For their fortieth wedding anniversary, el Don y la Doña both dye their graying hair a startling, shiny black. El Don looks small and fragile in his good white guayabera. His wife has a good three inches and twenty pounds on him; she’s solid and strong under her pink lace dress. They both wear the same slightly pained, unreadable faces they wear to wakes, weddings, and the dinner table, even as they walk into the hall to the cheers of their family and friends and the happy welcoming notes from the band: DA-da DA-da da-di-da-di-DA-da!
Their three daughters and one daughter-in-law all wear short fuchsia strapless dresses and silver heels; their son clashes in his light blue guayabera. Ibis is their extra, honorary son; they took him in when he was a lonely university student in a strange city.
Their youngest daughter left home at nineteen to marry a man everyone said would be the ruin of her. Their little girl was born missing a hand. She’s six years old now, and when her doctor suggested fitting her for a prosthesis so she could have two hands, she said, “But I already have one.” Tonight she’s wearing an orange and white dress and a cascade of curls, and as her parents dance, she follows her small cousins around, picking them up when they fall.
The middle daughter, a doctor, dances barefoot, and works her way around the room, making sure she talks to everyone. Five years ago, she got married in a blue-and-white church. Eight months later, she got divorced. Now she says she won’t leave her parents again for any man. To study maybe, but not to get married---besides, she says, she’s almost thirty, who would want her? She dances with abandon, laughing, her skirt working its way up her gorgeous legs.
The oldest daughter only in the past year, in her late thirties, married a man with three teenagers from a previous relationship, and had a baby of her own. Everyone said, “It’s about time.” Just a few months post-partum, her body is soft and thick in the tight magenta dress. The next day, looking at photos, she says, “Ay, look at my enormous belly! It’s that I had just eaten,” and laughs. She’s never given much of a fuck what people expect.
The daughter-in-law is orbited by her two little boys, who wear magenta guayaberas they picked out themselves. She and I were married within months of each other, and were pregnant at the same time. Our husbands are best friends. Now we sit and chug beers and take turns herding the kids back into the hall when they head for the street. And she tells me that her husband has a girlfriend on the side. That he comes home at 2 a.m. or not at all. Later, an aunt drags them both onto the dance floor and shoves them together. They each grab one of their sons, and dance without once looking at each other’s eyes.
In the car on the way home, Ibis asks me, “Why do you think we’ve lasted?”
“Because we’re both such great communicators,” I say. (We’re not.) He laughs and punches me lightly on the thigh.
“No,” I say, “I think it’s because we both believe in our story. You know? And we’re both too stubborn to give up on such a great story.”
“Maybe,” he says. “It’s a good story.”
We turn onto the dark highway. The pueblos are webs of light scattered across the black valley. From here, it’s a straight shot home.