THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS KRYPTONITE
Olivia was a girl and I loved Olivia. Or love. Wait, now I'm not sure. Love. Loved.
It's love. It's definitely love.
I'm not good with language. Not out loud. Typing, like this, is easier, because I can go back and fix my mistakes. I can take my time and think. Conversation is hard, like people. Too much pressure to perform.
There are some things I'm good at, though, for instance memorizing. I'm really good at that.
Wait. Off topic again. See? This is one of those times when I need to go back. If I were talking to someone face to face, right about now they'd be starting to get that look. If you are different you know that look. I'm not sure what it means, exactly, except that it always signals the end of the conversation.
My name is Michael, by the way. Not Mike, or Mikey. Michael.
And Olivia is the girl I love.
Once, I showed her a comic book. I like comics much better than regular books. Regular books are confusing--the letters are all bunched up together, and there are too many of them, running around on the page like a million little black ants. Comics are easier. The words are spaced out, and there are pictures to help you understand what's happening. That, plus the stories are more interesting.
My dad likes comics too. He has a giant collection of them, and sometimes he takes them out so that we can look at them together. His most valuable one is a Detective Comics #38, which is a Batman comic. #38 is the first appearance of Robin, Boy Wonder. It has its own special case, and its own special plastic bag, and when he takes it out he gets really quiet and just stares at it for a long time. He says he loves that comic; loves it more than anything. I don't know what to say so I just watch.
So this one time I was showing Olivia a comic I was reading. It was all about The Phoenix. He's a Force for Good. That's what I like most about him. That, and the red cape. I had a red cape when I was younger, and I never took it off, even when I went to sleep. I wore it until it went to pieces. That was when I was 9 years old. I'd like to have a red cape again, but my mom said no, because I am in high school now and it's time to grow up.
Olivia and I were sitting next to each other in the gym where everybody gathers before school. We are both in the tenth grade. I have known Olivia since kindergarten. I have loved Olivia since kindergarten, too.
We always sit together before school. Each morning when my mom drops me off I head straight for the gym, find Olivia, and sit down next to her. Sometimes, there are people already there, but Olivia always tells them to let me be.
That morning, she was talking to a girl from our class named Alicia. Alicia was sitting on Olivia's left side. I was sitting on her right side. I tapped Olivia on the shoulder.
She turned around. "What, Michael?" she asked, rolling her eyes. Olivia rolls her eyes a lot.
"Do you like The Phoenix?"
She looked down at the book I was holding. "You know I don't read comics," she said. "I've told you that before."
“But he’s a Force for Good,” I explained.
Her eyes went a little hard, like marbles. “Comics are for kids, Michael. There’s no such thing as a Force for Good.” She pointed to the picture on the cover. “He’s probably stopping that speeding train because he's the muscle for some gangster, and there's a junkie on board who owes him money. No one does good deeds just for the sake of it. Everybody wants something. You should remember that.” She paused and looked up at me for just one heartbeat, and her eyes had something else in them now, something like sadness, though I'm not really sure. Did she mean the words she was saying?
Then she turned back around.
I wanted to tap her shoulder again, to tell her she was wrong, but just then the bell rang and the announcements began. When they were over, everyone got up and walked to class.
Olivia and I have homeroom together. We also have third, fifth, and seventh hour classes together, though most of the day I have to stay with Mrs. Ruben. Mrs. Ruben is really old, and she is my aide. Her job is to keep me focused. She also helps me remember my books, because sometimes I can get distracted and leave them on my desk. She smells like a grandmother, a mix of mothballs and chocolate chip cookies. I like her, because I never had a grandmother. My grandmother died before I was born.
So Olivia and I were walking to class. I tapped her on the shoulder. "I was a super hero," I said.
Wrong. I tried it the other way. "I am a super hero."
She sighed. "No you're not, Michael. I already explained this to you like a thousand times. Super heroes aren't real."
"Some aren't real," I corrected her. "I'm real."
"Ok," she said, rolling her eyes again. "What are your super powers?"
I was glad she asked that question. "I have super smell," I said.
