Thursday, January 10, 2008

Summit Memoir 4: Superheroes & Learning to Fly

Pin It I have always been intrigued by superheroes. It has been in awe that I have watched reruns of Wonder Woman, the Bionic Man, and Batman & Robin. Before we’d moved to Summit Valley we had had much better T.V. reception in our hometown of Rockford, Washington. We were fortunate enough to watch all of these shows, plus many others.

I always admired Wonder Woman. Not only did I think she was beautiful, but I often wondered what it would be like to have her bracelets which could deflect bullets, her headband that could be used as a boomerang, and her invisible jet that was…well—invisible. However, there was something about that invisible jet that really bothered me. I just couldn’t understand how was it that she could still be seen, while her jet was invisible. After all, she must have looked simply ridiculous to people standing on the ground who saw her flying around in a sitting position. I also wondered…if her jet were really invisible, just how did she find it again after she got out?

Despite this shortcoming, it didn’t stop my siblings and me from making our own superhero utilities and weapons; yet no matter how vigilantly I cut the paper, colored the stars on the bracelets, or how carefully I taped them to my wrists, they simply wouldn’t deflect the Legos and tinker toys my sister threw at me.

One of my other favorite shows was the reruns of the Bionic Man. The show as about this normal guy, just like anyone else, until the day he was in a horrible accident. He was going to die. The government decided that the only way he could be saved was to mechanically rebuild him using parts of machines. After his surgeries, Lee Majors could run amazingly fast, see for miles with a bionic eye, and even bend solid steel bars! I remember trying to run with bionics, but just couldn’t seem to go fast enough…or slow enough rather. Whenever he ran in slow motion, he always got to places quickly, whenever I tried to run in slow motion, it took me a lot longer to get to wherever it was I was going. I remember at one point that I had thought about getting myself into an accident so that the government would outfit me with bionic limbs, but when I thought about getting my arms or legs torn off, I decided that this wasn’t really wasn’t worth it...no matter how cool bionics were.

While most of the heroes I admired as a young boy had shortcomings and weaknesses, there was one which had none of these. This hero needed no machine parts attached to his body to make him strong, no bracelets were required to deflect bullets, and he needed no special toys or gadgets to make him the hero he was. You got it, I’m talking about Superman.

Superman was, by far, the greatest hero that I had ever heard of, and I wanted to be just like him. Now, it wasn’t his ability at catching bullets in the palms of his hands, the way he could pick cars up over his head, or even his x-ray vision which made me want to be like him. It was something altogether much more amazing…it was his ability to fly. Superman was the only hero who was able to become airborne without balloons, helicopters, or airplanes. It was this power which made me so envious of him. Superman, with his blue tights, red cape, and curl of black hair down his forehead was the ultimate hero.

When I was seven years old, I imagined myself having Superman’s powers. I got myself completely wound up as I thought about flying over the trees and fields of Summit Valley, looping all the way up to the clouds. Oh, I could just see the looks of jealousy on the faces of my second-grade friends. Even the big fifth and sixth graders would have been impressed as I leapt super-high to make an out during our recess kickball games. I would be a hero myself, protector of little kids (when I wasn’t flying around having fun that is), and I would incinerate any bully who tried to push me around with lasers from my eyes. It would be soooo cool.

Since my mom would never let my siblings or I have any candy, getting it was a rare treat. I thought of how I could fly to Blue Creek, the nearest town, and get all the candy I could possibly eat….it would be fantastic. Best of all, I could fly back home again and my mom would never even realize that I’d gone.

However, imagining that one can fly is not nearly as amazing as actually doing it, or so I’d convinced myself, and I decided that learning to fly is what I needed to do. Now, I started out simply enough with my flying lessons…my first few attempts consisted of running across the lawn as quickly as I could, and then leaping into the air with all my might. Unfortunately, I usually only ended up knocking the wind out of myself, and getting a lot of grass stains on my clothes.

I realized that the problem must have been velocity. I was sure of it. I wasn’t traveling nearly fast enough. I looked around the yard until I spotted what I’d been looking for. The tire swing! I walked over to the weeping willow, and swung the tire swing out as hard as I could. I watched it as it arced out, nearly two feet over my head. It was perfect!

I was at once ready to try my first flight, but then I thought wiser of it…I realized that I should probably head to the kitchen first, and get a snack for my journey. After all, maybe I’d feel like flying around all day. I thought of how nice it would be to have something which I could eat on the trip. Mom was busy someplace, and nobody else was in sight; so I helped myself to three or four plums from the kitchen counter. I carefully put them into my pockets so that they wouldn’t fall out, and set out again for the weeping willow.

