Becoming a Villain

Batman 3

“Every villain is a hero in his own mind.” Tom Hiddleston

 

“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Harvey Dent The Dark Knight

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It was summer, and the dash cam video of Philando Castille being shot by a police officer had just been released. Earlier that day, I replayed the video over, and over, and over again, analyzing the words between the officer and Philando, the legitimate fear in the officer’s voice, and the shots as they discharged from the officer’s gun to enter the open window of the young black man to take his life. Although angering and confusing, what struck me the most was the back door of the car opening moments later, and Philando’s daughter stepping out onto the sidewalk to enter the arms of the police officer’s partner. I watched her to notice any signs of tears, fear, or trauma as she left the car. Instead, I saw a young girl who did not run from the back seat of a car that had just been shot into, but opened the door calmly and entered a world in which her father was no longer present.

 

So many thoughts ran through my head eat time I replayed the footage. I thought, “That could be me,”and, “What would happen to Mirus and Amare if that were to happen to me? Would they cry? Would they know what had just happened?”

 

That night, I sat on the deck of my home and drank. Sarah came out to join me after putting the girls to sleep. She wanted to know how I was feeling, and as usually, talking about my feelings is harder than knocking out a rotten tooth with an ice skate with a coconut on a deserted island with a dilapidated volleyball named Wilson watching in the corner. Instead of confiding in my wife, I pushed her away. In fact, I did worse than that.

 

The night drifted with the twinkle of lightning bugs and the sound of drunken conversation from the busy streets of Baltimore. The nuances that began the conversation escape me, but I do remember her saying, “That’s interesting because you said I was ‘your rock’ in the video attached to your interview.”

 

Zero beats pass when I say, “I lied on that interview. You’re not my rock. I don’t trust you. I don’t trust anyone. I barely trust myself.”

 

Many beats pass as I take a large gulp of whiskey and coke, hoping for it to heal my viral heart infection and the hollow feeling deep in the pit of my stomach. Finally, she says, with tears in her eyes, “That may be the most hurtful thing you have ever said to me.”

 

This is where I turned the corner from bad guy and became the villain of my own story.

 

“Fuck your feelings!” I say loud and with anger.

 

I say these words over and over again as I rant, and scream, and become angrier with each passing moment thinking of that girl leaving the back seat of that car and the injustices of the world that would leave me with a viral heart infection and my principal in power after saying I cannot say I am survivor of childhood sexual abuse on school grounds. Sarah tells me to calm down and stop yelling, but it only makes me more angry. I continue to yell so much that the neighbor opens her back door to make sure everything is okay, but I don’t care.

 

Soon, Sarah’s tears are gone. She does not yell back. She does not scream. She does not walk away. She sits there, on the deck, and lets me be angry.

 

Five minutes turned fifteen and soon to thirty. Afterward, my whiskey and my anger are gone. There is only a thin residue lining my glass and heart. Sarah, says one thing before going into the house to check on our children.

 

“If you ever question how much I love you, know that I just let you yell and embarrass me in front of our neighbors for over a half an hour.”

 

I have had some horrific things happen in my past. I have been homeless, sexually assaulted, suffered from a deep depression that left me physically sick and wishing to commit suicide, but I have never wished to travel back in time and change any of them. Each of them, no matter how painful, made me who I am today, for better or worse. All of them except this one. I wish that night had never happened and those words had never left my mouth.

 

Becoming a villain does not happen overnight. The process is slow, like shifting from one moment to the next until the calendar marks the passing of yet another year without growing wiser. Life’s traumas and tragedies, like water, attack slow and steady, wearing away the civility of heroism and justice. If you let it, all it leaves behind is anger, manifesting its self into hatred attacking those closes to use because they are the easiest prey. They are the ones we reveal our most intimate selves to, so why not hurt them the most.

 

Like Gotham, I was hurting that night. The viral heart infection had taken away my health, a petite white woman in the form of a principal had stripped my power as male survivor by attempting to keep me silent, the world’s therapist and psychiatrist seemed to not want Heroes, Villains, and Healingas a source for male survivors of childhood sexual abuse with each blocked email address, and I felt more alone than ever as a sexually abused educated black male in a society that refused to follow the rules of good and evil.

 

I was Gotham.

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I was the villain.

 

There was no Batman to blame. No Batman to kill. There was only me, hurting the woman I loved because I was in pain.

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And that woman saved me.

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As a survivor, my victimization does not allow me the freedom of perpetuating  fear, anger, and hatred toward those around me, no matter who they may be, or how I may be feeling. It leads to becoming a villain / perpetrator / abuser.

