Because I am slightly insane, I trained for and ran a marathon in the year 2000. I am the least athletic person you have ever not met, so it was a pretty big deal that I did this. As a result, I got a deep inner-ear infection that lasted for weeks and a love of watching other people run marathons that’s lasted for almost 15 years.
This is why marathon day in Los Angeles was my holiday. The route wasn’t far from my front door, so each year I’d grab a chair, some salty chips or individually wrapped packets of aspirin, and head to the marathon site. I’d sit out there for hours, cheering on my people — the slow runners — and offering them my wares. “Go, Sheila!” I’d yell at a person with her name on her T-shirt. Or just, “You can do it, ironic trucker hat!”
People would wave at me or smile tiredly. They'd hobble over for my aspirin. “Oh, GOD, how did you know I needed this?” they'd ask. I freaking loved marathon day.
In 2006, one of my friends was running in her first race. I was so excited for her; I knew how special that first time is. For a week, I’d been leaving stupid songs on her answering machine: the theme from "Rocky," "Chariots of Fire" ... you get my drift.
Finally, marathon day was upon me. I planned to not only scream at my friend enthusiastically from near my house, but then also to make my way to the finish line to see her victory.
“Why don’t I come with you?” my husband asked. He’d never wanted to come with me in previous years, but things had been tense between us for awhile and we’d been in therapy. Maybe he was wanting to spend more time with me, share my hobbies.
“OK,” I told him, “but Beth is running, so we have to be at the seven-mile mark at a specific time, and at the finish line between 5:00 and 5:20. That’s about when she thinks she’ll be done.”
He agreed, but that morning, he lollygagged, which he often did. We so frequently had trouble with him leaving the house that I’d threatened to put asps or hungry lions in our doorway, so he’d be loath to turn back into the house for just one last thing, as he nearly always did.
He took so long leaving that we were late to the seven-mile mark. I was irritated and it showed. “Hurry up,” I barked at him as we rushed to see Beth. We stood on the road for 30 minutes before I admitted we'd missed her.
I shot daggers at my spouse as we headed to the car. Getting around L.A. on any day was a drag; getting around on marathon day was nightmarish. I had a map of what roads were closed, but my husband insisted he could get us there without the map. I guess I don't have to tell you we got stuck in traffic and closed roads, and were dreadfully late getting downtown.
My mood? Was not pretty. As soon as we were remotely downtown, I said, “Let me out of the car.” I was going to get to the finish line on foot. The whole day had been ruined; I'd not gotten to see any runners, much less my friend. And all because my husband had insisted on coming.
I stood at the finish line for a long time and there was no sign of Beth. I was cheered slightly by watching other runners: husbands playing victory songs on boom boxes while their wives ran to the finish; groups of friends crossing together and bursting into tears. Marathons are a great place to watch the triumph of the human spirit.
What was not triumphing were my feet, which were getting colder as the sun set, and as cups of Gatorade were being tossed at them. Suddenly I realized my husband had not shown up and it was getting dark. I'd left my purse and coat in the car, and this was before I carried a cell phone.
I let a whole hour pass by before I realized he'd left me there. He'd been annoyed with me and had left me in not-at-all-safe downtown Los Angeles with no coat, no money, no way to get home or even contact anyone. The streets were getting more deserted as runners finished and went home. Soon the only people around me were people who didn't have homes to go to.
I felt like I didn't have a home to go to, either. Things had been tense between my husband and me for awhile, and I admit completely that I'd been a horrid crabby bitch all afternoon. But to leave me somewhere, abandon me, where it wasn't safe and where I couldn't get help? It just felt like such a betrayal.
I walked to a hotel. In those years, I didn't drink, but I was so tempted to sit at the bar in the hopes some man would offer to buy me one, and I'd drink hard. Until I couldn't see straight. That's what I wanted to do. Instead I went to a pay phone and called home, collect. My husband accepted the charges, but refused to come get me.
That's when I knew we were beyond repair. People get annoyed with each other all the time. Husbands and wives can be irritable, even rude, to their other half. But when he left me in harm's way and wouldn't even rescue me, it felt like it was over.
Eventually, I got a cab at the hotel, and my husband paid the guy when we got home. It took five more years for the marriage to officially end.
But for me that was the beginning of the end.