My mom said I was born kicking and screaming. Considering how life turned out, I was probably raging against the unfairness of leaving my comfortable womb — tossed into a busy world with scary people.
I don’t remember the beginning, but it doesn’t seem like I should be fifty-one years old.
Five decades. Half a century.
Just yesterday, wasn’t I walking the three miles to the 7–11 after school so I could buy Now-or-Laters and a Big Gulp? Didn’t I just spend the summer watching my brother, Lee, pump quarters into Asteroids and Centipede?
When I look in the mirror, what do I see? I recognize the eyes, but not the gray-streaked hair on my face and head. Is this how I thought fifty would look?
When I was a child, all I wanted to be was twenty-one. I figured by the time I was of age I would have a family, a great job, and a fast car. Better yet, I could drink whenever I wanted. Isn’t that what adults did all the time?
What I saw on television shaped as a child shaped much of what I thought my life would be like as an adult. For some reason, I knew I wouldn’t be like my parents. There was nothing wrong with my parents, but when I looked in the future, I didn’t think I would be a Jehovah’s Witness like them. Even as a child, I felt like something about the life I was living wasn’t right.
Besides, in the daydreams about my future, we always celebrated Christmas.
For some reason, I never thought I would reach 50.
First, for most of my young life, I dreamed I would die on my birthday at 27. I didn’t know anything about the “27 Club” — I just knew I would burn up and die on that day. But, that milestone passed without incident, and I had to figure out what to do with the rest of my life — mostly how to control my vivid imagination and morbid fantasies.
My thirties were a horrible time for all the suicide attempts and self-harm. I don’t know how I made it through those years with my life intact, but I did. A couple of times, it didn’t look like I would survive, but I pulled through with only scars to show for it.
One more attempt in 2014. A stomach full of charcoal and a tube in my nose. My life changed completely and helped me get to where I am today.
I wonder what I’ll be like at 60?
My birthday this year was simple. I like simple. No big party. No big production. There was a poster and a cake. Maybe they sang Happy Birthday to me, but I’m not at liberty to say.
I spent the day with my family. It was perfect.
For the first 17 years of my life, I never celebrated my birthday. It was just one of the many special events we were forbidden to take part in over the years.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. It was my life, and I had a good childhood. My dad and mom were doing what they thought to be the best thing for my brother and me, and we flourished. To this day, they still have faith to support them in their golden years. I love that they believe in something so strongly that they devoted their lives to it.
I lost my belief in gods and angels. My way of life since I split from religion has been remarkable. I opened myself to all kinds of belief systems and learned about them. I learned I didn’t need religion to guide my life. My open mind is one of the best things about me.
I don’t think I am better than someone who believes a God, but I can’t see my life any other way. I still stick to some things, like my belief in karma. I also teach my daughter the morals I learned all those years ago from my parents.
I did what works for me. What worked for my parents was much different, but it’s why I love them.
I have five children.
My older three boys from my first marriage all live in the U.S., and I don’t get to talk to them very often. Like my oldest, Jason, once said to me, “I’m a grown-ass man and have my own life. You have to live your own.”
They are great kids, and my oldest gave me my first and only granddaughter before he divorced. They are all doing very well, but I worry about them. I guess any parent would.
My three oldest have only ever known the sick version of me. It wasn’t until I moved to the Philippines that I started to recover enough to say that I’m happy and fulfilled. They’ve only ever known the depressed, psychotic, and drugged-up version I was before.
I hope I get to see them again soon — it’s been three years. I can’t wait to introduce them to their younger half-sister and brother, who they haven’t been able to meet yet.
Life in the Philippines is simple. There’s that word again.
During the week, I know what to expect. First, I drag my butt out of bed. It’s not that easy when you are fighting crippling anxiety.
Then, coffee. Ah yes, I love the first caffeinated beverage of the day. The blacker, the better.
Then it’s all about Zoey and getting her to school on time. There also Joey to get fed and changed. I make rice, do the dishes left over from last night, and then sit at the table and scroll through my notifications. I’ve gotten quite good at the routine. I know because the wife feels comfortable enough to sleep late sometimes. And she’s a control freak.
After Zoey is safely at school, I write for a few hours.
There is lunch at 11 am, but after that its more writing or running errands.
The wife does more English classes at night, and after Zoey and Joey are in bed, I write more.
It’s predictable, and I like it.
I like it simple.
I could do worse than having a happy and simple life. My wife often asks me if I wish I were free and alone, and I could do anything I want in this world. I could travel, sleep with whomever I want, spend money frivolously, and drive a fancy car fit for a mid-life crisis.
I admit I still think about these things. But I know if I hadn’t changed my life eight years ago and moved to the Philippines to be with Flora, I would have died alone in my room — by my own hand. I would have died a broken, lonely man who didn’t even leave a legacy for his kids.
I couldn’t do that.
I chose love, a family, and responsibilities. I choose this life, and it was the best decision I ever made.
If I had it to do over, I would do it all again.