She smiled. Olivia has the best smile in the world. She is also very pretty. She has blond hair, so pale that it's almost white. It's cut short, just like it was in kindergarten. I like that about her, that she still has the same hairstyle she had in kindergarten. I don't like it when things change. She has blue eyes too, bright blue; the color of the sky on a clear winter's day. She looks very much like some of the girls in my comics. Sometimes when I read them, I imagine Olivia is the girl and I am The Phoenix. I know that it is a silly thing to do, so I don't tell anyone about that.
"What can you smell right now?" Olivia asked.
"Mrs. Kendrick had a cup of coffee earlier in the teacher's lounge," I said, pointing to our homeroom teacher who was standing on the other side of the room. Mrs. Kendrick was taking roll. She already looked tired, even though it was only 8:05 in the morning. Next I pointed to a boy four rows away. "Jeffrey Bartram had biscuits for breakfast. With strawberry jelly. And some kind of juice, maybe apple, though it's hard to tell." I looked around. The window was cracked just a little bit. "It will rain later this afternoon. Also someone in here stepped in dog poop this morning, and tried to rub it off of their shoes in the grass. That one's really gross." I looked back at Olivia. Her mouth was hanging open just a little bit. She has very pretty lips. "And you are wearing Lady Sport deodorant. Island Fresh scent."
"Are you making all of that up, Michael?" she asked.
"No," I said. "Super smell is only one of my powers. I have several others. Just like The Phoenix." I pointed down at my comic.
"There's no such thing as Superman," Olivia said again, staring down at her books. I started to correct her, but just then Mrs. Ruben sat down beside me, and told me to take out my math book. Mrs. Kendrick had moved to the front of the room, and was writing some math problems on the board. I'm not good at math, either.
Later that day I went to P.E. Olivia is not in my P.E. class. P.E. stands for physical education. I learned that in fourth grade.
Coach Morone had us running up and down the field for no good reason. I don't like doing things without a good reason. It was windy and cold, and the clouds from the rainstorm which was coming later had already started to gather. I had on my gym shorts and my gym shirt and my track suit over that, and about halfway through class I got really hot and took off the track suit. Then I got yelled at for leaving my clothes in the middle of the field.
When we finished running, Coach called us all over into what he called The Huddle. That's where he tells us what is going on in school sports, and how we should all participate.
Across the field, some of the other boys were snickering. I heard one of them whisper "moron." That's what they call Coach when he can't hear them, though I'm not sure why. I looked it up in the dictionary, and it means stupid, but Coach is not stupid. Sometimes I wonder if they are really talking about Coach.
No one runs with me, so I was the first one back. Coach patted me on the back. "Damn shame you're a retard, Michael," he said, looking up and down my body. "You sure are a big boy. What are you, six five?"
I looked at him. I had no idea what he was talking about.
"Your height, Michael," he said. "Do you know what it is?"
"I'm six feet, four inches tall," I said. "I weigh 223 pounds."
"Well, you'd make a hell of a linebacker." He took off his baseball cap and scratched his head, which is bald.
"I'm not retarded, Coach," I said. "I have autism."
"I know," he said, shrugging. "You know what I mean." I didn't know what he meant, but I knew what retarded meant. I don't like to be called retarded.
The other boys had come up by then, and we all stood around Coach in a big circle. Just about then it began to rain, and everybody started yelling and cursing. Coach told everyone to run back to the locker room, but I didn't run. I walked, really slowly, letting the fat, wet raindrops fall on my skin. It felt really good. I had to stop myself from dancing. I used to do that when I was younger, until the adults told me to stop. They say it's INAPPROPRIATE. No one knows, but I still dance sometimes, in my room, when I know no one is watching. By the time I picked up my track suit and made it back to the locker room I was soaked, but I didn't care. Everyone else was already changed and gone, and I was glad, even if I knew Mrs. Ruben would yell at me for being late.
It was still raining after school. Mrs. Ruben reminded me that I was supposed to have speech therapy with Mr. Fred after school. Mr. Fred has a first name as his last name, which I don't understand. His first name is Raymond, though, which is ok.
Anyway, I told Mrs. Ruben goodbye, and then I walked down the hall in the direction of Mr. Fred's office, but I didn't go in. When she stopped looking I turned right and walked quickly out the west exit.