It’s been over a year, but I still apologize for that night. Each time she tells me, she is happy that it happened. She saw a side of me I often keep hidden. I often smile, laugh, and attempt to make everyone happy, but she never sees me angry. She was happy to see my humanity and be there when I needed her. I’m sorry she was and I will continue to apologize. Too often women feel as though they have to be the punching bag (emotional and physical) for the men they love. It is not right and must change. I never want Sarah to have to feel that way toward me.

 

I’m filled with embarrassment and shame over that night.

 

Each day I try and make it up to her because she is my rock. She’s the strongest person I know and will ever know. Each day I strive to become the hero I wish her to see me as being. I only hope I have her courage.

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Dark Knight Rises

For the past two weeks I’ve found it difficult to breath due to unknown anxiety and panic. With undue pressure on myself I dreaded putting pen to paper to begin writing this blog, or even get out of bed to go to work. I drifted through the days sad beyond belief, but smiling, pretending, and performing for family and students to convince myself that everything was fine. Whether it was because of the current political climate, problems with my family of origin, or a mixture of both, I can’t be sure. Either way, in my head I said to myself, “I can fix this!”

Batman 1

 

What I truly meant was, “I can fix me.”

 

So, I used the tools in my arsenal in an attempt to help myself feel better. I went to the gym, meditated, listened to calming music, went to my therapist (six hours away), went to my psychiatrist (also six hours away), slept, talked with my wife about my feelings (as best I could), and stayed on top of taking my medication. Unfortunately, none of these strategies worked as well as I would have liked.

One day, near the end of the school day last week, my chest began to hurt and my left arm became heavy. Sitting at my desk I thought to myself, “No! Not again! I can fix this! I don’t need to go to the hospital! I don’t have the time to go to the hospital! I can fix this!” So, I took some ibuprofen (prescribed by my doctor), waited, and the pain went away. I told my therapist and she said the same thing you’re thinking, “You have to go to the hospital. You can’t fix this alone.” I agreed, but I still have not gone because of fear, stubbornness, and the fact that I’ve been more times then I care to mention regarding of my heart.

You see, two years ago the same incident described above happened. I sat at my desk in my classroom in Baltimore grading papers when my chest began to hurt. I thought it was just another of my many panic attacks. Soon my left arm went heavy and numb with a pain that’s difficult to describe. I could feel my heartrate increase dramatically and I knew something was not right. I went to the school nurse and soon I found myself in an ambulance on my way to hospital to be treated for a viral heart infection. For two months I went through test after test to understand what, if anything was wrong with my heart. I did not enter my classroom, I did not work out, and I could barely move for two months. It’s during that two months I wrote a large part of Heroes, Villains, and Healingas quickly as I could out of fear that if I might die and other male survivors would not have the resources needed to heal.

As a male survivor, many times I feel the need to control as much as possible. This is because, as a survivor, my control and power were taken away from me when I was sexually assaulted at eight-years-old. This is not only true for survivors of sexual assault, but many individuals who have suffered trauma or suffer from PTSD. Lack of control means lack of power, making the survivor feel as they did when they were sexually assaulted. Hence why Batman attempts to control and plan for all situations. He does not want to feel like that weak little boy on the sidewalk as his parents died.

I have been told these facts by my therapist for years. I have read them in books, and even written about them myself in Heroes, Villains, and Healing, and Raped Black Male. However, no matter how much I know about the science of the brain and the impact trauma has on the body, I still believe and say to myself, “I can fix this!” because that’s what men do, right? We fix things. We identify the problem, form a solution, and get to work. It’s what we’re told to do as boys to become a part of our hardware as adult men. Add the extra layer of trauma and the belief that men are not supposed to talk about their feelings, you create anger,

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fear,

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panic,

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anxiety,

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perpetuation of abuse,

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domestic violence,

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gun violence,

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and suicide.

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When male survivors think to themselves, “I can fix this!” they are thinking, “I can fix me!” without help. I can pull myself up by my own bootstraps because that’s what “real men” do.

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I thought the viral heart infection would teach me differently. I didn’t truly learn the lesson that some things can’t be fixed until my son, Casus, passed away last August and I nearly lost my wife, Sarah. There were complications with the pregnancy as blood clots formed and attempted to pass. Unfortunately, we lost Cas just as we entered the second trimester. Up until the last moment I believed, “I can fix this.” I thought these same words as my mother cried in my arms when I was in high school and she received the news our home was being foreclosed. I thought these words as a child as my parents screamed at one another late into the night. I believed when the doctors entered the hospital to tell my wife the likelihood of Cas making it was very slim, that I had fixed my life so I could fix this too. I looked Sarah’s eyes and told her we would be fine. We can fix this. We’re strong. We can control this. It wasn’t until she was wheeled away and I was left standing in a bathroom of blood that I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt there was nothing I could do to fix this. I was helpless as our son was born prematurely and died in our arms, my wife was given two blood transfers to save her life, and we signed the paperwork to have him cremated.

