This one is an odd one for me. I enjoy Batman, but I wouldn’t really say I’m a superhero fan. Most of my fandoms are things like Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, Merlin … all things like that.
However, just under a year ago I had to make a magazine for my coursework with classmates. Our magazine was called Prism and it was aimed at teenagers and young adults. For my magazine features, I produced two short stories featuring teenage protagonists both of whom face challenges around their cerebral palsy.
To make sure that it fit in article writing, I had to read several books and a lot of them I found useful. They gave me insight and an idea of an angle to tackle my story:
Begin with a lead that hooks the reader. / Choose the right words …/ Be simple and concise /Use the familiar word rather than the unfamiliar – Batty & Cain, Media Writing , 2010
As I developed my pieces, I tried writing in different forms: third person, film scripts, monologue and this helped me to develop my pieces in different ways. I learned that dialogue in a short piece is more powerful if there is a small amount of it. The film scripts helped me add a visual description and realistic action while the monologues helped me see that present tense is more effective for a short piece.
So what is the story?
The one I am talking about today is about a boy who has cerebral palsy. The thing he wants most in the world? To be a superhero.
Like every teenage, disabled or not, he fears being judged and this is one of the reasons he wants to be a superhero. Just like the ones in his fandom.
He also has this crush on a girl called Grace. To him, she is the most perfect being on the planet and if he was a superhero, then maybe she would notice him. But, of course, superheros don’t exist and so Trevor has to deal with his disability and his first crush. Some of Trevor’s behaviour is questionable and stalkerish. However, while I did write this in, I would like to point out that having a disability does not make you a stalker when it comes to crushes. It is just a learning curve he is going through.
My aim was to make him seem like any other person with challenges of his own. He eventually learns to deal with his crush and learns that no-one is perfect. Sometimes an able-bodied person can also have a disability, in the sense that their mind is close-minded and judgemental.
Please let me know what you think in comments.
Sometimes, I feel like one of Doctor Who’s Cybermen. My legs don’t bend when I step. My arm rises mechanically while my hand is permanently bound in a fist like a punched-drunk prizefighter.
Superheroes, impossibly deductive detectives and alien adventurers are pinned on my wall. They overlap, closing in. They Lure me into their glorious world where courage never withers, trouble is something to look forward to and danger is an easily surmountable occupational hazard within the carefree and selfish world they inhabit.
Their world becomes mine; I become like them. Sometimes flying, sometimes fighting battles, sometimes running. There’s a lot of running and even more chasing.
I’m more than a companion. I help them conquer their hardest challenges, their personal blind spots, their most challenging case. But unlike the real world, they’re not stupid. They see the mask I hide behind as I fight my inner demons. The truth they too run from. Themselves.
Forever lost between the world of fiction and reality – they are my real friends. Only, my fantasies have recently been besotted with an unusual spectacle.
Grace Smith. The Year Eleven girl with her hair the colour of cream, tied in cinnamon buns; her lime green eyes fixated on mine like cats’ eyes. Guiding my way. To the hallway, the classroom, the restroom. Printed beside her are four words: “Vote Grace for Prefect.” My perfect superhero.
Now Grace is blue-tacked onto the inside of my wardrobe. Often, I hold her, caressing her paper cheeks; careful not to leave an imprint or crease on her beautiful body. Batman and Superman scowl at me in their impenetrable silence.
I shouldn’t do it. I know it’s wrong. Keeping her prisoner like Jabba the Hut captured Princess Leia. But it’s not real.
I’m no superhero.
I can’t even muster the guts to speak to her. It’d sound weird anyway. My r’s don’t come out right. I’ll start sputtering, spitting. It’s always what happens when I get flustered. I can’t help it, I just could never say my r’s.
Only, I don’t need the guts to speak to her. She seems to be doing all the speaking, her hair hanging loosely on her shoulders. Grace barges past her sole opponent, Milly, nearly knocking her out of her chair and sprints from kid to kid, persuading them to vote.
Milly is probably the only one in the school that’s in a wheelchair and is quickly left behind by Grace. Her arms work hard as she turns the wheels of her chair. Most people approach her, bend down, listen. Aware that she can’t chase after them. Both girls get support in their own way.
I tick the ballot and slip it into the box.
It’s election day. The candidates are assembled at the front and I sit at the back of the gym on a bench because I can’t cross my legs like the other kids do.
The head teacher’s voice drones on in the background. Giving the usual drivel about making the school proud, setting an example and making a massive difference in the world. Her words are silenced as someone hands her a white envelope.
“And the winner is,” she says, pausing dramatically as she struggles to tear the envelope open. She glances at the piece of paper, “Milly!”
The room erupts as cheers and the sound of clapping echo around the room, bouncing of the walls, the noise overwhelming. Suddenly a string of profanities cuts through the chaos as Grace grabs the microphone, the room catching the second-half of the sentence.
“…Won because you’re disabled! They wouldn’t want a fat, greedy pig to be the prefect otherwise.”
A teacher grabs Grace’s arm and pulls her towards the gym doors, the microphone falls to the floor and Milly points at it. A teacher passes it to her. She taps it three times and the sound echoes across the room.
“I’d like to thank everyone for your support and would like to say that I’ll try my best, but I will make mistakes. Everyone does and while I know I couldn’t have done this without you, I have one more favour to ask of each one of you. Guide me and more importantly, guide each other.” Milly says.
I realise now that it’s not only superheroes and adventurers who conceal who they really are, but ordinary people do too. Grace hid behind her superficial glamour, her soft smile revealing nothing more than a rose. The Dalek inside no longer satisfied hiding. It reveals itself and the camouflage falls off.
I can’t lie. I’m disappointed that Grace isn’t the kind of girl I thought she was, but there’s that saying, ‘there’s plenty of fish in the sea’. Anyway, I still don’t have the courage to speak to her.
Some veils are thin, almost transparent and easy to see through. No effort is needed to see the person hidden beneath. I think Milly is hiding behind such a veil, her strength and courage are an act. Put on because she needs to be tough. Needs to fight. But inside, she is still scared. She still wants someone by her side. Just like anyone else. She can hide it and she will do. But only if she needs to.
She’s the true superhero.
I think that’s why I voted for her. She wants to make a difference, be tough but she struggles in more ways than just her disability. Only she embraces that; she accepts it as who she is and turns it into a strength.
Maybe I’ll get better at that too. But for now, I’m happy to be who I am. I don’t want to hide behind my mask anymore. I don’t want to be a superhero anymore and so the posters come down. Folded into a shoebox and shoved into the darkness under my bed.
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