An Untold Story
I peaked in 2015 with confidence as a wife (sometimes labeled ‘trophy’), mother of the year, and all around good friend to many. I enjoyed surrounding myself with people, entertaining in my home, and socializing in the running community. As an athlete, I continued to make progress, chipping away at times, often nailing personal records, and surprisingly began placing in my age group at local races. I had spent most of my childhood as the ‘fat kid’ (but I was probably more chubby than anything) - picked last in gym, didn’t make sports teams, was even the ‘base’ one year in cheerleading, and to top it all off was in the band. So, to be an adult, labeled as an ‘athlete’ and actually putting up decent times at races, I was on top of the world. But wanting more was always in my nature and this time was no different; I decided I would train to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
In late November of this year, I ventured out for a run. Initially, it felt like any other on a gorgeous fall afternoon. I started out overdressed, but absolutely needed gloves and a hat; and it was necessary for me to constantly remind myself to maintain a slow and steady pace. My route made the difference. You might believe that the route is just that; to a seasoned runner, the route can be a game changer. Perhaps, it didn’t change the game, it didn’t change the story, but it certainly changed my perception in reliving the past. I ran pieces of my old routes. Routes that were part of my routine. A routine that used to begin in the early morning hours of darkness, a routine that began with me and only me. A routine that ended walking through the threshold of my home, into the open arms of my children, welcomed by coffee brewed by my half-awake husband.
Over the course of six miles, I re-lived a long-ago winter run, through a local farm. I smelled their sunrise breakfast sizzling in the crisp air. I’ll never forget that morning blowing through my door to get to work on homemade biscuits and bacon, all before a warm shower. I remember the marathon course I mapped out with such specificity; all roads my feet loved. That love was rekindled by the radiant heat of the sunshine. I went off the course I drew in my head to coast past my childhood home. I remembered the front yard being much bigger; that hill being more steep. Maybe when you’re seven years old the perception is different. As I closed in on mile four, I hung a left only to pass the home of an old friend. Her Dad died when we were in high school; I’ll never forget how cool he was. Sigh, yea. Those memories will never be erased, even after they fade from my recall. They’re forever etched in a book, that’s been left unfinished in my mind. They exist in chapters that are unable to be altered; only the rest of the book remains to be written. I cannot build off of those chapters, as they’re from other lives. Lives that are the patchwork quilt that make up the ‘me’ that’s writing this story. The ‘me’ that’s writing new chapters.
The night before the race that would qualify me for the Boston Marathon my best friend came to the house and presented me with a card and a small wrapped box. The card was signed by her and some of my other friends. They had spent the night before making race day signs and planning their cheer route along the course. I knew they would be with me with whole way. I gingerly unwrapped the package and pulled out a beautiful beaded wrap bracelet garnished with a small silver charm. The charm read: She believed she could so she did. Ah! I loved this saying. And I did believe I could, but in retrospect, the gift was a bit premature, as I wouldn’t be able to see the value of it until years later.
I bonked hard at mile seventeen. As I approached the halfway mark, I started to feel like crap. I caught a glimpse of my coach and his assistant at one of the relay exchanges. I sucked it up and put on a good face for them. I was on pace to hit my goal, but the fatigue started to eat at my quads and something started to pick at the back of my brain telling me that this wasn’t going to happen. As the course wove back onto the near crowd-less trail, my watch played games with me. The pace was too fast, then to slow; I felt like I was working hard, but the times didn’t reflect how I felt. I became obsessed with numbers, quickly doing math (poorly) in my head to see how I could make any pace adjustments (on either side of the equation) and still finish with a BQ time. I began to think I felt so much pain that I needed to stop. Looking back, I don’t think I was in any more physical pain that I had been in any other race but my mind got the best of me and I couldn’t handle the pressure. So, at mile seventeen I stopped to walk, leaving a BQ behind, and grabbed my phone to call my husband. He tried so hard to get me to keep going but I couldn’t hear any of his words. I told him I just wanted to lie down, get an IV and die. I wanted a medic to rescue me from this misery. He tried one more time to calm me down, but I was too far gone. I started screaming and crying, two emotions that hadn’t intersected paths in years. I’ll spare the details of the final ten miles. After crossing the finish line, I immediately hobbled over to the medical tent. I caught the eyes of a few colleagues who rushed me to a gurney and began asking questions. One of the rehab directors helped stretch me out while a volunteer brought me water and bags of ice. The vulgar language rolling off my tongue was enough to make a sailor blush, but I was so pissed in the outcome of it all. The second half of the race had given me a long time to process a number of emotions that were festering like a seething infection.
That race did something to me. Sure, I could blame the flat course, the GPS time warped towpath, maybe even tip my hat to the humid weather as agents of my downfall, but something else was brewing from within. The entire journey was doomed from the beginning. I lit the match. I’m not here to tell a story of woe - how I lost a marathon, or how I wasn’t mother of the year. I’m here to tell you how I threw that match on a lighter fluid doused pile of newspaper and we all - me, and my friends, and family - watched it go up in flames. I slipped into a mild depression; I became so vulnerable. I hated it. My attention was diverted away from my marriage towards a world of intrigue. A man whom I barely knew, showed me what I call ‘life after’; he said the things I had been longing to hear for years. He believed in me and breathed fresh hope into my dying lungs. He opened my eyes to see beauty in things I no longer saw, and he brought back sensations that had been dormant for some time. He whisked me away from “me” - a person who had grown into what she thought other people wanted. You see, I had suppressed my authentic self to instead build myself around other people’s ideal vision of me: wife, mother, runner - always on the move, preparing dinners, working full time, and doing it all without a struggle. When it all came to a head I cracked, severely.
While my true self was attempting to emerge I was met with a lot of resistance - from both myself and those around me. I tried to reach out for help and engage my ‘friends’ with my dilemma, but they either gave me every reason why I shouldn’t go down that path or they avoided the conversation. My ‘friends’ didn’t want to hear about my feelings, and my doubts, and my struggles. I tried to offer reasons, but they were just your typical surface-level crap that most married people quibble about - household chores and lack of romance. They countered by telling me about how leaving my marriage would negatively affect their children, not to exclude their lives. They told me about all their troubles and how ‘everyone’ has challenges. I informed my mother that I was no longer happy. She took it as an opportunity to complain about my father. I realized during those one-sided discussions that I was truly alone. I didn’t pursue their assistance; instead, I opted for the low road. I cheated on my husband. What started off as an innocent kiss spiraled into a lust, and even love-driven, affair. The fifteen year relationship with my husband wasn’t given a chance because I failed it; I failed to reason, I failed to take a long, hard look at the situation, and I absolutely failed to give it the chance WE deserved. I teetered on the edge hoping that someone would make choices for me. I had never been faced with making a decision this tough; I guess you could say I usually got what I wanted. I never had to work that hard for anything because I usually got what I wanted without much effort. But in this case, I can say I got what I deserved. As my husband and I worked out a mutual custody agreement, plans for divorce without lawyers, and a division of assets feelings got hurt all around and it got ugly. Word of my infidelity spread like Ebola and my former friends, former family, my colleagues (even my employees), and my parents were given insight into some very personal details. As a result it pushed me far away from almost every relationship I had with a human being. I realize that what I had done was a very disrespectful thing to both my husband and to myself and it should have stayed between us, but that was far from what happened. Sides were selected (I can count the number of people on my team) and lines were drawn. Sadly, no one, not even my own mother, cared to ask me any questions. Instead, I was told that I was ‘selfish’, ‘trashy’, ‘a homewrecker’, and most memorable to me: ‘a bad mother’. Even worse were comments like ‘I never wanted you to marry him in the first place’ and ‘I knew then that you would break his heart’. I have a history of uncontrolled anger and most people expected me to lash out with a whipping tongue and perhaps of a bit of violence. I, however, had become so numb to their harsh words and lack of support that I had just shut down. I stared them in the face while they defamed my character, while they threw stones. I refused to respond; I took it all. They perceived my uncharacteristic reaction as not having a care. They saw that reaction as me not caring. And, in a way, they didn’t care about me, so why should I care?
I quickly devised a plan to secure a temporary home away from my town. I needed to stay close for my kids, but I wanted to be so far away from everyone. It was a struggle, as the drive was a bit longer and I tried to keep my head above water financially. I walked into work every day, lifting my head high which was exhausting enough. Each morning, I used so much energy to get myself out of bed. I didn’t want to move; I just wanted to die. But, my children needed their mother, their parents, their family, so I had to find strength. On days when I was alone, I’d binge drink to forget, only it just brought me closer to the darkness. I hated myself; I hated the journey. I needed everything to just go away. But each morning, I was faced with reliving it, all over again. I avoided public hang-outs, driving & running routes, local races and walking through parking lots at certain times of the day in order to save my face. I sacrificed any possible glimpse of happiness to steer clear of conflict. To make matters worse, because my husband (now ex-husband) was so hurt and devastated, I was asked (more or less told) to stay away from school events, sporting venues, or other locations of the like, when the children were not in my custody. I rarely received pictures or videos of them during these events, but if I did they mostly came from my mother, who was invited with open arms.
Amidst all of these changes, I stopped racing, something that had brought me such joy. I couldn’t be in the same space as my old ‘friends’, so I opted out of participating. I hated that this was my life, but I felt it was deserved. I felt I deserved to be treated like this because I had treated my husband like a piece of shit. I felt I deserved everything that came my way. Prior to me hacking my marriage with a hatchet (another choice descriptor from my family) I had signed up to run the New Jersey Marathon the following April (2016) in a second attempt to qualify for Boston. Believe it or not, I had been training through all of this because the training plan was the only thing manageable and predictable in my life. But following that race (no BQ, but a great run overall) I fell off the wagon. HARD. I hated the run and I hated that I hated the run. It seemed that the one thing that was mine, had been taken from me. Instead of nurturing my liveliness, I lost all hope in ever finding it again. I took the low road of more binge drinking, more sleeping, and less running. I always thought that I’d be growing old with my ex. It truly makes me sad to know that we aren’t doing this together anymore.
The Tribe has been in my life for four years. Once eight women, now seven, gathered at the “church” of running. “Church” always began pre-dawn, in all conditions. We knew each other by voice and profile only as we ran side by side, in a small pack like wolves and warriors. In our runner’s high state, we became more vulnerable, dropped barriers, and opened our hearts to the possibility of letting each other in. I shared more with these women than I had with any other group of friends. I can’t speak for how these interactions enhanced their lives, but I can say that they helped me be more honest with myself, helped me use my strengths wisely, and helped me to mature past my weaknesses. I still find it remarkable that I could develop a tight and unwavering connection in such a short time, but couldn’t establish that with even ONE of my former friends over the course of fifteen years. Something was just different…and I don’t care what, because none of it matters. I found unconditional love from my tribe. They had been with me before the fall and during the darkness. I allowed myself to be vulnerable, to let them in to see the realness of me, the raw emotion I no longer held back. They called me on my bullshit, and I on theirs. I had never experienced a bond like this, yet it seemed so natural. They helped me find my way again: To trust again, to love again, and to be able to reveal myself. Their love was always there, but it took this, my flaws, for me to recognize it. Initially, I was looking for redemption and forgiveness from EVERYONE. I wanted to explain myself, to defend myself, to show people that, through it all, I was still a good person. I worked with (and still do) a wonderful therapist who has steered me down this path of forgiveness. She has also helped coach me through letting go of the guilt, the shame, and self-hate. She helped me realize the power of forgiveness within myself. She helped me believe. I then believed I could, so I did.
I am not proud of what I did, but I am proud of whom I have become. I will forever be a work in progress with a few things in mind: I will honor myself, as I deserve to be honored.
I will forgive myself, as I deserve to be forgiven. I will be attentive in my relationships, as they deserve attention. I will be fearless to establish boundaries, as boundaries foster healthy relationships. I will be a role model for my girls, as they deserve a strong woman behind them. And in front of them.
I do believe that everything happens for a reason. Reasons that may never be known to anyone (only the universe). I do believe that this crazy group of women coming into my life two years ahead of this trauma was so WE could establish a foundation to fall upon. They were meant to be by my side