Now, I was ready! I climbed aboard the tire, and began to sway my body back and forth, back and forth. It didn’t take long before I’d built up quite a bit of momentum; I moved from side to side like pendulum of a clock. Soon I was traveling pretty quickly, the air rushing in my face. As I watched the ground racing by, I began to feel just the teensiest bit nervous. Okay, I was petrified. However, I blew out a deep breath, closed my eyes, and on the next arc of the tire, flung myself out into space.

I left the tire swing like a rock from a slingshot. I felt myself flying through the air, I’d really done it! I was flying. However, as suddenly as I felt this incredible feeling of air travel, I felt myself being drawn to the earth like a sack of rocks someone had thought were pretty once, but then decided to get rid of. I hit the ground, pretty hard, and felt something wet shoot all over my legs.

When I opened my eyes I was winded, after all, it had hurt. Had I been in any sort of condition to speak, I probably would have used a few of those words I’d used when Doug had been over several weeks before. However, bad words were the last thing on my mind. When I looked down at my legs, I saw that they were covered with a reddish liquid and this pulpy stuff was hanging in chunks out of my pockets.

I had exploded! Some of my insides were now on my outside! I think I screamed, but I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t know if any part of the pulp was part of my lungs! In fact, I couldn’t breathe…it must have been my lungs.

I was going to die!

I must have sat there for a minute, too scared to move, afraid that I would squash some of my insides, and then they wouldn’t work anymore. I carefully felt my sides and stomach, I didn’t feel any gaping holes or any areas that had been torn wide open. Upon careful inspection, I realized that the pulpy stuff was actually the plums I’d stuffed into my pockets. I stood carefully, not totally convinced that the fleshy tissue hadn’t actually come from me. However, a moment later I breathed out a sigh of relief. None of it was from me after all.

That night when I went to bed I was depressed, I was no closer to flying than I had been at the beginning. As I lay in bed staring up at the shadows dancing on the ceiling, I put my bright little mind to work on why Superman could fly and I could not. As I dropped off to sleep nothing came to me.

I remember at some time in my life somebody had told me that if you ever have a problem, and couldn’t figure out what to do, you should think about the problem just before you went to sleep, and when you woke up in the morning, your brain would have it all figured out. Had I known this when I was younger, I would have been doing this all the time. However, this little bit of advice worked like a charm, even though I had yet to hear about it….when I awoke in the morning the answer was in my brain, just like magic.

The answer was so simple, and I don’t know why I hadn’t been able to figure it out before. Superman would always fly as Superman and never as Clark Kent. Of course! How could I have been so stupid? All I needed in order to fly was a cape. It was only with this vital accessory that flight could finally be achieved. I immediately set out to find the perfect cape because, after all, it had to be really special for it to really work. One of Mom’s bath towels wouldn’t work properly, and neither would the sheet from my bed...it had to be a special piece of fabric; one that was certain to be magical.

It was after much deliberation that I finally decided to use my favorite blanket as my cape. I had had it for as long as I could remember. For all I knew, it had been left to me by a genii or wizard one night as a cape with miraculous powers, and I had never realized it. There it had sat on by bed for years and years without me ever knowing its ultimate potential.

I used a safety pin to attach the two corners of the blanket securely under my chin. I poked my fingers a few times, but finally at last attached my cape. I walked to the bathroom and studied myself in the mirror…definitely super-heroish. As looked in the mirror, I still felt that I was lacking something. Superman had a really cool costume and even though I didn’t think I needed one to fly, I still wanted to look as much like him as I possibly could. From what I could remember, most of his costume was blue…that is, with the exception of the red underwear he wore outside his tights.

I began to dig through all my clothes, and finally decided to wear my favorite shirt—the one with red and blue stripes. It had been my favorite shirt, and one I was sure would undoubtedly help me to soar among the heavens. After all, I probably wore this shirt five days a week. It was with me whenever I went exploring or hiking; it only seemed fitting that it should accompany me on my grandest achievement of all.

I carefully removed my cape and changed my shirt; it felt better, so much more special and magical with all its familiar smells and memories. I don’t know why I loved this shirt the way I did, but I did. I would have never taken it off had my mother not forced me to do so…to me it was more than simply a piece of clothing; I felt that it was almost a part of me, an extension of myself. I would have worn it to church on Sundays had my mother let me.

