Vivir Mi Vida

My Story in Song: Part 11

It’s not a party until the cops show up.

At least, that’s what I’ve heard. I’m not one for house parties myself, so I really wouldn’t know. From my vantage point in the passenger seat of New Kid’s car, however, the glare of police lights flashing from behind as our unexpected visitor interrogated my best friend wasn’t exactly screaming, “Party over here.”

I can’t help but feel like I’m at least partially to blame. God had sent me several messages tonight, all of which clearly read, “You shouldn’t be here!”

And I had ignored every. Last. One.

I wonder if this is what Pharaoh from the Exodus story felt like. Whereas I once questioned how he could have disregarded not one, not two, but ten plagues, now, after having bulldozed through five signs myself, I felt as though I understood the man a whole lot better.

Sign #1 showed up as soon as we drove past the city limits en route to the spot, taking the form of a niggling sense that we probably shouldn’t be heading in this direction.

There really was no logical reason to feel that way, though. We’d visited our spot several times before, and nothing bad had ever happened there. Besides, it had been quite a while since New Kid and I had been able to spend any time together, just the two of us. I wanted to go to the spot, so I rather stupidly pushed that gut instinct aside.

Along the way, New Kid regaled me with tales from his world travels. It had been weeks since he’d opened up about his past, and, other than apologizing for having burdened me with such information the following morning, he hadn’t mentioned it since. I’d refuted his claim as nonsense, insisting that, on the contrary, I was honoured that he’d chosen to open up to me, but he didn’t seem convinced. He just continued to avoid the topic, and I just continued to let him.

“One night, this impromptu dance party broke out where I was staying,” New Kid says of his time in the tropics. “Everyone seemed to know what they were doing. I felt so awkward!”

I chuckle at his self-assessment. “They were probably partner dances,” I explain, having taken a couple of lessons myself. “There are cues in the dance. That’s how they can move together so seamlessly.”

Then, before I have the chance to consider the potential ramifications of such a suggestion, I blurt out, “I can teach you, if you’d like.”

New Kid agrees, clearly very eager to pick up some much-needed street cred. We arrive at our destination, pile out of the car, and step onto our dance floor – a small patch of dirt situated between the road and an open field.

“Okay, meringue is super easy,” I begin, positioning myself in front of New Kid.

It’s also very safe, given that we don’t have to stand too close to each other. But I choose to keep that information to myself. Instead, I reach for his hands and hold them loosely.

“We just need to keep our feet stepping at the same time.”

Left, right, left, right, left right…

Well, his feet are moving in time, but he’s got a little hop in his step. Too much skip, not enough suave.

“Try to ground through your heels,” I suggest.

He does, but he’s still moving stiffly.

Hmm… Quite the conundrum I’ve boxed myself into.

How do I tell New Kid to move his hips without telling him to move his hips?

“So… this,” I begin, motioning toward the general area of his midsection while keeping my gaze well above waist-level. “Is going this way.” I construct a free-form aerial rectangle and lift it up and down, before changing direction. “We need it to go this way.”

Side-to-side goes the invisible box.

So much for not being awkward.

It feels like I’m trying to explain myself to a five-year-old. Except that if I were, I would probably just call the kid’s hips by name and be done with it. But the absolute last thing I want is to give New Kid the impression that I’d been studying his hip gyrations – or rather, his lack thereof.

Goodness knows, if he got spooked when a stranger mistook us for a couple, he’d probably disappear in a puff of smoke Road-Runner-style if I told him to loosen up and shake what his mama gave him.

Unsurprisingly, my clear as mud instruction yields mixed results. Finally, in a last-ditch effort to say this politely, I bite the bullet and ask, “Umm… do you know how to sway?”

At last, understanding dawns, evidenced by the dramatic improvement in his dancing paired with the equally dramatic shift in his gaze.

Smooth moves and a smoulder. Oh, goody…

I tear my gaze away from his eyes, but rein it in before it has a chance to travel too far down the length of his frame. I zero in on a spot on his shirt and snap myself back into teacher mode.

The best course of action is just to ignore those soul-stirring looks. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

The lesson continues, and soon we’re stepping and spinning like a couple of pros to Marc Anthony’s Vivir Mi Vida. Extreme internal caution and severe lack of eye contact aside, I’m actually having a lot of fun. Dancing with New Kid isn’t awkward at all – it feels natural. Effortless, even.

Just like our friendship.

