reading time: 7 minutes
Written By: Travis Knight
Her eyes were gallant as we spiraled down a barren interstate, calmly facing a shower of midnight streetlights while snapping flashes of mustard-yellow hues splashed across her face. The dull emanations would rapidly illuminate her deep-black hair, pouring waterfalls of bleak light down onto her shoulders. Then it would quickly depart onto the suede seat, leaving only darkness behind. During this beautiful dance between approaching interstate streetlights and my wife’s soft skin, I detected something in her curling smile that I had not seen for a very long time: HAPPINESS
Two days before, my wife, Camila, and I were a typical couple one often sees these days. Slithering fissures running rampant upon the surface of our relationship, with cracks crawling far beyond below. However, as we found ourselves returning home from our recent trip north, a sense of forgiveness emitted between us. The car remained silent, but it was not the usual anger-produced silence that we often encountered. This silence was full of love. Something truly magical had happened during those two days.
…is a complicated one. We met while I was dissolving in a very dark corner of life. My job was tending bar—an ideal job for any raging alcoholic—in a sketchy San Francisco neighborhood, where crack-heads crept in and out of shadows, and nearby gunshots were not a rarity.
On one such night, a block down the street from where I made my living, yellow caution tape hid the dead. Because of the uproar, not one customer came in for most of the night. Not until an hour before it was time to close. Two girls walked into the bar for a quick drink, and as my eyes met the very apparent beauty which shone off one of them, my heart had decided: I was in love with a girl named Camila.
As wrinkles taunted and toiled the night, I found myself 100 miles away, sitting on a Santa Cruz beach with Camila. The sun was beginning to stretch and yawn on the horizon, and the dwindling bottle of tequila was nearly empty. No intimacy took place, but my astonished eyes grew wider with every movement she made–her freedom, her eloquence, her sheer power had me completely drawn in. It was not long before the sun was high in the sky and the love of my life was bidding me farewell. Before she left, I asked for her phone number, and surprisingly she gave it to me. She had not seemed a bit interested in me, so every part of me knew it was fake.
The number was not fake, and soon, Camila and I had become close friends over the phone. Her English was basic, for her home country was Brasil, and I talked a mile a minute, so most of our conversations were made up of: “Can you repeat that?” or “Can you please say that again?” Nonetheless, we talked religiously every day for months.
Camila was a nanny in an international program called Au Pair. Her time was limited in the States, and she could not freely choose where she lived. When I first met her, she was living in Maine, but a few months later, Au Pair moved her to Austin, Texas. Meanwhile, I had left San Francisco, moved to Santa Rosa, got sober for a couple of months, got drunk again for a couple of weeks, and then bottomed out in my hometown: San Jose, California.
After six months or so, Camila and I began striving towards further lengths to see one another. I had visited her in Austin; a visit that began in disaster, but concluded majestically. A few weeks later, she visited me in San Jose; a trip that started gorgeously, but ended disastrously. Still, as time went by, our hearts wrapped around one another like two snakes in heat. Within three months, we were newlyweds walking down the Las Vegas strip with a bottle of cheap sparkling wine and our marriage certificate in hand. It was like a fairy tale, but like all fairy tales, the end was inevitable.
“…she would do things to outline my insecurities, then I would drink them into solidification.”
We had moved to San Jose to start our lives together, but my promise of becoming a better man quickly drowned in a bottle. Camila’s fading confidence showed in her actions when we would go out for drinks. We found ourselves in a terrifying cycle, where she would do things to outline my insecurities, then I would drink them into solidification. Her look-at-me attitude at the bars drove me nuts, and my destructive drinking broke her heart. Neither of us was accepting our late twenties very well. Within the first months of our marriage, we had both done things to each other that would surely break any relationship. The future was beginning to dissolve, but we trekked on toughly and began working on stronger communication and the practice of selflessness. We both still had a lot of growing up to do, but finally, it seemed that we were taking that step. Unfortunately, you know what the illusive WE always say:
The damage had been done.