I miss Cas. I wear a necklace with the names of him and his two sisters to give my strength when times are hard and I need a reminder of the man I was, the man I have become, and why I’m still breathing. Although I miss my son, he gave me a gift when he passed. With the passing of Cas came the wisdom that horrific things happen and sometimes, there is nothing we can do to stop them. They cannot be fix, no matter how hard we try, and these bad things are not our fault. They are no one’s fault. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. This does mean finding something to hate to fill the void of the pain you may feel, but know that it was not your fault.

I now know (most days) that my sexual abuse as a child was not my fault. Bad things happen that are sometimes beyond our control. I was weak then, but that does not mean I am weak now. Many times throughout the week I remind myself of this lesson as my Dark Knight rises and takes a hold of my consciousness, refusing to let go. There are some things that cannot be fixed, but and there are some things can be fixed if we ask for help. You are not alone, so don’t try and recover alone. Find a way to know and understand it was not your fault.

fear

There are two things I remember –

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the smell and the weight.

Afterward, came the fear.

So many fears that began with the dark and being alone.

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I remember standing outside the locked doors of family bedrooms pounding to be let in only to return to my bed and cry myself to sleep.

Then, Batman was born.

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Batman:It’s okay. You can do this alone. You don’t need them. You don’t need anyone except me.

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There was the fear of not being good enough that manifested its self in so many ways. Stupidity came with the knowledge that everyone could see my idiocrasy. There was no hiding it. Soon I knew, beyond a doubt, I was going to Hell and there was no place for me in heaven. Like a train roaring over a cliff in an abyss of smoke and smiles one thought led to others as I continued to try and prove to myself that I wasn’t worthless.

Batman:You are worthless, but I can teach you to hide it.

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Batman saved me.

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Random Citizen: Hey Kenny, what classes are you taking this semester? Honors? You’re too smart for me.

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Batman: Except for basic algebra you fucking idiot! Why can’t you be as smart as your friends?

Random Citizen: Congratulations Kenny, you made it to state in speech and debate!

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Batman: You didn’t win every tournament! Why didn’t you win every tournament! What are you doing wrong? Fix it!

Random Citizen:Student council, speech, cross country, track, drama, AP English, AP Calculus, band, Key Club, Foreign Language Honors Society, afterschool job, before school paper route. What extracurricular aren’t you involved in? What don’t you do?

Batman 9

 

Batman: Wake the fuck up! You don’t have to sleep. You have a test tomorrow in biology and lines to memorize for the school play. I’m not even going to mention the C you got in AP Calculus last quarter. If you want to be more than another stupid nigger then you will get up, deliver those newspapers, and reread the chapter before going to school.

Random Citizen: Full ride to Bowling Green! Wow! Congrats! You are most definitely most likely to succeed!

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Batman: This is your only way out! You have to do better! You have to do more! Unless you want to stay homeless in Peoria for the rest of your life. Get your shit together because no one else is going to do it for you! The race isn’t over! It’s just started!

Random Citizen: How many books publish and a master’s from JHU? Wow! That’s impressive!

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Batman: Not enough! More!

Random Citizen: You’re a great teacher Mr. Rogers!

Batman: You’re terrified of them? For what? They’re only children!

Me: They remind me of…me…and the time…

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Batman: Stop whining you pussy! They need you more than you and your irrational fear! Get over it!

 

Random Citizen: You’re going to make a great father!

Batman: Careful. One wrong move and they’ll end up just as damaged and worthless as you.

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Random Citizen: Career, family, house, you’ve made it Kenny!

Me: I can’t feel anything.

Batman: Good! Now you’re learning!

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Somehow, in my mind, I always came up short. The world seemed to always be on my back and the weight continued to grow.

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Each time Batman would save me. Teaching me that the inability to reach perfection needed to be punished until…

 

Not So Random Citizen: Kenny…Kenny…it’s okay. You’re allowed to cry in therapy.

 

Me: I’m afraid.

Batman: You’re not allowed to be afraid.

Me: I don’t want to do this anymore.

Batman: Fight the fear and it will go away.

Me: No, it won’t.

Batman: I can save you!

Me: No, you can’t. You have to die.

