From the Sister of Superman

Cheryl Wollner, Agnes Scott College, Georgia, United States

Dear Superman-

Was I there when you got your nickname? Was I at Nicole’s birthday party when you raced her brother down the one-way street? It meant something to you to win a race when your opponent was on a bike and you were on your own light feet. He flattened the pedals to the ground and you pedaled your sneakers, jarring the center of the earth and pounding the uneven pavement into submission. I know the story so well I see hear Tyler bowing to your greatness and whooping as he crowned you Superman. But did I watch you don the red cape? I think I would have remembered cheering you on with the rest of your fans.

Dear Superman-

I’m Batman. You’re fueled by the sun so I don’t expect you to understand those of us who live in the dark, but let’s look at each other. I know your face with more detail than I know my own. Yet, I sometimes forget to dot your cheeks with dimples when I picture you smiling because I never look at the corner of your mouth in case I find remnants of Bells Palsy. I no longer picture you smiling.

Let’s look at each other. Let’s stand in the backyard where we play Frisbee and look at each other under the eye of your domain: the expansive sky and blinding sun. Watch the shadows on my face pool under my glasses; tell me if we have the same chocolate brown eyes.

Then let’s enter my realm. Let me take you spelunking into the caves of my mind. You’ve played man-hunt; you pretended to battle the shadows, but you don’t understand the dark the way I do. In thick blackness no amount of x-ray vision will make the world clearer, and heat vision travels unceasingly into the void and still you are left blind. Relish in blindness with me, Superman. We are completely equal in the dark. Now we can finally talk.

Dear Superman-

Superman doesn’t have a sister. Believe me, I’ve looked. Nowhere in DC comics does the Man of Steel have a sister. And no, Supergirl doesn’t count— she’s his cousin. Besides, I’m not blonde. And it would take hours to straighten my hair, and she’s the stronger one. Plus Supergirl has all of Superman’s powers and we’re nothing alike.

Feel free to disagree on this last point.

Dear Superman-

I’m thinking of shaving my head. More specifically I’m thinking of your reaction to me shaving my head. Will you view the razor against my scalp with the same horror as if I put a razor to my wrists? If it makes you feel better, hair is more difficult to clean from a drain than blood.

Dear Superman-

I’m sorry I preface my words with an apology. I know what you’re going to say to this, I begin. Or, I have something interesting I want to talk about and hear me through before you say anything. I tell you: I know you don’t care about this, but, and I go on from there. If you listen, you’ll know that what I’m really saying is: Superman, please don’t hate me. Superman, please don’t hang up on me. Superman, please when we end the conversation, tell me you love me too.

Dear Superman-

You’ve told me you have the right to say whatever you want. I can hear your resounding ewwww when you see a woman you find unattractive. I know your slut shaming, gay bashing, men’s rights activism— believe me, I keep a running list. But, if you don’t stop to think about what you say around me, think of all the things I could be saying around you. Because, believe me, I want to tell you all about the Lesbian Avengers, the feminist conversation I had over lunch, how I baked a queer cake with my queer friends and how even now you’re reading a queer letter from your queer sister. Believe me, I keep a running list.

Dear Superman-

Do you remember when I used to take gymnastics and in the evenings I would teach you what I learned in class? We would do handstands in the living room until we made permanent imprints in the mauve carpet. We fell into the shape of eternal snow angels and laughed because we were together. In the basement we would stretch our legs over the arms of the futon and kiss our knees. We would go into splits. Do you remember how I pressed your leg down at the knee and how you cried out in pain but I continued to press and I told you later that I enjoyed that moment of causing you pain and you were furious and stopped talking to me for a while? You were right to do so. Sometimes I still want to cause you pain.

Dear Mother-

Grandma never defended you against Grandpa when he flung harsh words and called you stupid, or laughed at your dreams of grace and ballet. “That’s your father!” Grandma would say to you and fling her hands up in the air. You promised to always defend me to make up for your mother’s neglect. 

When dealing with Superman, you never throw your hands up and exclaim, “That’s your brother!” Instead, you dust his beliefs like crumbs off the table that you plan to vacuum but never do. You tell me as we wash his dirty dishes, “Your brother has very interesting views. He has a right to his opinions.” He tells us at the dinner table that we’re wrong, there is no “war against women” that we don’t know what we’re talking about. He calls someone a fag when I have a friend over, to impress her with his masculinity. It must be a trait for the women in our family to excuse the men on the basis that they’re men. 

