I was a sick kid. A relatively minor birth defect went undiagnosed for years until it required major surgery at age 10. But until then, every couple of months I would collapse or become bedridden until the astronomically high fevers, delirium, abdominal pain and severe nausea passed. Books, comics and the gray-blue glow of a tiny screen wrapped in a monstrous wooden cabinet became my frequent companions. It was during these down times that I became a devotee of Superman.
How I wished, with all of my heart and soul to be him. Like so many other tykes, a bath towel tied around my neck served as the beginning and end of my costume, but that was when I was needing to fly or save the world. My younger brother, Jim wore glasses and for that I was a bit jealous because the key costume piece to become Clark Kent required the donning of spectacles. After feigning blindness, my wise mother provided me with lens-less frames. Suddenly my eyesight improved to the point of x-ray vision. But it wasn’t until my 7th year on this planet under the yellow sun did I acquire an honest-to-goodness Superman outfit.
On Halloween of 1961, Mom presented me with the costume of my true identity. A pair of old pajamas dyed blue in the washing machine, a length of red ribbon appliquéd into a rough “S”, an old sheet sewn and properly dyed to serve as a cape and a pair of red socks was all that was needed for me to become the real and only Superman. To me, it was an exact replica of what George Reeves wore on TV and what I saw on the pages of Action Comics. In the back of my mind, the costume was the only missing piece and it was certainly only a matter of time before super powers would manifest inside me.
On Wednesday, November 1, 1961 I rose early from bed and donned my costume again, this time under my school clothes. With perceptible confidence, I strode about the playground, fearing no one and keeping an eye out for others who may require my assistance in their time of need. But nothing much happened and after school, feeling somewhat depressed that a peaceful day had passed; I joined my brother, Jim, for the short walk home. Before we reached our front door I stopped him and drew him aside.
Looking all around, I opened my shirt and showed him that he was safe from harm, because I was wearing the costume. He looked at my S-adorned chest and said, “Terry, why are you wearing that?” For a moment I was surprised that he failed to recognize the significance to what he was bearing witness. But gathering my thoughts, I said in my most sympathetic tone, “I am wearing it…just in case…” with the hope that those words would explain all. He merely shook his head and went inside for our afternoon snack.
At some point, Jim must have failed to keep my secret identity to himself. After the third day of my wearing of the costume, Mom came to my room before I said my bedtime prayers. “Honey, I need to wash your Superman outfit now…we need to save it for next year, okay?” she offered. Reluctantly and embarrassed, I removed the costume from under my cowboy pajamas and handed them over.
“Mom, I really want to be Superman someday,” I explained. She asked if it was because Superman could fly. I shook my head, because I understood that flying was probably not going to be an option any time soon. She asked me why then it was important to be Superman.
“Because he helps people and always does the right thing, and he doesn’t worry about who knows about it.” I explained further, “he often does it in secret…he stops the bad guys, he doesn’t get hurt and then flies away before anyone gives him money or a parade because he knows that he’s done a good job and that’s all he needs.”
I imagined she smiled, because my face was turned towards the floor, again embarrassed at my obviously childish beliefs. She then said something that I wouldn’t comprehend for a few more years, “Sweetheart, you don’t need a cape to do that.”
With a kiss she tucked me in and switched off my Roy Rogers bedside lamp and said what she always said before sleep arrived, “Sweet dreams and may God rest on your pillow.”
That night I dreamed of flying, righting a wrong, stopping bullets and dashing away before the reporters showed up.