You Have to Know the Bitter to Know the Sweet

When I met The Guy, he’d been single for several years after his divorce. He always tells me he was very thoughtful and responsible in choosing me for a partner. After we’d had a big fight and I apologized for being extra nuts, he always laughed out loud and said, “You have to know the bitter to know the sweet.” To me, it was a phrase about me, like the finest compliment.

I don’t tend to make slow calculated decisions in choosing my partners. I decide about them based purely on how I feel and logic has very little to do with it. He’s always been the optimistic one who puts things into rational perspective for me.

The Guy joined the Army in 2011. He was shipped off to South Carolina for basic training, and Sierra Vista, Arizona for job training. The first time I slept next to him after basic training, he slept rigidly facing the wall. It was very different from how we used to sleep, sometimes entangled in one pile.

I met him in Sierra Vista to spend time with him before his deployment. The first time I saw him was on the Army installation Ft. Huachuca. I wore my favorite ripped jeans and sat on a bench in front of his barracks, “The Bulldogs.” I heard his platoon before I saw them, marching up in cadence. I felt severely out of place, but to this day I’m still a sucker for a platoon marching in cadence. There’s something very romantic about it.

He wasn’t allotted many freedoms so I stayed in the nearby town Bisbee and cooked meals for our daily hour together. We sat outside because he was not allowed indoors and required to be dressed in full battle gear. Over 100 people were in his platoon and he was the only person who would be deploying immediately after graduation. He was punished for having lunch with me and we were given exactly 1 night together before he left.

When he came back from deployment, I met him again in Sierra Vista before we moved to Hawai’i and bought our first home together. It was an exciting time, but still I noticed he was extra jumpy and more snappy than he’d ever been. It was a fairly mild change, which I attributed to the stress of moving.

In Hawai’i, he worked for a division that sucked the life blood out of him. Everyday became a day that he hated. His superiors were incompetent and ruthless. It wasn’t difficult to find peers to commiserate with. He began longing for a deployment where he could be useful and valued as a member of a team. He deployed for a second time in 2014.

When he came back, he barely slept. If you touched him or made a noise while he was asleep, he’d sit straight up in bed fully alert. He was extra snappy and unmotivated to explore the culture and activities around him. When quiet late night moments came about, he always spoke of bombs, raids, and death. His patience kept dwindling down, and the guy who used to say “Hakuna Matata” to any stressful situation made fewer and fewer appearances.

We managed to make several lifelong friends through the Army, although most of our time with them was spent imbibing. They knew better than to ask if we wanted to engage in any other activities since the answer was always no. None of them knew him pre-Army, only what they heard through our endless stories, so they readily accepted him as-is.

I was fortunate enough to develop a life outside of the Army. I met many wonderful local friends through the Natural Resources program I was employed with. I was invited to camp on top of a ridge on the Ko’olau Mountains with a spectacular view of the island. I flew to Kaua’i to meet a friend. One friend in particular invited me into his family activities and showed me Hawaiian ways and practices. We became exceptionally good friends and repeatedly invited The Guy to spend time with us, which he agreed to once. I know my friend’s family found it odd that The Guy and I spent so much time apart.

Toward the end of our time on island, one of our friends remarked about The Guy that “for someone who has so many stories about doing things, he sure doesn’t like to do things.” I felt relieved someone else finally vocalized it. I’m not sure that a single person around us knew he was depressed because his naturally happy and positive disposition concealed it well. 4 months after he got out of the Army, nothing had really changed. Without anyone to discuss it with, I started thinking the entire phase would never end. Maybe the deployments had left irreparable damage. All I knew was that rational thinking was losing the fight against emotional thinking.

This trip has been something we have planned for over 5 years. Originally he was going to take a contract doing the same work outside of the Army and move us to North Carolina, pay off loans, and save up more money before considering it. But I imagined what my life would feel like if we followed that path, and it seemed empty. I wasn’t sure I could make it much longer. Fortunately a month after suggesting we take the trip, he finally agreed!

Our time in Reno has been like a bend in the road. He was willing to spend exorbitant amounts of time with my friends and family, going on adventures with no plans and no time frame. He’s been open to many new people and personalities. He even sang karaoke in my best friend’s living room, something he promised to do with me back in 2011. Although he claims not to like children, he interacted with my niece in the most endearing ways.

When we left Reno toward Las Vegas, I missed a turn and drove us through Death Valley. The 115 degree weather sufficiently justified names like Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek, and Burnt Wagons Point. I don’t know if the intense heat evaporated our gas or it was the climb in 4000 feet, but by the time we realized we were in California our 20 gallon gas tank only produced 137 miles. I was on the verge of losing it when he happily climbed out of the car, grabbing our extra gas and saying, “Baby, let me take care of this. I’ve got your back.”

Death Valley (1)
Hundreds of miles of desert. Deathly Death Valley desert.

It seems very fitting that we’re back in Sierra Vista the night before beginning this journey. Everything has come full circle.

4 days ago, we were walking together toward Pyramid beach jesting back and forth when I felt a surge of happy emotion and looked over at him to ask, “Are we happy?”

He replies, “Yes, of course we are silly.”

I admire his strength in that statement. I’m not always the most patient, and I certainly struggle with maintaining positivity, but like all learning experiences some are long while others are short. This lesson was long and at times seemed never ending. Sometimes, I guess you just have to know the bitter to know the sweet.

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