I checked myself out again in the bathroom mirror and I had to admit that I looked pretty good; the stripes of the shirt went perfectly with the blues of the blanket which flowed behind me like a river of pure silk. Never had I experienced such a feeling of overwhelming power! I decided that my jeans were good enough for the flight as they were blue. I contemplated wearing my underwear on the outside of my jeans, but decided against it, they were white…not red like Superman’s. Besides, this would be much too embarrassing.

I strode out of the house with all the confidence of a kid who knew a terrific secret. All I needed now was the perfect place to make my flight. Where could it be? I thought of my episode with the tire swing the day before and decided against it. What I needed was a new place—a place without any previous attempts, after all, there was no sense in jinxing my real flight with memories of past failures. Maybe I could leap from a tree? It sounded like a good idea, but there were few in the open I could readily climb. The trees in the woods would have been a poor choice because the branches of the other nearby trees would have gotten in my way. Though I had to admit that it would have been fun to weave in and out of the branches when I was flying, I decided against it. I needed a clear spot of airspace for my first flight.


As I was contemplating where I should take to the sky, my eyes were drawn to the old barn which was situated behind our house. I hurried to the backyard and began to study the tall wooden fence around the pasture, as well as the barn itself. I saw that it was possible for me to climb to the top of the fence, and leap from there. However, after a minute, I decided that it wouldn’t be that wise after all, what if my cape caught on a nail or one of the wooden posts?

I considered using the cattle run, which was an elevated ramp, with side rails so horses or cows could be loaded into the back of trucks to be moved someplace else. I walked to the top of the ramp…it was a good three feet off the ground. I was sure that I could run up the ramp, and leap into the air from there.

I walked to the bottom of the ramp and looked around me, the air was suddenly still, the sound of birdsong was notably absent, and even the very wind (which usually blew through the branches of the nearby trees and grass) was motionless. The entire world was strangely silent, in anticipation of my flight. I blew out a deep breath, and began to run to the end of the ramp. Closer and closer it came, I put on more speed and when I reached the end of the ramp I leapt into the air with my arms in front of me. For a second it felt like it were going to work, but I felt the draw of gravity as I was pulled towards the ground and landed—somewhat clumsily—on my feet.

I stared in disbelief. What was wrong? I was wearing my lucky shirt, I had a cape, and was even wearing clean underwear under my jeans to ensure a perfect flight, yet here I was, unable to take to the air.

I sat down on the grass and thought. Something was wrong…what was it? As I looked around, my eyes fell on the old barn—more specifically, to the small window on the east side which was seven or eight feet off the ground. That was it! I wasn’t jumping from a distance that was high enough! I was sure of it! I felt elated at my new discovery and pulled open the huge swinging barn door. The barn was dirty and murky-looking inside, not having housed animals for many years.

I moved cautiously through the barn to the window on the east side. Sunlight was shining in, illuminating the dust in the air. I had often watched the dust particles floating in the sunbeams lancing through our house, and I’d often wondered if the dust was only in the sunbeams, or whether the dust was always in the air and we were always breathing it in. If that were really so, did we have huge balls of dust forming in our lungs? The thought was pretty cool.

I moved to the window and climbed on the workbench someone had built into the wall years before. I stood carefully, and walked the open window. As I looked out I was spellbound. I had never seen the woods and creek beyond the barnyard from this height before…it was beautiful. However, this was no time to admire the view, I had come to fly and fly was what I was going to do.

As I looked down at the ground below I suddenly felt a wave of pure and simple fear. The distance from outside the barn looking up to the window looked pretty high, but from up here looking down the distance seemed to be miles. I may as well have jumped off the roof!

I was thinking that maybe I didn’t want to fly quite so badly when I saw my dad coming out to the barn. This could be it, I decided. My big moment, and my dad would be there to see it…I knew that he hadn’t been impressed with the fight with Doug because Shawna had had to save my life. In the next few seconds, I made one of the biggest decisions in my life.

“Dad!” I yelled. “Look at me!”

Those were famous last words, I have come to decide. I wish that the blanket I was wearing had come with a warning labeled on it saying something like, “Wearing this blanket as a cape does not guarantee the ability to fly. If you try to fly with this, you are a complete idiot.” But the blanket didn’t come with such a warning, and I jumped. I wish I could tell you that I took off over the trees, and explored new vistas with my dad smiling proudly on saying, “That’s my boy!”

