I have spent several years being Super Cripple, I learned how to act like I was perfectly happy even when beaten, tired and exhausted because of a neighbor. This is another one of those happy attempts, yet it is also colored by darkness. I did not even remember him for a long time, my brain shutting down too often, trying to erase my biological father from my life. When I remembered him, it all came back and I cried. I did not just cry but I cried for days, mourning the years without the knowledge of what made me become better than I could have been.
It was a dark and stormy afternoon. The clouds were thick in the sky and a blast of lightening caused a loud clap of thunder. I dropped the glass of milk in my hands and spilled it. The cup was fine but I knew my father was going to hurt me. He worked for himself, which really meant he slept all day and all night. I was making lunch and had been going to serve it to him on the couch. I had burned myself during cooking but the food was not burned so it was fine, and I knew that my father would be angry if he found out about the milk. I tried something new. I refilled the glass, carried the plate and cup to him, and then went and cleaned up the spill. Then I told him I had spilled the milk.
The end result was just as violent as the other times I had spilled something. I was also locked outside, because of course telling him meant I had to be hiding the spill, I must have done something worse. I remember being relieved that the tears blended with the rain. My neighbor came home, his car was a bright blue with green accents, a classic 1957 Chevy. I always loved watching his car, imagining what it must be like to ride in it. He stepped out of the car and looked over at me sitting in the rain.
His steps were uneven, he limped and huffed a bit, it sounded as if he hurt. He crouched down and looked me in the eyes. I remember his voice being the first that I had heard which held an accent that did not match the one my own has. I was curious. I was also afraid to answer him. His voice was soft, warm, and inviting, “Are you locked out?” I just nodded. “I can open door?” I shook my head no and squeaked out, “I’m in trouble and he’ll kill you!” I was afraid my father would hurt the nice man. He smelled like candy. I also thought he was as old as the God that I believed in at that time.
He smiled, and I remember noticing how many teeth he had. I thought all old people lost their teeth. He was elderly, he was 74 and I was merely 4. He stood up and took my hand, “We won’t tell him you came with me. When do you get back inside?” I answered, knowing the answer from practice, “When my mommy comes home I go to the back door.” He nodded and we walked to his house. His wife wasn’t home yet, so it was just me and my Sensei. I do not know if I ever learned his name but, I did learn other things.
That first day he did not call me any names for being wet, to him it was logical, a girl is outside her feet will be muddy and she will be wet. Instead he wrapped me in a thick towel that was soft, my skin didn’t burn after touching it. It too smelled sweet. He helped me get my shoes off, taking his own off. “In my house we go barefoot.” I thought this must be heaven. I had died, the lightening and thunder had to have squished my brain.
It was real. He took me into his living room. There was no television set, just an old radio and a lot of books. “You read?” I nodded yes, and he asked another question, one few people think to ask. “You like to read?” I hesitated and answered with words, “Only if I pick, but I am not allowed to pick.” He frowned and left the room. He brought me a yellowed comic book, the cover had a yellow sky, a man in a weird costume with a cape and a pointy headed mask was hanging on a rope, choking someone. “You read this. You not like, we will find you something else.” I nodded and opened up the issue of Detective Comics #27. Not only was this an original and nearly mint copy of the issue with Batman’s origin but he handed it over without hesitation to a sopping wet toddler.
I delved into the story, and I was hooked. Batman had so many lessons to teach about healing from trauma, even in the Golden Age. Also, suction cups are still awesome because batman walked up walls with them. He interrupted my reading to ask if I liked tomato soup and cheese sandwiches, I had no idea so I shrugged. He smiled and carried in on a silver tray, in fine china bowls with silver spoons two bowls of soup and two sandwhiches without their crusts cut into halves. He had even added some cheddar cheese to the tops of the soup. I put the comic down as he handed me my share and asked him, “Why do you talk funny?”
I was forgetting to be afraid. He felt safe and I liked it here. I did not want to ever leave. “I am from Japan.” I had never heard of Japan and as I ate my soup, which became my favorite thing in the whole world, it still is and remained so even through the suppression of these memories, I listened to his story. It was not happy and yet, it shaped him into the kindest soul I had met.
“I was born in a small town outside of Tokyo which is a very big city. My brother had come to the United States a long time before I did, he had a house and wife, and talked often of how Japan sounded on the television. There was also forced enlistment in the army. I would have to leave my wife. I did not know if I could live without her. She and I were forbidden to wed but did, our parents punished us for it by disowning us.” He paused there to explain what being disowned meant, to me it sounded fabulous. “So, I came to America. The war had started, just after getting on a boat to flee my country, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.” He had pulled out a map and was showing me the different locations. I hadn’t even heard of Hawaii before. “American Citizens who might be Japanese were locked in camps.” I knew about concentration camps, my father often referenced how much he wished he could gas us. I hugged him, my very first time hugging a stranger. He held me and finished his story. “One of the soldiers watching our camp, it wasn’t like the other camps in Europe,” Another bit of map pointing for my benefit, “He gave me his son’s comic books after the boy was done. He shared them with us to try and help us endure. I learned to read english, as did many children. This was my first comic book. I still read them.” This man had kept the comic books through an internment camp, through a long life of struggle.
