Monday, June 14, 2010

Naked Hero (PG)

I had to pick someone to tell. It wasn’t really a tough choice. I’d thought of telling Megan first, my best friend at the time. She had a gossipy streak, though. I needed someone who would keep my secret. I needed Kyle.

My palms were sweating that day as I contemplated my situation. I realized that it could have been much worse. Sweating palms could have turned out to be my power. I could just wipe my palms on the bad guys, greasing their clothes with my repulsive perspiration. I pictured the grizzly no-goodnicks ralfing in some alley after I caught them mugging someone.

I almost smiled at the image. I had just finished junior high school and constant tormenting had exhausted my sense of humor about myself. What would those kids say about me now? When I found out what I could do I felt elated. And it was real, too. My mom’s scream when an empty set of clothes came to the breakfast table served as irrefutable evidence. I could turn invisible. No more problems, right?

But I had seen too many comic book movies, and (I confess) read a few too many actual comics. I couldn’t pretend that this unforeseen left turn in puberty would be simple and fun. Yeah right, I hear you say. The first thing I would do if I found out I could turn invisible is have as much fun as possible. Well, smarty-pants, I did have fun. It was a blast playing around in front of the mirror, giving my dog and my kid brother a scare, but that’s entertaining for only so long. It was day one, after all. I wasn’t too willing to get adventurous with it yet. So I was excited, but that’s not the point.

You see, powers make everything complicated. I could only imagine then how those complications would ripple through my life. The drama with my family had already started. What would happen at school, though? Could I trust my friends anymore? Some of them would surely feel envious. Some just wouldn’t understand. If my secret got out (and I had no doubt in my mind it would have to stay a secret), I had a strong feeling I would have to get used to hearing the word “freak.”

My friends would have to be few and loyal. One comic cliché gave me comfort; y’know, how the hero would have a close-knit posse of one or two compassionate, infinitely understanding non-super friends who closely guarded the secret and helped share the hero’s burden? I knew it was a cliché because it rang true. What else did I have to go on? Anyway, it had to be true if I was going to survive this. I needed a posse, even of just one person. I needed someone who would understand the plight of a pimply fifteen-year-old girl who can turn invisible, and spends her evenings solving mysteries and fighting evil-doers. I would have to rely on the people around me.

I think that scared me more than anything else.

Kyle and I didn’t talk much anymore. Our parents had been friends for years, and we had lived next door to his family before they moved across town. We had last played together at his twelfth birthday party.

The next year he got quiet. That fall when school started I noticed him in the halls. We were friendly with each other --saying hi in the halls, and suchlike-- but we never hung out or anything. I noticed him at lunch eating alone, poring over notebooks, shuffling papers printed off the internet. I basically let him keep to himself, and didn’t intrude. I figured we each had to handle our new adolescent stress in our own ways. He didn’t seem to have too many friends, but at least he had interests. He and I were lab partners one semester, and we worked on a project together at his house one evening. His parents were always nice to me. He was the only boy I felt remotely comfortable being around. If you can’t trust the guy you ran around naked with as a toddler not to betray your secrets in the jungle that is junior high, who can you trust? Besides, he was the quiet type. He always sat in the back of class, and he never seemed to feel like he had to prove anything to anyone: confident, but quiet. He was tall, a little on the chunky side, and cute.

That’s right; I had a crush on him. I wish I could say I didn’t hope me telling him about my power would bring us closer somehow, like MJ and Peter Parker, but I can’t.

So, leave it to me to make a complicated situation absolutely impossible. Not only was I going to have to come up with the guts to tell him about my power, but my fantasies also ran away with me so it felt like I was also about to ask him out.

I rode the bus across town. I remember wishing, for the first of many times, that I could be invisible with clothes on. I didn’t want anyone to see me, look at me, or know that I existed. Anxiety intruded, and rattled my thoughts. Had I gone completely crazy? We hadn’t ever really talked. What if he just called me names, kicked me out, and that was the end of it? What if he exposed me as a circus freak and sold tickets? I tried to calm myself, taking deep breaths, reassuring myself that I could trust Kyle. He’d never betrayed me before, right? Then again, I’d never really given him the opportunity to. Who else did I have, though? Megan blabbed. Kyle had a clean, if short, track record. I was a slave to circumstances. As my mind surrendered itself to complete vulnerability and utter powerlessness, a strange thing happened.

I calmed down. I was fifteen and terminally self-absorbed, so the irony was not lost in me that I should need to discover a super-power to realize just how fragile and powerless I really was. The bus slowed and I checked where we were.

My stop.

