Taking a warm bath with my new wife on a rainy day in Dublin felt so sweet. It had been 23 years since my last bath with a lady. At that time, I was a few weeks from my college graduation and my body was a fit 175 pounds, but even so, that bathing experience was a rare occurrence in my life. My mind was also beginning to splinter and disintegrate with bipolar disorder and all of the miseries that come with it. As I struggled over the years that followed, I didn't lose my interest in the opposite sex or bathing with them. It's just that I became a very sick and obese man rapidly, and that brought about a drastic decrease in me stepping into tubs and having women want to take a soak with me.
I've also had a long history of hanging around mental health facilities and bleeding frequently from self-inflicted wounds. In the many years I spent at hospitals and group homes, I found friendship and some loving relationships with harried beauties and took passing stabs at kissing and fondling, but no girl, no matter how tragic, desperate or disturbed, wished to bathe with a 400 pound man in a claw-footed tub. Never mind the near impossibility of wedging and splashing around with me in that cramped space.
The odd thing about my bathing experience with my new wife, the thing that kept tripping me up, is that I'm still a pretty fat guy, even though I'm no longer pushing 400 pounds. On our Irish honeymoon, I tipped the scales at a still-whopping 303. And yet, I never felt so at peace with myself, so relaxed as I did that afternoon in Dublin. It was the first time I experienced that in my 46 years.
Before then, something was always chipping away at my brain -- some crippling anxiety or odd behavior; depression or a delusion. My life then became a decade-and-a-half slog through the intricate, sticky tendrils of the psychiatric realm as my struggle with cutting and burning left me nearly incapacitated. Eventually -- finally -- I started to see color beyond myself, and I slowly healed and was ready to recover and rebuild what romance skills I'd had. I also decided I should, at the very least, try dating someone whose personality couldn't be found in a section of the DSM-IV Psychiatric manual. I put myself out there and the women I met were, understandably, freaked out by my history. They said things like, "Honey, I'm just getting over a man with too much baggage so it wouldn't be fair to you or me to get involved."
With others, it was the same deal -- we'd fool around for a while and then things would cool and they'd start hedging their affections. Some of that was a simple lack of chemistry, but I heard a familiar line when their fingers outlined the scars on my body. It didn't take long for their immediate cease and retreat.
Then I met Amy. It was a wonderful moment that began on our first date when I saw the prominently-displayed Batman Band-Aid on her finger. I learned she was quirky in other ways also -- she loved comic book films and violent movies with a substantial amount of explosions, along with taking on 11-year old boys at Laser Tag and ruining their days. She's a talented photographer and a growing expert in graphic design and investment real estate in Hartford.
When she heard my story, she didn't run away. She traced the intersecting lines of my scars and asked her questions.
"What are those marks on your arm?"
"I used to cut myself."
Next was the one that held the weight of the world.
"Are you done with it?"
"Forever," I said.
Granted, she checked later that week with a professional about bipolar-2 patients and just how stable and healthy a soul could be, especially one who used to run razors through portions of his body. Amy later told me that someone's future is not necessarily determined by their past.
How do you argue with a girl like that?
We got engaged four months later, and by December, we moved in together in a small apartment. We started to plan a wedding that took place on Halloween night in an Old Lyme, Connecticut church. We stood on an altar before God, friends and family and promised a life of fealty and devotion to more tub experiences, along with whatever screeches, smiles or tears came our way.
Amy continues to dance to her own groove -- she adores sword and sorcerer's novels and dreams of brave, independent princesses on white horses saving dashing princes. She falls asleep most nights to the sound of Bruce Willis' sci-fi adventure Fifth Element on her iPod and calls herself an eclectic pagan, an unusually strong woman with a very good soul.
That soak in Dublin was an amazing experience for both of us, as all honeymoons should be, but now that Amy and I are back home, we're working our way through love and struggling with maintaining our own identities. It's not that different than the inner battles my old friends and colleagues have undertaken in hospitals and group homes in New Haven, Kansas, Chicago, Vermont and Hartford.
I definitely don't want to be the standard fat guy for the rest of my life, but at least I know I can bathe and splash around, even look like some beached whale stuck on the sand, and Amy accepts me and takes all of me, sometimes with a roll of her eyes and sometimes with a magnificent grin. We're both on diets now and hope to lose a bunch of weight, but I've learned that's not every thing, not the end-all.
Amy and I studied colors in Ireland; the blackish-brown peet bogs, the raspberry-and-turquoise-tattooed sheep dotting the steep mountains; the long and lush green fields, the stormy, chalky gray surf and glistening black stones that line the beaches. We saw the Cliffs of Moher and got considerably smashed on Bulmers hard cider in a castle out in the middle of nowhere. I know it's not revelatory stuff, just a simple and basic love. But the lady frees me up, eases me.
When we first made love more than two years ago, we undressed with Enya -- she even loves Enya -- singing and chanting in the background. Her small apartment was lit by ginger-colored candles, and she'd painted the four seasons on her bedroom walls. The light was flickering on the autumn scene on the far side of the room as we laughed and rolled on her mattress. The tree was a gnarled, ropey oak and the foliage was spectacular. There was the face of a lion-like figure in the blazing tangerines and yellows. His mane was thick, arresting. A part of me, of course, knows the lion never drew a breath, that he was a mere shadow figure Amy designed with cheap paint to ease her loneliness. But I also know, in the shifting candlelight, between our hushed voices and Enya chanting and guiding us on like some mid-wife, that I saw movement and life. And I swear on my new and contented existence, on my faith in all things redemptive and right, that the lion was shaking his mane out beneath the colors, roaring along to something very real and true within us both.
David Fitzpatrick is the author of "Sharp," a memoir.