I didn’t.

Instead being caught by the wind and flying up, I went plummeting to the ground, which seemed to come rushing towards me at an alarming rate. I think I screamed, after all, it’s hard to be sure when you are watching your death come to greet you and your entire life is flashing in front of your eyes. That’s a lot for a seven year-old to process all at once.

In what was probably the shortest flight in the history of the world, I crash-landed in a clump of tall grass below the window. I felt like I had just been in another fight with Doug, and wanted nothing more than to lie there and die. How could I have been so stupid? There was no way that I could ever fly, I started to cry. Partly from feeling hurt, and partially from the embarrassment of it all. I felt strong hands lifting me up from the ground and my dad asking if I were okay. I wiped at my tear-streaked eyes and felt angry. How could I have though that I could fly? I had been so dumb. As I made to tear the cape off and stomp on it, my dad said, “Wow, you looked just like Superman.”

I stopped crying and looked at my dad. He was smiling down at me; I wiped away the tears.

“Really?”

Dad nodded and said, “Really, I thought you were going to fly away for a minute there.”

I had done it, I had actually been flying! The possibilities were endless. With a little practice I would soon be able to fly anywhere. I just needed more practice!

As if seeing the cogs turning this over in my brain, and wanting to stop me before I’d actually succeeded in killing myself, my dad said, “Jason, you know, I’d really miss you if you flew away and couldn’t get back.” He paused and considered his next words, “Promise me that you won’t ever fly again.”

What? Never fly again? He couldn’t possibly be serious, could he? As I looked up at my dad, I had a sudden realization. That realization was how Mom would feel if I had flown away and couldn’t get back home. I knew how much I'd miss her, and probably how much she'd miss me too. It was then that I made one of the toughest decisions of my life. I promised him that I would never fly again.

To this day, I have kept that promise.

9 comments:

Gerb said...

I love superhero stories! My brother also thought he could fly like Superman and decided to try it over the open dishwasher... resulting in a trip to the emergency room to stitch up the 7-inch incision in his thigh from a protruding knife.

Glad your adventure didn't result in any serious injuries. Good for you for keeping your promise for so long! Aren't you tempted to try again?

Summer Lord said...

I was laughing so hard with the image of you flying from the barn window - and yet scared to pieces thinking what if my kids ever call out to have me watch them hurl themselves from a really tall structure! However, to be a child you have the belief that you are invincible and as you said, you truly believe that you can become Superman! Please promise me that when you publish all these memoirs that I can get a signed copy without coming to the bookstore and standing in line for hours and hours! This has to be one of the other perks, besides getting the first reading on a blog, for personally knowing an author.
P.S. I made several text to self memories with this read as well :)

Julie said...

I'm glad you kept your promise so that you could live to tell about your flying adventure. If you ever do take up flying again, let me know and I will bring the plums! :)

Teachinfourth said...

Gerb,

I'm glad that my little adventures didn't require ER visits! I will be honest...I've been on some high places and felt awfully tempted to try flying again, but I already know what the outcome would be, so I refrain...

Lord of Summer,

If it ever does happen that way, you betcha...I'll set you up!

Isn't it strange how somebody else's story, book, or even just when they talk about an experience they've had, can trigger memories of our own?

Jewels,

I think I'll hold off on both the flying, and the plums!

annette said...

This is classic! And so well written! Rob and I read this one together and both of us were dying laughing when we came to this part: "I had exploded! Some of my insides were now on my outside! I think I screamed, but I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t know if any part of the pulp was part of my lungs! In fact, I couldn’t breathe…it must have been my lungs.

I was going to die!"

You should be a published author.

Janelle said...

You should send this in to the "Reader's Digest" or something. Great story!

Teachinfourth said...

Nettle,

Glad my pain could bring yet another soul a bit-o-pleasure. I hope to one day get some stuff published, to tell you the truth.

Nells,

Thanks for reading. I'm glad you liked it...I'll eventually get another one up, however, it may take a while to finish writing it!

Linn said...

Just when I think I have read your best, you reference something like this. Tremendous! You and my Cam would be great friends.

Rachel said...

Do me a favor? Talk to Kristen and get yourself a publisher. This stuff is fabulous!

BTW....it's the tights. I learned this about 4 years ago. Brian took me to "The Nutcracker". I told him any guy wearing tights that tight could leap across the stage and I now understood why it was called......."The Nutcracker". It's all in the tights. Superman knew this....Nacho Libre.......

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