Note: Many years ago, this story was written for the intention of a volume of Chicken Soup for the Soul. They rejected it, but it did find a home at Open Minds Quarterly, a small, Canadian psychology magazine. Rereading it now, after improving greatly as a writer over the years, I can see many flaws in the writing. But because it’s published, I feel it best to leave it preserved as is – for now, anyway.
Regardless, many people have praised this story. Today, on the 75th anniversary of the first issue of Action Comics – Superman’s debut – Superman, I felt it appropriate to post this story to show how the Man of Steel is considerably influenced the man I am today.
As soon as I opened that Christmas gift, I knew I was Superman. My four year old hands ripped the wrapping paper off in a flurry and opened the box wide. I reached in and lifted out a homemade red cape. I hurled it around and draped it over my back, clasping the velcro around my neck. None of my family understood it at the time, but I did: from that moment on, I was Superman! Arms stretched out, I was poised and ready for flight. Following a resounding “whoosh”, I dashed around the house, avoiding any and all obstacles in my way.
Oh sure, I never really had any powers: flight, heat vision, super breath, etc. Even before I had the cape, Mom told me all the good deeds that I would accomplish in the run of a day. I didn’t rescue cats out of trees, but I did rescue helpless pots and pans out of Mom’s cupboards. While I never blasted away from an exploding Krypton in a tiny rocket, I did manage to shuffle my crib across a wooden floor to my bedroom door. I might not have had super breath, but my crying fits probably made my dad think otherwise. I’m convinced that I had super-speed, though. There were days that I would secretly crawl out of the ground level window in the living room and run down the never busy street. I would make it at least half way down the sub-division street before my parents or one of my sisters would catch me.
I had three things that made me think I was Superman, though. I had the heart; I had integrity—and I also had my very own arch nemesis.
I did indeed have a super villain of my own. This vile and foul creature seemed to plague not just North America, but the world. It would get inside of me, pull at me, tease me, mock me, and make me think I was little more than a speck. It (because something this foul has no gender to speak of) would feed on my sadness and turn it against me. It would revel in my misery and swim in my pessimism. Its enemy is optimism. It reels away from enthusiasm, but fiercely fights back with a shot of gloom and despair.
What is this horrible force of nature I speak of? What kind of putrid entity, reeking of evil, would take away any means of happiness? It’s not something you can fight away with a gun, or a club, or a knife. No, it is a being of pure evil incarnate. It waits in the darkness of everything I am and waits for just the right time to attack.
I speak of none other than Depression.
For years, I’ve attempted to use all superpowers that were at my disposal to fight off this evil. Desperately, I grasped to any form of happiness, but to no avail. The void would suck me down, time and again. I’ve attempted to fly, but the gravity of feeling like a nothing kept me on the ground. I couldn’t use any of my vision powers because it has blinded me from seeing anything but darkness. My nemesis forced me to compare myself with others, to see nothing good in myself. It didn’t matter what I accomplished. It didn’t matter what made me happy. My archenemy would come back with a vengeance and remind me that I could never be happy.
Depression forced me to feel like I could never stop it. It refused to let me be happy. I had no sword to unsheathe to force it back. It didn’t allow me to feel any interest in any aspect of my minuscule life.
People have told me that they understand; that they know what I’m going through. How could they? The darkness deep within forces me to never relate to anyone. Even in a crowded room, among people that I know I should care for, Depression forces me to feel completely alone and isolated It forces me to feel invisible to not only the world, but to everyone around me. It has constantly told me that I’m not there, or that I don’t deserve to be there. It makes me feel like I don’t deserve to be anywhere. Why must it make me feel like a burden on everyone? Why must it feel like I’m not worthy of anything? Why?
Depression took total over me one night a few years ago. It had grown tired of me and wanted to focus on another of the millions it has affected. My legs hurdled over the side of the bridge. My nemesis almost made me do it that time. So late at night, the darkness reminded me of how Depression made me feel inside. It made the dark water so inviting. It made me think that I could fly. I could fly just this once and then I would never have to hurt again. Depression, whispering in my ear, honestly made it feel that simple. Part of me could see the despair vortex swirling among the waters.
I don’t know how long I straddled on the side of the bridge that night; long enough for a stranger driving by to call the police on their cell phone. Depression didn’t take into account a deus ex machina to stop it. In all its unforgiving power, it didn’t foresee two police officers pulling me off the ledge and dragging me away while a dam of tears flooded my face.
Depression did not win that day, nor has it yet. I can still feel the vortex calling to me. Depression wants me to take the final leap, whether figuratively or literally. It makes me see misery and refuses to ever leave. It forces me to scrape the bottom of my soul and give me the illusion of seeing nothing. Does it realize how it makes me feel to look for something within myself and get absolutely nothing in return? It’s a whisper in my ear: You’re a loser. You’re nothing. You’ll never amount to anything. Depression might very well have influenced a not so friendly classmate in Junior High to say those same things. It knew how it would affect me and continued to pull similar strings throughout my entire life.
It will never leave. It will keep sweeping up from below like a serpent out of bad horror movie. It will always be there to remind me of who I am. It goads me on, telling me that I’m nothing, I’ve always been nothing and I will always be nothing.
Oh, but my nemesis forgot a most potent ingredient. It forgot the most powerful factor in my entire life. The so-called maniacal genius behind Depression forgot a deciding factor within me that it can never change.
I’m still Superman.
My heat vision is my fiery rage that will never let Depression win. My super-breath is my voice; to make sure others hear of my unending battle. My super-speed is that it will always be behind me and will never beat me in the race. My pen is my new cape, allowing me to soar within my own imagination. I’m free here and Depression doesn’t seem to realize it.
It’s forced me to feel alone all of my life, but it never realized how powerful I could become. When I was alone with nothing more than a pencil and paper, I honed my skills. I’ve been honing those skills ever since I was a child.
I proudly wear the S-Shield made famous by the Man of Steel. It’s my barrier against my arch nemesis. To me, the S stands for strength and for security. It brings a smile to the faces of others, from all walks of life. Depression is blinded by the glint of white ivory. It hates laughter and smiles and the joyous days of gleeful merriment!
Deep down, I can still feel it lurking. I can also feel it inside many people around me, a parasite for the downtrodden and low self-esteems. This virus has infected and consumed the world. I refuse to allow that anymore. Depression is beaten back for now. I’ll keep fighting it for the rest of my life. Though I can still hear it, I no longer listen to the foreboding whispers. It’s still waiting in the shadows, grasping at me, eager to take control of me again, but I won’t let it. I still sometimes see the vortex, but I see what it is now and it no longer looks inviting. I can fly freely with my imagination and Depression’s plan to dominate will never succeed.
Superman is said to be fighting a never ending battle.
I will never, ever, stop fighting mine.