Michael discovered he could become invisible when he was a teenager – that glandular time when the other boys were also discovering their own secret and hidden abilities. When he realized he could become invisible, Michael dreamed of using his power for the ultimate good: surveillance missions… gaining important intelligence… and infiltrating the girls’ locker room.
Visibility happens when light bounces off an object and gets caught in the camera of an animal’s eye, making a picture in the brain and immortalizing the object as “visible.” Invisibility happens when light doesn’t bounce – when it passes through an object, frictionless. Clean glass. Clear air. Calm water. These things are “invisible” because light shines through them in a straight line, never bounced back to report the shapes and colors of where it’s been.
Michael could turn invisible. He could allow light to pass straight through his body, keeping him a secret. But becoming invisible meant light passed through his body. All of it. It didn’t bounce off his shoulders, stomach, and feet, showing his size, shape, and location to everyone around him. But it also didn’t get caught in his eyes.
Instead, when he was invisible, light passed through his lenses, ignored his retinas, and shot straight out the back of his head, never telling his brain anything about where it had been.
Michael could turn invisible. But when he was invisible, he was also blind… which made the girl’s locker room much less interesting.
When Susan won $500 in the lottery, she wasn’t even excited. Oscar could fly, and that was so much better.
If she could fly, Susan knew she wouldn’t need the lottery. She wouldn’t have a car payment, or auto insurance, or rising gas prices to worry about. She could even earn extra money as one of those traffic reporters on the radio that tells everybody where all the wrecks are on the highway.
Her stupid brother had the power to fly, and he never used it – not even if he woke up late and there wasn’t any coffee and rush-hour traffic was a mess. He said it was too slow. He said he could spit faster than he could fly.
When they were kids, Oscar occasionally took off in the front yard to show off for his friends. But when his friends started crawling under him to untie his shoes and tickle his feet while he lifted off, Oscar had an important revelation. Unless a neighbor’s cat was stuck in a tree and they weren’t in a hurry to get it down, his power was neither very useful nor very impressive.
What’s the point of flying, Oscar thought, if it’s not fast?
As he got older, his opinion didn’t change. Once, when he got caught in traffic on the way to an emergency surgery, Oscar took his chances and took off. Four blocks later, he was passed by a butterfly.
Now, unless the puddles were unbearably deep, Oscar usually walked. And Susan hated him for it.
Oscar knew his sister was jealous of his ability, but he was thankful Susan couldn’t fly. His logic? There’s a reason animals in the wild walk on all fours, hiding their underparts. There’s a reason birds, who fly so unashamedly, don’t have external genitals. It’s the same reason women who only wear short skirts, women like his sister, shouldn’t have the power of flight:
Nobody wants to look up and see that, especially in slow motion.
Like a Bible character he barely remembered, Paul got his strength form his hair.
In 1967 he and his flower children friends – his botanical brothers and sisters – all grew their hair long in protest of a war they didn’t believe in. But as his friends grew shaggy, Paul grew strong. Very Strong.
The first time his mother hinted that he needed a haircut, Paul already knew to be careful when he tied his sneakers before a protest. He was so strong that sometimes he got over-zealous and bruised his feet before the laces broke.
When his bangs had to be parted to keep the hair out of his eyes, Paul was regularly entertaining his friends at sit-ins by bending gun barrels into balloon animals while singing “Give Peace a Chance.”
By the time Paul’s muddy locks covered the tour dates on the backs of his tee-shirts, he spent every fourth Saturday holding his family’s El Camino in the air while his dad changed the oil. His dad wanted him to get a job that “took full advantage of his talent.” Unfortunately, when you’re a super-strong hippie pacifist, there isn't much work that fits your skill set.
When the boys in Washington heard about his extraordinary strength, they "randomly" drew Paul’s draft number. Like it or not, they said, he was going to Vietnam.
“Don’t you want to be a star soldier,” they asked. “Don’t you want to serve your country?”
