently watching the television screen.
“Enrico,” I told him seriously.
“Right, right,” he smiled.
“And you are, again? …Carlick? Car-looch? …” I tried smiling back while snapping my fingers and pretending I didn’t remember his name either.
They both laughed.
“It’s Carlos. Right, right,” he replied. “Uhm, looks like we’ve got ourselves a live one here, Cynthia.” Carlos got up and took Cynthia’s keys with him.
Cynthia could only shake her head, “That’s what you get for being so bad…you deserve it. I’m telling you.”
“Do you want anything?” asked Carlos.
“Uh, yeeaahh, beer,” replied Cynthia sarcastically.
“Yeah, I know, smart-ass,” Carlos said, “what kind?”
“MGD’s,” she said, “Y ya, vete! You’re starting to annoy me.”
Carlos blocked Cynthia’s view of the television screen. He gyrated his bone thin frame from side to side. Cynthia reached up and slapped him on the ass, “Ya! Stop it, before I get that bottle of vodka on the dresser and stick it up your butt, Dude.”
Carlos just laughed as he walked out of the room.
“How ‘bout you, Enrico?” he asked. Carlos poked his head back in, “any requests?”
“Small bottle of orange juice, if you can find it,” I replied, “otherwise, don’t bother, I can just drink it straight.”
I noticed they both looked at each other astonished. Carlos pointed me out to Cynthia, and mouthed the words, “Live one,” as he left. He returned only a few seconds later, “Hey, uhm, I just got a page from the ‘Beast’, all 9-1-1, and stuff, what should I do?”
Cynthia buried her head in her hands and sighed. She shook her head in frustration, and looked up at Carlos. They scrunched their faces at each other, most likely thinking, it was probably not a good idea to bring the ‘Beast’ to the party.
“You know…” she sighed, “I love him to death, but…not tonight you know?” Cynthia continued to shake her head from side to side. “There’s just too much going on, and I don’t want to bring him into all of that,” she pointed in the direction of the other room where all of the Movies 6 crowd was hanging out, “just so we have to–”
“Babysit? Yeah, I hear ya’. I gotcha toots,” Carlos added.
“Yeah…does that make me bad? Anyway,” Cynthia shook her head, “So just, no, I don’t want to deal with him tonight. Not here, at least.”
They came to an agreement, though, that in order to appease this ‘Beast,’ character, they’d surely have to take him out at some point during the weekend. Cadillac’s Pool Hall was mentioned, and agreed upon, for the following night. They seemed to know that the ‘Beast,’ faired better in a pool hall setting as opposed to running amok in what appeared to be a more low-key social one.
Once all that ‘mess’ was cleared up, and Carlos left on a beer-run, I got up from my corner of the bed, grabbed the bottle from the dresser (along with an empty cup– Carlos’ I presumed), and poured myself some vodka, just as Tanya Tucker’s, If Your Heart Ain’t Busy Tonight, came on the TV. Cynthia silently clapped her hands to the beat, and mouthed the lyrics. She agreed to have me pour a cup for her, adding that she didn’t know too many people who could drink liquor straight out of the bottle.
“That’s dangerous territory, Dude, but here, give me one anyway,” she said as she handed me her cup.
“It’s not my first choice,” I told her. I handed her cup back to her, and sat back down next to her on the bed. “Hope that’s not too much?” I added, “Cheers!”
She coughed as she took a few sips, “oh, of course not…is there any other way?”
“Oh, God, don’t you just love her voice,” she said. Cynthia closed her eyes, and swayed her head to and fro. She became lost in the song, yielding to the power of the moment, and of the drink.
“Do you dance?” she asked, as she suddenly sat up on the bed.
“Not to this stupid shit,” I replied.
She smiled mischievously, put her cup down, and got off the bed. In an instant, she stood in front of me, danced in place, and mouthed the lyrics, “Then all of you/ Might fall in love with/ All of me.” She grabbed my wrists uninhibitedly, and led our arms to sway to the rhythm from side to side, “Come on, silly, before the song’s over. Besides, what do you dance to if you don’t dance Country? The Nutcracker?’”
We both laughed.
She twirled herself around; the hem of her blue dress skirt swayed with every step. I finally gave in to the moment as well, grabbing her hand with mine and placing my other hand around her waist. In the limited space of the bedroom, we finished dancing to the song. Neither of us wanted to look at each other as we sat back down. We were lost in one of those…nervous types of glances. The nervous types of glances, where two people are afraid of acknowledging what had just happened in and around them. We could only convince ourselves that we were just two people who got lost in the music for a moment.
Cynthia sat beside me. All we could do was share those nervous smiles, those slight laughs that seemed to make her cheeks blush with drink and despair for treading in places we both knew we shouldn’t be headed.
“So,” she finally whispered as she turned her soft smile towards me, “World Traveler, huh?”
