The War Games from How Salsa Saved My Life
By Vivian Towers
“Bang , Bang”, I’m startled by the loud, Salsa music lyrics that blasted from my seventeen year old brother’s room. “Bang, Bang” pretty much described the relationship between my brother and me. At thirteen years old, my curious teenage nature drove him crazy.
My parents called the upstairs of our house the war zone, with barricades and yellow tape marking our territories. I had my bathroom, he had his; the hall in front of my room was taped as mine and the one in front of his room was taped as his. We even established passwords for our friends to make sure they were not infiltrating our camps with information from the enemy line. The stairs remained neutral territory as we had yet to find a way for a practical division of nations.
Our troubles began when some tacky stuff from his room disappeared; a poster of Janet Jackson and her Super Ball slip (really?), a statue of a Manneken pis boy from Brussels and the green gruesome monster hand he slapped me around with every Halloween night. Of course, he blamed me for stealing his things when I’m sure one of his closest friends did me the favor. Being blamed for something you’ve never done is torture, especially when it comes to my brother. After the incident, I found broken figurines and missing Legos. I treasured those with all my heart and he knew it. His way for retaliation left me no choice but to declare war.
Shouting matches flooded the dining room, living room and any area that we frequented around the house. The day when we got into a small fist fight became the day when my parents finally intervened and set the War game, as they called it.
World War III had erupted in the Torres family and a peace treaty was nowhere in sight. So my dad, a retired vet, proposed the idea of establishing a war zone. Enemy lines and neutral areas would be marked with yellow plastic ribbons. Our rooms became our barricades and safe zones. Finally, he drafted a temporary seize fire agreement which we both signed. We would not fight, nor talk bad language, carpool together and stop invading each other’s space. If we defied the rules, we would be grounded for no less than a week.
Though tensions were high, we tried to follow the agreement at school. The amount of and obvious dirty looks we gave to each kept our friends at a good distance when they saw us approaching. Afraid that the Torres bomb would go off, the teachers got involved and scheduled our classes to be apart from one another. Almost like using a map, they delineated our paths not to cross.
My brother suggested carpooling with some of his friends to avoid my presence but my parents drew the line.
“One day, this will all be over and both of you will be laughing about this silly spectacle. Sooner or later one of you will need something from the other. While we do not support your current relationship, we know that the day when you come together will be memorable and you’re relationship stronger,” Mom said one evening during dinner. My dad chuckled but I was not amused. At least for now, the dim light at the end of the tunnel didn’t show signs of igniting.
Four months later, I was invited to my first school dance by Peter Garcia. He’s such a “hottieee”, everyone would say. Nervous of my dancing skills, my girlfriends got together after school and in my room practiced for hours. We watched “YouTube” videos and listened to music from different genres.
We were confident that we would rock except when it came to Salsa and Merengue dancing. With our school being predominantly populated by Hispanics, we knew we had to master Salsa and Merengue. But how? We all counted on Jessica who boasted of her knowledge and “natural abilities” but her stiffness extended to her hips. It was not her fault, she was Irish. I was running out of options so I asked my dad.
My dad worked twelve hours a day at CompuLess, an internet company near our home. But one night, he made some time and volunteered to show me. He had been a good dancer in his younger years. He still could “rumba” but my mother didn’t like dancing so it had been a while since he last shook his body. When you don’t practice, you become rusty and, Oh My Gosh, was he rusty. Not to mention, somewhat impatient. I have to remember to never ask him to teach me how to drive.
“Vivian, you have to move your hips. Follow my feet, back and forth” he said several times. Finally, after trying for hours, I gave up and in frustration ran up to my room and cried.
Now, my brother was an excellent dancer perhaps even with the ability to be on television, maybe like “In Living Color” just as Jlo. Maybe he could show me? But no such luck! It would snow in Miami before I would ask for his help. So, I accepted my fate. Aha! Maybe I can “google” Mmm, Excuses to tell your partner why you can’t dance? You can find anything in the internet these days! I had to think of something because missing the chance for my first kiss with one of the cutest guys in school was not an option.
One evening, my parents decided to have a date night and leave me under my brother’s care for a few hours. “Bang, Bang”. I’m startled by the same Salsa song that my brother played the other night. But this time, not only did I recognize the song, but also felt it pierce my soul. Even though I had to finish my multiplication homework, I was too distracted, the rhythm of the bongos and the loud noise from the trumpets made me tremble. My unstoppable fascination for the beat got me out of bed and heading to his room. Determined, I tip-toed down the hall to find my brother’s door slightly open, tempting my inquisitive nature. Ignoring the yellow tapes safeguarding his space and his DO NOT DISTURB sign, I approached his door and quietly peaked inside.
His exquisite, choreographed Salsa moves with his invisible dance partner filled me with envy. I pushed open the door with caution, just to get a closer glimpse of his class act performance. But the loud creak of the old, wooden door interrupted his concentration. He saw me. Oh no, here it comes. He screamed, “Vivian, you’re breaking the rules…” Frozen in fear, I listened and waited for him to finish his bombastic sermon. This time, I knew I was grounded for life. Think fast, think fast. And like magic, I found my voice. “I’m sorry, it’s just that you are the best dancer in the world. I wish I could do some of those moves. But the girls just laugh at me when I dance and I’m going to my first dance with Peter.” My eyes watered. Defeated, I turned around to leave the room.
“Wait, do you want me to show you?” he replied. Speechless, I turned to face him and with wide open eyes, nodded. He grabbed my left hand and placed it on his shoulder, then my right hand, on his waist. His eyes and head movements directed my footsteps, backwards then forward. We began dancing slow at first, but gained momentum as I loosened up my body, mainly my hips. “Bang, Bang, Ah, Beep, Beep”– the music lyrics still played in the background. Though not an expert, I became his invisible partner. My ear to ear smile thrilled him, as he sang louder and louder. He lifted me up by the waist and swirled me around until we became dizzy. Once he placed me back down, we tried to keep our balance, but couldn’t and fell on the floor. We laughed, hugged, bonded. And then, it finally hit me, we were back together and like my mom said, stronger than ever, but phew, that was a close one “Bang, Bang”.