The first day of boot camp, the Army shaved Paul’s head and gave him a pair of green pants. His commanding officers wouldn’t listen when Paul told them not to cut his hair. They said it was “regulation.”
Nine months later, Paul ran through the jungle with a new haircut, sweating under the weight of his backpack. Unable to keep up with his company, Paul never saw his home again.
Heather spent her life as a quiet prisoner to her inside voice.
Heather’s “inside voice” wasn’t anything like her “inner voice,” that whispering conscience that gives paranoid advice and warns people of impending doom. Heather’s “inside voice” was the contrast to her “outside voice,” a sound that froze everything that moves.
Every time Heather shouted or screamed, her raised voice pressed a pause button that stopped time.
Usually when a woman shouts, one of several things happen: 1) people run to her aid, 2) a child is sent to its room, or 3) everyone rolls their eyes and wonders why that horrible woman is being so mean to the poor waiter. These things happen because a shout is meant to be heard. A shout, by nature, elicits a response.
Heather’s shout, however, was terribly counter-productive. People who heard it, strictly speaking, couldn’t respond to it. They were too busy being immobilized. Frozen. Instead of turning in alarm, people who heard Heather shout were temporarily petrified, stuck in an involuntary game of freeze tag.
Because Heather had colic as a baby, her father was constantly late for work. Several times a week, he woke up early, sat down for breakfast, and was then turned to a statue while his carpool left without him.
“Shit,” he thought. “If that kid doesn’t stop crying, I’m going to loose my job.”
Heather was six months old when her unemployed parents sent her to live with a deaf couple.
In the 8th grade, all the girls in Heather’s class were required to take woodshop with the boys. The school said it taught them to be well-rounded. One day Heather told the shop teacher that “the needless butchering of trees for poorly made book cases and bird houses violates my principals as a vegetarian.”
Mr. Reinheart explained to Heather that she apparently misunderstood what “vegetarian” meant. When Heather yelled a defiant “BUT…,” all the drills stopped drilling, all the saws stopped sawing, and everyone in the woodshop froze. It was SO embarrassing.
By the time she got to high school, Heather was already one of the prettiest girl in her class. When she tried out for the cheerleading squad, her gymnastic routine was great, but her cheers left the judges silent and still. She didn’t make the squad.
The day Heather rode a roller coaster at Six Flags was an absolute disaster.
Heather hated being quiet while her friends were being crazy. She hated using her “inside voice” when her inner bitch wanted out. Most afternoons, when she got home from school, Heather was so frustrated that she slammed the door and shouted as loud as she could.
When her deaf foster parents saw the cat frozen with one leg in the air, wishing its bath hadn’t been so rudely interrupted, they signaled each other and spoke in their sign-language shorthand, “Heather must be home.”
Martin sat in his favorite coffee shop, bemoaning his fate.
He had been fired earlier that day after an unfortunate incident at school. Martin (or Mr. Smithson as he was known to his students), was walking down the hall just outside the girl’s bathroom, when a kid pushed past him in a rush to get to class. Martin stumbled and tried to catch himself, but with no luck. He fell through the wall and straight into the girl’s bathroom.
Since he was a child, Martin had been able to pass through things. He could reach his hand through ceramic cookie jars and walk through solid walls. Unfortunately, none of his wardrobe shared his super-ability. Just because Martin could walk through walls didn’t mean his clothes could come with him.
When Martin fell (literally) through the solid wall outside the girl’s bathroom, he landed on the other side unscathed, uninjured… and unclothed. Now, thanks to the several shrieking sophomores who had seen his “biology lesson,” he was also unemployed.
The school board said Martin was a danger to the kids. They claimed he was a liability. They paid no attention to his defensive argument. "At least I'm not turning invisible and intentionally stalking through the locker rooms," he said. "This was just an honest mistake." Twenty minutes later, they fired him.
Martin hated his super dis-ability.
Superman. Wonder-Woman. The Green Lantern. They all did what came naturally and the world embraced them for it.
“For the rest of us,” Martin thought, “life’s a little more complicated.”