The Vanishing Mediator

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An Easily-Distracted Tale by Chris/0

I am friends with a superhero.

In this modern era of skepticism and cynicism, I suppose I should qualify elements of that statement. When I say that I am “friends,” I of course mean that I am “a friend.” I am merely one entity, and cannot be counted as plural. However, the word “friend” alone still carries a heavy semantic weight. I do not mean that I am merely an acquaintance to this superhero, and am trying to overstate the relationship. Nor do I mean that I am a friend in the Facebook sense—which usually turns out to mean “a person whose name or picture I recognize well enough to press a single button that somehow claims to encapsulate a wide range of feelings (reciprocal or otherwise) that I am applying to a person with whom I may not have interacted in over a decade.” No, I mean that I am close to this person, and she is close to me. Close enough to share secrets. Close enough to share fears. Close enough to share history. Close enough to share tears. Not close enough to share blood, however. We are not related in any sense of that word. Nevertheless, “friend” is the most appropriate word to describe the bond between us, on the occasions for which we are called upon to describe that bond to third parties.

When I say that she is a “superhero,” I mean that in the sense by which is it most commonly understood. It would be somewhat easy to describe a person who is merely a hero (though most heroes would object to the word “merely;” I mean it only by comparison) as a superhero without giving thought to the prefix that transforms one into the other. There are a great number of heroes in the world: fire fighters, police officers, and the like. All of these are positions that may be carried out by humans who would not be seen—out of that context—as anything but human beings, with all the strengths and weaknesses associated with that condition. However, being deemed a superhero seems to demand that a person be superhuman in addition to being a hero. Some sort of resistance to physical damage, advanced mental abilities, or combination thereof would be sufficient to consider a person to be superhuman, though that list is not exhaustive. As far as I know, there is only one person who meets those requirements to be called a superhero, and she currently goes by the name of Alice.

I am friends with Alice.

One could be excused for finding it difficult to believe that a person could be a superhero while also acquiring a post-secondary education. I often find it difficult to believe, myself, despite knowing it to be true. (There is a difference between the two, I have found, though I did not believe it until I met Alice.) The ability to concentrate on one’s studies while also periodically putting on a costume—one that would surely be a hit at any fraternity party should she ever choose to abandon her secret identity—sneaking out into the city, and fighting crime would count as a superhuman ability itself, if she did not already have other, more directly useful abilities. Only particular varieties of crime are eligible for her attention, of course. It is difficult for anyone to fight bank fraud, and I think it would be particularly troublesome for a person who keeps her identity secret and does not yet have a bachelor’s degree. I have never seen her return from such escapades injured, so I have never had to put to use my Girl Scout–trained first-aid skills, though I have assisted in patching bullet holes in her costume. We have on a few occasions found the bullets still occupying the holes, which was greatly concerning for people who had more reason than the average student to avoid the most-seeing eye of the residential assistant and her scheduled inspections. Alice disposed of the bullets by throwing them directly into the ground outside our window. At their velocity, they embedded themselves into the ground at a depth of (I estimate) two feet, eight inches. Surely far enough to escape detection.

If we assume for the moment that being the friend of a superhero is its own dividend, that still leaves the question of what Alice gets out of this shared relationship. This is a moderately difficult question to answer. Not because the facts are not easily acquired, but because it requires a level of openness which I have only recently become comfortable expressing, and only with Alice. Being a superhero is a very stressful occupation (which I mean in the sense that it occupies time, not in the sense that it is a job or career), and the pressures thereof can cause emotional instability in whoever is performing the superheroic duties, especially when that person is as young as Alice is. It would be presumptuous to call ourselves adults, but we clearly are no longer children or teenagers. However, regardless of age: stressful. I serve a very important purpose on what we have sometimes laughed and called a “superteam.” The purpose is relieving Alice’s stress and helping her emotionally through the trials and travails of being such a superhero.

I am a psychopath.

The varieties of psychic powers as portrayed in television, film, and (mostly) comic books have fascinated me since a young age. I have discovered that most get the terminology incorrect. A primer: Telekinesis, for example, is the manipulation of physical objects at a distance. However, the word alone gives no hint or clue as to the method used to achieve the manipulation. If one could ask a friendly ghost (or one of his three less-friendly brothers) to pick up a baseball, that would still, technically, count as telekinesis. The asker never touched the object, or interacted with it—directly or indirectly—in any natural way. Movement through any supernatural means would suffice to be described accurately as telekinesis. To describe what most think of as telekinesis, the word psychokinesis must be called upon. As can be seen from the prefix, it is the use of psychic powers—powers originating from the mind—to manipulate physical objects. It is rare that the distinction will come into case, but I want to be clear that when I say that I am a psychopath, I mean it in the sense that I can manipulate emotions with my mind.

I am entirely incapable of reading human emotions, however. And I do not mean only incapable by using psychic powers. Mere possession of these abilities meant that I never was forced to develop the interpersonal skills that ordinary humans develop out of necessity in their youth. When I can calm a person who is angry at me not by learning to read a face and choosing the proper words to defuse a difficult situation, but rather by simply wishing it to be so… To be perfectly honest, it makes life easier in countless ways. Alice was a different case, though. I’d like to say that, upon having a roommate for the first time in my life, I came to an epiphanic revelation about the nature of interpersonal relationships and vowed never to use my powers to manipulate her emotions for my own personal gain. But that would be a lie. Alice is just more resistant to me than most people are. Not perfectly so, but enough that I could only change her mood without changing her opinions on matters. She caught on to me only a couple of weeks into our first semester together. I had merely chalked her up as a fluke by then, but she did something that made me, in fact, have an epiphanic revelation about the nature of interpersonal relationships. She revealed a secret. Of hers, and of her own volition. Having an emotional stake in the situation, I understand that my words cannot be trusted to describe how I felt objectively. Nevertheless, I admit that it made me cry. Friendship with “a superhero” may not be—as was assumed earlier—its own dividend, but friendship with Alice has paid off more than I could have imagined.

That secret was, of course, the one discussed earlier in this now–startlingly long diary entry. The question has come up from her in the past as to why I, myself, am not also a superhero of some variety. I certainly qualify for the prefix. But I cannot see myself ever acting as altruistically as Alice does. I believe that the portion of my brain that governs such actions was muscled and bullied by the part that allows me to manipulate others’ emotions more directly to the point that it is afraid to come out from under the bed. On the other hand, I never would have believed that I could become someone’s friend through natural means, so perhaps there is hope for me yet. I admit to a certain amount of jealousy whenever I bid a cheerful “See you in the morning” to Alice as she flies off to prowl the streets and the night. But I would need some sort of protection from bullets. Were I struck by one, I fear they would lodge deeper than in my clothing. I want to trust myself more before I go using my special abilities to kindly ask bank robbers to place their weapons on the ground and hold still while the nice lady in the distracting outfit picks them up and delivers them to local law enforcement. As I am now, it would be… difficult not to turn them to my own purposes and go on a crime streak, even though I know it would only end with tears as Alice delivered me to local law enforcement.

I am somewhat broken.

But I am fixing myself. With help.