It's been a pretty tumultuous summer, to say the least. In fact, any discussion of this summer has to be kept in context of comparison to last summer. Last summer was the beginning of my new life as a divorced dad.
This summer saw several firsts. It was my first wedding anniversary uncelebrated on purpose. There were a few anniversaries back when we were together that could have been done better, but this first one alone...well, I should never have gone to work. Every nerve seemed open and raw as I tried to make it through the day. When my shift was over at the Fort Worth Bike Share, I got on my Long Haul Trucker and rode. Though my knee had been hurting, the ride loosened me up and gave me clarity to focus on forward moving, literally and figuratively. A strong summer storm blew in and cooled off the air and my passions as I made my loop back home.
This summer was my first summer as a single man since my twenties. I don't count last summer because, well, I had hopes that the divorce was somehow not going to happen...that we would come to our senses and everything would end up a beautiful Hallmark movie ending. She would forgive my weaknesses and I would forgive hers, and we would hold hands and our children would embrace us, and all would be well. That did not happen, so by the time Summer 2014 rolled around, I had already experienced the glories of new bachelorhood. Oh, the stories I could tell! (But I will save those for the nursing home when I'm old and stories are the most fun I can manage).
This summer was my first summer as a new art teacher. After 13 years of teaching mostly High School English, I finally found a school that would trust me to teach art of all things. I passed the art certification exam and I have been sketching and painting and being mildly artistic all my life. I will be working with kids who have been suspended from their regular campuses, and I will also be supervising their electives courses as they work on computer-based learning.
This summer was my first summer taking my kids on a family vacation without the Missus. We drove south, played in the San Marcos river with those cool refreshing waters and the accompanying aesthetics. Summer sessions at the local university must have been in full swing, because scores of college students seemed to be studying nature, each other, and everything but their books down by that river. Our final destination was Port Aransas and Mustang Island State Park. We stayed at a motel and enjoyed air conditioning and Texas-shaped waffles before heading to our campsite in the Sargassum-strewn sands. It was the week before the Fourth of July, and we had tentatively planned to see what fireworks we may from the beach, but my eldest son had received an invitation to view Fort Worth's fireworks show with the family of his sweetheart. My nephew and my younger son both agreed to cutting out early, so we threw all of our gear in the truck the morning of the 4th and I drove straight home just in time to ride bikes from Fairmount, across town to the Panther Island Pavilion for the show.
It was the first summer that my ex wife brought her boyfriend to live with my family. There may always be a slight tone of resentment when it comes to this, but in reality, his moving in is a blessing. It means that he will be teaching closer to Fort Worth, and therefore, my family won't be moving to San Antonio or Austin. And though it grates on my soul whenever I hear my boys speak fondly of their soon-to-be stepdad, I realize that it could be so much worse. He treats them with respect and kindness. He apparently treats my ex as the treasure she is.
It was the first summer I felt deeply inspired in many years. I have always wanted to be creative, but have squandered my gifts by doing other things. I have a very hard time sitting still. My imagination wanders and I grow bored with projects I begin long before their completion, but this summer, a beautiful thing happened.
In the year leading up to this beautiful thing, I had found solace for my loneliness and regret by spending as little time alone as possible. I signed up on dating apps that allowed me to find other lonely spirits and we would wile away the hours. Guilt would creep in on me as I serially dated, but a friend of mine suggested that the girls I had come to know were like band-aides to cover the pain while the healing went on inside. I'm not one to objectify women, and hated to think that I was using these women, so I developed a keen sense of candor. Right up front, I'd tell a prospective date that I was in no place to become someone's committed partner. I was not seeking true love, just someone to spend time with. I would never wine and dine or try to impress another woman again.
It seemed, for a while, that this candor had unexpected benefits. The women I dated became friends, for the most part. We would share our war stories and laugh at our mistakes and occasionally, we would comfort one another. In the first few months after the separation, I had a couple of dear female friends who would come over and help with housekeeping chores, organizing my closets, helping me to throw out the clothes I no longer wore, even helping me clean the scent of cat out of my bedroom which must have served as a kitty kennel in a previous incarnation.
One morning, I posted on Facebook that the song "Life is Good" by Los Lobos was going to be my theme song for the day. One of my dearest female friends soon texted..."is it because of a girl?" I laughed and replied that I was just choosing to see the good that my life offers. Three hours later, she sent another text. "I just picked up the perfect chick for you!"
I don't do set-ups. The last time I had a blind date, I was 21 and I will never forget the experience. It was one of those moments where you think about the friend who set you up and wonder, what about you made them think that this person was a suitable date? Well, when my current dear friend texted, she began telling me that she was showing my pictures to this woman at the bank. That this woman seemed to think I was cute. And her name was...well, for the purposes of this blog, I will just keep names to myself. I searched her name on Facebook and discovered a beautiful young woman, Latina, dark eyes, long flowing hair, and the cutest dimple...and though I hate to say that I have a type, because it sounds so superficial, I have always thought Latin women were attractive.
We exchanged messages and phone numbers via Facebook. We talked until way past my old man bedtime. There was energy and spirit in her voice and intelligence in her texts; she was both witty and deep, and I knew that I had been offered a special opportunity. We agreed to meet and have a beer the next day, and our meeting lasted for hours. The chemistry between us made me almost high.
When she walked in the door of the tavern, I saw perfection. She had dressed to impress. I will avoid the clichés by not describing her curves as dangerous. I am not sure, but it's possible that my mouth was agape when she made her way to my seat. Of course, I tried to be a gentleman, and I got up and stammered a hello.
Now, this is where things get messy. Suddenly, I actually cared about impressing this woman. I don't know why, but I became a hopeless romantic again. I started writing poetry again. I felt so certain that magic had happened, that I grew reckless with my feelings. I heeded no warnings that all the sane people in my life offered. "How long have you known her, Hardy?" They would smile and raise their eyebrows and warn, "Slow your roll, dude!" And I would say, "I know, but..."
My imagination created this perfect story of how this was Providence, our meeting. That maybe her purpose was to restore my faith, not just in love, but in God and in all the beautiful things I had once believed about the universe. I did not listen when she told me that her life was complicated. In my romantic vision, all complications were just details that my newfound inspired creativity would overcome. All the knowledge and wisdom I had earned through years of living and observing others flew out the window, and I felt alive like I had not felt in years. I thought that I was the exception to that rule that only fools rush in, and when she asked me to be honest about my feelings, it felt like it was an invitation to ignore common sense and just thrive in the glory of something so simple and foolish as love at first sight.
We all know better.
I knew that I did not want to rush into a romance. I knew that I had found something precious enough to wait for, but my feelings wouldn't let me wait. Passion is powerful, but reason was what I needed.
People of faith say that things happen for a reason. I have faith that as long as I live, I continue to learn.
I remember the passage my preacher friends often chose for wedding ceremonies:
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
"Love is patient." I was not. I wanted everything all at once, without regard for the complexities of life.
"Love is kind." Had I been more kind, I would have listened more and spoken less.
"Love does not envy." I envied every waking moment that she was not near, and every text message she received while she was near.
"Love does not boast." I shared her picture with every friend I ran into. I impressed upon my friends how blessed I was to have met her.
"Love is not proud." Though I wanted to hear her voice, I was too proud to listen to what she had to say.
"Love does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking." The elation I was feeling when I was with her mattered more than what she actually needed.
"It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth." I rejoiced in sharing what was true in my heart, but the truth of the situation was nothing I wanted to rejoice in.
"It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." We shall see.
"Love never fails." We shall see.
Until then, I know what I have to do.
I have to quit pretending I am a writer who doesn't write or an artist who doesn't paint, and I just need to invest in the gifts I have been given.
"Follow your heart," they say. "Use the gifts God gave you," they say. I say that if you listen to what they say, you'll get bruised and worn, but at least you'll truly be living.