Staying in Step

My second feature piece for my Long-Form Feature class for the Spring 2014 semester. I had to reconstruct a narrative with three human sources. Enjoy!

The sun’s laser-like rays were beginning to dig holes into Cristian Perez’s skin as he stood in position mimicking the stance of a soldier. Muscles began to tense up and hurt as the silver baritone, a brass instrument similar to a trumpet except with a bigger bell, began to feel like a ton of bricks.

Drops of hot sweat mixed with dirt began to roll down Cristian’s face, which tempted him to move his hand to wipe the sweat. Don’t, he would think to himself. I have to stay still. He was called into position and had to stay there until the drum major told them to rest. He might not be in the army, but being part of a group that competes for Drum Core International requires a similar set of attention.

Click. Click. Click.

            Someone began to increase the beats per minute on the metronome.

ClickClickClickClickClick.

            Cristian forgot about the sun’s rays as he heard the speed of the clicks and felt his heartbeat increase just as quickly. Come on, he thought to himself.

Thump. ThumpThump. ThumpThumpThump. His heartbeat could not keep up to the metronome’s tempo.

It was the sixth day of move-in, which meant that he had been in camp for six days. He had almost two weeks left of spring training. In those two weeks, he would be completing physical training as if he were in the army. He would also learn the show’s drill and visuals and perfect the show’s music within those two weeks. Then he would be on the road traveling across the country in a small crowded bus to perfect their show for the DCI 2011 World Championships.

The sixth day was also the day he had to march backwards in ‘6 to 5s.’ That meant that he had to take six steps for every five yards at a tempo of 180 BPM, while his heart was beating at approximately 100 BPM.

Cristian looked at the drum major as if his life depended on it. The drum major began to move his hands in tempo as if casting a spell on the corps. When Cristian recognized the arm movement that meant for the corps to start marching, he stretched out his left leg and took off like if he was in a race. Look left, right and forward, he would tell himself. Using peripheral vision, he looked his side to make sure that he was staying in formation, while marching in step, playing the intense music correctly and holding his baritone at the perfect angle.

He felt a familiar pain in the back of his leg as he marched backward on his tiptoes to his next set. The pain got stronger with every step he took.

The drum major stopped his arm movement. The group stood in position.

“My hamstring felt like it was about to give up,” said Cristian as he rubbed his leg. “The day was hot and the sweat was rolling down my face. All I cared about was how bad my hamstring was hurting.”

A few months prior, Cristian had traveled to San Antonio, Texas twice to audition for the Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps in hopes to get a spot on their horn line. After bombing the visual aspect of the audition, the director told him that he could come back if he wanted to.

Should I come back? Am I cut out for it? I am a good player, but I’ve never been a good marcher, he told himself as he internally debated on going for his second audition. He decided to go back and audition, but the only difference was that he would rehearse. He committed all of his time to practice. He was offered the contract to march with the corps. YES, he said as he signed the contract.

Manny Salinas, one of Cristian’s best friends, was happy for Cristian. “He had always expressed interest in marching drum corps so I was not really surprised he joined Crossmen. I was very happy since it’s a unique opportunity that not many people can experience.”

Since drum corps only accepts brass instruments, percussion and color guard, Manny, a saxophone player, could not try out for any group associated with DCI. Because of that, he was slightly jealous that Cristian would be able to experience what he was about to experience. Jealousy did not stop him for being happy for Cristian.

The physical training was something neither of them knew what to expect.

“We had to do those gruesome football drills such as the Cherokee Run and squats as part of our PT,” said Cristian. “We also had to run two miles and do a good amount of pushups. I began training my body two weeks before spring training so I was totally unprepared. We also did yoga.”

Cristian’s least favorite workout was the abs ripper from the P90X workout. Shit, he would tell himself as he worked on the workout. Why did I sign up for this?

Then, the corps had to run through the entire show. The first run through of the show was the worst. They had to put the music, the visuals and the drill together to create the show they would be taking on the road across the nation for thousands of people to see. Shit, this was bad Cristian whispered to himself after the group’s first run through. And, that was tiring. By the third week, the show had improved drastically according to their instructors.

            Spring training ended. The date was June 19 and Cristian found himself in Indianapolis. Thunder kept shaking the ground as the rain hit the ground like bullets on a shooting range with lighting bolts. The corps was impatiently waiting on the bus, eager to show of their show, but annoyed that they were restricted to a small bus filled with their fellow members.

