Roughing It

Today I started the annual family vacation. We are on our way to see my parents in Georgia. The recently moved there to be closer to my sister and her kids. Living in the middle of the country makes seeing my parents a once or twice a year event.

Instead of staying in hotels, I camp in state and national parks. It’s far cheaper, its the great outdoors, and you can start fires. My kids have their tents, I have my one-man tent that I used to use in my biker ministry days. It guarantees that no one will crawl into my tent with me in the middle of the night, unless its a snake or raccoon.

It was during a similar trip years ago my now estranged wife moved out of our home into an apartment across town. Even after all these years it still haunts me during every trip out East. Knowing at the end of my vacation I was going to come home to an empty home filled me with dread. I still dread it but I now manage the feeling better.

My wife was the love of my life. Even now I still am madly in love with her. I guess I always will be. And it hurts every day.

But life has a way of moving on. She moved on and left me behind wounded on the battlefield. I don’t know if I will ever forgive her for doing that to me. I was wounded and bleeding and she abandoned me and threw me out of our family. I now live with 3/5 of my family. I have learned to be grateful for what I have still, and to cherish what time that I have left with my kids before they grow up and start their own families.

I have a girlfriend now. I’m dating a woman that I’ve known for as long as I have known my ex wife. She has been along my side as my best friend through good times and the worst of times. I love her deeply. But I don’t love her like I love my ex.

I learned years ago that each love of a woman is unique and different from woman to woman. I have only one other great love of my life. She is my first love. I will not go into why that had ended. But it changed the direction of my life when she broke up with me.

But how I love my girlfriend is just as deeply felt as I feel for my ex or my first love. But every time I fell in love it was different just each woman that I have loved is different and unique.

My girlfriend has made it known that she wants to be a wife again. I made it known that I don’t know if I have it in me to marry ever again. We are working it out. I honestly don’t know if I could love enough to marry again. And I can’t be in another loveless marriage, being my first marriage to the wrong woman.

I don’t have to educate my girlfriend on my mental illness. She’s lived through the ups and downs. But she hasn’t been around me 24/7 to face what my ex wife had faced every day for years.

I am stable once again. I am living my life again. I have good people that I keep as my circle of friends. Three whom I tell everything, within reason, to. They are my sisters, except my girlfriend. That’d be creepy. But they know all about my mental illness and have seen me at my worst. Two I met in the weeks following my wife leaving me.

I love them like I love a sister. There is nothing sexual between me and the two. No sexual attraction, though I think that they are attractive women. They are two of my best friends. I haven’t had friends like these. The kind that I need and strive for me to be the best possible self that I can be.

My girlfriend and I are finding that though we know each other so well, we really don’t know each other as well as we thought we did. We are both damaged goods. I jokingly say that my heart was put back together by drunken monkeys with hundred mile an hour tape and super glue. She was treated very badly by her own ex. So, we both have trust issues out of the gate.

Next is cultural. She’s black and I didn’t realize how different black culture is from my military culture and white culture. She’s very expressive when something pisses her off. I have yet to figure out the land mines so I don’t blow my legs off. I’ve already stepped on more than a few land mines already in the months since we started dating.

Which leads me to the third learning curve which is learning how she lives her day to day life and figure out how we integrate our two lives together. Living in separate cities, only a 40 minute drive, and driving an SUV at today’s gas prices, makes our time together in person rather limited. So I am not around her long enough to really get on her nerves.

I am in my one-man tent typing this on my phone using a folding keyboard. Outside the frogs and bugs are chirping. I am listening to the San Diego Padres game. There is no other place I want to be. It is peaceful. There is no ex in this world. There are no misunderstandings and hurt feelings with my girlfriend here. I am not worried about being alone. I can hear my sons chatter away late into the night. This is paradise for me.

A piece of advice that I had heard Steven King said to Neil Gaiman: Enjoy the ride (not the actual quote. But this is the gist of it). I have to learn to enjoy these moments. Because before I know it I will be looking back on them wishing I had enjoyed them to the fullest. Without over doing it.

So my advice to you is to enjoy the ride. Enjoy those great moments when they happen. For most of us with mental illness they can be few and far between. Because before you know it the ride will be over and all you have is the memories…and maybe some pics.

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