I made my way to his street, my heart racing. I tried to will it to slow down. I tried it on my shaking hands, but it didn’t work there either. I wiped my slimy palms on my jeans, swallowed hard, and rang the doorbell. His mom greeted me and asked me in.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

She must have noticed the frantic, constipated look on my face. Apparently the whole “turning invisible” power package didn’t come with the ability to keep my feelings from showing on my face. Superman still had to be Clark Kent. I supposed Invisigirl (or whatever I was going to call myself) still had to be Annie Ludo.

“Can I get you something?”

I politely refused.“Actually, I’m here to talk to Kyle. Is he around?”

“Oh, sure. Let me get him.” She called him down through the house intercom system. A few seconds later he tromped down the stairs. He seemed surprised, but why wouldn’t he be?

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” I said back. He gave his mom a look, and she discreetly left without saying another word. She didn’t even have a twinkle in her eye. Good lady, I thought. I’d always liked her. I wish I could say I didn’t picture her being my mother-in-law in that moment, but I can’t.

He kept his hands in his pockets. His eyes looked suspicious. “What’s up?”

I checked the doorways into their front room. Sound seemed to carry too well. I got closer to him without getting in his bubble, and lowered my voice, which had to be shaking.

“Um . . . can we go talk someplace? With some, y’know,” I swallowed, “privacy?”

He looked surprised, but nodded. He looked me over, and must have seen my distress. Now he looked worried. It was quite sweet of him; he seemed to be genuinely interested in what was wrong. No backing out now. He would be ready to hear it or he wouldn’t. He would betray me or not.

He led me to the back yard. His mother’s prize-winning garden looked immaculate and manicured. Sorta romantic, I thought. I pushed that idea out of my head and tried to silently rehearse what I would say as we walked to a bench in the corner near a babbling fountain. We sat. I took a deep breath, and felt like I finally had it clear what I would say.

He spoke first.

“So what’s goin’ on? Are you okay?”

“Oh, no -I mean- I’m fine. I think. Just,” and I held up my hand, begging his pardon, and asking for patience.

“It’s alright,” he said. “Take it easy.”

I nodded. I felt more confident than ever that Kyle was the right person to talk to here. I used the silent pause to rally my courage.

“I’ve got something to tell you. But maybe it would be better if I just showed you.” Looking back now, I realize how that must have sounded; he probably thought I would kiss him or something.

I concentrated, flipping that subtle, now familiar mental switch my little magic trick requires. My clothing became an empty shell, barrette and contact lenses hovering over the open neck of my empty t-shirt.

He smiled.

“Well?” I asked nervously. His eyes darted towards the house before checking the perimeter of the yard.

“I’ve got something to show you, too,” he said. He sounded elated. “Take my hand.”

I hesitantly reached out with my invisible, sweating hand and he took it. He looked towards the house, intently focusing on a single spot on the wall facing the garden.

Suddenly, I lost my breath. Stars danced over my eyes and I tried to blink them away. I shook my now-visible head to clear it. I looked around, realizing we were sitting in his bedroom. I had the sudden need to go to the little super-girl’s room. It clicked in my mind what had just happened, and I was hugely relieved. A weight was off, and the adrenaline of anticipation raced through my chest and made me feel warm.

“You mean, you can-“

“Teleport. Yeah. I have to see where I’m going though,” he said, gesturing towards the window that looked out on the bench we had been sitting on a moment before. “But that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’ve got something else to show you.” He walked past me and opened his closet door wide. He walked in and sat down at the computer desk inside. It looked like some kind of secret cave with gobs of hanging clothes dangling over his slick, new-looking computer. I looked around, and noticed the large box and over-flowing packing material it must have arrived in.

“Come here.” He opened a browser, and entered some passwords. Several windows opened -- video screens. They were the views from security cameras. Some peered behind store check-out counters; some watched over bank tellers, another showed uniformed workers unloading an armored car.

“Until your uh . . . demonstration I wasn’t sure how I would get past security,” he said, looking at me pointedly. He smirked. “We’ll be richer than we ever imagined.”

The warm feeling left. My stomach hit the floor in disappointment and fear. My thoughts began a caffeinated scramble to determine my next step. I knew what I would have to do. The implications—or complications, if you will—came crashing down on me like shelves of painfully heavy books.

I made up a lame excuse and left. When I got home, I started packing. I packed light, because I realized I wouldn’t be wearing clothes a lot. I left my mom and brother a note and hoped they would understand.

So that’s where it started, and that’s why I’ve spent the better part of my life nude and totally invisible.

I’ve since made some friends like Peter Parker did, but only because I chose them a little more carefully than I did with Kyle. I was right about hearing the word “freak” more often.

I wish I could say that I always managed to stop Kyle from doing terrible things. I tried. I wish I could say that I managed to turn him around. I tried there too. I wish I could say that he and I became friends again.

I wish I could say those things, but I can’t.

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