One evening Armando invited me to go dancing, something he rarely did. Joyful at the prospect, I wore my flared silver dress and a pair of sparkly sling back heels. Heads would turn when I danced. My mirror confirmed that to me.
Instead of taking me to a trendy discothèque, he drove to a Spanish dive in the Little Havana section of South Miami. The bar was full of old, drunken men who ogled me when we walked in. I ignored them. The twinkling stamp-sized dance floor called out to me. When one of my favorite salsa songs played, we began to dance. But my feet wouldn’t move to the rhythm.
I tried to lift my feet. I couldn’t. My legs felt heavy, and I was uncoordinated—me, an accomplished dancer. What was happening to me? He sneered, clearly embarrassed by my clumsiness.
I could not lift my feet to walk off the dance floor. I had to ask him to help me, blaming it on too many drinks, which was not true. I had only sipped a small amount of my margarita.
After we went to bed, I could not sleep. Crazy thoughts ran through my mind. When I closed my eyes, I envisioned doctors sawing off my legs. Armando mocked me constantly after that which made me feel even more ashamed of my awkwardness.
My Donna Reed happy family fantasy fizzled three months after I said, “I do.” The devil inside Armando emerged again. He abused me regularly, bullied my children, and continued to see his old girlfriend.
In Cuba, Armando had told me that his father dominated his mother. He despised watching his father beat her and father twelve other children with six concubines, which made him an angry young man.
I felt sorry for him, a man who did those same things to me. Armando simply lived what his father taught him. And I simply lived by what my parents, Jack, and Shane taught me – love without abuse is not real love.
By 1989, Armando’s ruthlessness made my marriage to Jack a sweet dream. I twisted the cap off a bottle of Bacardi rum and poured a glass, I swigged it down, then poured another. I longed to escape the madness of my life—again. Hope—despair—hope—despair. My singular happiness in this evil world was my children.
January 1987. I scrunched up in the recliner, downing shot after shot of whiskey, trying to make sense of what had happened to me a few moments ago. On my usual walk to our mailbox, my knees had suddenly buckled, and I plummeted to the ground, legs sprawled. Embarrassed, I tried to pull myself up to the rail of our fence. I stuck my hands inside each link, but it was futile. My long, slender legs weighed me down.
Minutes passed while I attempted to reach the rail. Finally, I was able to pull myself up. It took all my strength to move my legs to the door. Unable to balance myself, I struggled to lift my right leg up to that first step. Frustrated to the point of tears, I was ready to give up. Then, as abruptly as I fell, my legs sprang back to life.
I rushed up the steps to the safety of that chair. The whiskey calmed my quaking body. “I am a dancer,” I repeated to myself, “I am a dancer.” A dancer does not plop to the ground like that!
I was four years old when Mom enrolled into dance classes. I studied ballet, jazz and tap. I had big dreams of dancing in the movies like Shirley Temple. Even though my life took some horrific twists, I still danced, anytime and anywhere I could. During the 70s and 80s, I taught dance at Arthur Murray Studios and a private dance studio in Miami Beach. It was glorious.
Then it began –
It was a picture-perfect day in south Florida, and promised a balmy, breezy evening. My husband had invited me to go dancing, something he rarely did. Overjoyed at the prospect, I searched my closet for something stunning to wear. Nothing would exist that evening except me, the music, and floating away my safe place.
I found my little black sequined dress that had a slit discreet enough to show only a little thigh and slipped on a pair…
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