We sit in the oncology wing of Georgetown and wait for my husband’s name to be called. We both sip hot tea and busily avoid the reality that awaits us by reading articles on our iphones and sharing funny posts on facebook–anything to distract, to amuse, the lighten. It is Tuesday–hospital day–and soon we will be called back to a cramped, dingy room to be told the results of my husband’s PET CT. To be told if the cancer is back. I feel my eyelids get heavy as I struggle to read what’s on the screen in front of me; sleep did not come easily last night as my mind raced, filling with various scenarios of how today would go. And every time, it came back to the wedding. How would I keep bad news to myself this weekend at my brother’s wedding?
Would I have to?
Saturday afternoon, 2pm. From the pew I can see my brother’s face perfectly; a mix of happiness and anxiousness and perspiration from the humid Tulsa air. He and his soon-to-be bride are seated on the altar, holding hands and listening to the homily written specifically for them this day. The priest likens marriage to a dance, and, in Oklahoma spirit, quotes a few country song lyrics. I smile inwardly at the bizarre way a priest reading a country song lyric from the altar actually sounds biblical. He reads another:
“I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance”
The priest expounds on this, reminding them that there will be pain, trials, difficulty, but that these imperfections form the unique love of marriage. I feel my face flush and my heart beat a little faster. The pain of these words is acute and too familiar. The church is hot and I can feel my brow start to bead with sweat. I try to look beyond the blushing couple over to the groomsmen to find my husband. He is hidden behind the priest. Probably better that way. I look at this couple on the altar; they are young and in love and wrapped up in everything wedding. And I want to stand up and plead with them, “Listen! This is the most important thing you will hear today!”; to warn them of what lies ahead in “real life”. But instead I am poised and steady, fighting the urge to crumble as I recall the enormous struggle we face after three short years of marriage.
I flash back to our wedding day–the 115 degree Arizona summer heat that, somehow, I didn’t even feel. The flowers, the dresses, the walk down the aisle, my three brothers by my side, happy tears streaming down my face as I walked toward the man I was about to marry. Giddiness at the prospect of a lifetime together…but, how long is a lifetime? I watch this couple and the couple in my mind’s eye about the embark on the unknown, and I ask myself: knowing the pain awaiting us, would I have still walked toward him? If I could have missed the pain, would I have?
“Such great news,” my cousin clinks his glass with mine, freeing golden bubbles from the bottom and sending them bursting to the top, and he gives me a nod as he sips, waiting to say more. The sun is sinking lower over the Tulsa skyline as we celebrate the day’s nuptials from thirty stories high. I open my mouth to concur but before I can utter a word someone grabs me by the arm and says “your brother says to be ready, your song is coming on.” A verbal drive-by. The music has stopped and, three guitar picks into the next tune, I know what my brother has done. In the midst of one of the most important days of his life, he has remembered the song: the one my baby claps his chubby hands to, the one my toddler sings the chorus of for days on end. The only song my husband has ever turned to me and said “This song always makes me think of you”.
My husband and I race to dance floor with our babies, watching their eyes light up as their ears recognize the beat. My toddler, in his glory, stomps his foot and claps his hands to the beat of a song he’s sung so many times from the comfort of his carseat. He wiggles in the middle of the small circle of uncles and cousins, laughing all the while. My baby spins in circles next to his daddy, then reaches up to be held, tired but happy from his exertion on the dance floor. We sing at the top of our lungs and laugh and twirl. We dance. My husband is happy, the kind of happy only someone who’s fought his battles can know. He is surrounded by his best friends, his family, and his two boys mimicking his every move. The news of a cancer-free scan cannot compete with the joy I see in his eyes tonight. I find my married brother, I take his arm and pull him close and, over the music, whisper “thank you.” He looks at me with love and I know he’d do so much more for us if he could. But this is enough. He gives me a spin and we dance some more.
The song is ending and I see my husband high-five our toddler and cradle our baby in his arms; I see my family, my dance, right in front of me. I survey the scene around us: a celebration on all fronts. And I want to try and explain to my brother all that he has just done for me, the incredible memory he’s just made for us. I want to remind him of what the priest said at the altar today, of the surprises that he’ll face in his marriage. That some of the surprises are painful but that, somehow, the pain makes the joy so much sweeter. I hug him instead because I can’t find words. I close the circle of my family, wrapping my husband and boys in my arms, overcome with emotion as the song ends. This is our dance, this beautiful, surprising, gut-wrenching life.
“I love you,” I tell my husband through the tears I’ve stopped fighting, my chin resting on his shoulder. A clean PET scan, a wedding, dancing babies and a beaming husband; this is the dance. I see a few guests through my tear-filled eyes watching us, and I realize some have also been moved to tears. “I know,” he says, “it’s okay, everything’s okay,” he reassures me. And it is.
I pull back from him to look at his face, the face I walked toward less than four years ago. And I answer my own question with one word: yes. Yes, I would walk toward him all over again, in spite of the pain, because I would never, ever want to miss this dance.
Like a drum my heart never stops beating for you And long after you’re gone gone gone I’ll love you long after you’re gone gone gone
Originally published June 19, 2013