How many times have I heard Mimi say "La gente del tango es mi familia." and how many times have I heard others say "In the milonga we are a family." So many people live their lives in the milonga, the milonga might as well be their only family. I always chose not to think that way. Sometimes things happen to change your mind.
It is a conflict. In many ways we are a family. I always think of Mimi and of course Sandra as my sisters. My friend Marcelo as my brother. While Amanda is old enough to be my mother, I call her my child. Jorge is mine and Sandra's Godchild. These are the few people I see outside of the milonga regularly.
In the milonga we joke constantly. There are brothers, fathers, grandfathers, cousins, boyfriends, and of course lovers. All in good fun. We have our 10 minute conversations on life. We get to know each other over the course of years. I am always amazed at what people remember.
Sometimes we meet at the home of another. At an asado. More time to learn about the person. There is always a distance. There is always a familiarity. People come, people go. People get sick. People die. They get married. They get divorced. Just like in families. We fight. We argue. We kiss and make up. Just like in families.
I first met Luis in 2002 I think. I was with Mimi eating in a Parilla. He was there with a friend. He came to the table to greet Mimi and she introduced me. He invited me to his milonga which was at that time at Lo de Celia on Wednesday afternoons.
From that time on Luis had various milongas and I attended them all. His friends were among the best dancers - milongueros, and I wanted to dance with them. If I could not, I at least wanted to watch them and learn from them. He was always generous with me, especially in the begining asking his friends to dance with me.
For the last couple of years he has had a milonga on Wednesdays and Fridays at the Central Leonesa (Niño Bien). I could not go on Wednesdays. I used to go on Fridays. It was not well organized, we could never get a good table. Sandra got sick of it, and we stopped going and started going to Gricel.
Then 3 months ago or longer I saw Luis in Juan's milonga on Tuesday. He wasn't dancing and he was in pain. Me too. The two of us talked like two old people. Him with his leg, me with my knee. He wanted to know why I wasn't coming on Fridays anymore. I felt like the bad child. I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to throw Sandra under the bus, she is my friend. They did treat us better in Gricel.
That was the last time I saw Luis. I heard a week later he went into the hospital. His girlfriend Franca stepped in to help Lucy the other organizer of the milongas to keep them going. Ana and Pia told us that we should come back on Fridays, that the milonga was much better organized. Sandra refused. I went.
It was like old home week. I saw lots of my old friends. It was much better organized. I had lots of fun. Franca and Lucy were delighted to see me. They gave me a great table, right in front. After I went to Gricel to meet Sandra.
For a month I have been going to two milongas on Friday night. Each time Franca would update us on Luis. Many people said he was not going to leave the hospital. Last Friday, Franca told us that Luis would be at his milonga on Wednesday.
I rescheduled one of my English classes to come to the milonga. I met Pia there. Lucy was thrilled to see me. I had not been to this milonga in over a year. Pia and I were both dancing when we heard applause in the reception area. Many of the dancers stopped. Luis must have arrived.
We went out to greet him. He looked good. Thinner. Walking with a cane. But he looked good. We ran to him and hugged him. What to say? Sometimes I forget my Spanish. I told him he looked great. I didn't know what else to say. To be honest, I couldn't talk. I was overwhelmed emotionally to see my friend again. I looked around. We all had tears in our eyes.
He came into the milonga and sat at the special table prepared for him. Like a king he was surrounded by all his friends. He was much quieter than usual. Normally Luis is quite loud. Boisterous. He has this voice that you can hear way above all the others.
Then it came time for the sorteo and announcements. Franca and Lucy got up. They welcomed Luis back. With tears in her eyes, Franca gestured for Luis to come to the center of the floor, which he did. She handed him the microphone.
And in the voice, that only he has he let out in his way "Amigos y Amigas, bienvenidos a Entre Tango y Tango." With that, the crowd one by one got to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. One of the family had come home.