The Unspoken Pain of Sharing Celebrations

2013 Pasadena Rock n Roll Half Marathon


*This is a long metaphor or twisted analogy. It may not work, bear with me. You’ve been warned.*

Imagine you were in a horrible car wreck, broadsided by a drunk driver.   You were seriously injured.  You lost mobility, time, and a sense of hope. You gained scars, fears, and pity.

Imagine you rally, survive, and for some reason, want to punch fate in the throat by training for a marathon, something you had never considering doing before, having usually enjoyed team sports, or the arts.

Imagine you train, battling old injuries from the car wreck,  acquiring new injuries from the training,.  You run to the soundtrack of self-doubt announced from the voices in your head and repeated on loud speaker when you get home by the real people closest to you:

You don’t have to do this.  You can’t do this.  It’s too much.  Just being able to  walk is good enough.  Why run?

Imagine you also battle financially because of lost time, work, and pain and limitations from the injuries, and a lawsuit that finally settles for minimal damages, because your pain and suffering are not visible or quantifiable.  You have, reportedly, recovered from your injuries.    The drunk driver was not injured.  He was not prosecuted and retained his license to drive and does so without restrictions.

Imagine you sign up for the marathon anyway.   It’s the big kind of marathon,  similar to the  Olympics where runners start and end in a stadium full of people.  Most of the real work takes place on a journey through lonely, winding roads, though, with very few spectators.

And imagine running, without a partner, not part of a pack, and certainly without an endorsement deal.  No one really gets why you’re doing it at all.  You do get encouragement, however,  from unlikely sources – complete strangers you pass on the road.  They clap, they call out to you,

You can do it. Way to go.  Looking good!”

The kindness of strangers.

The kindness of strangers.

Imagine thinking that they are wrong, you can’t make it, that no one really expects you to make it, that it is ridiculous to even try and that your time would be better spent on more traditional endeavors for people like you.

Imagine wondering  if stopping halfway might be good enough.  Imagine knowing that no one would blame you for simply walking it, “It’s the finishing that counts, you don’t have to finish like the real runners,”  the voices say.    Imagine a cramp, then another, imagine feet on fire, imagine pain in joints that had never been there before.

Imagine continuing to run, regardless.

Imagine entering the stadium after over 26 miles and starting the last lap around the track to reach the finish line.

Imagine feeling suddenly and surprisingly overcome with emotions as the crowd cheers, because some people there know that in the recent past you couldn’t get out of bed — let alone run or race.  You also know that some of the cheers are coming from people who don’t know a thing about you, but they recognize a woman fighting not only to finish, but finish in objectively solid time regardless of any personal struggles.

Imagine the emotions taking hold so suddenly and with such intensity that it causes you to stumble as you take your last steps.   You stop dead for a moment and put your hands on your knees, trying to catch your breath and blink away sweat and tears.

Imagine seeing out of the corner of your eye,  a flash of color? Another runner trying to pass?  Is your mind playing tricks on you?  Are the cheers for the other runner?  You raise your head, wipe your eyes and try to sprint, hoping that your pumping arms will convince your legs to rise from the dead,  but you have so little left.  Still, you begin to run, the end is in sight and the crowd, pardon the overuse – is going wild.

Imagine right before you cross the finish line being wrapped in a blanket — covered by the flash of color that had come alongside of you.  The flash of color from the driver, the same drunk driver who had broadsided you and put you in the hospital.

Imagine looking up to see his fist raised in the air and his smile as you are reluctantly led across the finish line by him, being robbed of the opportunity to cross on your own — which you would have done, which you could have done, had you been permitted.  Had you not been intercepted.  Had you not been broadsided, again.

Imagine seeing your unwanted escort in running clothes, but without a bead of sweat.  He did not run 26.2 miles. He was just one of the thousands in the crowd, and, from the smell of it, he had recently eaten a hot dog.

Imagine the crowd on its feet, those who know the story —  cheering you not for finishing the race despite the odds, but for your obvious show of public forgiveness by allowing the embrace of the drunk driver who had taken so much from you and caused you so much pain.

Imagine the front page newspaper story, showing a photograph of you in visual defeat, being assisted across the finish line by the man who inflicted the injuries you fought so hard to  overcome.   Imagine looking at yourself as you’ve now been memorialized to others, as a woman lost without his assistance, a woman who could not have finished on her own.  Your mouth is open, seemingly in a cry of gratitude, but you know that is was a cry of despair that no one heard above the roar of the crowd,

No!  Let me finish.  I can do it.  He didn’t run.  He wasn’t there.  I did this.  I did this!

Imagine the newspaper headline:

They did it!  They did it!   They did it together!

