(This is an abridged, fictionalized, unfinished story I began in the ’90s when ballroom dancing was the craze. I never did learn how to tango, but went away with an unforgettable package of D.I. tales. Please suffer through it.)
A full moon shines overhead as I dance my favorite tango on this mountain slope. You can’t imagine what joy it is to have as much space as you want to dance in—up and down and round and round, as far as the eye can go. No more limited ballrooms where multiple mirrors make it appear like you can pirouette to eternity. Eternity! I’ve got it now.
Last night, I buried the last remaining cat. How I took care of that cat! Why, oh, why can I not keep alive any creature that I love? Before I perish, I will share with you the lessons I learned from my life on this planet.
Oh, I forgot, you’re all dead! Your ghosts visited me last night. But I know you’ll imbibe the lessons wherever you are—six feet under the soil or in the seabed, or thrown up there beyond the trees.
Shall I continue my dance? I dance because I live. It is my essence. Slide, slide, dip. Bend backwards, more! More! By now you must have guessed. I am a ballroom dancer. Dance instructor by profession. DIs, they referred to us, though an earlier generation called us “attorneys” to disguise what seemed to them a lowly profession.
But DIs are loved by young and old matrons alike. I taught them the sexy Argentinian tango. I gave them something to dream of doing, something to live for.
My special charge was Doña Mercy, a widow, 79 years old. That day, we were booked for the “Most Senior Ballroom Dancing Competition.” Assassination Tango, our number was called. We were about to win the competition when Doña Mercy burst a blood vessel.
How could I guess I was looking death in the face? I cannot forget her smile, as if to tell me, it’s wonderful to go doing something you love! We won the prize. Imagine, Doña Mercy could have ended up in coma breathing through a fake lung. Instead, I gathered her from the floor and she died in my arms. Without regrets.
One of the best
Well, I guess you know by now that I was not only the last DI but one of the best. I could dance anything! But with the tango, I won so many competitions.
Every day I taught two ballroom dancing classes in a club called Dreamtime, a day club where it was forever night. It was like a wonderland with a sky of twinkling stars and a spacious floor surrounded by full-length mirrors. A live band was always playing. The women had created a magic place that was theirs and theirs alone. For the day, at least, we were the men of their lives. Besides the two regular classes, matrons engaged me for private lessons per hour in their homes. At night, the old señoras fought to take me to dinner with dancing in a nightclub or to a private party. I ate well and exercised a lot.
To think a generation before, a son who knew nothing but to dance was anathema to fathers. “Ang inutil mo naman!” My father would scold me. But now my mother goes around saying proudly, “My son is a DI! My son is a DI!”
Because if you were a good DI you earned as much as any young executive. My kuya, who took up architecture, could never find employment. Me, I just danced and danced and helped feed the family, and later supported one of my own.
I spent weekdays dancing for my living in Manila and went home to my wife on Sundays. I rented a cheap room in the city and spent as little as possible so I could buy a house for my family.
My only luxury was to have my feet massaged. When you dance 30 hours a week, and spend endless hours escorting dancing matrons, you need something like that. There was a small foot spa across Dreamtime. That’s where I met Mary Grace.
She massaged my feet twice a week after midnight. She was on the graveyard shift of the spa and massaged guys who were drunk, or had passed out, or had been with prostitutes.
Mary Grace had genius hands. She could feel the heart of your soles and knead the tiredness out of every muscle. I would dissolve in ecstasy and fall asleep on the soft reclining chair.
The spa was always dimly lit by tea candles and there was only the sound of water trickling from a small fake waterfall. So I always saw Mary Grace only in half light. Her straight hair fell on one shoulder. I could barely make out her face, one cheek slightly dented and one eye not quite the same as the other. Her body was slim but stooped, maybe from working on all those dirty feet. It seemed nobody had ever loved Mary Grace.
I got lonely going home to my wretched room every night alone. So one night, I brought Mary Grace home with me. Everything was dark on my street and the room I lived in darker still. We made love.
For three months, she went home with me whenever I was in the spa. Sometimes I lent her the key to my room when I went home to the province. I let her rest in it. The room was always spic and span when I got back.
I didn’t love Mary Grace. I loved my wife whose name was Shirley. We had two boys. It was for them I worked so hard. Shirley was a starlet when we met. My parents didn’t like her because she couldn’t cook and was always in front of the mirror. When I married her, she had to stop being a starlet. She didn’t know anything about Mary Grace until…until…
I received an offer to teach ballroom dancing in the Middle East. It was an attractive job that I couldn’t resist. I told Mary Grace I would leave for the province and spend time with my family before leaving. She didn’t say a word.
One day, as I was winding up my last few dance classes at Dreamtime, I got an urgent text from my landlord. Mary Grace was in my room and had slashed her wrist.
I rushed to my rented home. From the door, I could see that my bed was drenched with blood. Mary Grace was lying on it. Blood was spurting out of the deepest of the four cuts on her wrist. I pressed two fingers hard on the wound to stop the bleeding. She kept banging her head against the wall. I lay on top of her to hold her down. I kissed her mouth until she stopped crying.
Whenever my fingers got displaced from the cut, the blood would spurt out again. We were both messed up with blood. It was three hours before the bleeding abated enough for me to bind her wrist with a pillow case and take her to the hospital.