Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | November 19, 2009


Most of the posts I’ve written here so far seem to me to be pretty sure-footed. It’s clear that I’ve had enough, right? That I’m resolute, that I’m determined (albeit reluctant) to finally say “No” to a poisonous marriage and march on out the door.


Have you seen the movie Amadeus? In this movie, Mozart’s contemporary, Salieri, is presented as the king of the mediocre composers of the day, and bitterly envious of Mozart’s talent. (This is historically inaccurate; Salieri was quite gifted and prolific, and his star shone brighter than Mozart’s at the time they were alive. But I digress. For the sake of the movie, Salieri’s meek and mediocre character is a perfect foil for the flamboyant, larger-than-life Mozart.) At the end of the movie, Salieri gives a fantastic soliloquy:

I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint. Mediocrities everywhere… I absolve you… I absolve you… I absolve you… I absolve you… I absolve you all!

To the extent that Salieri was, in the movie, the champion of the mediocrities, I am likewise the King of the Wishy-Washy. The Patron Saint of the Indecisive. Next to me, Hamlet is the paragon of resolve.

Well, maybe I’m taking that a bit far… no. No, I’m not. Anyway, the point is, I’ve been writing as if my mind is made up, that it’s all but a done deal.

Here’s the reality of the situation: after Penny and I broke up all those many years ago, once I got her back, I became somewhat of a slave to inertia. The Idea of Us contained so much gravitational pull that I became stuck to it. Newton’s Law of Inertia: a body at rest tends to stay at rest… until acted upon by an outside force.

We seem to have strayed from pop culture metaphors to science. Well, while we’re here, let’s bring up another metaphor from science: that of ‘activation energy.’ (Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called “The Tipping Point”, where he presented the notion of activation energy as if he made up the idea all by himself.) The notion is this: that you can keep adding energy into a system and see absolutely no change at all until, suddenly, a threshold is crossed and change becomes apparent. In science, the notion is represented by adding heat to water: you keep adding heat to water, raising its temperature to 100 degrees Centigrade, and then the temperature holds steady for a while. Nothing changes. And then… BAM. The water boils.

Or, in Gladwell’s example of the tipping point, allow a house to fall into disrepair in a neighborhood. Then another. Then another. For a while, there’s no real change in how things happen in the neighborhood. Then, BAM: all of a sudden, crime goes up. The neighborhood tips from safe to dangerous.

So there I was: an object at rest. Then add a rejection here. A rejection there. A spurned kiss here. Sex withheld there. We had been together for two or three years before we married. We just recently passed (without celebrating) our tenth anniversary. Twelve or thirteen years of her rejections, disapproval, and neglect. Nothing seems to change. And then… activation energy. The tipping point. Enough force has been exerted, and my inertia begins — ever so subtly — to shift. Slowly, slowly, I’m becoming an object in motion.

As I type this, I’m making it sound like twelve or thirteen years of unmitigated misery. Not at all. There were the occasional and unexpected acts of kindness. The situations where our partnership worked quite well. I must say, Penny and I certainly have done amazingly well at producing wonderful kids — and, given how important having kids has always been to us, that fact alone probably has had more to do with us sticking together than anything else.

I still don’t want to divorce. Not really. But that’s because staying together would be easier. Or at least, I think it would. But it’s becoming less easy with each passing day. As I’ve said before, I’ve passed a point of no return — another science term* — and I absolutely will not settle for staying in a loveless, passionless marriage. If this marriage is to continue, it will not continue as it has been.

But with each passing day, I’m just a wee bit less inclined to stay, even if Penny were to suddenly want to jump my bones on a regular basis (which, frankly, I don’t foresee happening.)

Even if we had a great big windfall that took care of all our money woes, and employment were never an issue again, and Penny acted as if I were the greatest thing since sliced bread… I just don’t think I’d want to stay. Not only do I think the tipping point has been reached, I think that the proverbial camel’s back is broken beyond repair. One straw too many; one rejected kiss too many.

And yet, continuing this great big mixing of metaphors: while the water has just begun to boil, it’s currently just a little bit boiling. I keep looking for signs that Penny might be thawing. And my, oh my, does she give those signs. Her household financial forecasts that assume one household instead of two, for example. Her travel plans that involve the entire family a year or two down the road.

During our “Second Talk” (I still need to write about that here… soon), Penny talked as if getting divorced was/is her idea, rather than mine. A friend of mine suggests that she might think that our staying together or splitting up is a decision that will be made by her and her alone. This friend also suggests that I’ve given Penny no reason to think otherwise. My friend may well be right.

So we’re in this situation where I don’t want to leave, but I can no longer envision staying. My inertia is starting ever so slightly to pull me away from the Idea of Us, but it hasn’t yet launched me into escape velocity. (Yes, I know, I’m heavy on the science metaphors tonight.) But now that I no longer cling to a notion of Us working out, I’m beginning to envision a life for me outside of this marriage. And that has a pull of its own.

Here’s what I suspect is going to happen, knowing me; knowing her. (Is that a reference to an Abba song? Blech. Need to stick to the science references.) My inertia will continue to build, pulling me away. She will eventually realize this, and realize that she wants me to stay.

And by the time she finally acts on that knowledge, it’ll be too late. I’ll not only be past the point of no return; I’ll have attained escape velocity.

If that is how this all plays out, it’ll all just be such a goddamn shame. A waste of so many years and so much angst and energy. And possibility. It would be a tragedy if it weren’t all such a fucking cliche.

So, yeah, I think we’re done. I don’t want us to be done. I hold open the possibility that we might not be done. But with all the mixed messages and the fact that it feels as if it would be easier to stay (even if that feeling is an illusion)… I guess the best way to put it is I’m starting to let go, but I haven’t actually let go yet. I see how this is likely to end, but that doesn’t mean I’m embracing it.

But that said, I no longer fear it, either.

[* The Point of No Return is a reference to when a ship reaches a point in its journey where it is committed to moving forward because it no longer has the resources to turn back. The concept is most famously used to describe the situation with the Apollo 13 mission, when the damaged orbiter would no longer be able to return to Earth on its own power, but instead would have to travel forward and use the Moon’s gravitational well to slingshot it back toward the Earth. You probably already knew that, but the former teacher in me feels the need to include such explanations in order to help the story flow.]



  1. Your inertia is due to not wanting to change the conditions that you thought were in place when you and Penny got back together. I’m hoping that as I read the remainder of your posts that you get to acting for your own benefit and put this situation behind you.

  2. I guess you were wrong in how you thought it would turn out, eh? Oh well, it’s better this way.

    I actually did not know where the phrase “the point of no return” came from, so thank you for that lesson!

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