I have few clear memories left of my mother, but I vividly remember how she and Dad would dance. With four small boys, they didn’t have much opportunity to socialize. Dad’s frequent absences only made it worse. Still, they did what they could. They’d put on some slow music and dance in the living room while we watched. I remember insisting Mom dance with me, too. I’d stand on her feet, take her hands, and she’d shuffle me around the room, laughing.
Sometimes I’d sneak out of my room quietly and catch them late at night. They looked so comfortable in each other’s arms. They fit so perfectly together. Dad would smile at her; they’d kiss deeply—and like any other red-blooded American boy, I’d make my escape from all that yucky, mushy stuff.
As we grew up, Dad insisted we learn how to dance. “It’s a skill you’ll need to have later in life,” he said. In order to make it easier, he paid for lessons. So, at age twelve, each of us endured six embarrassing weeks shuffling around a dance studio, putting sweaty hands on girls taller than we were while our friends teased us mercilessly.
But damn! Those lessons sure came in handy during prom season!
After Grandpa died, I noticed Grandma turn down older gentlemen who asked her to dance at a wedding. “Why don’t you want to dance with them?” I asked.
She gave me this wistful smile. “It wouldn’t be the same as dancing with your grandfather. We fit together so nicely.” Having seen Dad dancing with Mom, I understood where she was coming from.
Dad, however, still danced with various ladies of his acquaintance. As an up-and-coming businessman, he had more opportunity to do so. “It’s expected of me,” he explained. “I network and build up goodwill while I dance.” He grimaced. “I keep telling myself it’s worth the bruised toes.” Shaking his head, he added, “It’s not like dancing with your mother. They just don’t fit like she did.”
In the Air Force, I discovered a different kind of dancing. They say that dog-fighting is almost an aerial ballet. I agree. You lead in the dance with your jet as your partner. Mentally and physically you have to fit together well, especially in warfare. You discover how she reacts when you move the steering yoke just so. You develop a sense of timing for take-offs and landings—just how fast to go, when to drop the landing gear. You learn not only to watch your instruments but how she feels in the air. Is she sluggish? Was that a hitch in the engine? Soon it becomes a smooth melding of man and machine, so much so you’re thrown out of step when gunfire strafes her wings.
When you reach that smooth state, that melding, it’s exhilarating. Pulse-pounding, adrenaline-pumping euphoria. You don’t want it to end. There’s nothing like it.
But, no matter how well you know that plane, there comes a time when someone else sits in her cockpit and becomes her partner. No matter how well you fit together, she’s not yours. She never was.
Dad and Grandma? Totally different story. At the end of the dance, they went home with their partners. No one new usurped that dance. No one ever fit exactly the same way again.
Why am I talking about this? Well, I finally found a partner that fits me perfectly. When we dance, we’re totally in synch. I make a move and she follows, smoothly, effortlessly. Dancing with her reminds me of those heady, exhilarating days when I flew and fought in the skies—only better. Because when our dance is over, I get to go home with her. True, she might dance with my brothers on rare occasions, yet no one knows her like I do. No one fits her so perfectly that we might as well be one.
Who is she?