Dealing with the aftermath
By Ricardo Victoria
She was sitting on the roof of the three-storey building that served as their base. Located on the side of a hill, the spot allowed her to stare at the skylights of the inner city, the skyscrapers piercing the bleeding sky, with the sunset coloring the clouds with a reddish tone. Very fitting, she thought, considering the events from earlier that day. The taste of her own blood still clenched her tongue, despite being recovered from the fight. She was feeling miserable. Because despite winning that battle, the personal cost of losing someone she knew – someone she was starting to get closer to – was eating her alive.
Then, from the window next to her, he came, carrying what was left of a six pack. She tried to smile, but she wasn’t in the mood for it. She still didn’t understand why he kept coming to her, despite all the rejections of his romantic advances and gestures of good faith. Then again, it was his nature to do that, at least outside the costume. It was funny to see how his personality changed so drastically in and out of the costume and yet the core remained the same. Maybe that is why he was good at this. Or maybe that is why he managed to cope with being a superhero and what that entailed.
He sat silently next to her and observed the sun setting in the horizon, early stars now noticeable to the bare eye. They spent a few minutes in comfortable silence, until he spoke.
“Nice view, isn’t it? And the wind here feels so good without being chilly. I tend to come here to relax and clear my mind. But you already know that. That is why you are here.”
He smiled lightly, trying to keep the mood friendly, but anticipating the storm of yells and insults she usually unleashed, normally when she was sad or angered. But the storm never came, she didn’t even look at him, just asked an honest question filled with grief.
“How do you do it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Yes, how do you it? How you cope with being a superhero? With all the crap we witness everyday, with all the pain, with all…”
“To be honest, I don’t.”
That answer stunned her. She expected him to crack a joke, to tell her that everything would be ok and tomorrow would be another day, another fight and maybe he would try to ask her on a date again. But he didn’t, he just kept quiet, gazing into the stars. She turned her head to him, hoping she would get a better answer this time.
“Seriously, how do you stop it eating you alive? You are always trying to make a joke, or complaining or even hitting on me. I can count on one hand the times I have seen you stressed about anything that is not your daily job.”
“Truth to be told, most of the time I feel the same as you. Maybe I’m just better at lying to myself. To all of you. Those jokes? They are just my way to relief some stress. The complaints? It’s how I vent my frustration. But what none of you usually see is that when something goes wrong I’m the first to kick myself again and again thinking what went wrong, what I should have done different. And when I get angry, I either hit the shooting range until my fingers bleed from pulling that string or I take it out on that scum or a wall.”
“But you are always so controlled in a fight.”
“That is because I have to keep my powers in check. I know what will happen if I let go. That is why I come here to think and clear my head and luckily, get over it and don’t get down that road that will make me like them.”
“You never said any of this. Do the others know?”
“No, I guess some of them might suspect. I know I had lost my temper a few times. But I’m so sick of the motivational crap that everybody tells you to cope with your problems. That is why I don’t give motivational speeches, nor do I talk about this with anyone.”
“So I ask you again, how you do it? How you deal with the loss of someone you couldn’t save despite your best efforts? How you keep it inside and don’t get crazy?”
He turned to her, with a sigh. He was still sporting a few bandages in his forehead. He had taken a beating during the fight. But as usual, he found a way to turn the tables.
“Hmmm… I just try to remember the ones I did save. How every day I manage to make a small difference. Like that guy from the liquor store where I got these cuts. He was being robbed and I’m pretty sure he was going to get killed, so I just beat the crap out of the robbers and paid for the beers. And hopefully that guy would go back home to his family, thankful to be alive. And maybe he will tell this story to his kids and his kids will learn that being bad is wrong and maybe I just managed to set a good example. When I get sick of being a superhero, I just remember that I do this not for me, not for the glory or the adventure, though those are pretty sweet. I do this for them, the ones that can’t defend themselves. We have a gift that allows us to make a difference that hopefully will make this world just a little better. Even if we fail sometimes, the ones where we succeed, no matter how few, are the best reward. It is the best way to keep us going.”
They remained in silence for a few minutes. He was just gazing at the sky, she was thinking over his words. He was right, as annoyingly usual. Now she started to see why he was good at playing superhero. It was because despite the falls, all his flaws, he kept going, no matter the odds or the pain, because his heart was in the right place. Even if he was a little bit out of his mind. And then she remembered something. With her ‘know-it-all’ tone, she asked.
“So, to be perfectly clear, you stopped a robbery as a civilian just to bring me a beer? You are unbelievable.”
With a smug smile, he just replied.
“I know. Do you want one?”
He opened a beer and offered to her the rest of the six-pack. Rolling her eyes in disbelief, she took the pack and opened a beer.
“I thought you didn’t or couldn’t drink…”
Shrugging his shoulders, he only replied, Both. But sometimes, one should make small sacrifices for his friends and the people that you care about. And I know you like this stuff, so it’s no big deal.”
Taking a sip from the bitter liquid, relaxed his shoulders and continued gazing towards the horizon. It was then when she realized that for him, despite the constant rejections, she was not only a crush nor a teammate, she was more. Because he had just bared his inner feelings to her. Not even his closest friends in the team knew about what was going on in his head or heart. But that changed because she knew now. About the daily struggle. And now she knew she wasn’t alone.
“It never gets easy, right?”
“Nah, but we should keep trying. And with time the pain will hurt less and something will come along to make things better.”
“You are such a dreamer.”
“I like to think I have hope. Helps to get out of the bed every day.”
It was in that moment that she took a decision that would change their lives. She gave him a small kiss in the cheek, leaving him stunned. He put his hand in his cheek, covering the place of the kiss.
“Wow, that is a first. I wonder if this is not beer but something else…”
He raised the can and started to examine it with critical eye, making her laugh. She punched him lightly in the shoulder.
“Don’t be such an ass.”
“Sorry, it’s just that it was unexpected. Usually you just yell at me. Especially if I ask you out, which I promise I won’t do any more.”
He smiled with a larger grin and it was then when she noticed that he was carrying a nasty scar to the right of his upper lip. A scar he got helping her earlier that day.
“I know and I promise that when this hurt less, when I feel ready again, I won’t yell at you if you ask me out again.”
“Does that mean that you will say yes if I ask you one more time? Just one date?”
“Good enough for me. And for the record, I think you are a great superhero. I know you will be fine.”
He gave her a brief pat in the shoulder and kept drinking. The afternoon became night and the temperature dropped a little bit. But she didn’t care. She got closer to him and drank her beer, smiling in the inside. Being a superhero is never easy, nor painless. But it was worthy and good enough for him. It will have to be good enough for her.