As a kid, I was a big superhero fan, though being a fan in the ’90s versus today had a few essential differences. There was the collecting: going to stores and amassing comic books, video games, action figures, limited-edition POG slammers. This was the vetting process by which your love for a hero was measured. But today, I need to reevaluate how I measure my hero worship, as well as what actually makes the hero.
We honored the animators of our childhood delights by bringing ourselves further into the lore, adding our own flair of sentimentality. Storm and Black Panther were my favorites because they were Black, and since I didn’t have much money for buying T-shirts at that age, I made sure that whenever I saw an X-Men arcade game I picked Storm as my beloved character. And when I would achieve the highest score (because I was dope at video games), I would add “DAN” to the three-character-limit scoreboard. Much later I discovered that in the arcade underworld, “DAN” was one of the most common entries, so this conveyed neither my love for a Black superhero nor my uncommon gender.
DAN gave way to college and it came as no surprise that I wanted to be a psychology major. The wisdom of Professor X had stimulated me and I wanted to know the why of all the things we do. I also wanted to be in control of my thoughts and feelings, and the feelings of others. (In hindsight, manipulation should have been my major, but that’s a tale for another day—thank goodness for ethics courses.)
An evolving life
Nearly 20 years removed from college, I no longer practice psychotherapy. After spending 15 years in programs like Americorps, working as a child and family therapist in urban centers, and founding a nonprofit to support working artists, I’ve retired from that career.
I’m going blind. Retinitis pigmentosa. Though the blindness isn’t a definitive period by any means, it is a major life change, and so—rather ungracefully, slowly, and meaningfully—I’ve changed my life. I work as an artist full-time now, though my fascination with superheroes hasn’t died. Disappointingly, beyond Daredevil, there are few blind superheroes. Unless one is willing to call Mr. Magoo a superhero. And Cyclops did have that “gotta keep my sunglasses on or I could fry you with my laser vision” thing, but on the whole, that could be seen as sexy.
On the other hand, there may be few blind superheroes, but I’m discovering a new world of invisible superheroes I never knew existed. After a career serving others, I am now helped by more people than I feel I help. This is strange; it is an identity shift.
On the way to the store
Earlier this year I was returning some clothing to a retail store from an online purchase. On the whole, I hate shopping online because I need to feel the material so I know how it will feel on me. However, as you can imagine, shopping in-store as a blind person is a lot of work not only for me, but for the clerks assisting me.
On this day, I make my way to 19th and Chestnut. I survive the cacophony of sirens, horns, roving insults, and the wandering-walkers: people so focused on their phones that they neglect to see my cane heading straight for their shin. Once I reach the corner of 19th, I know I must find the actual store, which is always a bit harder—GPS can only get you so far. I ask a man who is standing on the corner if he knows the store I am looking for.
He says yes. I can hear him smiling, and he says, “Would you like me to take you there?” I am confused and grateful because I am the helper retired; I am usually the one helping older people across the street and putting quarters in expired meters. But it’s becoming apparent to me that I need help. I say, “Yes, that would be great.”
The man tells me he sells newspapers to support homeless people. I’ve always given to these collectors, although secretly I thought it a scam. The man has an easy way about him and makes chit chat as lazily as the wind whistling across my cane. It distracts me from the real fact that I am walking arm-in-arm with a six-foot-two-inch stranger.
I notice there is a voice coming from below me on the ground saying hello to this man; they know each other. The man on the ground then says, “How’s your day going, sweetie?” And I, surprised by the question and confused that he should be the one asking me, fumble for my words: “I’m doing okay, been better, been worse.” The man on the ground laughs a dark chocolatey laugh and says, “I hear that, young lady. Do you need anything?” And I politely say no. In less than two minutes I arrive at my destination. My escort has even been so kind to get the clerk’s attention so I wouldn’t have to find her.
A hero’s disguise
When I leave the store, the man on the ground asks me if I need help getting where I’m going. I tell him no, that I’m just catching the bus back to 12th Street. He asks me if I need any help getting to the bus stop, and I gratefully say no, but thank you.
Ashamed, I realize I have never given money to a homeless person and then thought they might one day help me. I’ve been implacable in my position as superhero. I am DAN, the clinician, the child therapist, the nonprofit executive director. I was the superhero they were looking for, right? Never once did I think I might need saving one day. And I realized a fascinating thing. Maybe the superheroes are thinly disguised narcissists. What if all us faux heroes are in this school of life to find out no one needs saving, but that we could all benefit from someone taking our arm and guiding us to our next destination from time to time?
Image Description: A row of boxy, colorful vintage arcade games ready for players.