I have a superhero complex. Always have. For as long as I can remember,
I've awakened most mornings from dreaming of saving good people
from bad people. Now, occasionally, in the dreams it's just me that's
in jeopardy. But don't worry about me. I never do. Because nobody
can trap me for long or torture or kill me. Because before they
get a chance, their cell will ring or their superior bad guy will
call them out of the room to teach them a new torture tactic and
I'll quick-devise a scheme or a cunning hiding place from which
to tunnel to safety or to surprise-attack them from when they return.
Then I'll steal their bad guy uniform which allows me to stealthily
blend in with all the anonymous bad people between me and the way
out. Sometimes I even have to fake-speak a language I don't know.
Sometimes this wakes me up. I've learned that the best dreams are
the simple ones: I knock the bad guy out or tie him up so well,
and my disguise is so good, and I've done such a thorough speed
scan of the bad guy's i.d. papers, that I glide out unscathed. I
never hurt the bad guy. Is it clear that the bad guy is always a
man? Now back off on the man-hating theories, and think this out.
Another woman could never pose a threat to the superhero dream me.
Clearly the men can't either, but somehow, archetypally, they give
me a better run for my dream money.
From early on, I believed that I was a congenital bad ass. Born
to be. Ordained and endowed with extra bad ass-ness. And with that
I felt came a huge responsibility. To live up to my potential. My
bad ass destiny.
a high school "it girl." You name a club, I was president
-- a team, I was captain. Well, the cool clubs and the teams that
were cool for girls to be on. Homecoming court was a given. I graduated
second in my class, was captain of the cheerleaders, was ranked
as a tennis player, and drove a cool car. Down South, where land
is cheap and the asphalt weaves between the pine trees for stretches
of dozens of lonely miles between other little towns where boredom
is driving other kids to play out carbon copies of the same cat-and-mouse
dating, dog-eat-dog popularity contests, football worship, and what
adds up to the Olympics of the Mean Girl games, where kids with
little else to do besides cruise the strips of the bigger small
towns like mine, well, these are the kinds of places where it really
matters what kind of car you drive. And where stories like this
back now and know that I was busying myself ragged so as to distract
myself from the daily hurricane that blew in at whatever time my
exceptionally big, tall, hard-working father's long, blue Buick
would ominously float into the driveway. The Buicks changed over
the years, but my father's rage was pretty consistent. I was the
middle daughter, the one who stood up to him when the others disappeared
into their clouds of pot or boyfriends' back seats or hibernating
sleep. Standing up was a sure-fire way to incite more rage. But
I couldn't back down from defending my mother or anybody else against
so much undeserved criticism and chair hurling. Unaware, my father
was honing in me the ultimate superhero. I needed to be strong to
defend against the fist that always felt like it was about to swing
my way. It never did, but the threat loomed large. And came with
thundering words from way up high. My dad was a very big man. A
big, tall, rageful man.
must have all looked easy from the outside, but being my version
of the "it girl" was a full-time job. Until I became the
girl with the target on her forehead. Seems that my "it girl"
became too much to bear - I became too much to bear - when I got
to go to this sort of summer camp for, for lack of a more humble
term, exceptional students. (Mind you, there were plenty of exceptional
students at my school, but I got to go. I still don't understand
the selection process. One day, I was just told that I had been
chosen.) Anyway, I don't remember being obnoxious or bragging or
even talking about it much when I got back to start my senior year.
I think I knew better. I think I had a hunch laying low was a good
idea. But somehow the die had been cast while I was away. The target
had been tattooed while the "it girl" was sleeping. The
"it" was about to hit the fan.
a deeply-ingrained habit of running a few minutes late. I was often
late to school. One fateful morning I had cookies to buy and sandwiches
to make and stacks of dishes to carry in prep for a tea that the
cheerleaders threw at recess on the Friday of every home game. This
was a huge game, mind you, and the tea had to be done right. Well,
I knew if it were going to be done right, I'd be the one to do it.
(Superhero and control freak are separated by a tenuous, fine line.)
be late a fourth time in the quarter or I'd be suspended (a rule
still in existence that I am not proud to have inspired.) When I
arrived at school that morning, I screeched to a stop in an illegal
parking spot in the school lot. I grabbed my tower of books, and
I sprinted into the building. Luckily, Mr. Burns' AP English class
was just inside the door. As I strode, in full cheerleader regalia,
across the threshold of Mr. Burn's class, ready to slide into my
desk and have my way with diagramming one of his ridiculously long
sentences, he pointed at me. Like someone might point at a dog.
As if to say, "Stop. Roll over. Stay. Don't even twitch or
you'll never ever see another bone."
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