Somehow, and to his great frustration, his memories from three years ago are both fuzzy and sharp. Fuzzy on the hard details of time, date, and order of events. But sharp – like stepping on a thumbtack – of how he felt back then.
As his footfalls landed heavily with a thud at each mile conquered, he had no other choice up to revisit those sharp emotions from three years ago. He ran this 5K every year to remember; because he could remember.
Three years ago, he returned from a year long deployment that was promised to only be six months. He returned. Like he promised her. Though, despite having daydreamed for eleven and half months of a warm welcome, the experience was anything but. He returned from war to a marital blizzard.
In those initial moments, the glacier reception from his wife felt like a cruel and illogical punishment from crimes he was not guilty of. Now, with a clearer heart and head, he saw how his actions and own emotional spiral all but push his wife out into the snow. No one was blameless despite the past hours he spent blaming her. At the time, he didn’t know his return home was just the tip of the iceberg; he had not yet seen his darkest day.
No, the return home was less than he had dreamed. But it was the drinking, the depression, the fist to the wall that inspired his wife to file for divorce and take their kids.
Correction, it was his drinking, his depression, his fists to the wall that required his wife to finally file for divorce and… while he ached to admit it, to protect their kids. It took each second of the years since to gain his healthier perspective, but it hurt none the less.
His darkest days were a swirling haze of anger, resentment, bitterness, and fear seeping out of every pore in his skin. His unchecked emotions bled into the walls of their home, creeping under closed doors and around corners to coat and smother his wife and children. Even suffocating in his own emotional pain he remembered knowing he was letting it suffocate them too. At the time, taking to the bottle to drown it -him, his thoughts and his emotions – out seemed like the only cure.
But, alcohol only weighted-down the tidal waves his uncheck emotions; instead of seeping and splashing, his anger, his resentment, his bitterness, and his fear would crash and break over his families’ head. He may have returned to a blizzard, but he melted the snow into a tsunami of a storm.
His very blunt, yet tactful, divorce attorney had once said he’d drowned his wife and children in his depression. Actually, his therapist had said it more than once, but it took a lot to get through his stubborn head, because at the time of living it – he could have sworn he was the only one drowning and his family was sitting there, watching, on dry land.
When he offered to kill himself, he thought he was throwing his wife and kid a lifeline to help pull him out to shore.
Now he realized he’d used that lifeline’s rope to hold his loved ones tied with him in the deep end. His attorney had once told him that too, while she insisted he change for his kids. Originally, he had been unbelieving in anything but drowning in his own pain. He had been bitter about the divorce and the abandonment; bitter at her advice that he invest his efforts in therapy, divest his time and money in alcohol, focus on taking small measurable and consistent steps in stability for his kids, offer understanding and simple communication to his wife. But with literally nothing left to lose, he listened, and it worked. Because he worked.
It had been three years. And he was still there, stronger, better, clearer. He was running those miles in memory of those darker days. He was running, and feeling it, in memory of the constant work it took to get beyond it. Importantly, he ran for his family, still in his life because he had a life.
He crossed the finish line, triumphant – but only feeling like a winner when his six year old son and nine year old daughter hurtled their eager bodies into his exhausted arms. While his wife, though now ex-wife, stood off to the side while their kids clung in excitement, the couple caught each other’s eyes; she smiled with pride, love, and support.
This was the warm welcome he imagined all those years ago. It was well earned.