I sat with my girlfriend on the porch, watching my cousins dancing with their boyfriends. Most guests had left for the night. The decorations shifted in the summer wind: orange and white balloons among banners that read, “Happy Anniversary.”
“Did you like the party?” I asked her.
Jodie smiled at me. She wore my jacket over her shoulders and rubbed her bare arms for warmth. Underneath it, she was wearing the same sleeveless dress as my cousins. My mom had asked them all to be bridesmaids, and together, they’d chosen a jovial, tangerine outfit for the renewal of her wedding vows.
“I love your family,” she said. “Just…” she began, her voice trailing off. She glanced at my cousins, waltzing to Latin songs. “I just love everything about them.”
Bendita Tu Luz started playing. We’d danced to it before, on a wintry February day a long time ago. I looked at her hopefully and, with all the elegance of a medieval suitor, rose and outstretched my hand.
“Quieres bailar conmigo?” I asked.
She smiled again, gazed through me with her cerulean eyes. “Of course,” she said. She took my hand and we joined my cousins, stepping to the Hispanic fairy waltz, to what my mom calls, “the dance that makes girls fall in love.”
A month later, I was at Governor’s School for the Arts, standing beneath the dim lights of the creative writing lab. I’d given a brief introductory lesson to Latin dancing, and amidst tables littered with short story drafts and half-filled coffee mugs, my friends floundered with their partners.
Jill and Tim were among them. She was an actress and he was a saxophonist, and his eyes widened as I pulled her over to him, placing her delicate fingers into his veined hands. The guitar pickings fell crisply from the ceiling speakers, like the soft timbre of wine glasses.
“This is a bachata,” I smiled.
They laughed, nervously, playfully, as they took the first steps. Tim always looked frightened of something, especially now. Beneath his expression, though, I glimpsed the beginnings of a genuine smile.
Tim and I would often chat in the Grotto, the main hangout at Governor’s School. The area usually hummed of conversing students until curfew, and the night before the Latin dance party, we’d talked about living life within a community of artists.
“No one here’s afraid to be your friend,” I remarked. “It’s like…everyone just lets loose.”
Tim agreed with me. The people made the real magic of Governor’s School. One night, standing on a wooden bench, I improvised on my “yazz” flute, a djembe suddenly joined in, and soon, a spontaneous drum circle arose complete with guitars, hand drums, and dozens of dancing students shouting like crazed natives.
But Tim never took part in anything like that. He just sat and watched. Even so, I understood that a fiery passion for jazz burned inside him, and I tried to bring him out of his shell. I knew that he wanted to become part of the group, because I used to be just like him.
“Ever have any girlfriends?” I asked.
“One,” he said, “but it didn’t work out much. She spent a lot of time with this other guy.”
I asked him, “Why only one?”
“I guess I’m just afraid to put myself out there,” he said. He told me about Jill. I nodded, and remembering my own shyness, hatched the master plan: to have him dance with her at least once.
There’s something about Latin dancing’s swaying hips, lovelorn lyrics, and proximity that melts barriers between people. My dance with Jodie, on that first February night, kindled a flame that brought us together. Tim’s dance with Jill, although full of clumsy toe-stepping, was beautiful, and that night, his frosty exterior melted.
Like my own family and the students at Governor’s School, I invite others into the mix as if they were family members. At Governor’s School, in particular, I embraced others (literally and figuratively) and shared my experiences, all to make my time there truly meaningful. It’s in those moments, of sharing with one another, that immortal memories are forged.
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