“Marching in the rain isn’t that bad,” Cristian said. “If there’s lighting, that’s when we are concerned since we are carrying big metal rods that can kill us.”

When the weather decided to behave, the corps was given the okay to perform. The music the group made should have sounded like Gods that were entering the field yet the music sounded like chaos due to the quickness of the warm-up. The corps stepped on the field. Ice-skating would probably be easier than marching in this field thought Cristian about the slippery wet football field when he stepped on it.

The show had been rehearsed around three or four times before that performance. Mistakes were made. The grass was slippery. Thick mud covered the corps’s shoes. A corps’s worst nightmares had come out that night.

Before Cristian could think about the mistakes he and the others around him made at the end of the show, the fans who had stuck around erupted into loud applause and cheers, excited to see their favorite group perform in front of them. Cristian looked at the stands. I survived. And, the fans appreciated our hard work even though we messed up. They are here to see us.

            He felt like death that night, but still could not sleep. Sleeping on a bus is not easy. Thank God he’s sleeping on the floor Cristian would whisper to himself as he would stretch to the area where his seatmate was sitting down. When not sleeping on a bus, the corps had to sleep on a cold hard gym floor on sleeping bags and air mattresses.

The summer became a routine for Cristian. Wake up early in the morning, rehearse, perform, have a bit of downtime and then travel to the next location, eating and sleeping when he could. He looked forward to the days where he would arrive at a well-funded high school to take a shower with hot water instead of the usual icy cold showers that most high schools had.

Throughout the weeks, Cristian began to form friendships with members of the hornline, including Dominic DeSantis.

“The best moments are in group,” said DeSantis. “One of the guys decided to break a bottle of white spray paint, which literally exploded. He got himself covered with paint as well as the rest of us. That was one of the most fun things of the summer and one of the top five stupidest things I’ve ever seen.”

Dominic would talk to Cristian about expectations from rehearsals, competitions or just about life. Since they both of them were baritone players, a friendship was formed due to the amount of time they had to spend together on and off the field. Friendships were important in field. Friendships made the trips much more interesting.

The worst part of the season was when Cristian slightly sprained his ankles. A little pain might not seem much, but a little pain goes a long way during marching season. Cristian took his slightly sprained ankles as a sign from his body that he was not used to the extreme physical activity that Cristian was forcing his body to do. Ice will make it better. I will ice it everyday.

He kept going to rehearsal and icing his ankles at night. Eventually, his ankles healed.

July 21, 2011. That was the day of the San Antonio Regional.

“When I first saw Cristian, it was after his performance. He looked so foreign to me,” Manny said. “He lost a lot a ridiculous amount of weight and his skin tone was multiple shades darker.”

Cristian had lost around thirty pounds by the time of the San Antonio Regional Competition. Being in good shape is essential to performing your show to the best of your abilities he would tell himself daily to motivate himself to keep going. He continued to feel his body’s energy drain slowly and painfully.

The group received a standing ovation a minute before the show ended, which led to an emotional huddle after the performance. They are standing for us he told himself, forgetting about the soreness of his body or the fact that he had put his all into the show just seconds prior. No one puts 100 percent into the show. We all put in 110 percent.

            August 8-10, 2011. The week every member of a drum and bugle drum corps had been waiting for had finally arrived. That was the week of the DCI World Championships. During August 8 through the 11, the corps competed to get the gold. August 8 was the quarterfinals of the championship. That is where 40 corps perform in front of judges to be one of 21 corps to advance to the semi-finals on Friday. From the 21 corps that performed at the semi-finals, 12 end up competing at the finals in hopes to get gold.

            Before the performance, the corps made a circle, covering their emotional-filled faces with stone faces. Silence. Everyone looked at each other and realized that it was their last show. They lowered their head and tears from everyone began to hit the field. This is the definition of a brotherhood. We will never be together again. This was the perfect reflection of the season.

            Crossmen made the semi-finals, but did not make finals.

To Cristian, all that mattered was that he overcame the physical strain of such a demanding physical activity.  His body had gotten used to the beatings of the sport, and had gotten used to the heavy conditioning to breeze through parts of the rehearsal.

This is why I do this. This is why I stuck around to get my butt kicked all summer, he told himself as he stood on the field of Lucas Oil Stadium watching the fans cheer for him.

“When you see a standing ovation, you cannot help but think ‘Oh yeah, this is why I did this.’”

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