I felt a little zing of excitement as I went through the doorway. I was OUT. I used to go OUT all the time when I was a little kid. My parents called me a Runner. Whenever we'd go somewhere, they would tell people, "Better lock the doors--Michael's a Runner." I couldn't help it, though. I hated being inside. Most of the time, the walls made me feel like I couldn't breathe. Every sound was loud and frightening--the buzz from the fluorescent lights; the roar of water in the pipes under the house. It was so bad that I couldn't concentrate on people's voices. After only a couple of minutes my heart would start to pound, and I couldn't think of anything but getting away. I got really good at it too, at opening any kind of lock, or slipping through any window, no matter how small.
Once, I was gone for five hours before anyone found me. My mother was on the telephone, and the sound of the other lady's voice felt like razor blades in my head, the same way some people can't stand fingernails scraped across a chalkboard. I took it as long as I could, and then I tiptoed into the bathroom, crawled up on the side of the bathtub and pulled myself out the window. I didn't go far--just into the big field next door. I ran out into the middle of it and stopped, and then laid down in the tall grass. I remember there was a soft breeze blowing. It was warm, and gentle, and when it blew it bent the grass down to tickle my cheeks. I lay there for a long time, watching the grasses sway, listening to them whisper. Their voices are soft, and don't hurt my ears. I closed my eyes and started to float, softly, like the grass, and I kept on going until I was high above the world, above everything and everyone, where the wind always speaks and I can understand everything it’s saying. Somewhere off in the distance, I heard my parents calling, but I pretended not to. I never wanted them to find me. I wanted to stay there until I was a part of that field, until I became the grass and the wind. It was the best day of my life.
Eventually, of course, they did find me. They always do. After that there were locks on the windows and doors, and I learned to go where I was told to go, and to stay where I was told to stay. But not today.
I wasn't planning to skip speech therapy with Mr. Fred, but something in the rain, something I don't have a word for, told me that today was a good day to go out the west exit. So I went. I walked around the back of the school, just in time to see Olivia in the distance, almost to the trail that led through the woods to Melbourne Avenue, which is a short cut to her house.
When I saw her I knew what the rain was trying to tell me.
“Olivia, wait!” I yelled, cringing and bending over, holding my ears. The sound of yelling, even my own raised voice, feels like two hammers clanking together inside my skull.
Olivia came jogging back. She is on the track team and the school softball team. Sometimes on special assembly days, the Principal calls her to come down out of the bleachers and pick up a Student Athlete Award. I’ve never gotten one of those.
“What’s wrong?” she asked when she got close.
I stood up, the ringing in my ears a little lower now.
“Nothing yet, but don’t go home that way,” I told her, pointing. “Something’s coming. Something bad. I can smell it.”
Olivia closed her eyes and wiped her forehead with one hand.
“Michael, look,” she said. “I like, you, okay, I really do. I feel sorry for you. I know the other kids give you shit for being...like you are. But you’ve got to stop following me around. People are starting to think it’s weird.” She turned around and started walking toward the woods again.
She whirled around. “Michael, stop. I mean it. Just...stop. Leave me alone.” Then she went on walking, and I watched her until Mrs. Ruben came stomping up the sidewalk to take me away.
Halfway through speech therapy I told Mr. Fred and Mrs. Ruben that I had to go to the bathroom, and then I slipped around a corner and out the door while they talked about teacher salaries and vacation time and grandchildren. I held the exit door as it closed so that the latch only made the softest click, and then I ran as fast as I could toward the trail.
Olivia lives in a small trailer house on Park Street. My mother told me it's called Park Street because long ago there used to be a playground at the end of it. Nowadays there's nothing but a faded wooden sign that says "Paradise Acres." Olivia has always lived there, in the third trailer from the back on the right side. The trailer is very old, and there's lots of trash out in front of it. I don't ever see her mother anymore, only her father. He repairs cars, I think. He always has black grease on his clothes and on his skin.
Between the heavy clouds and the shorter autumn days it was almost dark in the woods, but I didn't care because there is a clear trail where people have walked and walked through the years. When I was younger my mom told me never to go in there, because she says there are homeless people and dope peddlers living in those woods. If there are, though, I've never seen them. Sometimes I suspect that my mother doesn't know what she's talking about.
