I had always wanted to learn to salsa dance. When I was 23 and planning my wedding (leading to a marriage that would end only a year later), my finance and I considered hiring a salsa band for the reception because we loved Latin music, despite our distinctly non-Latin backgrounds. We went to watch the band perform at a local salsa club and were so stunned at the skill of the salseros spinning, twirling, hip-shaking, and fancy foot-working that we decided not to hire the band. We were convinced no one would be brave enough to dance at the reception.
From that point on, I was determined to learn to salsa. It was hot. It was sexy. It was sweaty. It was Latin.
I've always had a thing for Latin men. Even when I was five years old, it had already begun. I drooled over Eric Estrada on "CHIPS," so much so that my mom was embarrassed about it.
And I arose early on weekends to lust over the boys of Menudo. No, I am not ashamed to admit this, even now. Ok, maybe just a little.
This prepubescent obsession with Eric Estrada and Menudo, a love of salsa music, and my determination to rub bodies with sweaty Latin men led me to one place: salsa dancing lessons.
After finally committing to lessons, I fought through embarrassment over my lack of instantaneous salsa dancing talent, and drooled over my hot Latin salsa teacher--incidentally, also named Eric. After many months of lessons and workshops, I was finally a fairly proficient salsera and began frequenting local salsa clubs as often as three or four times a week.
One night, I was dancing with an extremely short Guatemalan fellow who was determined to nestle his face between my breasts during the close holds, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. As I determined exactly how I would extricate myself from this uncomfortable situation, he led me into a spin, and mid-spin, it happened . . . .
I made eye contact with him, dancing with a hot Latina halfway across the dance floor, and I nearly lost my breath. We held our eye contact as long as we could, and as I stared into his eyes, so dark brown that they were nearly black, it was as if I was looking at my destiny: so strongly was I drawn to him. Wondering if maybe I was reading too much into it, I looked towards him again at the next turn. Sure enough, he was trying to make eye contact too, and we looked at each other with intensity until our partners drew us back into the dance.
The song ended, and I made a hasty retreat to the edge of the dance floor to grab my girlfriend, Erin. I was in the midst of saying, "Erin! Oh my god! This guy was looking at me and he is so hot and. . . ." when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
There he stood, impeccably dressed, from head to toe, wearing charcoal gray wool pants, a windowpane-patterned shirt in pale blue, and pale blue suede shoes--a combination only a suave Latin man could pull off. His hair was coal black and wavy, his perfectly smooth skin the color of a latte. He smiled, showing his broad white teeth lined up perfectly in his mouth, and said, "Jou wanna dance?" in his heavy accent. I took his hand and smelled the intoxicating scent of his sweat and cologne as he pulled me adeptly onto the dance floor.
He danced like a Latin Fred Astaire--smoothly, with confidence, and a sly little grin as he looked up at me and gyrated his Latin hips to the salsa beat. He was such a talented dancer and lead that I became his Ginger Rogers, mamboing effortlessly across the floor as if I had done it all my life. As good leads do, he made me look like perfection on the dance floor.
It was all over. My destiny was set.
We danced until the wee morning hours, and he then asked if he could call me when I got home.
"Call me? It's 3:00 am!"
"I know," he said, with the same sly smile.
"Ok," I agreed, as giddy as a middle-school girl.
After arriving home, I waited for his call. The phone rang, and I answered.
At this point I realized that he barely spoke English. No matter. What I was interested in didn't necessarily involve talking. We could dance, and well . . . .
We could kiss. I discovered his kissing talents a few nights later on our first date. We decided to go see "Y Tu Mama Tabien" at a local second-run movie house. When he arrived, he looked decidedly American, wearing jeans, tennis shoes, and a Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt. The ensemble was disappointing, to say the least. I discovered he was coming right from his job, where he worked designing furniture, so he was dressed more casually. I found his occupation somewhat interesting, and it was not what I had expected.
Once in the theater, the racy storyline of the movie quickly affected us, and we were soon making out like two teenagers in the backseat of a car. And OH, MY, GOD. Could this boy kiss. Never have I kissed someone who kissed so well, and I doubt I ever will again.
Fast forward several months: We are dating and dancing as much as four or five nights a week. We frequently see foreign films, which I love. He cooks me traditional Mexican food and fattens me up. We cuddle on the couch and watch "Sex and the City" with Spanish subtitles. I am happy, for the most part.
But then he begins having crazy, irrational jealous rages. He accuses me of sleeping around. He goes through my email and searches documents on my computer. He claims to see emails that are solid proof of my infidelity, and when I ask him to show me what he is talking about, he says I erased them.
I tell him that there is no one else, that I love him, which is true, yet he doesn't believe me. He constantly questions me and asks for evidence of my truthfulness. Sometimes he shows up at my work or home unexpectedly. At first I am excited to see him, thinking he has shown up to surprise me, but I soon realize that he is not trying to surprise me: he's checking up on me.
