By Amber Davis
I met my now ex-husband, Luke, at a high school band party when I was 15. We were strangers when our names were entered in a kissing contest. I remember our names being called and walking to the stage amidst cheers and whistles from the crowd. Luke was a year older than me, a sophomore, with brown hair, kind eyes, and a pearly white smile. We stood in front of the audience for a moment, neither of us sure what the other would do. Before I realized it, his hands were on my waist, and we were kissing in front of the entire party. It felt like a dream. That was our first kiss.
From then on, we were inseparable. I remember the night I told him I loved him in his white 1980 LeBaron convertible. I remember that feeling of pure happiness. I felt it like a wave washing over me, the love coursing through my entire body. We were just teenagers, but our love was real.
We were married in June of 2006. Luke was in medical school at the time. Three years later Luke had his first day rotating through neurosurgery. He spoke rapidly, his eyes sparkling, as he recounted his day to me that night. He was so full of life.
In that moment, I knew Luke would become a neurosurgeon. I knew neurosurgeons worked 100-plus-hour weeks, I knew they rarely had time for loved ones, I knew most were divorced. That night, Luke and I made a vow to always be in love. We made a vow to always find the time for each other. We made a vow to never let neurosurgery destroy our marriage. We made a vow to be different. But we were wrong.
Eleven years later I filed for divorce. I remember sitting at a red light on the way to my divorce lawyer’s office. I remember the women across the street at the dry cleaners working behind steamy windows, the noisy construction site with men in hard hats yelling at one another, the empty restaurant that had long ago closed, the sign faded and worn. I remember the feeling of my air conditioner blasting on high and sweat dripping down the small of my back despite it being the end of January.
I’m living in south Texas, I thought, a place I never thought I would return to. And I’m about to file for divorce,something I never dreamed of doing when I wed my high school sweetheart 11 years ago.Tears welled up in my eyes. A million questions ran through my head.How did I get here? Who am I? What do I want from this life? How will I ever find myself again?I remember I grabbed my cell phone from the console and snapped a picture of the street sign at the intersection. I wanted to remember that moment in my life, that feeling. The feeling of being completely lost.
I remember my first run. I remember pulling on my black sports bra and purple tank top, squeezing my body into the tight fabric. I remember taking the tags off my first real pair of running shorts and feeling like such an imposter. I didn’t run. In fact,I’ve never run more than a mile. How could I become a runner? I was overwhelmed with self-doubt.
My daughter ,Lucy, decided to ride her bike alongside me that day. I started off slow, very slow. My new turquoise running shoes pounding the pavement with a slow repetitive tap. Lucy next to me on her white and pink bike, her big smile, so encouraging and warm. She and I talked easily, like the two friends we are.
“Distance 1 mile,” my Map My Run App said. “Lucy we’ve already done a mile!” I said. “No way!” she said. “Let’s do onemore,” I said. “phew…ok mom.”
We finished our twomiles, my chest heaving, sweat pouring down my neck. A feeling of absolute pride overwhelmed me. “I can do this,” I thought. That was my first step. My first step toward becoming an individual again.
My second run, I decided to enlist the help of my friend Evette. I had known Evette since I was 11 years old. I remember meeting her and her twin sister after dance class in the backroom of the studio, both laughing with a group of girls crowded around them. I immediately felt their warmth and kindness as everyone else did in that room.
Evette became my running coach and taught me how to run, how often to run, how to stretch, and what shoes to buy. More importantly though, our runs became a form of therapy for me. I trusted Evette implicitly and told her everything. Evette would listen carefully, with understanding and love. After every run, I felt a little less weight on my chest.
Twomonths later, I was about to run my first 10K. I remember feeling nauseous and shaking with adrenaline as we made our way to the starting line. That day I accomplished something I never thought I could do. I ran 6.2 miles. And I ran all 6.2 miles for myself. I didn’t run the race for my daughters or my ex-husband. I ran the race for me, and that was something I hadn’t done in a very long time.
Running was my, literal and metaphorical, first step. I needed more. I remember my first weekend alone. I lay in bed, staring at my bedroom windows, listening to the birds chirp outside in their usual morning greeting. I was the only person in my house that Saturday morning. It was the first morning in sevenyears I had woken up by myself without my girls. A lump rose in my throat when I thought of them, but that feeling was followed quickly by a feeling of welcome independence. That day was about me and I would spend it doing what I wanted to do. Alone. I began to embrace the feeling of me. Just me.
I continued spending time alone when the girls were with Luke. I made a list of what I used to love to do prior to having kids: Reading, hiking, listening to music, dancing, being outside, and writing. I told myself I would do those things. I had dance parties by myself, sat quietly while listening to my favorite artists, stepped outside every chance I got to fill my lungs with fresh air, wrote in a journal every day, and kept running. I went out with friends to hear live music and spent intimate evenings with my mom. After seven years of devoting my life to my kids and making them a priority, I was finally making myself one. And it felt amazing.
I remember my first day of therapy. I sat on the green lumpy couch, hugging the rough pillow on my lap. I felt shaky and overwhelmed, not wanting to confide in the stranger that sat across from me. Not wanting to be real and let the raw emotion bubble to the surface. It was time to acknowledge the heartbreak and exhaustion from years of caring for my children by myself despite being married. It was time to acknowledge the absolute loneliness that came with having a husband who lived at the hospital. It was time to be real.
The first few sessions were difficult, but also freeing. As I continued to go to therapy, I discovered so many feelings that had been tucked away long ago. I brought them all to the surface to analyze and dissect every week. I was raw, emotional, and stripped to my core, but finally able to see who I was without being a mother and a wife.
In April of this year, I unexpectedly met a man. I was not looking for love. In fact, I had spent the past several months doing the exact opposite with men. I remember I felt so comfortable on my first date with David. He was tall and handsome, and our first date felt like seeing an old friend after a long time apart. Our conversation was effortless and carried on for hours. I love our relationship for so many reasons, one of them being the immense value we place on knowing and caring for yourself. This is my second time in love and I’m confident I won’t lose myself again.
I work on myself every day and I will continue to learn and grow throughout my life. My divorce was the most difficult time of my life. It was a heartbreaking ending, but it was also a beginning. The beginning of a new chapter that ultimately brought the purest form of happiness, knowing my true self. And for that, I am grateful.
Amber Davis grew up in San Antonio, TX. At the age of 18, Amber moved to Chicago to attend Loyola University Chicago where she graduated 6 months early after receiving her Bachelor of Arts in communication in December of 2005. It wasn’t until her second winter in the Windy City that she figured out the secret to surviving a Chicago winter is covering every inch of your body except your eyeballs. After eight chilly years in Chicago, Amber moved to Seattle in 2009 where she was lucky enough to work at Woodland Park Zoo shoveling the poop of many exotic animal species.
Amber became a full time mom when her daughter Lucy was born in July of 2011. Four years later her daughter Holly was born in June of 2015. After eight years spent hiking, beach combing, and exploring the Pacific Northwest with her daughters, Amber moved back to San Antonio in July of 2017. Although being a vegetarian in Texas is not easy, she and her daughters have found new adventures in the Lone Star State and love being close to family. She enjoys traveling with her boyfriend, reading memoirs and biographies, pounding the pavement as much as she can, and putting on Broadway performances with her daughters. She also has two fur sons who are currently destroying her furniture. Amber is eager to find the right opportunity to re-enter the workforce and is excited for the unknown.