I should be able to recognize a dangerous train of thought when I see one, but I’m far too pumped to care. By the time the song ends, I’ve even convinced myself to relax and let my guard down. Still riding the Latin high, and not wanting our lesson to end, I unthinkingly utter those fateful words,

“I can also waltz, if you want to try that.”

“Sure.” New Kid is all smiles. It looks like he’s enjoying himself just as much as I am.

This isn’t bad at all, I think to myself. I’d even say we’re doing well.

But, as if in protest, that odd sense comes over me once more.

We shouldn’t be here.

But why?

I foolishly decide to shake it off, choosing instead to stand beside New Kid and teach him the box step. After a couple of practice rounds, and still blissfully unaware of how much danger we’re about to be in, we’re ready to try.

“This goes here,” I direct, reaching for his hand and guiding it to the small of my back. “And-”

I raise my hand to place it on his shoulder when suddenly, it hits me. In that moment, with my hand hovering mere inches above his arm, I realize:

We’re about to be very close to each other.

Oh, shoot…

The next couple of seconds feel like hours as I stand there debating my options. I could back away, but that would probably make things really weird. And dancing had been my idea. I can’t very well back out now.

Sigh… Only one thing to do – steel myself and get this over with as fast as possible.

Slowly – very slowly – I gingerly rest my hand on his arm in a touch so light that I can barely feel it.

There. That’ll work.

Next, I lift my opposite arm, but New Kid is way ahead of me.

He spreads his fingers wide, offering me his hand.

Oh, no you don’t, I mentally protest. None of that.

Instead of allowing our digits to intertwine, I place my four fingers between New Kid’s thumb and index fingers. He adapts to the change deftly, and soon his fingers are wrapped around mine.

From my periphery, I can see that he’s just as transfixed by our connected hands as I am.

I pause to wonder if he’s feeling the same somewhat disturbing tumult of emotions that this newfound closeness has stirred up in me, but then I remind myself of one very important detail:

Even if he is, things aren’t going to change.

Disheartening as that fact may be, it was 100% true. After his confession, I thought we might have turned a corner, but New Kid adamantly refused to challenge the impact that his past was having on his present. He was set in his ways, and he didn’t want to change. He just wanted a friend to share the burden.

Heavy emphasis on friend. New Kid wanted friendship, not undying affection. And because I was his friend, I had resolved a long time ago to give him what he wants, exactly as he wants. More than friends was not – is not – an option. Nope, no matter how hard those repressed emotions might push against my heart, I was determined to stay in the friend zone – even if it killed me.

Which, at this point, it just might.

Forcing my attention back to our lesson, I bow my head and watch our feet, noticing as I do so that it forces a decent amount of space between our bodies. Hmm… this just might work.

Teacher mode, I coach myself. Friendship. You can do this!

“Ready?” I hear myself say. “And one, two, three, one, two, three…”

Off we go, stepping in time to my verbal metronome.

“You’re doing well,” I say to his shoes. And he is. He really doesn’t need such close inspection, but it’s much easier this way.

It’s also much more awkward this way. But I can’t exactly risk feeling something, now, can I?

In time, I come to the less-than-shocking conclusion that I that I’m being ridiculous. New Kid may be naïve, but he’s not stupid. If I keep up the avoidance act, he’s going to know that something’s up. And then what?

A required explanation, that’s what. Full-blown mortification, that’s what. The ending of the best friendship I’ve ever had, that’s what!

And I can’t let that happen.

Okay, I decide, I’ll meet his gaze for a moment – just one itty-bitty little nanosecond in time. I’ll be exceptionally normal when I do, and then when it’s done, I’ll go back to memorizing every last detail of his neon-green accented white and black runners.

Yes, I congratulate myself, it’s a plan. It’s a great plan. Why, it’s practically genius! If I wasn’t in the middle of waltzing, I might be tempted to pat myself on the back right then and there.

You go, girl! This will definitely work!

Up lifts my gaze and down drops my heart.

That did NOT work!

Woosh! I shoot my head back down so fast that I’m surprised I don’t give myself whiplash. My heart slams so forcefully against my chest that I’m surprised it doesn’t burst out of me right then and there.

I’m just full of surprises today.

This is bad, this is bad, this is really, really bad…

I shouldn’t have looked. Then, at least, I wouldn’t have seen that lopsided smile that was at once easy, distracted, and thoroughly content. I wouldn’t have known that New Kid hadn’t been watching our feet but me the entire time. I wouldn’t have seen that unmistakable glow that coloured his gaze, and I certainly wouldn’t have recognized it for what it was.


What had I gotten myself into?

Listen to Vivir Mi Vida here