Open wounds plagued our daily lives, and moving forward was becoming very difficult. Both of us had tremendous egos, so the fact that neither of us ever admitted to being in the wrong never helped our situation. The highs in our relationship would be very high, but the lows sunk tremendously deep. We made it to our first anniversary, but within days we were back to more yelling than talking–more fighting than loving–and tears of sadness prevailed over tears of joy; time and time again. The only time we would not fight is when we would travel together, for both of us LOVED traveling. It had been a few weeks since our anniversary, and the magic was slowly subsiding. Camila’s short fuse was getting shorter with each day, and my drinking was sluggishly returning to its usual dipshit nature. We both knew we needed a trip, and after some thought, we came up with a great place to go: Lake Shasta. A trip would make everything better, those little nuggets of escape that seemed to distract us away from the fighting. Runaway, the answer to all.
…two hours of the four-hour drive started peacefully, but it did not take long before the yelling commenced. I would take a wrong turn somewhere, and Camila would instantly pull out her phone, rolling her eyes while she looked for directions. I would become angry because I thought she was insulting my competence. In return, she would ignore me, and the obnoxious, robotic English accent of Google Maps would prevail. This basic situation would swiftly turn into an argument, and before we knew it, both of us were throwing the old “well you did that” in each other’s face.
The first day in Shasta was pleasant. We spent the day swimming in a pond nearby our campsite, then later shared laughs around a crackling campfire, feasted fine food that we cooked together, and made love in a flimsy tent under the sparkling sky. Throughout the day, however, whenever we got into the car, eyes would start rolling and tempers would start flaring. Our childish egos had officially infected the last pure thing we had left: TRAVEL.
The second day we bought some inflatable tubes and sunbathed on Lake Shasta. Back at camp, Camila direly voiced that she wanted to see Mount Shasta that day, but I, being the selfish prick that I can be, cared not to see the mountain. It was an hour’s drive north, and I felt there were better ways to spend the day. Still, she insisted that we see the mountain. So, we packed up camp and headed north to Mount Shasta.
The pounding wind intensely rushed through the open windows of our Toyota Camry. I looked over at Camila, and her face was beaming. She was looking at me with a loving smile. Far off, Mount Shasta came fully into view towering above us, even from our distance.
“Our childish egos had officially infected the last pure thing we had left…”
Both of us were paralyzed with wonder. I had seen the mountain dozens of times, but not with these eyes. As the wind thundered by, I found myself face to face with my ego. Stranger yet, I was not alone, for I felt my wife next to me facing her powerful ego. For that moment, time got stuck, and it seemed that every horrible thing we ever did to one another was swarming fervidly around the car. Our wounds bled profusely in a reflection on the breathtaking mountain ahead—that blessed Mount Shasta—the healing wounds whispering, telling us something.
We let go of our pain and anger, and the nightmares we shared in our past became manageable. For once in our marriage, with our hands clamped tightly together, we could forgive one another—and ourselves. What was MOSTLY astonishing was that there was not a single word said; not even a syllable was muttered. We could look past all the previous bullshit, and see the love that seemed to have taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way. My wife’s grip tightened, and tears began crawling up my chest. I tried to swallow them—BE A MAN DAMNNIT—but they fought through my eyes. Camila’s grip tightened even more, so I looked over at her. Tears were streaming down her own face and trickling around her loving smile. For the first time since we got married, the gratefulness of this magnificent person next to me broke the barricade of selfishness. I was not just looking at my wife, but I was looking at my best friend, my partner, my purpose! That feeling of aloneness that has taunted me my entire life was gone, and for just a moment, I could see who Camila was: She was me…
…and I was her! Our haul would be long, but without each other, life would become obsolete. We were truly in it to win it!
So, there we were, just a speck going 80 mph up the Interstate 5. Two souls that had been lost for too long; together found in the reflection of the distant Mount Shasta, and staring sharply into the eyes of the ultimate blessing: