Ten years ago this weekend, my life turned upside-down. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2003 when my husband of almost nine years went out for a job interview and never came back. I got a call from him that afternoon; he wasn't coming home – ever. I think I may have stopped breathing for a short while. It certainly felt as though every ounce of life-affirming air left my body in an instant and it took several minutes of eight-month-old Leo’s cries to bring me back.
It’s funny – I have no idea on what date I was divorced. I’m not even sure of the month, though it was summer and I seem to recall it being a “J” month. But every. damn. year. I remember the day that my identity changed from “married” to “single.” What a stupid anniversary to remember. But… since I can’t seem to escape it, I've chosen to celebrate it. True, the months and years that followed that awful day were… well, awful. There were times when I didn't think it was possible to feel any more sad and low. Yet, that same time marked a rebirth of sorts, too. Through the haze of red-hot pain, I found strength that surprised and sometimes scared me. And I found that strength through three things:
And, yes – running.
I love Leo with more of me than I think there is, but I celebrate him on the day he came into my world. This post is about friendship and running.
By the time he left, I’d mostly forsaken my friends, turning always to my husband for comfort, laughs, support and love. I kept in touch with a select few ladies whom I’d known most of my life and made friends with a few more that we saw socially. But I kept them all at arm’s length and generally only showed them what I wanted them to see: a happy marriage and a happy me. When I suddenly found myself bereft of the one person I’d made my “best” friend, I turned inward and tried hard to handle it all on my own. My girlfriends, though, would have none of that. They circled their wagons, insisted on helping in every way they could, from legal research to food shopping to babysitting, and gave me the opportunity to grieve I so badly needed. I cried on shoulders, got drunk on fruity cocktails and watched funny-sad movies, yelled obscenity-strewn responses to my soon-to-be-ex’s emails that I could never actually send, all with a few amazing women who insisted on being there for me, though I’d never much been there for them. I talked late into the night with my childhood girlfriends and discovered that they still knew me well, still cared and would move mountains if only doing so would make it all better for me. Those women, the ones who refused to let me fall, who reminded me every day that I was more than half of a failed marriage, more than a single mom, more than I believed myself to be – they saved my life.
But they had a little help from my treadmill. And a jogging stroller.
I’d started walking on the ‘mill as soon as I had my doctor’s okay after delivering Leo and had lost all of my pregnancy weight through twice-daily long walks and yoga sessions during my maternity leave from work. But once back to my preferred weight, I slacked off some and fit in exercise when I felt like it. Between battling a series of bouts with bronchitis and caring for an infant, I didn't often feel like it. In the weeks following my husband’s abrupt departure, though, I felt as though I’d been strung too tight; I couldn't seem to breathe in more than quick, shallow breaths, and my muscles were perpetually clenched, always on the ready to flee or fight. Unable to focus on even the most inane of television shows, I hopped on the treadmill one night, thinking a walk might help. I kept inching up the speed setting, progressively getting faster and faster until I was at all-out sprint. I ran as hard and fast as I could until my lungs felt like they’d burst and then… There! There it was – an easing of tension in my limbs and, most therapeutic of all, a full, deep breath, the first in weeks. It felt so good, I did it again the next day, and the next, and the one after that. Before long, I was getting up an hour early to do yoga and was hitting the treadmill every night, as soon as Leo went to sleep. On weekends, I strapped my boy into the jogging stroller we’d bought for his dad and I ran around and around our neighborhood, walking when I needed to catch my breath and talking to Leo about who-knows-what. I had no GPS gizmo and hadn't the foggiest idea what kind of pace I was keeping. It never even occurred to me to wonder. That kind of data was irrelevant; what exercise did for me had nothing to do with speed or endurance and everything to do with finding focus, diminishing stress and creating a physical strength to get me through when my emotional strength waned.
In the decade since, my life has had its ups and downs. Some of the friendships forged back then have drifted apart, and others have only grown stronger. There were years in which I never ran a step, and years in which I again sought solace in the steady hum of my treadmill. But the lessons I took away from the single, crushing event ten years before have stuck with me. I love and value my friendships in a way I never before knew possible and I try very hard to give back, to be the strength to others that they've been to me. And I know that exercise, whether in the form of running or other activities, is now a permanent fixture in my life. It’s not always fun, and it doesn't always feel good, but it, too, gives me the strength to be strong for the people I love.
In another sort of anniversary, this month marks one year since I took on the role of “distance runner.” It marks a year of supporting and being supported by an amazing group of women who, despite our many different backgrounds, interests, families and geographic locations, came together through our love of Disney to train for and race the runDisney Princess Half-Marathon. I can’t imagine doing this race in any other way, with anyone else. Once again, good friends and running are the glue holding things together.
There is no question that I’m a better mother, better friend, better runner, better me because of one stupid day ten years in my past. So yeah – I’m letting the sad stuff pass on and will celebrate the successes this year. Here’s to my 10-year runiversary/friendiversary/me-iversary – may the next ten years bring more of the same.