Dear Superman-

How do you take up so much space? Can you teach me? You’re lean, thin and muscled. You’re short (5’6” and yes, I am making fun of you) but you take up so much space. You live in your man-cave, and the basement exists only for your pleasure. A one-man show, you fill the room with your legs splayed and your arms crossed behind your head and it’s impossible not to stare at you upon your throne. I walk down the stairs, a supplicant requesting an audience.

But as I approach, the veneer wears off. You’re twenty-four and living in your mother’s basement. Your kingdom is one of scattered exercise weights, dust bunnies and half drunk iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts, sloshing and watery. Your throne is the unwashed futon in our basement. You are not a king or a savior or a hero. I am not inspired to don my own cape and fight for your cause, and still, it’s impossible not to look upon you and want, more than anything, to dethrone you.

Dear Superman-

I’ve always feared you. When I was young I felt I was so lucky to have an older brother who would rather talk late into the night in our living room rather than hit me to show his strength. I am lucky to have you.

Still, I was plagued with nightmares that you turned against me. Your muscled arm became a hammer and you gave chase. You’re too fast to outrun. You’re too strong to hold off. If you wanted to hurt me you could. Superman, I love you because I am grateful for what you could do but don’t.

Dear Superman-

I blocked you on facebook. I’m done reading your posts about “the perfect woman and her open orifices.”

Dear Superman-

Superman doesn’t have a sidekick. Believe me, I’ve looked, and before you start, sidekicks are not gay and I don’t want to hear anything about Batman and Robin. Robin is not, as you so eloquently put it, a fag. That story made an appearance on my feminist blog, by the way. You provide most of the content for this blog though you don’t know it exists. Whenever I write when I’m home with you, I keep a “safe tab” open, anticipating your presence in my room when you ask to play Frisbee or throw the football around. And when you stand over my shoulder and smile with your slightly stained teeth and bronzed skin I pray you don’t look at the computer.

It would hurt you to find out you’re the villain in my life and I fear your hurt would become hate. You know I’m a feminist. You know I’m asexual. But we don’t talk about it. Please, keep your ignorance.  Let’s pretend you’re still Superman and I’m a civilian gazing up at your greatness. Let’s pretend for a little while longer.

Dear Superman-

Do you remember when I felt a pressure in my chest a few summers ago and it hurt to breathe? It was almost midnight when we called the pediatrician’s emergency line and almost one in the morning before we got to the hospital. You sat slumped in a chair in the waiting room too tired to focus your eyes. You looked like a pile of old clothes wrapped haphazard and clinging to a scarecrow. Your head lolled against the hard plastic of the chair and your eyelids fluttered at every flicker of light that prevented you from sleeping. You didn’t have to be there. I was fine in the end, after all. You didn’t have to be there battling to keep your eyes open as you tried to comfort me, making a face just to get me to laugh (only to apologize when I told you it hurt to laugh, even though I wanted to keep laughing).

You didn’t have to take a walk with me a few days later into the woods around our house, or slow your pace to keep up with my plodding shuffle. I was terrified the doctors were wrong and that I wasn’t fine and that somehow I was dying because my sternum hurt when I breathed even after I took the damn medicine, because what if I was dying at that very moment and taking one step too fast over a mossy tree root would send me into cardiac arrest and— well, you didn’t have to walk with me. You didn’t have to share your own fears. You smile with your tongue slightly out because you still can’t smile properly after your bout with Bells Palsy. I always loved your smile and I love it more now that I know.

I don’t think I ever said thank you.

Dear Superman-

I used to pretend that if we weren’t siblings we would be best friends. But we would despise each other as mortal enemies both believing we stand for truth, justice and the American way. You would think, how can someone who writes a blog about Marvel comics and “queering Wolverine” ever be anything more than a man-hating-lesbian-feminist? I would think, how can someone who says he won’t live on the same street as a gay couple, ever be anything more than a bigot? And we’d both be so wrong. I’m more than a feminist and you’re more than a bigot.

It’s so easy to turn you into the stock-character villain invading my progressive world. I can pretend you’re Bizarro, the brutish, stupid, poorly cloned version of Superman, but I know that’s not who you are. I doubt you spend this much time creating new ways to hate me.

Dear Superman-

If I were to send you these letters would you read them? Would you respond?