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By Cynthia Moore

I have a superhero complex. Always have. For as long as I can remember, I've awakened most mornings from dreaming of saving good people from bad people. Now, occasionally, in the dreams it's just me that's in jeopardy. But don't worry about me. I never do. Because nobody can trap me for long or torture or kill me. Because before they get a chance, their cell will ring or their superior bad guy will call them out of the room to teach them a new torture tactic and I'll quick-devise a scheme or a cunning hiding place from which to tunnel to safety or to surprise-attack them from when they return. Then I'll steal their bad guy uniform which allows me to stealthily blend in with all the anonymous bad people between me and the way out. Sometimes I even have to fake-speak a language I don't know. Sometimes this wakes me up. I've learned that the best dreams are the simple ones: I knock the bad guy out or tie him up so well, and my disguise is so good, and I've done such a thorough speed scan of the bad guy's i.d. papers, that I glide out unscathed. I never hurt the bad guy. Is it clear that the bad guy is always a man? Now back off on the man-hating theories, and think this out. Another woman could never pose a threat to the superhero dream me. Clearly the men can't either, but somehow, archetypally, they give me a better run for my dream money.

From early on, I believed that I was a congenital bad ass. Born to be. Ordained and endowed with extra bad ass-ness. And with that I felt came a huge responsibility. To live up to my potential. My bad ass destiny.

I was a high school "it girl." You name a club, I was president -- a team, I was captain. Well, the cool clubs and the teams that were cool for girls to be on. Homecoming court was a given. I graduated second in my class, was captain of the cheerleaders, was ranked as a tennis player, and drove a cool car. Down South, where land is cheap and the asphalt weaves between the pine trees for stretches of dozens of lonely miles between other little towns where boredom is driving other kids to play out carbon copies of the same cat-and-mouse dating, dog-eat-dog popularity contests, football worship, and what adds up to the Olympics of the Mean Girl games, where kids with little else to do besides cruise the strips of the bigger small towns like mine, well, these are the kinds of places where it really matters what kind of car you drive. And where stories like this take place.

I look back now and know that I was busying myself ragged so as to distract myself from the daily hurricane that blew in at whatever time my exceptionally big, tall, hard-working father's long, blue Buick would ominously float into the driveway. The Buicks changed over the years, but my father's rage was pretty consistent. I was the middle daughter, the one who stood up to him when the others disappeared into their clouds of pot or boyfriends' back seats or hibernating sleep. Standing up was a sure-fire way to incite more rage. But I couldn't back down from defending my mother or anybody else against so much undeserved criticism and chair hurling. Unaware, my father was honing in me the ultimate superhero. I needed to be strong to defend against the fist that always felt like it was about to swing my way. It never did, but the threat loomed large. And came with thundering words from way up high. My dad was a very big man. A big, tall, rageful man.

It must have all looked easy from the outside, but being my version of the "it girl" was a full-time job. Until I became the girl with the target on her forehead. Seems that my "it girl" became too much to bear - I became too much to bear - when I got to go to this sort of summer camp for, for lack of a more humble term, exceptional students. (Mind you, there were plenty of exceptional students at my school, but I got to go. I still don't understand the selection process. One day, I was just told that I had been chosen.) Anyway, I don't remember being obnoxious or bragging or even talking about it much when I got back to start my senior year. I think I knew better. I think I had a hunch laying low was a good idea. But somehow the die had been cast while I was away. The target had been tattooed while the "it girl" was sleeping. The "it" was about to hit the fan.

I have a deeply-ingrained habit of running a few minutes late. I was often late to school. One fateful morning I had cookies to buy and sandwiches to make and stacks of dishes to carry in prep for a tea that the cheerleaders threw at recess on the Friday of every home game. This was a huge game, mind you, and the tea had to be done right. Well, I knew if it were going to be done right, I'd be the one to do it. (Superhero and control freak are separated by a tenuous, fine line.)

I couldn't be late a fourth time in the quarter or I'd be suspended (a rule still in existence that I am not proud to have inspired.) When I arrived at school that morning, I screeched to a stop in an illegal parking spot in the school lot. I grabbed my tower of books, and I sprinted into the building. Luckily, Mr. Burns' AP English class was just inside the door. As I strode, in full cheerleader regalia, across the threshold of Mr. Burn's class, ready to slide into my desk and have my way with diagramming one of his ridiculously long sentences, he pointed at me. Like someone might point at a dog. As if to say, "Stop. Roll over. Stay. Don't even twitch or you'll never ever see another bone."

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