Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rorschach Test

Melancholy Bridge - Kacy Crowley (mp3)
Lonely Boy - Andrew Gold (mp3)

An old man lives there. His clothes are raggedy, and he wears a moth-eaten sportscoat over torn white pajamas. His hair and overlong beard are more salt than pepper. And overalls. He has overalls on, too. But not a dog. His dog died many years before. As did his wife. She died many years before the dog. And he didn’t have any children. Or maybe he did, and they left him. They gave up on him. Maybe he wasn’t there enough for them, and now it’s irreparable.
It’s quite possible I have crossed over Thrasher Bridge a thousand times in my life. The bridge, which crosses over the Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga, looks out to the west upon a railroad bridge some 300 yards away. Atop that old, bronzed and rusted metal structure, in the middle of the water’s width, sits a once-white house now gray from time and pollution. The house has no yard. It has no porch or deck. It barely has room for a front door and a walkway wide enough to stand outside.

I first remember seeing it when I was five or six. No telling how long it had been there. Must’ve been a bitch to build.

In railroad-speak, I’m sure this house has a very specific and vital function. In fact, it’s probably not called a house at all. Probably has some railroady name like “overlook station” or something. But I formed my story on this one early in life, and I’m not about to go let an education get in the way of my imagination in this particular instance.

Because this house has been the focus of my attention off and on for more than 30 years, how I see it and the characters I’ve invented to live in that structure have become an undeniable Rorschach Test on where I am at a given moment.

As a small kid, I remember thinking that house must be awesome. It’s so high up you could see practically anything. You had this awesome pool surrounding your house. You could dive in right off the front stoop. You could hop a train as it passed underneath and travel practically the whole world. Anything was possible.

In my teenage years, I thought more about Rapunzel. The house was a prison, and some teenage boy had been locked away up there. His job was merely to observe and report on all he saw from his perch. His punishment was to be limited in his interactions to merely that: observing and reporting. He could never actually do. Only see.

In my 20s, I thought the house would make the perfect location for a superhero base. He could get anywhere in the city quickly by way of rail, water or roadways, and the metallic column supporting his house could easily hide vehicles specific to each need, because no one looked that closely. He could have a secret drop that went alllll the way to the bottom of the river -- kinda like the firepole Batman would ride to his cave in the TV show. It was both the perfect Fortress of Solitude and efficient gateway to anywhere.

Lately, I’ve seen that sad old man. Loved ones have died. He’s living up there by choice, a prison of his own choosing. In some sense, he’s similar to the Rapunzel character of my teenage vision, but now he’s his own warden, his own captor, and the only reason he doesn’t come down is because he doesn’t want to, or can’t find the courage, or doesn’t see the point.

Prior to this latest version, the house's primary resident has always been some direct version of myself. The wild and fancy free version of childhood. The trapped teenage prisoner. The superhero atop a world of possibility. But this last one, the old man, I try to imagine him as someone else.

At times, I think this is because I’ve grown wiser, that I've begun connecting the house and its fancied inhabitant with the people around me, with circumstances beyond my own self-absorption. Other times, I’m pretty sure it’s because I’ve memorized that scene from The Empire Strikes Back, and I know if the light saber slices off that old man's facade, the face emerging from the smoke just might perfectly reflect my own.


Anyways, it's a cool house to stare at whilst driving across the bridge.


Daisy said...

Beautifully written!

Sara C said...

Love it, Billy. Good stuff, start to finish.

Daytimerush said...

Love this!

Bob said...

Just so you know your appeal crosses gender lines, I have often seen that house and mused about it. Thanks for giving those musings some shape.

Tockstar said...

Oh my goodness! I have always wondered about that house. Glad I'm not alone. It's always just freaked me out, which I guess is where my mind is.