I knew they were valuable based on that. He ruffled my hair, which had dried out and asked if I wanted another sandwich. I did but was afraid to say yes so, instead of lying I just shrugged. He brought me another sandwich. “You are allowed to want more, if you are hungry. I want to share.” I smiled. I don’t know if I ever had before, but, it felt strange. I finished the first issue and a second, he then went to find a third but it was late and my mother’s car drove up. We wet my hair in the sink, it was still raining, and he helped me through his back yard, it was a paradise of flowers, and despite not wanting to leave I went to the back door.
My father had no idea. In my mind as he helped me climb the fence, I was bat girl. I didn’t know batgirl was really in the comics yet, but, I imagined I was swinging through Gotham city which I was then pronouncing Got Ham… Before we parted ways he told me to come back when I needed to. I ate my dinner, and went to bed in silence that night but I had something to imagine. I imagined fighting crime. I imagined how it would feel to be a grown up and a crime fighter. I suddenly wanted to be a cop.
The next day, and the next, I would sneak out when my father took his nap or I would go for refuge if I was punished. Every day he fed me a bowl of tomato soup and we read comic books. Eventually he apologized to me for not having any Wonder Woman comics, because he gave those to his daughter when she entered college. Despite his heritage, the teachings of his culture, he treated me as a human. There was no sexism I could see. His wife had a job, he was retired. I believe he was a teacher, but I do not know. Sometimes we would dress up, the soft bed linens he used would turn into capes and we’d go through an imaginary Gotham City arresting teddy bear villains.
He asked my name many times and I never wanted to tell him. I was afraid, because my father and mother tended to only use my name when I was in trouble. That was often, as I never could please them. My mother was working three jobs, trying to feed us and my father just found fault with my existance. My Sensei, as I began to call him taught me more than just comics or how to imagine and play. He also began teaching me Japanese. He helped me to master the art of chopsticks and gave me etiquette lessons. He taught me to dance as well, sharing things with me from the world he lived in. Giving me glimpses of a golden age of love.
I too recall his hands. They were knotted with arthritis, now I know the rain likely pained him yet it rained often in those years. He never showed his pain, he was always well dressed, kind, and never yelled at me. Not even when I tore a page in Batman #1. He never made me pretend to be Robin, and always liked pretending to be my Alfred. Those hours of kindness turned into days, then years. In that time, I did share my name but instead he gave me my first alternate name. I was to call him Sensei, as I liked the word and gave it to him as a title. He was happy, and held me close telling me he was honored to be my Sensei. I was his Little Lotus. I asked why.
“You are a flower, all children are. A lotus has many layers, it has many petals. Never let anyone tell you what you are or what you can be. Like a lotus you are special, you are good and kind. You are smart, and you will be someone important. As long as someone loves you, and I do Little Lotus, you will be important to the world.”
I never asked again, but I cried. He loved me. I loved him. I was six years old when we got caught. I had already endured rape, molestation and trauma. My neighbor, a teenager, had violated me as had my father. There were times I wanted to reveal that I had my very own Batcave. I kept it a secret. I was afraid, as we sent one man to jail, that my father would send another off to prison.
I testified against the young man, I imagined I was batman, putting a criminal away. It was the only reason I could do it. When he was out on Bail he came and knocked on my window, sticking his hands under to lift it up and tried to get in. I pretended I was batman again. I slammed the window shut and screamed. This was the only time my parents acted as parents should. My father did this to hide his own crimes, my mother out of the true pain she felt at seeing her babies endangered.
The day we were caught was one where my mother came home from work early. She was either fired or just sick, and I did not hear her car. I had fallen asleep with the latest issue of Batman, finished superman and my Sensei was making tea in the kitchen. I woke to hear my mother’s voice screaming, “WHERE IS SHE!?” My name yelled out. I did not think, I thanked my Sensei, slipped my shoes on and went outside. There were accusations, my father grabbed me by my hair. I then saw who was truly Batman. My Sensei came out, removed my father’s hands from me and said quietly, “Little Lotus, go inside.” My parents were shocked, my father sent my mother inside as well, though she tried to follow me.
I locked the door and peered out the window, watching and listening. I could hear every word. My father accused him of being a rapist, a pedophile, and a monster. My sensei pointed out that due to his age he would be unable to rape anyone, and that he enjoyed teaching me how to be a kind and caring adult. He insisted our afternoons continue, stating that we had done this for years. My father went sheet white at that revelation and called him racially unjust terms. He lifted a hand to hit him. My sensei defended himself, blocking the blows and not retaliating. “She is a good girl, you treat her poorly. I see the bruises. I see them. I have reported you many times to DCF.” It was true, no one knew who it was that kept the government coming but I had lied every time.
The argument went on for an hour, in that time my Sensei’s wife came home, finished making the tea and sat with me at the window watching. She was just as influential as my Sensei, and I will always remember how she smelled of Jasmin and how I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world, her long hair mixed with greys and black always was styled nicely and she dressed not for others, but for her own comfort.
That was not the last afternoon of my super hero afternoons, it was merely the only time we were caught. Until we moved away, my parents marraige in tatters I saw him almost daily. We shared the comics, other books, and he continued to teach me how to live. Without him I would have been in more pain. He too taught me ways to heal. Things that stayed in my soul when my mind deleted them to survive.
I started out as an imaginary side kick, and often when I am exhausted I imagine too the sounds of a cape in the wind, the feel of my body dancing with criminals. I am a Super Hero. I am Super Cripple, and this is my origin story.
DC comics owns the rights to the image used in this post. They are also the inspiration for the post title. As you read this, there may be some comic book references that are slipped in. I am a comic book geek and proudly so. I hope you enjoyed the Secret Origins Special.
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