If I’d asked anybody, they would have told me that I shouldn’t let one of my enemies know about my personal life, my fears and so on. But I didn’t ask anybody, and I’m too old to care. From what I hear, you’re not really a threat to me anymore anyway. Even if you were, it won’t matter much. You’ll see that by the end of this, I think.

You really were a threat at one point, if that helps. I’d tell you that I was so scared of you sometimes that I’d piss my pants, but, well, you know. With my piss powers, that joke’s been done, and I don’t know if it was actually funny the first time. Anymore, it seems like everything’s been done, and I just feel tired all the time.

Not that I should complain. I’m mostly okay while General Jack is missing half his limbs. But at least they still talk about General Jack. Everyone’s totally forgotten Black Storm. He was one of the first superheroes of color, and most of the people in this city have forgotten him, even after he nearly died keeping the power plant from exploding. Me, I just have kidney stones and a leaky pecker, and the stones are my own fault. See, I was always desperate to prove myself, so I’d slam coffee before the team would head out. I didn’t want to show up to a crime in progress and not be able to go. I suppose I was lucky in a way. Everyone else had to look tough and calm, but if my leg was bouncing, I could write it off as just having a full bladder.

Maybe the weirdest thing of all is that my coffee drinking seemed to actually work. The first time I fought, I think that Dastardly Devil was just so shocked to see me whip it out during a fight that he stopped robbing that bank. Can’t really blame him. Give him eye beams, and he’ll deflect them. Have someone take a leak on him, and he’s done for. I had pretty good aim, too, even before the modified codpiece. I melted that flaming pitchfork he used to use. People didn’t think that I could do it, because, you know, the fire he shot out of it. To be honest, I wasn’t 100% sure that it would work, either. That sure would’ve been a way to go if it hadn’t.

But, as luck had it, he saw me unzip, and he just cocked his head to the side, totally caught off guard. I took it out and started whizzing, and the stream hit his pitchfork. First, the flames got big, then they actually died down, and his weapon started melting right in his hands. By the time that it was all gone, he was looking at his empty hands, and Force Man cracked him on the back of the head. And that was that. I was the hero that day. I felt bad for Force Man. As one of the black superheroes, he never seemed to get credit, but it was the novelty of my first time out, too. In the long run, I shouldn’t have gotten much credit anyway, since Dastardly Devil ended up building that “cloud of darkness” doohickey. That was even worse than the pitchfork. But everyone remembers how I helped to take him down my first time out.

When you saw me for the first time, word had already gotten out about my caustic urine, so I didn’t have the element of surprise. Still, I was able to melt a lot of your little fliers. “The heartless hovers”, people called them, though I don’t think that you gave them that name. I wouldn’t have, if I were you. The Red Bolt took care of the ones that I couldn’t get to. It was a good day. You went to prison for almost a full month. I wonder, sometimes, what prison was like for you guys. Did you sit around and tell stories? Practice your skills to fight us better? I know Steel Steve claimed to have found the Lord while in prison, but none of us really believed it. And then he turned up choked to death a couple of weeks later. A couple of guys said that he died doing something gay, which was probably just a nasty rumor. If it was true, then none of us heroes should have laughed at it anyway. Of course, at the time, I didn’t say anything. To be honest, I laughed just to fit in. It’s sad. I could stand up to you and Dastardly Devil, but I couldn’t tell the other heroes not to make fun of gay people. It’s hard to look back at us and feel like we were definitely the good guys, no matter how many times we saved people.

I know I’m not the only one to think it, either. Do you remember when we fought outside that power plant? You and Dynamo were trying to harness the electricity or something. I never really got the technical stuff that you guys did. I’d say it doesn’t matter, but I know that it probably does. Anyway, we’d been tipped off (I guess I can tell you, now, that Charlie Kemp would feed us a lot of what you guys were up to), and so we were there before you really got into it. We had you two on the run, but as I was looking around, seeing who else might be coming, I saw this group of kids. They were watching us. That wasn’t so unusual. Kids used to love seeing us in action, because they thought it was like TV or something. They weren’t scared enough to stay away. So I was heading over to them so that I could tell them that they needed to move. I was still a ways away, but this one kid picks up a rock, and he throws it at me. Now I was wearing one of those suits made by Doctor Defender, so even if the rock had hit me (it fell quite a bit short), it just would have bounced off, but still. I was like, “What’s this little pecker doing?” I mean, we were trying to keep their city safe, and he’s throwing rocks at me. To be honest, it really bugged me.

I got over it, mostly, but I thought about that kid a lot. Thought about why he did that. At first, I thought he was just a bad seed. Then sometimes I’d wonder if he had a rough life. Like a drunk father or something, so he was always looking to stick it to an authority figure. I don’t know. Off and on, I’d think about him, then forget him. Well, not that long ago, that same kid was bagging my groceries at the store. I know it’s been a long time, but that bagger was the same kid. I’m sure of it. It’s funny, too, because I don’t think that he recognized me. Which is just as well. Why bother him at his job? Even though he bothered me back when I was trying to do mine. When I was just trying to be a hero.