Iconic photo of father helping his son over the finish line.  But I always wondered whether the runner had wanted to limp over himself, or whether the father's actions disqualified him from being recorded as a finisher.

Iconic photo  from 1992 Olympics of a father helping his injured  son finish the race. But I always wondered whether the runner had wanted to do it himself, be remembered for finishing on his own.

*                                      *                                      *

Imagine my son’s graduation from high school, with honors, and six college acceptances later, headed to a very selective college — accepted there because of his grades, test scores, challenging course load, essay, and leadership in many extra-curricular activities in both the arts and athletics.  His accomplishments, not mine.  But such accomplishments were not achieved in a vacuum, or even from a partnership,  but achieved in a home atmosphere of encouragement, physical, psychological, emotional, and visual support created by me (and my supporters), coupled with a belief  that we are just as good as everybody else.  No excuses.   I wore myself out making it possible for him to have opportunity and yes, the expectation, to achieve.

But now that it’s time to celebrate, imagine being hijacked at the finish line by the guy who, on one snowy night long, long ago said to me, his long time wife and mother of his five children, simply, “I have to go.”

Imagine sharing the podium with a runner who didn’t run — and who, previously, had broken both your legs.

It’s sickening.

It’s not uncommon for distance runners to vomit after a big race.

Just saying . . .

Just Me With . . . graduation festivities around the corner. 

Could somebody get me a bucket?

Related:  Misplaced Praise of a Father

27 responses

  1. wow. I was right there with you, straight to the end, and I don’t even have kids. I still feel the empathy for you, though. I really do. That “drunk driver” knows the truth. So do all your real supporters.

  2. It’s a long journey, a long road, and a hard one. A very, very hard one and I have not even reached the middle school years yet. It reminds me of the after school running club I took my children to last year every week. I had to push, encourage, argue and run with them and at the very end, on the day of the big race I couldn’t even witness the pride they felt at the actual race. The excitement, and the achievement. My ex and his girlfriend got to participate and take cute photos and look at the other parents there with a shared pride. It’s bitter I know and I don’t like the taste of bitter. So try as hard as you can to spit the bitterness out and taste the sweetness. Your children will always know. At least that is what I believe.

    1. Sounds like you understand. There’s a universal appearance of equality that is widely accepted and publicly honored and apparently — required. I’m reminded of another time, before the kids, where I received a major award, and my husband just didn’t feel like attending. But when he feels like attending events, which is rare and usually in places where he can get attention, he is always given the welcome treatment. It’s hard.

      1. Mine does the exact same shit – shows up when it’s convenient, leaves our child high and dry when it’s not, and revels in all of the accolades of what a GREAT Dad he is, so caring! So invested! He’s not the one who is there for her day in and day out, wrapping his schedule around her, sacrificing time, money, emotion and career to see to her success. He just shows up for the photo ops and believes his own press, trampling on our daughters heart in the process. That demand of “equality” is such a razorbladed expectation.

      2. Exactly. Helpful when someone understands.

  3. Judy Jennings | Reply

    Bravo! It worked, and I loved it! And believe me, I feel your pain, and the unfairness of it all. The sperm. All they really contributed was the sperm.

    1. Thank you. He has contributed his sperm, his name, and just enough so that he gets credit, because he would never want to appear like a dead beat dad. That would look bad. But the day-to-day, in the trenches, behind the scenes, all that crap — that’s all me– and the kids, and some friends, neighbors, and complete strangers. It’s hard to watch the show.

      1. Your analogy worked very well…it was lengthy and full of description and even that is an analogy for what you have put in yourself…heart, soul and energy…every day, every minute…I REALLY REALLY understand…the marathon analogy is perfect…the training, the work, the effort we put it… though I know my children are much younger what being in the trenches is like…my kids are really amazing kids – sensitive, smart, funny and well liked and admired by their friends, teachers and people around them – only in recent months has their dad “seen” (I also believe he needs new “supply” since I’ve been on modified contact with him) that and tries to do exactly the same…take the credit as “their father”…it’s all me too – I see it in how the kids talk, what they say, what they do with me, with their friends…it/he is a total show. It just kills me, because I have driven myself to the ground (my choice, and I don’t regret it nor would change a thing) to the point where I am sooo tired and having to take care of my own healing and emotional, spiritual, physical health. I gave that man a gift that he doesn’t deserve. His kids are doing well because of me and all my efforts, time and financial resources to keep them stable and surrounded by strong supports. I can’t watch the show…I don’t even look at him or see him…that is something I won’t do “for the kids”… I’m so angry about it, hence the “rants” on my blog I guess… I must say though…my kids do notice…they know who to turn to and who is the more consistent parent…even I see that now…it’s kind of sad really. I believe disappointment comes early for them, and now I realize he’s not worth the energy anymore, and I am not responsible for his relationship with the kids, only insofar as it affects their health, safety and well-being.

