One of his favorite ways to spoil me was to take me to the movies. During our first year of college, neither of us had a car, so we walked to the nearby theater regularly. On one particular return trip to our college campus, as our hands interlaced, our conversation turned somehow to dancing. Eric stopped and moved so that our toes touched. He searched my eyes intently and declared his desires:
“I want to dance with you.”
“Me too, that will be fun sometime.”
“I want to dance with you now.”
“This isn’t really a dancing song…”
“I don’t care.”
“It’s really bad lighting…”
“But I don’t care. You look amazing.”
“I want to dance right now, in this ridiculous lighting, with you. Will you dance with me?”
There, underneath the fluorescent awning of a closed storefront, Eric held me as close as he could, and we shuffled to an angsty ballad.
Eric took whatever opportunity he could throughout our dating relationship to dance with me. He loved to dance, and would often remark about how beautiful it was to him to think of his grandparents dancing together. He told me, even before I officially committed myself to him, that he had plans to dance with me all the way into old age… until our hairs turned gray and our bodies could be steadied only by each other.
When we danced for the first time as Mr. and Mrs. Lindberg, the music floated throughout the room and we were aware of only each other. As I looked into Eric’s eyes, I marveled at my husband. His strong arms encapsulated me and with his lips he sang about a love that would continue to crescendo through twists and turns to come.
We continued dancing in and out of days. Sometimes the dance was pretty and sweet like a waltz, peaceful and pleasant to behold. Other times it was more like a passionate tango as each of us fought to take the lead. We were awkward into each transition, sometimes hitting our knees to pray in unison and other times missing cues all together. We danced in different spaces, and with varying company. We glided over smooth surfaces in lovely outfits but also tripped on tiny toys with spit-up on our clothes.
One evening during Bible Study, my thoughts drifted to a friend from church whose husband had died suddenly. His passing caused my heart great ache. I fought tears and left early. I wanted more than anything to see my husband safe and sound in our home. I attempted to drown out the dizziness with something sweet on the radio, but was met instead with a strange and haunting melody. The singer recounted a dream wherein her lover was suddenly gone, leaving her all alone.
When I rushed through the door, Eric read my eyes and immediately pulled me into his arms. As my tears stained his t-shirt, I asked him to dance with me. We held desperately to each other, hoping to hide from our collective worst nightmare.
Months later we found ourselves in a hospital room, listening to the results of his stress test. Eric’s heart needed help. We scheduled the next step towards open heart surgery, a cardiac catheterization. I attempted a cool and logical perspective about the routine nature of the procedure and favorable statistics. I collected information, and reasoned calmly that although any surgery is risky, comfort could be found in the success rates of previous procedures, the skill levels of the medical professionals and advancements in modern technology. Yet, there was something ominous looming around us. At night, when the quiet seemed overwhelming, I stared at the ceiling while Eric dueled the darkness in his sleep.
On a following Tuesday night, I stood in front of the oven willing a whole chicken to finally be ready. It had been cooking for three hours and the recipe said it should have taken less than two. I was attempting to be rational, but I was just furious with the stupid bird. Our toddlers were playing in their room, with cars and trucks and loud sound effects. Music was playing in the kitchen. I watched the clock, waited for the fifth timer to ring, and listened for tires in the driveway. It was never an expectation that I’d have dinner ready by the time Eric walked through the door, but it was something I wanted to do for him. It was one way I felt that I could ease his nervousness. But tonight the dinner was not going to be ready on time. Our apartment was a wreck, I looked like a mess, and the boys’ diapers needed attention. I heard the door open and the familiar sound of Eric’s bag finding its spot in the entry. The chicken was still pink.
“Hi Honey. Where are the boys?” I didn’t answer, but heard him walk back to their room. And then the next song on the playlist flooded the room. Notes on a piano played with an unsettled voice, stirring the air in an anxious ballet. My shoulders quivered and my head began to hang. Then, suddenly and perfectly, Eric was behind me. He held me close to himself and cradled my head to his chest. “I don’t want to live without you,” I whispered. “I know,” he said, and his hands slid down to my waist. “Dance with me.” And we clung to each other like two who have become one.
Forty-eight hours later, Eric’s body failed as a result of complications from the catheterization procedure. I let go of Eric’s hand as the music ended. With tears I thanked God for the dance. Whether the melodies were light and cheerful, sharp or eerie; when we were in sync and also when the beat was hard to find; we danced. In wealth and poverty, sickness and health, laughter and tears, until death parted us, we danced.
*This post was updated after submission to a 2017 Northwestern Christian Writer’s Conference Contest and judged by Bethany House Publishers.
*This submission won the “Bethany House Aspiring Author Award” on July 15, 2017.
*Featured photo copyright 2012 Rick Busch