In 2005, out of a senior class of 30, Jennifer Torres was one of two voted “Best Debaters of the Year”. The other one was her twin, Sam Torres.
Debating had always been a family pastime in the Torres household. Mister Torres had encouraged differing opinions since the children were very young, sometimes to the extreme, at the dinner table. Though never among Mister Torres worst nightmares did he dream that this innocent family pastime would one day split his family in two. That day was January 17th, 2005.
Resting on the outcome of Webster High’s annual debate was a one year scholarship to Yale University, the school of the twins’ dreams since they visited the Yale campus as high school freshmen. For the other Torres senior, the one who lost the debate, it would be the affordable State Junior College.
The topic of the debate this year, “The Decision to Attack Iraq”, had not been announced until two days before the event, which gave very little preparation time. Worse, Jennifer had drawn the “pro” position. Jennifer, the pacifist, anti-war demonstrator, and founder of the local chapter of Women Against Violence, Etc. (WAVE) suddenly found herself “pro” the decision to attack Iraq.
Jennifer Torres, usually a motor mouth – affectionately dubbed MM by her twin – had become eerily quiet after the drawing. Mister and Missus Torres had agreed not to take sides, at least for the forty eight hours prior to the debate. But when the family saw how thoroughly depressed Jennifer was, Missus Torres offered to help search the internet for facts “pro” war in Iraq for her. Jennifer had given her mother a look followed with a very sharp response, “What facts? Whose facts?”
Sam, on the other hand, was at the computer day and night gathering his ammunition. He had tapped into every liberal, anti-Bush, anti-war, anti-aggressor news story he could find. The phone rang constantly for Sam with well-intentioned friends offering advice against the decision to go to war in Iraq. Sam felt that he was “armed” with enough evidence to end his argument forcibly that history would label the war in Iraq the “mistake” of the Twenty First Century.
Avoiding the ever growing confidence on the part of her brother, Jennifer kept to her room, drinking tea, doing yoga, meditating and sleeping, her cell phone turned off, refusing to come downstairs to see friends who stopped by or called. She took meals in her room, a vegan diet which she prepared herself, did not even turn on her computer, sat in the lotus position for hours, and withdrew from life.
“It’s worse than the SAT’s,” Missus Torres remarked. Mister Torres, fighting his own internal war, did not agree or disagree. He blamed himself for encouraging his children to debate. He thought that he should have seen this day coming, like a civil war, dividing his family into two camps, the outcome of which would be more devastating to one than glorious to the other. He considered selling the house and providing the loser with one yea’s tuition to the college of their choice, if Yale University did not accept them both. That’s what he would do, he decided. Sell the house. What did it matter where they lived? The day their children left home, their dining room table would be quiet. The “contest” would be over. There would be a “winner” and a “loser”, unlike their family debates.
The afternoon of the debate, Sam won the toss to speak first. He approached the podium, cleared his throat, and for the next thirty minutes gave the most eloquent denunciation of America’s war with Iraq that had ever been heard by anyone. He quoted historians and professors, mothers of soldiers killed in conflict, mothers of children who might one day be sent to places like Iraq. He spoke as a young man with a promising future in computer science or space technology or politics or the humanities that could be snuffed out with a bomb or a bullet in a land where Americans were despised. He spoke of the needs here at home for the billions of dollars wasted on war. He spoke of our schools, our elderly, our homeless, our economy and our crumbling social security and medical care programs. He spoke of our parents, our children and our future children who would be saddled with the debt of this war. He ended by labeling the War In Iraq the biggest mistake of the 2lst Century… to date… and pleaded with the American people never to forget nor to allow this mistake, this rush to war, to happen again.
Sam’s speech was followed by a standing ovation, including Mister and Missus Torres.
The auditorium went quiet as the moderator announced the “pro” side of the debate to be presented by Miss Jennifer Torres.
Jennifer Torres stood and faced the audience, also without notes. She took one minute to present her position. She said, “I humbly speak for the people of Iraq. In the immortal words of Reverend Martin Luther King, when we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every city on earth, we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children will join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual… free at last, free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”
Jennifer sat down. There was no ovation, no applause. It was too solemn a moment for applause.
There would be many other debates around the Torres dining room table in the years to come. None would be as dramatic or as decisive as the one that Sam won on Martin Luther King’s Day – January 17, 2005 – along with a year’s scholarship to Yale University nor the one that Jennifer won that same day with a four year scholarship to Smith.
About the Author
Jean Blasiar has had six full length plays produced in the greater Los Angeles area. Recently her teenage novel, “What’s Best For Richie?”was accepted for publication. In 1995 Jean was named Woman of the Year by Women in Theatre.