Saturday, December 24, 2011

When a Tanguero Falls in Love

The Harbor

When I discovered the harbor ofyour heart,
It was after a long voyage fromacross the ocean,
I did not know I was even gettingclose to discovering you
Until I first spotted gulls thatguided me
To the continent of yourcharacter.

I saw your smile, a waterfall onyour coastline,
And the sound of its soothingpower
Was the first time I heard yourvoice.
On I sailed and I saw the curvesof your mountains,
The flowing rivers of your longhair.

Suddenly a breath-robbing viewovertook me –
Your harbor, your heart.
I felt immediately safe there.
I could see your harbor had nohidden shoals,
No murky waters and unknowndangers.

Your harbor is clear.
I can see to the bottom.
I am hypnotized by theplayfulness
Of the dolphins that play inthe waters of your soul.
I see that they are youryouthful spontaneity.

Your harbor lulls me with waves of hope.
Your harbor is my place of refuge,
A weary vagabond sailor on aship,
Once a captain, but now alone, afloat,
With tattered sails and no crew.

When I discovered the harbor ofyou heart,
I watched in wonder, and thenimpulsively,
I dove into the waters of yoursoul,
And played with the dolphins.
I was not a Cortez who came toconquer a continent.

Your continent, waterfalls,terrain, rivers, clear waters –
And especially your harbor –conquered me.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Returning from War in my Tango Uniform

The following story is fiction with a high percentage of truth.  Find what seems to be true to you. This is a story about finding liberation from jealousy and possessiveness.  (I originally wrote this in 2009 while living near Ft. Hood, Texas).

It wasn't the prettiest tree,
but we guarded it well
The hardest thing for me to be deployed was not getting shot at. Having near-miss IED explosions that dazed me were horrifying too, but the hardest thing was to be away from my fiancé. I wanted to believe that she was being faithful, but there were so many stories of women cheating on their men. “Teresa was different,” I would tell myself. “She has true class and culture. She wouldn't do that.” But over and over we would hear about affairs that were being firmly denied, and the facts came in that were undeniable. Although it was against regulations, we even had access at S-2 to use satellites to go look at our homes. I had heard stories of guys who could see the pickup trucks parked out in front of our homes, and later the denials over the phone. Soldiers went home for two weeks of home leave, and they had their stories too. Infidelity was our obsession.

Although it was against regulations, Specialist Gaffney in the S-2 shop went and took real-time photos of everyone's home near Fort Hood.  He was in our platoon, and decided to do us all a favor.  One evening he handed out "pictures of home" to everyone in the platoon.  I told him that he could be busted to private for that.  "The intelligence satellites are to keep us alive from deadly threats, not to see who is sitting on your porch at home, Specialist!"  But then, I couldn't help but look at the photo.  Teresa's car was there.  No pickup truck in sight.  I didn't bust Gaffney to private, but he had extra duty and a counseling statement.  If the captain had known about it, he would have had an Article 15 and lost rank for sure.  I was easy on him because he just was being stupid and wanted to help everyone in his own 19-year old way.  

The winter sun on Teresa's car near Fort Hood made
 it look like a pickup truck at first glance. 

Since learning tango with Teresa, my fiancé, I noticed the word "tango" being said all the time in Iraq.  In the military if you are spelling something out on the radio or even in person, you don't say "t" but "tango."  Also, everyday I would hear someone saying “Tango Uniform” for this or that, meaning "broken."  For example, over the radio, we would hear that a vehicle had broken down and was irreparable: “Call out the wrecker, it’s Tango Uniform.” In reality “Tango Uniform” means "T.U." for “tits up” (that is, flat on your back).  Radios, vehicles, even relationships were "Tango Uniform" -- ruined by infidelity or some other thing.  The first sergeant even said at chow, “My marriage is Tango Uniform."   I would have thought that the young marriages would be the most fragile, but officers and senior enlisted soldiers had the highest statistics for relationship casualties.  The rear detachment commander had checked the First Sergeant's fears of fidelity.  At chow Top lowered his head and told me, "Yeah, she's cheating on me.  My kids even know the guy, and he’s sleeping in my bed.” He told me that he didn't want to go back because he was afraid he’d kill them both, leaving his children without parents – one dead and one in prison.  I felt sorry for Top because he would never confide in the chaplain or -- God forbid -- go to the behavioral health tent.  He'd just suffer on his own, and maybe he'd join the other soldiers on the growing list of soldiers at Fort Hood who had consummated their deep pain with a murder/suicide.  I didn't let my mind wonder about this.  I couldn't report the top NCO for pondering murdering his wife, but if it happened, I knew that I would never be able to get that out of my mind.

