Saturday, September 3, 2011

Love(s) of My Life: Zatanna

B: But getting back to our look at the women I’ve loved, I thought we’d talk about Zatanna. Because she’s a magician.

ID: I would have gone with the obvious, “Wonder Woman called me this morning,” but whatever, it’s your dime.

B: But in honor of Zatanna, I figured I’d use a bit of misdirection.

ID: Clever.

B: Zatanna might have been my first real crush.

I remember the first time I met her. My dad put together a big event for the local children's shelter. I think it was a Christmas thing, though he shied away from doing too much Christmas-y, that year, because he found out Gotham actually has a goodly sized Jewish population, too. So he had a petting zoo, and magic.

Zatanna’s father was a stage magician named John Zatara, and he came on stage with a flash of light and smoke. And out from behind him stepped a cute girl about my age, with dark hair, and big dark eyes, and a smile that made even the most down-trodden orphan smile with her. And I told my mom, “He's got a lovely assistant,” and she smiled down at me the way mothers do.

There was a little flower shop a couple of doors down from the shelter, and I got my allowance from my mom and bought her some roses, and handed them to her when she and her father were taking their bows, and she smiled. And she was at that age where she had a mouthful of mismatched, oversized teeth. I was so smitten I still thought she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen- not that I guess I had too active a social life back then.

We palled around for the rest of the night, but she and her father were nomads- they travelled around the country performing. So when I asked if I could see her, maybe for dinner or a show, she told me she would be gone to Metropolis the next day. And in New York the day after. Then elsewhere. But she promised, next time she and her father were in Gotham, we would.

That’s probably where it would have ended, just a silly little night of crushing; I don’t know if she would have taken me up on dinner or a movie. But my parents died. After I emerged from my stupor, I started to form a plan, the very rough outlines of what the Batman would become. And the very first person I sought out for that plan was Zatanna and her father.

I think John was important in my grieving process. It was more than just a desire to learn about illusion and misdirection. I wanted to disappear. And not just in a puff of smoke. Training with John let me get away from my parents' friends, and everyone who wanted to coddle me and swaddle me. It let me stop being the boy with the murdered parents, or even the Wayne heir; it let me be just Bruce for a while, when I really needed to be Bruce. So did Zatanna.

We dated, if anything kids that young do can be called dating. I don’t know if she cared for me, or if she just grieved with me.

ID: How did it end?

B: I finished my training. But I still stayed, months longer than I planned, than I needed. I told myself I was honing my skills, perfecting them before moving on to the next phase. But eventually I couldn't lie to myself anymore. Her dad had nothing left to teach me- at least nothing left I could learn without a talent for real magic.

ID: Real magic?

B: Magic exists. I think it was part of the reason I went to John in the first place. I… thought about bringing my family back. John… helped me see that I shouldn’t. There are a lot of challenges, and potential consequences, but it was the psychology of it that he focused on. Loss is a part of life. I needed to cope with that fact. He helped me see that. And Zatanna helped me survive it.

ID: But that’s not the end of the story, is it? You two reconnected.

B: She lost her father, during a crises several years ago. I flew in for the funeral.

ID: And that made you two even closer?

B: It could have. Except that she didn’t take it the way I had. Because for a while, my parent’s death murdered me. I wandered around in a daze, unable to think or to feel. I would have simply starved, if Alfred hadn’t fed me, with a spoon, like I was a baby. I had to relearn how to be alive after that. Even after I learned to function, it’s something that is with me, daily. It’s a conscious decision, now, but from a very young age, it was my purpose and my motivation, keeping other people from that kind of trauma.

Maybe it was because she was at that point already an adult, but Zatanna reacted differently. Maybe, in part, it’s because her father died a hero, fighting for something he believed in. Maybe she really is just a sunnier person than I am. And she was sad- heartbroken, even; she loved her father more than any other person in the world. But she was still a happy person. Hopeful. Optimistic. I love that about her. I love it enough, in fact, that I told her no.

This was years later, after the pain of her father’s death had passed- at least as much as it ever could. She reasoned I still owed her a movie, or dinner. And we went out. And she was wonderful. And beautiful. Sexy- if you’ve never seen her in civilian clothes, you have no idea how incredibly sexy she can look even without the revealing tuxedo. And she told me she loved me, and that she always had, since we were kids. I had, too, actually. And she wanted to see more of me. See if there was still anything there- or rather, whether there was something adult there, on top of a mutual childhood affection. And I said no.

ID: But, but she’s leggy. And, and adorable.

B: I know. And it was hard to tell her no, believe me on that. But it’s right for her.

ID: Isn’t that a bit… paternalistic.

B: I don’t think she views me as a father figure. But no. She’s my friend- one of my favorite people in the world. Her happiness is very important to me.

Too important, I’d say, to risk on a very unsure bet. Because the women I’ve been with… well, I don’ always remain friendly with them afterwards. They end up damaged and unhappy- and that’s not counting the ones who end up getting truly hurt- like Vesper. I don’t know if there’s a single woman whose ever been happier for having known me, and for most of them they leave with even more baggage. And I couldn’t do that to her, I couldn’t be responsible for making Zatanna brood, not even for an evening. It’s a selfish decision, I know, but I need people like her in my life far more than I do in my bed.

But on the subject, I think, at the end of my life, I’d like to disappear. I don’t want what Clark had, a year or more of people looking at him with pity. Treating every whatever like it’s my last, whether it’s Thanksgiving, or my sons’ birthdays. I’d like to be able to slip away in the night, without anyone having to expend any of that extra energy, just suddenly being gone, in a cloud of smoke.

ID: Okay. But because I'd like to do a fishnets thing, howsabout Black Canary?

B: Kissed her a few times, though Ollie, her new husband but longtime hanger-on, can rest easy, it never progressed past there.

ID: That's disappointing. You're making it difficult to live vicariously through you.

B: Really? You might be the first person to complain that I haven't been promiscuous enough. Particularly in light of the AIDS.

ID: Low blow. We were bantering, and you had to go and bring up life-threatening STDs. Now I'm depressed. Quickly, to the Baskin-Robbins-mobile!

B: All right, but you’re buying.

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