I used to think breakups were hard for the love lost, but now I know the sadness is a side effect of a common sin: burying inner problems deep in the demands of a new relationship. I have been avoiding myself longer than I have ever tried to know myself. Avoiding anything that would cause the slightest emotion for fear I would lose my grip on the sadness, and it would envelop everything in my life.
This breakup, however, I have the privilege of working with a talented therapist who won’t let me spiral into old self-pitying behaviors. No binge-drinking bar nights, no indulgence of hypersexuality, no drunken manic oversharing to poorly placed strangers. Thankfully, he understands that I won’t stop tearfully drinking wine at night, but he has requested it to happen in my own home. This means I’ve had lots of time to figure out the best way to keep myself at home: watching the entire Marvel series from Captain America to Avengers Endgame.
TV quickly bores me, but there’s something about a hero story that warms me like a good bowl of Pho (which I miss very much since moving to Detroit — there’s nothing like Pho Anh Trang here!). One of the few good things my Dad gave me access to was comic books, so naturally when the Marvel movies started to hit theatres I was ecstatic. Captain America – even with all the patriotism I don’t currently subscribe to – made me believe in the little guy (or in my case, the little girl). Captain Marvel helped me recognize the strength of women. There was no better casting ever done than Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man (except, perhaps Heath Ledger as Joker). Thor is just so sexy to me, it’s hard not to love every single movie. And Black Panther? The way my heart felt, seeing Black people represented as technologically super-advanced royalty? It’s a feeling those on the outside of Blackness would never understand.
Right now I’m on The Incredible Hulk (2008), which is why I’m writing. I want to make it through the movie but I can’t give it my full attention because 1) I prefer Mark Ruffalo and 2) Hulk was just never one of my favorites (“HULK SMASH!” I mean, come on).
Hero stories permeate human history with timeless legacies. Heroes write history because they are history. They are the kind of stories we love to hear, even though we’ve all been the villain in someone else’s story and many of us are learning that history has never been so Black-and-white.
Are they timeless because we all secretly want to be heroes? Do they exist to inspire us to aspire to heroism? Or, is heroism another religion, causing conflict and bloodshed throughout time and across the globe? I hope not.
I think I love the Marvel movies because they provide a cinematically entertaining escape from this messy process of healing years of trauma amid a sudden end of yet another relationship I thought would last. I love them because I wish they were real. For me. Trauma survivors often subconsciously and otherwise are attracted to the qualities of a hero because the suffering inner child still longs to be saved, to be spared. But also, some of the best love stories involve the privilege of being loved by a hero, and someday I hope to find a man I would describe as mine.
But, since I’m no longer a child (and really barely ever was), I am learning from them to be my own hero, today. The hero who stays in when she’s feeling vulnerable instead of going out and drowning herself in vice. The hero who sticks to a morning routine instead of staying up into the godless hours of the night, crying and pitying the self who could have been. The hero who eats even when she’s not hungry, and makes sure to stay hydrated throughout the day. The hero who takes her medication as prescribed, every day, so she can have a better shot at making her life a series of intentional, positive decisions. The hero who forgives herself for the past and encourages herself for the future.
I like to think of my best self as a mix of everyone I’ve ever admired as a hero, fictional and otherwise. Maya Angelou for her undying resilience and many gifts. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for breaking the most symbolic ceiling for African Americans, imperfect as Presidency will always be. Angela Davis, for all the work that she’s done over the years. My friends who have come to my aid time and time again. Kind strangers who, even for a moment, made a lasting impact through small but unforgettable acts. And every person who has ever seen the me in me, even when I’ve been a villain in their story.
In this way, heroism does exist outside the cinema. Corny as it sounds, we all have the ability to be heroes, even if it’s just for ourselves.