Instead, I preferred to think about good reunions.  I preferred to imagine having Teresa in my arms again.  Before I left for Iraq, Teresa and I had taken some dance classes and we loved it. First we loved salsa the most. But then we discovered Argentine tango.  We were getting pretty good at it before I left.  To keep me up on my tango, Teresa has been sending me videos of “tangueros” dancing, and I even practiced by myself whenever I had a moment by myself. I loved to watch, but again, the atmosphere of distrust made it very hard for me not to feel jealous and wonder if some sultry tanguero was slipping off with her after a dance. I wondered if she were happily “Tango Uniform” with him in bed and that our engagement also might be sadly "Tango Uniform."

Next to my cot, I always had a stack of her letters that always started, “Dearest Tanguero Adorable…”  She often wrote about being true to me.  She affirmed her maturity, her own self-worth and of course, our love. I hated that I still had my doubts. But I did.  The negative thoughts would come to me and whisper, “A lot of women were saying this, and they were off doing the wild thing.”  But one thing she said really made me believe her. She told me over a crackling long distance conversation, “Sweetheart, you know, if a lot of these women had a way of getting their need for touch met, then they might find it easier to be faithful. Tango allows people to get an important need met—the need to be touched. And if they had any sense of culture and self-discipline they would feel no need to go beyond that.” That sounded genuine. I also was able to dance a few times and feel what Teresa was talking about. There was dancing at a large FOB not far from our sector in Baghdad, and they had salsa dancing there. I found myself feeling so much better after that dance, and even more committed to Teresa.  The magic of music, dance and human touch fulfilled me.  I didn't have to go beyond that.

This is where the driver should
maneuver with "back ochos."
Close to the end of our deployment after I came back from a mission with my platoon, the commander was standing there, and I thought there was bad news. We all fear last minute tragedies in theater or back at home at the last minute before returning.  It seems like shit happens all the time at the very last minute of a deployment.  We were supposed to come home on the 10th of January, and we didn’t have much time left in country. As I had suspected, the commander had bad news.  “The XO's team just missed running over an an IED, and he’s being MEDEVAC’d to the hospital in Baghdad.  He’s doing okay -- nothing really serious, but that means that you’re going back early as the rear-Detachment commander instead of the XO,” he told me. That meant that I’d lead the forward party to help prepare for the return of soldiers back home at Fort Hood. 

My emotions were properly dampened as the commander told me.  First of all, the XO and I were close friends.  We were in the officers' basic course together; so this was terrible news, but at the same time I knew that I would be home for Christmas.  It is probably impossible for most people to understand that this actually 99% bad news that I would be home for Christmas.  I felt like a traitor to my platoon, getting to go back early. I felt humiliated telling the soldiers under me, and all the while I was so happy to be leaving that hell hole and see Teresa. I was totally conflicted in my feelings.  But if I had been given the chance I would have stayed.  Like it or not, I was going back in time for Christmas.  I also decided that I would not tell my family or even Teresa.  I felt sort of ashamed that I was coming back. I was also dreading my return to my fear of what I might find remaining of my hope of marrying Teresa.

What would I find? Intellectually, I knew that everything would be okay, but I had these great fears in my gut too -- fears that seemed deeper in my gut than the the dangers of going "outside the wire" on a mission.