Batman: Good luck! You’re not the first to try and you won’t be the last to fail.

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Not So Random Citizen: Let’s get started.

 

 

I Was Dead

Saving?

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I don’t need saving!

You need saving!

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Where were you at midnight with the screams and shadows? The ones he can’t forget. The impossibility of brother defeating father, resulting in a broken home.

 

Where you there in the rain?

 

Which time?

 

The time in the car where all he could see was the gleaming of red, yellow and green stop lights, the weight of the bag on his lap, and the pressure of siblings on either side. He wasn’t supposed to remember reaching Landmark and the defeat of his mother as she realized she had no options.

 

He does.

 

Or are you referring to the rain on his face and sweat in his shoes as he ran to Pat’s house to escape the dinner table. The conversation. The talk of divorce.

 

They always leave.

 

Either way, you weren’t there!

 

Where you there when he learned to trust no one, over, and over, and over again.

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I’m not coming back home. I’m going to stay here at auntie’s house and then go to college down south.

 

Just do what they do in the movie. Like this. What we did was wrong and it never happened. I’m going to school down south. Remember to get your haircut every two weeks. I’m not going to therapy with you. Pack your bag, we’re leaving. I’m sorry, but they’re taking the house. Forget about it, there’s nothing you can do. It’s in the past. Forgive and forget. I’m leaving to go live down south. He’ll be alright. Don’t be a statistic.

 

No, you weren’t there. I was there, teaching him to control every situation. It’s the only way to survive, adapt. To get out!

 

Listen to what they say and watch the way they move to figure out what they think. It’s the only way to plan for the worst.

 

Run. Don’t think. Just run. Move. Escape. Do whatever you can. If you stop moving you’ll die.

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What can you do? Help? Save me? How?

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How can you save me – because I won’t be able to stop them.

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I can’t…

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There’s nothing I can do!

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I’ll die and he’ll be left alone. He needs me to survive. He needs me.

 

I need him to survive.

 

 

Martyr

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May times, this is how I feel. As if I’m standing on top of a renegade plane attempting to steer from a tethered strap on my belt. As the entire world races by, appearing to be in chaos, all I can do is hold on for dear life.

On the outside, I appear calm. And I should have it all together, right? I’m a man! I’m not allowed to feel fear, right? I’m not allowed to cry, love, or show any emotion besides happiness and anger, right? If I’m supposed to be Batman, if I’m supposed to be strong, intelligent, and calm, why do I have so much anxiety? Is this normal? Am I allowed to ask these questions, or does this make me less of a man?

From below, the world sees a man standing on top of a flaming airplane with reassurance that he has it all together when, in fact, he feels like an eight-year-old boy afraid to see what may appear on the other side of the approaching buildings.

So, what do I do? I hold on.

I sacrifice my mental health and well-being.

I scream, pray, and ask, “Is this a good death?”

I pray for impact. To give up. For it all to come crashing down and end. At least then I won’t feel afraid anymore.

I won’t feel like a failure.

In an attempt to kill my Batman, I become a martyr. I say to myself, “No one else will do it, so I will. I’m special!” I feel the glow and joy of accomplishment at succeeding where others failed. I feel superior, while faining humility. I say to myself, “I don’t expect them to do it! I can take more abuse because I was abused. I’m damaged goods, they aren’t. I was homeless, they weren’t. I hate myself, they don’t”

Arrogance transforms into spite, becoming hatred at being the person who always has to save the day. To carry the burden on my shoulders that no one asked me carry.

This won’t work.

I can’t kill my Batman through being a martyr. He has to become a survivor. I have to save him.

How?

Hero Vs. Survivor

How do you kill a hero?

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A true hero.

 

A hero who has always been there to you – keeping you safe when no one else would put in the effort to give a damn.

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A hero you love.

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Will always love.

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A hero who is not perfect, but one you believe you deserve.

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A hero who must die so that you, the survivor, can live.

 

Bullets deflect –

Blades never seem to penetrate deep enough.

 

Like a ghost, the hero always rises – to save you.

 

The hero knows more. Gathering information, piecing together clues you ignore to prepare for…

 

Panic!

Anxiety!

 

The hero remains calm. To him, it’s the same story different day. He’s been preparing, training since childhood. Since…the bad thing.

 

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Preparing so you would not have to. So you could stay.

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Remain –

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a child.

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Waiting to be saved.

 

But who saves the hero?

Does he need saving?

Does he deserve saving?

Or does he deserve to die –

A good death?

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An honorable death?

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So that you, the survivor, can live…

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And learn to save yourself.