Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Young Man and his Iron Heart

The day you turned thirteen, you decided, quite resolutely, that you had two hearts and no brain.
     You were what your French teacher, she of the visible bra strap and Caroline Munro eyes, had called “tragic romantic” – romance tragique.

Your fate was settled, etched in stone – carved into inevitability’s hillside by ancient astronauts, their starships, Venus and Aphrodite, orbiting the Earth.

You were fated to be a headless cupid, forever dipping your bow in accident and folly – a five-foot Tony Manero, strutting about in a pale blue leisure suit from JC Penny, cueing your heart to a dozen different girls, plucking the sad strings of an overactive imagination – winning the love of Jessica Lange and Erin Grey, Lynda Carter and Tanya Roberts – a late-night lothario dropping a cherry in Elvira’s drink.

Having slept heavily on your itemized harem, the next day you decided it was instead two brains and no heart that plagued you.

Now you were Rodin’s Thinker, frozen in repose, victim of a sleepless, artistic genius, Steve Martin playing Vincent Van Gogh, all jerky despair in your humble grotto – a clenched-teeth grin in dead man’s plaid, sitting before your easel, clutching at your ears – suffering the insatiable need to replicate the nonsense in your head.
     You were Teenage Picasso, cursing your twisted reflection, your features lost to the abstraction of depression, a junior Clint Eastwood, squinting into the sun, tensing your trigger finger, sickened by the quivering jellyfish scurrying for cover.

It went back and forth like that, from that point out, on into your early twenties, until life finally hit you too hard – once too often – and the heart won out, the battered vessel of romance rising, placed on a pedestal by Hope, and his bed-ridden brother, Dream – the twin needs of a desperate soul – leaving you with a tin foil spine, paging through the Golden Book of your clearly-drawn ruin.

Your mind sent to the gallows, reason dangling at the end of a rope, your enemy was now conscious thought, lingering on the horizon, Kilroy thumbing his nose – a snickering Dick Dastardly peeping over his black cape.

You had no choice but to continue the fray of existence, an idealized version of yourself held in each fist, a post-adolescent Robert Mitchum juggling love and hate, searching for your romantic heart, your loving heart, your tortured heart, your broken heart, your sacred heart – each as user-friendly, as shopworn an ideal, as your concept of God.

This is the trail of blood you follow to the melodramatic self, the imagined victim lying in the rowboat, prostrate on Agatha Christie’s sitting room floor, the butler hiding behind a wall of stoicism, the maid smoking in the broom closet, the gardener wiping the sticky evidence from his topiary shears – truth lurking in the shadow of a tree spiked with limbs, a turnstile, the revolving rings of time – father to son, mother to daughter, rail to road, road to sky, sky to moon, moon to mars, mars to infinity – the two-legged race of heart and mind – the eternal curse of the generations.

And you, a thirteen year-old freak trying to navigate your own obstacle course, hitting back with your fist-wound hearts, fearing the poison in your mind.

But you would endure, for you had built yourself to survive, just like Tony Stark built his Iron Man.