Discover more from Practice Space
No. 3 - What Superheroes Mean to Me
A Fictional Essay
Howdy! The second issue of Practice Space is a fictional essay, written for class by a boy whose dad was saved by a controversial superhero. Could a single act of kindness be enough to change people’s minds?
When I was five years old, my father almost died.
He’s a cell site engineer, so he’s always up on poles and towers fixing other people’s problems. According to various sources, tower climbing is the deadliest job in America. That’s why he’s a hero, too. But my story is about a different kind of hero.
I found out about it by accident. Years afterwards, I was burrowing through dust-filled boxes in the attic, looking for my father’s old toys. Specifically, I was searching for a set of green plastic soldiers he’d promised I could have, on condition that I found them all and arranged them in correct formation on the kitchen table. I’d found twenty two of the twenty eight when I stumbled upon something that stopped my search cold.
It was a disc-shaped device, not much larger than my palm, its shape and color reminiscent of the symbol Solaris wore on his chest. It looked dead, but a closer inspection revealed a tiny blue light in the right corner, flickering alive every few seconds. I clutched the device, which I imagined had once allowed for direct communication with the hero, tightly in my hands, and touched it to my forehead in remembrance. As you know, Solaris was already dead by then.
At breakfast the next morning, I confronted my father. “How did you come to have this?”
I was confused and angry, because I felt certain he had tried to hide the communicator from us, and reasons why he might want to do so swam around in my mind. I was ready for denial, feigned disbelief, even accusation. I had already declared him guilty, and waited for him to inform me of his crime.
I was not prepared for the straight-up truth.
“Solaris gave that to me, five years ago, when he saved my life,” my father said.
Milk dribbled from my mouth and I blinked. He went on.
Like many of you, my father hated superheroes. He’d made that clear early on, when he’d shake his head in disappointment seeing me read comics at breakfast, or when, on our afternoon drives back from school, he spied me from the corner of his eye, looking up towards the sky in hopeful expectancy. In his view, the whole project was a waste of honest tax-payers’ money, and superheroes just another modern fad bound to fade away with time.
That’s why finding the communicator felt so blasphemous to me. It was like I’d caught my father in the midst of practicing forbidden magic, or walking a cat on a leash. Naturally, I’d expected him to defend his position.
“I wasn’t planning to ever share this with anyone,” my father said, snapping me to attention, “because it’s embarrassing”. My ears perked up. Embarrassing?
“When you grow up you’ll learn how hard it is to admit you were wrong, Shaun. Especially to your own kid. I spent years hating superheroes, and I passed that hate on to you. When you were small, your eyes gleamed whenever you talked of them, remember? You were living in a dream, and I didn’t want to see you disappointed, so I tried to snuff it out. And now, one of them’s the only reason I’m still here.
“I dunno why I kept it a secret, buddy. Maybe I was ashamed what you’d think of me. That you’d think I was a turncoat, or something. That I had no integrity.”
I shook my head no, but then realized it was kind of true. I, too, hated superheroes. Growing up, I’d learned to pay attention to the damage they were doing. I’d believed that superheroes were more trouble than they were worth, and when Solaris died, I was actually a little relieved. He’d been the worst of them, by far.
I was getting fuzzy-headed, so I stood up. I clenched and unclenched my fists, surprised by my sudden fury. Before I could stop, I screamed at my father, for the first time in my life.
“How could you keep this from me? Do you realise I hated him all my life? That I was actually relieved when he died? I thought, here goes the King of the assholes, good riddance. Didn’t you think I had a right to know?”
He began to explain himself further, but I was no longer listening. My thoughts drifted to Solaris’s funeral, which I’d glimpsed on TV a few days after. I hadn’t even bothered to watch the livestream.
Solaris had died in midsummer, and on the day of the funeral it had been raining heavily, so the ground was soaked. There was the coffin, a huge black box like for an oversized doll, and around it stood his friends and family, his supporters, a handful of hunched figures dressed in red-and-white gowns in honour of him, holding colourful bouquets of summer flowers. They were the only ones who still believed in him.
Then, I thought: I should have been there, too.
My father had stopped speaking. I turned to look at him again. His hands were in his lap, thumbs softly caressing the communicator. “What happened?” I asked.
“I was sent to replace a broken antenna on the radio tower on Maine street. It was raining like a bastard, and I was a hundred fifty feet above the ground, surrounded by slick metal. I’d asked Pat, my boss, if we could postpone the work ‘til the sun came out, but he said it was very urgent — must’ve been for one of his “VIP clients”. So there I was, nearing the tip of McKenna Tower, wet to the skin and shivery. While I climbed, I kept hooking and unhooking my harness, which is what climbers call the safety equipment we use, to beams that were further and further up. Now, the antenna I was supposed to replace was right at the top, and I was already mapping things out, assessing how best to approach the situation. I wasn’t paying any more attention to the climb, just letting muscle memory do its job. When I rose to hook the harness onto the last beam, my… my foot slipped.”
He paused, taking a big, shuddering lungful.
“I was in free-fall before I even realized what had happened. I felt so stupid and afraid, and I just wanted it to end. I closed my eyes, so I wouldn’t see the tower get smaller and smaller as I fell. Suddenly, something big and unyielding, like a meteor, slammed into my side. Then these big, powerful hands went around my waist and the falling sensation stopped, and we were on the ground. My heart drummed like crazy, and I had snot all over my face. I looked around and saw we’d landed in a park. Only after I got my bearings did I look up at him. He was tall, and so shiny I almost had to look away. ‘You all right?’ he asked, and all I could manage was a weak nod.
“We sat down on a bench and started talking. He asked if I had children, I said yeah, and he said me too, a little boy called Kevin. He told me his real name was Brendan Cho. He was… he was a good guy, Shaun. So different from what I expected. He didn’t deserve to go like that.”
On this, my father and I are in agreement. Solaris, or Brendan Cho, was a good guy. And he did not deserve to die like he did.
My father’s story made me realise two things.
Firstly, for all his godlike powers, Solaris was just a fellow human. He was born of one of us, lived like one of us, and then died, like one of us.
Secondly, maybe superheroes deserve the benefit of the doubt. I think they’re not all bad, at least not all of them, and not all the time. I understand it’s hard to believe in this, when it seems like some of us come into this world gods and the rest have to deal with the consequences of that fact. I get where the fear and resentment come from.
At the same time, my father wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for one of them. And I’m sure many stories similar to his are out there, waiting to be discovered.
To put it simply, superheroes do save lives — we can’t just overlook that.
I know we’re taught that the people with their boots on the ground, the policemen, the firefighters, the teachers, they’re the real heroes, ‘cause they’re the ones with something to lose. But for me, Solaris was a hero, too. And I think it’s time we celebrated that.
And that’s a wrap, friends. Now here’s a question for you. Do you have a hero? Is there someone in your life who inspires you to be a better human? Has someone ever saved your life? I truly want to know.
Practice Space is free to read, but your support means a lot! By becoming a subscriber, you’ll receive new issues every other Friday and help support my work.