"Only If You Cha Cha"

the tail end of a work in progress

by Canéla Analucinda Jaramillo



What it takes for people like me to keep putting one foot in front of another is more than just an act of volition, more than keeping clear on direction. People like me and Marlani, Manuel and Ariel, Verónica and Jake, each of us seem to constantly inch ahead and jump back, dragging along our peeling trunks of dusk and marrow. Sometimes it's easier to just stay put than to be fussing around in those airless boxes, trying to figure out what, if anything, can be left behind this time. And we are only partly successful -- we bury bodies of memory but left behind, always, is a striking handprint or darkening bruise on the flesh that lives and struggles to grow. Our flesh.

The only way I know to run off the demons, as they hit you or when they're mostly gone, is just to tell and tell and tell. So we keep talking, even when we don't want to hear our own voices. And one of us is always there, listening.

Jake calls and says, "Hey. Sorry I couldn't talk earlier. Of course the ex was here, and we were right in the middle of a major 'thing.' She keeps trying to tell me how empty and meaningless her life is right now, how I've broken her heart. When I told her she shouldn't be coming up to the house, that there was no point in carrying on and on about the way things are -- they're that way for me, too -- and we just needed to get over it, she started crying. That was it. I just sat down on the floor and lapsed into a major crying jag myself."

He clears his throat and sighs. "Sometimes," he allows, "it just hurts too much to bear. I can only handle being told I'm the source of her misery so many times. I don't want to be. I don't want her to hurt because of me...but she does, and there's nothing I can do to make that otherwise. So I cried. Told her she had to leave. Told her this was something that neither of us could help the other with. Afterwards, I got blitzed on two glasses of red wine..." he trails off a moment, then tries to finish what he has to say. "I just...I feel worn and shriveled ...wrinkled as an old prune." Jake laughs harshly. "No more tears for me, for a while. Takes too much out of me. I'm just damn near incoherent, that's all."

I tell him that Marlani called yesterday to apologize for being exceptionally rude to me over the weekend. She said, sincerely, she'd been feeling so low that if she'd had a gun, she would've used it. She and I talked for a long time about how she feels that there's no reason to keep trying, when there's always just one more struggle.

"Sound familiar?" I ask Jake.

"Boy, does it," he laughs.

"So," I add, "I told her you and I had been talking about the same thing, that we'd each shattered a glass, out of frustration, on Friday night. She said she was glad she wasn't alone in it."

Jake grumbles about what poor company we must be, and I tell him that I believe a lot of the people we know choose to live their lives fully, and struggle mightily toward accomplishing that. We could all probably choose to have normal, boring jobs, marriages, friends -- nothing to rock the boat. I say that if I thought about Jake from 5 years ago, or me, or Marlani, or Verónica -- damn, we're fine!

"So fine!" I insist. "We're just a miserable bunch of ingrate shitheads who love to wring our hands over the next thing and the next thing. How rude. And yes," I remind him, "I remember those gnashing and crying on the floor extravaganzas. Don't think I've ever had a break-up without one, and I don't know that I ever would. Hey: they flush out the toxins, get everybody too embarrassed to even talk for a few days. That's the beauty part."

Jake gives up trying to feel sorry for himself, and we both just end up curled against our phones, laughing, although it's a tired, weak laughter, for both of us.



A boulder the newspapers described as "the size of a garage" once began rumbling, unexpectedly, and smashed through the roof of a house on the side of a mountain. That's the sort of thing Jake remembers, when asked how he's doing: there are natural disasters that destroy everything, and his family dramas, by comparison, seem more bearable. Jake measures things like this: complete loss, which includes surrender; or strife, which includes love.

He's told me many times about how the house where he grew up sat on a humid lakefront in Southern Florida. One day -- I can't remember if there was a storm or what -- the whole back side of the house just dropped into the lake. Somehow, it was resurrected, but Jake still laughs about how his mother kept screaming for weeks over her kitchen full of water snakes. What is a divorce, then, compared to stone and water?

I couldn't believe he did it, really -- I guess I thought all his talk about disasters meant he had some keen investment in insurance policies, and heterosexual marriage can surely be one of those. Since he came out as bi, his wife has divorced him, but never leaves him alone; his son has gone berserk; his pre-teen daughter has been stuck in the middle of all family dramas; and his holy-roller mother has spat out the most torrid invectives regarding sexual practices between men. "You're gonna get trench-mouth," she told him during the holiday season this year, "stickin' them nasty things in your mouth."

His laughter, on this point, is sardonic: Jake has only been intimate with 2 or 3 men, in all his 45 years, and none of it really "counts," yet, as far as he's concerned. Like Marlani, Jake is holding out for "true love," no surrender.



We went into Denver when Go Fish first opened there. A sheer rain mixed with the flat grey smell of the sidewalks and the oily asphalt of the endless one-way streets. Marlani was standing out from under the shelter of the marquee, talking to a friend. Wearing just a tight, thin t-shirt with jeans and boots, the girl was braless, rain sparkling on her exposed arms, under the theatre lights. Mar came back, shaking her wet curls off her neck, her head upside down.

"Another baby butch," I said quietly, watching.

Marlani raised her eyebrows, then looked away. "You don't want her," she said, finally.

I took the wet arm of her jacket, sweeping the rain off it. "No," I agreed.

We drew our breath in sharp and spilled our drinks laughing, along with the rest of the audience that night. "Hip-hop Barbie Doll," I kept teasing Marlani, after. "No wonder you can't get a date."

She stopped by the car, lit a cigarette. "My Juanita," she began again dreamily, for the 100th time, "will be a round, brown woman -- like you..." she raises her hand up sideways, chopping the air once slowly, to make her point, "...but not like you." She laughs. "My Juanita will know how to cook real Mexican food; she'll want to have babies; but she'll want to come home from work and watch tv like a normal person, not be on the phone all the damn time." Marlani smiles and tosses her head. "She's out there. I know it. She's waiting, telling me not to give up."

I get in the car and smile at her: 5 years clean and sober, celibate all this time, workin' her own shit, learning to say what she wants, and holding out. Refusing surrender.





Cha Cha, continued

Text © 1996, 2002 by Canéla Analucinda Jaramillo




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