When I arrived I had to go through lots of briefings and medical screens like everyone else would have to do in January. But on Christmas Eve, I would be free. I knew where Teresa would be from our conversations -- at a Christmas Eve tango party. So I put on my dress blue uniform – the only thing I had at my locker at work. I drove down to the University of Texas in Austin.  The UT Ball Room was down I-35, sixty-something miles from Fort Hood, where the milonga was being held. I put on an overcoat so as not to cause a scene when people saw me in uniform at the dance. 

It took a while for me to spot Teresa. She was dancing with a handsome man, and I felt my face turning red. I stood in the back, and no one seemed to even notice me. I realized that I was spying on her like Specialist Gaffney's eagle-eye from through the stratosphere.  I knew it was wrong for spying, and I deserved extra duty like I had given Gaffney.  Also, I felt this mad jealousy well up in me because they were chest to chest, and he danced so well. She looked so satisfied in his arms. I had a feeling of great sadness at first: Like a little boy who was watching his best friend run off with someone else. Then I fought back the rage and jealousy. I tried to stay in the shadows of a far corner but I was sure that my red hot face would surely alert everyone that I was there.  Certainly someone would ask, "What's burning!"  The striped sides of my dress blue uniform pants surely would give me away if I tried to escape now as the tanda ended.

As people were leaving the dance floor, I spotted Teresa coming my way. My stomach twisted and my hands were sweaty. 

An older gentleman stopped her with a nod of his head. Another song started and they danced. She had not recognized me. The man was old enough to be her father. Wow, he was good. He made the younger man look like a klutz. Although they danced simply, people stopped to watch them.  Teresa and he looked as if the music controlled them, forcing them to dance so wonderfully. Teresa looked like she were in some sort of tango Nirvana, and I realized that it was the music, the touch, the moment that was filling her soul. I felt this … this … huge well-spring of emotion, of love, of trust.  She wasn't in heaven because of that old man but because of the power of the embrace, the music and joy of movement, just as she had said before.

As if I did not even choose to, I felt my overcoat fall to the floor around my feet. People were leaving the dance floor, and someone said, “Teresa! My God, he’s back!” 

Teresa's tanguera friend was pointing with one hand and the other was over her mouth, realizing how loud she had said it. The room went dead silent. Everyone started clapping, and Teresa came running to me, with a crowd behind her. She melted into my arms. She was crying. Others stood by and gave me hugs like I was their long lost friend. “Thank God you’re back. Teresa has told us so much about you; it’s as if we have known you forever,” an older woman told me, holding onto my hand like my mother would.

This is the tango community: A bunch of people who touch each other as if this were what human beings do best. 

The music started again, and she led me out onto the floor.  I felt so self-conscious at first.  It was like a wedding dance and we were the only ones on the dance floor.

I just tried to do what I had seen the older man doing, listening to the music and letting the music move my feet. I danced simply, but it felt like I was on a level that I had never had experienced. It was the embrace, Teresa melting into my soul.

My engagement and my love for her were all saved from my worries of catastrophe and hurt at that moment. 

Now when there is a military event, Teresa does no longer calls my uniform my "Dress Blues"; she calls them my "Tango Uniform" because of our reunion dance in Austin.   

I am reluctant to tell her what "Tango Uniform" really means.

Post Script:
This story is of course fiction, but so true about soldiers, love, trust and what tango has to offer the world.

Photo credits:
Link to IED explosion is here.
Older gentleman photo:  Visit
The photo of Salado, TX was from Google Earth.
All photos with the "tango uniform":  Izabella Tabarovsky, Washington DC

Photo models:
Dina Dalipagic and some unknown tanguero in uniform.

Note:  The "Tango Therapist" now resides in Germany.  He is father of two sons who live in Germany.  Besides being a lover of Argenitine tango and a tango blog writer, he is a therapist for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and family problems (now in Germany) and is a lieutenant colonel in the US Army Reserves, Medical Service Corps.