I mean, I say, “hero”, but that’s probably not fair. I helped the good guys, but, given my power, I didn’t have a lot of options. If I had incredible strength and durable skin, then I might be tempted to rob banks and stuff. But when I burn things with my piss, that doesn’t actually do a whole lot. I will say, though, that it did impress girls sometimes. They’d ask me to pee on things so that they could watch them melt. Then they’d ask me if I could take off the codpiece. Then they’d ask if they could “touch it”. You can figure out what would happen from there. I mean, some of the girls were worried that if they slept with me, they’d get burned, but that never happened, and it didn’t stop most of them. Probably, I shouldn’t be telling you all this. I don’t mean to be bragging. This is more about shame than it is about pride, honest. I’m just trying to say how weird it all was. You know?

But again, I was just kind of fitting in. A lot of the other guys were like that with women. Now, they would call it being predatory, and they’d be exactly right. A lot of the guys won’t hear it. Giant Jake says that he never gave any woman anything she didn’t want, and I don’t think he raped anybody, but that’s doesn’t mean that he didn’t take advantage. It’s just mainly sad, I guess. If I were to seek out those women and apologize, I bet that a lot of them might tell me that it’s all right, but that doesn’t make it so. I know what we did, even if I didn’t know why at the time. And so now, now that I think about the why, I wonder:  what should I do? That’s what I keep going back to, and I don’t have a damn answer.

Let me go get back to that grocery bagger. Maybe that’ll help. If you were just an asshole, if you were just the embodiment of evil, then maybe I’d want to melt you and your gravestone. Piss on your grave, as they say. Maybe I’d want to make sure that you weren’t “glorified” (that’s what the reporters on TV say). But, watching this kid put my low sodium soup and organic apples in my bag, I kind of got it. Of course you were all probably pretty angry. Who wouldn’t be?

I’ll be honest. I’m not expecting a response here. It’s possible that you and I could have this weird turnaround and we become friends after we’ve both hung up our fighting uniforms and we see the world differently, but that seems ridiculous to me, to be honest. And I don’t know that it would do anyone any good. Maybe not even you and I. I just wish that I could know that I was getting it right. Because I feel bad, now, that we were just fighting instead of trying to get you guys to turn things around. Or even just turning ourselves around so that we weren’t racist or angry or stupid. The only thing that we talked about was stopping you, never about actually helping you. Even when we talked about protecting the city, it was more like playing a video game than thinking about the lives we were impacting. And that seems sad to me, now. I’m sitting at home, and you’re sitting in jail, and there are drones in the sky, keeping all of us in line and keeping everyone else in line. Not helping anyone, just keeping them in line.

The thing is, while we were protecting the banks and the power plants from guys like you, the people who owned the banks were stacking the deck against everyone else. While we were pulling kids out of fires, other people were screwing up the neighborhoods that those kids would go back to. Maybe you guys kept us so busy that we missed what was happening under our noses, though I don’t think that was your plan. Some heroes we turned out to be. It’s why I can’t totally blame the kid. In fact, I wish that he hadn’t just thrown a rock at me while we were fighting crime. I wish that he’d done something while I was checking out the other day. Spit on me, maybe. Or thrown my eggs on the floor or something. I guess life just ground him down, and he didn’t even care enough to try to see who I was and try to piss me off. So to speak.

I guess that’s where all this is going. If I try to tell anyone else, anyone outside of the life, it would sound stupid. With all the power and the privilege that I had, why didn’t I do better? That’s what the rock meant, you know? See, the real problem is that I go back and forth. Some days, it’s “What were we supposed to do?” and some days it’s, “How could we have missed it?” And there’s so little in between. That’s what unsettles me. How can both reactions seem so reasonable? It’s like you’re working on a math problem, and you look in the back of a book, and there are two answers, but they both make sense. How is it even possible?

I don’t know. Maybe this all seems stupid. And maybe that’s a word I shouldn’t say anymore:  stupid. I’m sure there’s a list, and I’m sure that it’s long. I could argue, but the thing is, I don’t want to. Looking back, I see that I’ve been wrong so much that I don’t want the feeling of being right anymore. It’s not even so much that I want to be wrong (I’ve been wrong; I see that now). And it’s not that I want to be defeated. There were times when you guys licked us. It’s that I don’t want to be anymore. Really, I just want to be dissolved like your gravestone would be if I pissed on it. Sometimes, I really think that’s the only way. But how would you even make that happen? And who would replace us? How would they be any better?

 

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Zeke Jarvis is a Professor of English at Eureka College. His books include So Anyway…, Lifelong Learning, In A Family Way, and The Three of Them.