Funny thing about being introduced by friends, they tend to ‘over-exaggerate’ a person’s character. I was far from being a ‘world-traveler.’ In truth, it seemed I’d been more of a ‘wanderer,’ really, if nothing else.”
“They do tend to ‘exaggerate,’ don’t they?” she replied.
Both of us broke the awkward nervous glances, and smiles that followed our quick dance around the room. Actions, perhaps, turned into the silent filled afterthoughts of doing something we may have regretted. It was only a dance between acquaintances getting to know each other a little better, right?
“See the thing is, as I grew up, I never really had anything going for me. Not anything ‘concrete;’ or something I could say Hey, y’know what? I want to do THAT, you know? I really only had a vague sense that I wanted to be a great writer.”
I took a few more sips of the vodka, and continued, “My senior year kind of cemented those thoughts. I’d lost chingos of weight over the summer before. After that, it just seemed as though I was being watched. Watched by everybody,” I sipped.
“You know, where once, I was that weird kid in the corner, who watched Batman, and carried around a notebook and pen wherever I went,” I continued, “suddenly, I was invited to all the parties, got noticed by all the girls, and all that. I don’t want to make Cuatro Esquinas seem like a shallow place to grow up in, but it amazed me how something so simple as going from being a gordo to a skinny kid could change a lot of things.”
“Losing all of that weight, working out to get in shape for football season, led to a whole set of experiences that gave me this sorta inflated sense of confidence, you know? When I graduated, after all the crap I went through with the guys, and all of that, I thought I was ready to go out and explore the world. Never really thought of myself as the college type, I’m not stupid, y’know? It’s just that the kind of intense focus I felt I needed for four more years in an educational setting…screw that, y’know?”
Cynthia listened intently. Something I was not used to hanging out with the guys. Something I never seemed to get from anybody else until that point, either.
“Can I ask you something?” she asked.
“Sure,” I sipped, “since I haven’t bored you enough.”
“I get the whole thing about gaining confidence to go out in to the world. I get the whole thing about how certain experiences made you feel like you didn’t want to go to college, and all of that,” she shook her head, “but, Dude, where’d you get the money to travel?”
We both laughed. It did seem absurd that an eighteen-year old could go out to wander the world without any type of financial backing, or money set aside from a job to go do anything other than go to college.
“Here’s the thing,” I told her, “during Spring Break of my senior year, there was an incident,” I air-quoted. “And it seemed that I unknowingly did a very big favor for a very influential someone. As a result of that big favor, I was paid accordingly.”
I sipped on my vodka, “That’s how I did it. That’s how I found myself traveling the past year and a half.”
“Someone?” she remarked. “Must have been quite a someone,” she air-quoted as well.
“Cuatro Esquinas is filled with some interesting characters, Cynthia,” I told her as I let a smile come across my face as I looked at her.
“Apparently,” she replied. She shook her head slowly.
We sipped our drinks for a few moments; the country music videos still played in the background. Then, she smiled, and asked, “So, where exactly, did you go?”
“All around Texas, some places in Louisiana, you know typical tourist in New Orleans…”
“Riiight, with the beignets, the lattes,” she interrupted, laughing and mocking as she did.
“Yeah, right, exactly,” I smirked, “exactly.”
“Anywhere else?” she sipped.
“I made my way to Florida, past Tallahassee, and into Orlando,” I replied.
“You went to Disney World?” she asked, as if she was replaying in her mind those championship commercials that played on television: the ‘You just won the World Series, where are you going now?’ sort of thing.
“That wasn’t my intended destination, it’s just that…when I was a freshman in high school, our Science Club took a trip to Disney World. We rode on a bus all the way to Florida, and, I don’t know, there was just this great sense of being on the road and traveling by bus somewhere. I guess I wanted to relive that feeling, you know? I’d been in New Orleans for a couple of months, and found myself at the Reunion Café on Bourbon Street, remembering the trip to Florida. I decided why not leave my car in NOLA, hop a bus, and head out for a week or two. Then, come back to New Orleans to finish the writing I had started,” I told her.
She looked at me quietly for a moment as I continued to sip on the cup of vodka.
“You went to Disney World,” she finally laughed. “You went to Disney World by yourself? Oh, you are a ‘hoot,’ Dude, seriously. On a bus no less!”
She cackled as she fell back on the bed. Her hair, and her body, playfully relaxed in the drink. “M-I-C…” she chuckled, “K-E-Y…”
“Screw this,” I said to both of us. I got back up and walked over to the dresser for another drink. I offered to get her another one…
“Nooo, Dude,” she replied as she sat back upright. “That’s enough for me. I’ve got an early wake up call tomorrow morning.”
“Doing?” I asked.
“Volunteering at a UIL Tournament here in McAllen,” she replied looking bored at the prospect.