        Your kids know. They know. And they’ll see through it. Even more as they get older and perhaps start to have their own family. And, you can live knowing what a real MOTHER you were and are. I hope I can have your strength and not get too discouraged on my path ahead of me…thanks for this…

      2. Thank YOU for this comment. I’m in the same position. I’ve run myself ragged for the kids, because it was my job to do so. And, I just want to exhale for a moment among friends and family. This must enrage him, hence the swoop. The kids are not stupid. They see, they know. It would be nice if we all didn’t have to see the show, though. It would be nice if the show wasn’t truly disruptive. I can’t watch the show, either. And, I think it does the kids a disservice to praise bad behavior. I don’t believe in drama and I would never do anything to cause a scene and ruin things for my kids and family. And he knows this, so my hands are tied. He can show up, and there’s very little I can do. However, I won’t teach my children that you have to love and praise people who treat you badly. And they can see the difference between showing support and being seen. At this point in time, I don’t expect praise from my kids. Maybe that will come in time. Plus, I want them to know that being there for your kids is a parent’s responsibility. Kids should be thankful but really should expect nothing less and I hope they will expect and require the same of themselves when they are grown and parents. What I want, wanted, now was to be left alone and be able to give myself a high five. He’s trying to take that away from me.

  4. I can’t know what you are going through, but I put my long arms around you for a hug.

    1. Thank you so much. This means a lot to me.

  5. […] For other misplaced praise, see: The Unspoken Pain of  Sharing Celebrations […]

  6. While I do not have the joy of raising the older child( ex-husband), this sounds an awful lot like how things are working with the younger child(“it’s complicated”). I’ve already mentioned to you elsewhere my theory on future weddings “Here’s a lot of money, run far away and elope- you have my blessing and I ALWAYS love you”.
    Here’s a huge hug from me to you, and thank you again for posting a brilliant piece!

    1. Thank you so much! Well, thankfully my son is going far away to school. He can do his own thing there. I just gotta make it through the graduation festivities. Sigh.

      1. If it’s any consolation, you are at the high school years already, mine are JUST starting school…

      2. Yes, it’s a long haul. You have a lot of years ahead. I never thought I’d be raising kids this way. Time will tell as to whether the post high school years provide any real relief. My oldest has aged out of visitation and will age out of child support in a couple of weeks, yet I’ve had more contact with my Ex than I’ve had in years. Sigh.

      3. My ex called me every single day this week before he got on the plane to go to Vegas with new wife…almost seeking reassurance that getting on a plane would not kill him. I felt like asking, “Why are you not having this conversation with her?”

      4. He seems to want to keep you engaged. Humph.

  7. That’s why I call mine the swooper. He swoops in at big events to take credit for them being so awesome when he did nothing to help raise them. One graduation down, two to go for me. Hang in there!!

    1. Ha! I’ve been calling it “The Swoop” for a while now. He swoops when he’s angry about something or wants attention. He announces “I’m coming” like it’s some kind of threat. This by far is the most intense Swoop. Telling the kids he’s coming to a party to which he was not invited and one that is also a birthday party for an elderly person. Really classy. Bringing babies to pre-prom pictures and having his teen son hold a baby with all his guy friends for a pic. Yup. Cringe-worthy. Not sure how it’ll all work out. Reminds me of The Birds — that old that Hitchcock movie, the scene when the kids are at a party happily playing outside but then the birds attack.

  8. Just read this again. It’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever read ANYWHERE about any subject, but especially this one. It should be published somewhere very important so the whole world can see it. I mean it. This is excellent.

    1. Thank you so very much. This means so much to me, especially since this post is so personal. Thank you.

  9. […] is over.  It was the first big celebration that I had to share with my Ex-Husband.  See The Unspoken Pain of Sharing Celebrations. I made it through.  And by that I mean I stayed off the six o’clock news.  In the weeks […]

  10. […] —  just in time for the graduation celebration and going off to college festivities.  See The Unspoken Pain  of Sharing Celebrations. Despite the extra anxiety, the kid is safely enrolled on a residential college campus.  He […]

  11. I get this!! I so totally get this!! Uuuggghhhhh!!!! Writing that there is a special place in hell for your ex sounds so trite, but I still believe it. A place where he is no longer Teflon and becomes the only person who bears the consequences of his actions. I don’t care that this is not gracious of me. I want him to feel it, live it, and be shredded by it proportionate to the injuries he has inflicted on you, your children and everyone else he has crapped on.

    1. Thank you so much for your understanding and support!

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