I was a young impressionable six-year-old the night we went to the movie theatre to watch Superman, the one starring Christopher Reeves. I was in awe. He was so real to me, there on the big screen. I knew right then that I wanted to be Superman.
My first cape was a red towel safety-pinned to a blue shirt. I spent hours running around the house, jumping off chairs, practicing my flying skills from the back of the couch. When my parents called me by my given name I’d tell them “no, I’m Superman”, and they’d tell me, “yes, son, you can be anything you want to be.”
It was a great day when I got my first real Superman costume. The blue tights, the red “S” on my chest, the flowing red cape. I really was Superman. But my light brown hair wasn’t cutting it. My mom took me to a hairdresser who cut and styled it just like Superman, complete with the curl in the front, and died it black. My Mom was a big Superman fan, and she was really proud of how I looked.
When I wasn’t wearing my Superman outfit, I insisted on being called Clark Kent. My parents assented, and my mom even got me a pair of black framed glasses. I wanted to be called Clark Kent at school, so my mom sent a note to the principal, who gave it to all the teachers. My teacher kept calling me by my old name, which made me mad. I told my parents, and they talked to the principal, who met with the teacher, who ended up getting fired for insensitivity. He was close to retirement anyhow, so I didn’t feel sorry for him.
Before recess I’d sneak into the bathroom and change into my Superman outfit. On the playground I loved to jump off the swings, my cape whipping behind me. I really felt like I was flying. I soon improved my flying skills until I could jump off the swing at its apex, and I began looking for greater challenges. I couldn’t really fly yet, but I knew I’d get there eventually if I worked at it. After all, I was Superman.
Some of the kids at school would make fun of me and laugh at me. Many of them told me I really wasn’t Superman. This made me sad and mad. If they got caught or if I told on them, they’d get in trouble and miss recess or have detention. Eventually they left me alone.
It really bothered me that I didn’t look exactly like Superman. My ears stuck out from my head too much, my nose wasn’t the right shape, and my chin wasn’t square enough. By this point my parents knew I was serious about being Superman, and they were very supportive of my transition. We saw a plastic surgeon who was even more supportive. He raved about how great it was that I was being true to my inner self, and he promised me that when the surgeries were complete everybody would look at me and see Superman.
It ended up requiring more surgeries and costing a lot more than originally promised. The post-operative pain was significant, so I ended up taking a lot of pain meds, and after one surgery I spent a week in the hospital with a serious infection. Eventually, we were all pleased with the result. The plastic surgeon did say that because bone structure changes in growing children, if I wanted to maintain my Clark Kent face, I would need additional surgeries until I was an adult.
In the plastic surgeon’s office, I remember seeing pictures of the surgeon on his yacht and standing next to a shiny new Porsche. He reminded me a little of Lex Luther. My parents complained some about the cost, but it really wasn’t that bad. My dad had good insurance through his job, and once we met our insurance deductible the rest of the cost wasn’t borne by us.
While my hairdo and face did look like Superman, my muscles didn’t. I spent a lot of time working out, and I was getting stronger, but I wasn’t muscular enough to really be Superman. That had to be what was keeping me from really flying. During a visit with my pediatrician my mom asked how I could increase my muscle mass more quickly. The doctor suggested steroids and gave me a prescription that very day. I was on my way.
I knew that if I kept trying, I’d be able to fly. I was Superman. I had to do it. It was my destiny. It was who I really was. The adults in my life told me so. I kept practicing, jumping off higher and higher objects. My dad got me a trampoline. He positioned it next to the house, and he put up a ladder for me to climb on the porch roof. From there I’d jump onto the trampoline. But I couldn’t stay airborne for more than a few seconds. The answer was to jump from a higher point. With my parents cheering me on from below I scrambled from the porch roof to the main roof, and up to the ridge of the house. Then I flew. I could feel the wind and for an instant I felt lift off. Then, moments later, I felt nothing.
I’m writing this story from my wheelchair using a mouth stylus. My arms and legs no longer function, the result of a cervical vertebrae fracture when I bounced high off the trampoline and landed on my head on the ground. I’m also on dialysis due to kidney failure from the pain killers and steroids I took. When I look in the mirror, I don’t look anything like Superman.
I am now old enough to know that becoming Superman was utterly impossible, and that everything I did to be Superman was a futile form of insanity, encouraged by adults in my life who knew better and who should have gotten me professional psychological help rather than indulge and encourage my childish delusion.
Editor’s Note: This story is a fictional allegory. Any resemblance to real persons or other real-life entities and their irrational behaviors is completely intentional.