I begin keeping receipts when I go to the grocery store, to Starbucks, to get gas, or go clothes shopping to prove that I was, in fact, where I said I was. If I go to the gym, I buy a bottle of water to prove I was at the gym. Sometimes I feel afraid.
He drinks too much on weekends and flies into drunken rages. One night, he drives 70 miles an hour on a city street and nearly hits a parked car. He won't let me drive. He won't let me get out of the car. He won't stop.
I ask him to stop drinking when we go out, and he does. He starts attending a Spanish language AA group. He starts going to counseling. Things seem to be looking up.
But the jealous, irrational behavior continues. Sometimes he pushes me. Often I am afraid.
Still, I don't want to leave. I rationalize his behavior. I want to help him, to fix him, as women sometimes do. He tells me horrendous stories about his childhood: His dad raped him. His dad sold him to other men for money. His parents abandoned him in a small Mexican village when he was five years old. Someone found him and brought him to his grandparents' house. I don't know what is true and what is not. I tell myself, "He just needs to know that someone loves him. He's getting better."
And when he is normal and calm, we have so much fun. I know it sounds irrational. I think, "I know I need to break up with him eventually, and that he wouldn't be a good father or husband. This is just for now." But part of me thinks maybe he will get better. The good part of him represents the best boyfriend I've ever had: loving, affectionate, generous, funny, smart.
Unfortunately, the bad part of him is also the worst boyfriend I've ever had.
Suddenly, time has passed and we've been together for two years and some months. I finally realize that it's time for me to move on. I finally realize that I need and deserve something stable, something normal. After breaking up and getting back together several times, we finally break up for good.
It's October 2004. I start feeling sick. Everyone at the office has the stomach flu, and it's a bad one: we are all vomiting. But my "flu" continues on for a week longer than everyone else's, then two weeks. I don't think anything of it. I have missed my periods for several months, but I don't think anything of that either. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and my periods are often absent for months at a time. I have been told by several doctors that I will probably never have children. My experience has proven that to be the case. I have never been pregnant despite a marriage and several long-term intimate relationships, and I am 30 years old. I never even entertain the thought that I might be pregnant. It's not in the realm of possibility.
It doesn't even cross my mind until one unusual night.
It's 1:00 am and I awake with a start. Like someone waking from a terrible nightmare, I bolt upright, sitting straight up in my bed.
"You need to get a pregnancy test," a voice says in my head.
I am not sure if this is coming from my own mind or body, or whether this is the voice of a higher power of some kind, but I decide I am being silly and go back to sleep.
Exactly one hour later, at 2:00 am, I am jolted out of sleep again, sitting upright in my bed with a big frightened gasp, as if someone just shook me and screamed in my ear.
"You need to get a pregnancy test," the voice says again.
I still think this is ridiculous. I go back to sleep.
Yet again, one hour later at 3:00 am, I am sitting up with a jolt and a gasp.
"You need to get a pregnancy test," the voice says, without any particular urgency.
At this point I decide, "This is odd. I am just freaking out. Ok, ok, whatever. I will get a pregnancy test tomorrow."
On my way to work, I stop by Rite Aid and pick up a pregnancy test. There are two tests in the box, and they have a digital read out. I take comfort in knowing that it will clearly read "PREGNANT" or "NOT PREGNANT" and that I won't have to decipher whether there is one faint line or two.
Even with the odd incident of the night before, I truly think nothing of this. I've taken pregnancy tests before, and they never meant anything. At this point, I am pretty convinced I can't even get pregnant.
It's 15 minutes before I have to teach a writing class at the community college where I am employed, but I have just enough time to slip into the public bathroom stall and get this done. No biggie.
I open the box, scan the instructions, unwrap the test, pee on the testing stick, and stand there for a second, bored, waiting for what I know I will see: "NOT PREGNANT."
Suddenly, and much more quickly than the several minutes the box says you need to wait, I see the bold letters appear in the digital readout: PREGNANT.
"What? What? No way! Oh my god! Oh my god!" I nearly pass out, literally, and grab at the walls of the bathroom stall for stability.
A swirl of conflicting emotions erupt, ranging from happiness to complete panic. "My parents are going to kill me! Oh my god! What will I do? Maybe this is wrong. Oh no! He is the WORST person I could have gotten pregnant by! What will I do? I am so stupid. Oh my god. A baby? I'm going to be a mommy. A mommy! I never thought this could happen. I thought I'd have to adopt if I wanted kids. This is a miracle! I can't believe this! What will I do? Am I really ready for this? I am so scared! . . . . ."
Damn you, Eric Estrada! This is all your fault.
Or perhaps I should say thank you?