Those news monkeys had a picnic with me. They called me Bluebeard! The Ladykiller! You'd have thought I was at war with nature. So let's get that part out of the way -- I was not a victim of my marriage. I'm not one of those casualties you run into. People may get married by accident but if they stay married, that's a decision, and as much as I may have protested the situation, I did everything in my power to sustain it. I even tried to reconcile with her once. So if Evelyn's weaknesses were hateful to me, it's clear that I also found them necessary.
But that's why I needed her to be honest with me. I never wanted revenge. I just wanted her to be fair. If she believed that she could start some fresh, new, virginized life, well, that was her business, but at least half of that former life was mine and that could not be dismissed. If I could admit to using her, I said, then she could admit to using me.
She owed me that. I lived with a sense of squandered years. Had I been a decent husband, for example? I needed to know that, that for a while at least I had done alright, that I was not a bad man altogether, and that staying put for so long had not been moral cowardice alone, or a bankruptcy of imagination, but that something had been there, that a start had been made, and that if we had failed -- which we had surely done, there was no if about it -- that failing one another was not the whole story.
Maybe failure had been the price of our freedom, I said. Maybe in that sense we had gotten away cheap. "How many people ever lived their own lives at all?" I asked her. "How many people even realized what it meant?"
But I could not permit her to suggest by her silence that the marriage was no longer worth discussing, or that it's failure was my fault alone merely because I was the one who was doing the complaining.
I suppose things went along fairly well as long as we treated each other like chores to do. I would attend to Evelyn, she would attend to me -- but then we would be out, eating an expensive dinner somewhere, and I would glance toward the other tables where other couples would be eating expensive dinners, and I would wonder what on earth they could be chattering about. They all had so much to say to one another. I imagined them planning elaborate trips together, comparing impressions, sharing dreams, confiding secrets, volunteering praise. So I would turn my head to Evelyn and she would raise her head to me, but there would be nothing in my mouth. I mean, the life you make is not precisely inappropriate, yet it seems you can get stuck with your old decisions and there ought to be some remedy for this. How could we have treated ourselves so trivially, I asked. Life was so precious, so irreplaceable. How could we have been so careless with each other?
But any dissatisfaction I might have felt about my life was seen by poor Evelyn as a rebuke of the marriage. There really was no me, as far as she was concerned. Either I was her husband or I wasn't.
"Well then, I guess I wasn't," I said.
So there we were. Actually rather pleased with ourselves. It's a kind of thrill, that knowing. There's that vanity one feels of owning the moment.
"What woman in her right mind would stand still for you?" she asked.
"Plenty of women," I said. "Supermarket checkout lines of women.
Dentists' waiting rooms of women."
Yet nevertheless I believe we might have been salvaged right up to that moment, a day or so before she was set to move out, when I begged her to make love to me and she refused. She was so frightened, she was so hurt. But she was permitted those things, while I got to be strong and to pay for making her uncomfortable.
"What's the sense of it?" she asked. "Over is over."
"But over is not over," I said. "You don't just wave goodbye and walk. You clean up. You pick up after yourself. Nothing ends until you end it."
"Well end it then," she said.
So I suppose that's what I did. It seems there's a point at which independent decisions get made, as if symmetry itself requires one to act. One's hands close around, the thumbs press down, and there you are -- a villain, a monster.
Well, so be it. I do not expect justice from men, and since eternity neither punishes nor forgives, closure is something one must manufacture.
What surprises, though, is how satisfying it can be, a sensation like sugar pouring through one's hands. You can see how a fellow might be tempted to repeat himself.
-Bill Teitelbaum (The Externalist: A Journal of Perspectives)