“Well, look at you. You’re quite the busybody yourself, aren’t you? Finishing college in just three years, from THE University at that, volunteering in academic tournaments. So what’s your story?” I asked.
She looked down on the edge of the bed and smiled as if what she’d been through had a romantic inkling of an adventure gone awry, as if her own world was a mishmash of this chingadera and that, as well.
“I don’t know how much of a story it actually is,” she began. “I’ve just always been drawn to a more academic way of life, you know? Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude,” she smiled as if to think that I’d pegged her as such, “it didn’t start off that way. You know, I had my rebel days, and my rebel ways in junior high.”
“Don’t we all,” I added.
“Exactly, right?” she replied, “so then, I got into high school and things just…changed. For the better, you know? I still think I’m a bit of a rebel, but it’s so much more interesting to me to be the type of person who’s constantly wanting to learn new things.”
“I guess that explains the earrings then, huh?” I asked. “I’d noticed them earlier when we first got introduced.”
“What do you mean?” she asked as if I’d discovered something about her she didn’t want to reveal so easily.
“You’ve got this whole conventional vibe going on, you know, with the dress, and the hat with the sunflower pinned to it–toda Roseanne Cash-looking, you know? And of all the things you decide to accent that whole vibe with, I don’t know, I’d expected pearl earrings, or tiny hoops or loops, or whatever your type does to match things up, not, you know, skeletons? A rebel ‘touch.’ Subtle, I’ll admit, but…yeah, it’s there somewhere,” I said.
She sat up and smiled, rubbing the ends of the tiny silver skeleton earrings dangling from her earlobes, “I got these at an office party last year…at the Governor’s Christmas party.”
“You got those skeleton earrings from the Governor? Damn, I’ve read interviews about her; she’s got her own rebellious tastes, but, wow, that’s really something,” I shockingly replied.
“No, silly,” she said, “They’re not from Ann Richards. They’re from a coworker in the state office where I worked last year.”
Cynthia explained that she had grown tired of working as a checkout girl at Fiesta grocery part-time, and decided to look for an opportunity more attune to what she’d been studying at UT: Government and History.
“I was lucky,” she continued, “my roommate had worked at the office the semester before and put in a good word for me.”
“Hmm,” I reacted, “wow. Not so good a word, though.”
“What do you mean?” she asked curiously.
“Well, here’s your roommate working at the Governor’s Office, knowing full well you’re working at a grocery store, why didn’t she get you in while she was there, you know?” I remarked.
“No, no, she’s a sweetheart,” she replied, “I wasn’t looking to work anywhere else at the time, so she didn’t know I was unhappy working at a grocery store.”
“Suit yourself,” I told her, “whatever helps you sleep at night.”
Cynthia reached over and kicked me on my leg and laughed. “You are so bad, I swear,” she said.
I took a few more sips of the vodka, and by then Mary Chapin Carpenter’s music video was on. Cynthia did very little talking during the video. She chose to listen, and rock her head from side to side. Her lips silent and singing along the same way she’d mouthed the words to Tanya Tucker’s song a few minutes before. Cynthia was a fan, and I had to admit, Carpenter’s songs were growing on me as well. And so was Cynthia.
“You should try vocalizing it, Cyndi, don’t be shy” I told her, “I can barely hear ya’.”
“Oh, uh-uh,” she blushed, “Hell, no, Dude. I can’t sing worth a crap, and you’d only laugh at me, I know you would. I, soo know you would. You’re so bad.”
Cynthia stopped watching the video for a moment, and turned h
er smile towards me as she rubbed her lips together tightly. She seemed so suddenly self-aware, so self-conscious of what I’d assumed had come so naturally to her.
“Y’know,” I whispered, “I’d think you’re a good singer.” I leaned over playfully, softly bumped my shoulder against hers, and she couldn’t help but keep smiling.
“Yeah,” she whispered back, “you think I would be, huh?”
“Well, let’s give it a shot,” I said in a curiously contemplative nod. “I mean, what do we have to lose, right?”
At that moment, the room, the crowd, and the music from the television—nothing seemed to matter anymore. All could I see, and all I could feel, was Cynthia’s smile leaning in to mine, “Come on, Cyndi, let me hear you sing.”
“Okay, Hot-Shot,” she told me, our lips readily closed in on one another, “I will.”
That kiss opened the door for the next few moments. Moments filled with the explorations when and where two people devour the curious longings for one another. It was a means that journeyed further beyond the limitations of our flirtatious banter. We thrust ourselves full throttle into the more lustful yearnings that our twenty-year old bodies could no longer hold back from.
At some point, Cynthia abruptly stopped and ordered, “You get the door, I’ll turn off the lamp.” As we both got up from the bed, I to lock the door, and her to turn off the only light in the room besides the glow of the television screen, I watched as her tousled hair and disheveled dress were the only foreshadowing identifiers in the mix of our madness that marked the wild wonders still yet to come…