Monday, September 22, 2008

Hollywood Ending

There is a scene in Cyrano de Bergerac where, fearing he may die in battle, he writes a letter of farewell to Roxane, the love of his life, and the sole inspiration to his greatest work as a writer.

Roxane had expressed, to Cyrano, an interest in the handsome, though somewhat stupid cadet, Christian de Neuvillette. She had never met the young soldier, never spoken to him. She had only seen him, and, catching his gaze, rationalized that one so beautiful as Christian must surely have a beautiful mind, as well. Cyrano challenged her choice, reminding her that she herself had declared that she would not be up for grabs to just any man. A man would have to earn her love—have to prove himself worthy, not with muscle or a way with the sword, but with his intellect, and humility. He would have to be clever. He would have to be a poet. What if, he asked, Christian was not clever? What if he was not a poet? She declared that if that were the case, that Cyrano could put her in her grave, as she so desperately wanted to believe Baron de Neuvillette was the man of her dreams.

Desire…what a wonderful and terrible thing. To want something so badly that you refuse to believe it can never be. It makes you see things that are not there, in your desperate wish.

Unfortunately, when it came to women, Christian was a bit of a dope. He was, in fact, not clever, nor was he a poet. But because he was beautiful, and trainable, Cyrano seized an opportunity: He would create Roxane's perfect love, with the handsome good looks of Christian, and his own love's poetry providing the soul for the pleasing facade. For Cyrano did truly love Roxane, but was afraid that with his own clownish face, that she could not possibly love him in return. Though well accomplished, talented and brave, he was riddled with self-loathing because he was not handsome, and declared that even an ugly woman could not love him, much less the dazzling Roxane. With the face of Christian, however, he knew he could win her.

He poured his love for her onto the pages, writing his deepest, most heart-wrenching feelings, then, acted as if it were all just some writing exercise in which he had no emotional stake. He would say that he was an actor, a writer, a performer, and that these silly emotional things meant nothing more than a poet's commission to him. He was ever the clown on the outside, with an attitude the size of his ridiculous nose. On the inside, however, he ached for Roxane, and the more desperately he ached, the more beautiful his writing became. Finally, Cyrano's words did win her heart. She was a prize not for Cyrano, however, but for the man who had become his handsome mouthpiece, Christian.

In the play, Christian and Roxane marry, and he is sent off to war. He is brave in battle, but not so brave as his comrade, Cyrano, who crosses enemy lines daily in order to send love letters to Roxane, each signed with the name of Christian. As the two soldiers prepare for what will certainly be the most difficult military conflict of the war thus far, they are aware that they may not make it out alive, and Cyrano writes what he believes to be his final letter to Roxane. The words betray his ultimate sadness and regret, worshipping her as he did, but never telling her. Now, with death looming, he would never have another chance. As he writes, he is overwhelmed by sorrow and begins to cry. The teardrops fall upon the paper, but even his own tears, he explains away as deception, insisting to Christian that the letter is much more convincingly crafted thus, stained with tears.

I can't tell you the number times I have written in this way, with great sorrow that I later denied, to betray nothing of my own heart. Certainly dozens and dozens. I remember first "meeting" the character of Cyrano de Bergerac in college and identifying with him immediately. I thought of him last night while I was lying on my bed with my notebook and pen, crafting a farewell of my own. Just putting something to rest, that needed to be put to rest.

It has become such a familiar scene, as I am suddenly aware, yet again, that fond wishes do not come true merely by my wishing them. Wanting someone, no matter how much, does not make them yours. Sometimes, desire makes you see things that are not there, and sometimes that mirage goes on for a very long time.

The realization moves through me and feels like absolute hell, so, as I write about it, I cry. I think of it as a good cry, though. Cleansing. I am glad to get it out of me. I know tomorrow I will be less sad, and the next day, even less. Eventually, it will feel as if it never affected me. Ever the clown.

Sadness holds a different kind of beauty than joy. Most people don't want to look sadness in the eye. In fact, most people won't enjoy this particular bit that I have written today, because nobody wants to hear about you feeling shitty. I spoke to a friend last night, and when she asked what I was doing, I told her about how I was thinking of the story of Cyrano de Bergerac, and about my angle for writing this very essay. I spoke of the tragedy of not feeling that you are worthy of your heart's desire, and about fear of rejection spurring inaction.

She told me that she loved that story because she loved happy endings.

I realized that she was thinking of some Hollywood movie, since, in the play I read, Cyrano goes to his grave only barely admitting to Roxane that he ever cared for her, after hiding it for many, many years. I got off the phone wondering why I found the tragic version to be so much more realistic. I also wondered, with all my stockpiles of pride, if I was ever going to admit to giving a shit about anything, or if I was just going to go on like Cyrano, denying it to the end.

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