The trees muffled the sounds from the outside world, which was nice; all I could hear was the rhythm of raindrops pattering on the thick carpet of leaves. Every once in a while, I'd come across some trash beside the trail. Normally I would pick that up. I hate the way trash looks in the forest. It's so out of place, so un-forest; like a wound or a scar. It upsets me. Not today though; I didn't pick up anything today, because I was following Olivia.
As I came to the place where the trees started to thin out I smelled the car crash. I pulled my t-shirt up over my nose to keep out the awful smells of smoke, gasoline and brake fluid, but it barely made a dent in the stench. I almost missed her, until I heard the sound. It was the tiniest thing; a muffled kind of animal sound, barely audible over the pitter-patter of the rain, but I knew instantly that it was Olivia. I would know that voice anywhere. And just as suddenly as I heard it, I knew that she was crying, and that if she could, she would be screaming.
I crashed through the trees, passing the broken car on my left. All the windows had been smashed out, and a lady was slumped against a white pillow hanging out of the dashboard. A man sat beside her in the front seat, blood dripping from a cut on his head. He was softly crying, but his eyes got wide when he saw me, like a cartoon character who just got surprised when he opened a door and saw someone standing there.
“She was trying to help us,” he said. There was a tear rolling down his cheek, mixing with the blood. “She was trying to get the door open when another car came and sideswiped us.” His voice sounded wet, and weak, and without another word he lay his head down against the twisted steering wheel.
Olivia was lying in a tall patch of weeds where she’d landed. Her face was bruised and purple, and her lip was bleeding. I took my shirt off and used it to wipe the blood from her cheek and lips. She was sleeping, or something like sleeping, so I picked her up as gently as I could, though I could hear the grinding of broken bones beneath her thin, soft skin. I brought her backpack too. I knew she wouldn't want to lose her books.
The only place I knew to take her was the hospital, so I headed in that direction. I waited for a second, listening to the wind, and then I carried her up and out, the fast way through the clouds. I think maybe she woke up once, but it was hard to tell because it was dark and still raining. Up there, above the earth, I thought about what it would be like to just soar away with her, to keep her for myself like some super heroes do with the girls they save. But even though I am a superhero, I knew that wasn't right. Olivia didn't belong to me. Olivia belonged to herself.
When we got there, I waited behind some trees until the Emergency Room entrance was deserted, and then I laid Olivia down gently on the sidewalk near the sliding doors. I left her book bag beside her, but I didn't go in. The buzzing fluorescent lights were too loud, and I knew the people inside would ask me questions. They would probably call my parents. They might even think I had done this to her myself. Best to leave her, and let her go.
I went back to my hiding spot, watching until someone came out. They put her on a clean, white bed with wheels and rolled her inside. When I knew she was safe, I turned to go home. I was late, and I knew I was going to be in big, big trouble.
Olivia didn't come back to school for two months. When she did, she was different, quieter. I think some part of her was gone after that day by the side of the road, some part the accident had taken that she would never get back. She had a small limp too. Everyone stared a lot. She mostly kept to herself.
I didn't bother her, but I always stayed nearby and read my comics.
On her eighth day back, she turned to me at lunch recess.
"I had a dream about you, Michael," she said.
I grinned, even though my dad has told me I look ridiculous when I smile because I show too many teeth.
"What was your dream?" I asked.
"I dreamed you were holding me," she said. "It was dark, and raining, and I was cold, but you were holding me tight, and we were flying."
"Like The Phoenix," I said.
She tilted her head a little. "No, not like The Phoenix. Like you." She held out her hand, and I put the comic into it, and I watched her while she turned the pages. I have always loved Olivia.
"The problem with super heroes," she said finally, "is that eventually, there's always something that makes them helpless. Eventually there's always some kind of kryptonite."
"That's another universe entirely," I said. "In this one, we get to make up the rules."
She looked up at me. "You know there are no such thing as super heroes, right?"
"No," I said, smiling again, not caring how many teeth I showed. "There's no such thing as kryptonite."
-For Brandon Michael