When I was a kid, I wanted to be a hero. But not just any hero—Superman! As I got older, I had to concede to both gravity and the need of a career. So, no red cape and tights for me. I was given a uniform though. First, a soldier’s wear. Then, the deep navy blue of a paramedic’s button-up. As close to red cape as one can get. The zenith of hard work and countless hours studying.
As much as I love the look of a poetically flowing red cape, the reasons behind my drive to become an altruistic symbol of hope and morality are born from far beyond the selfish realm. I knew evil from a very young age. An arch nemesis that was not supposed to be sinister at all—my father. Betrayed by a man of wicked mores. He did not embrace me with the true tenderness of a father. He did not discipline me with a righteous and well guided hand. I cannot remember a single time that my father hugged me. But, him touching me inappropriately, I recall that just fine…
His hands did discipline me, sure. It was the repetition of which those instruments of pain were utilized that became a problem. I knew that I would never be Superman because when I got hit, I would bleed. That didn’t stop me from wanting better though. From hoping that my world was not a true reflection of how the world really was—it had to be better… didn’t it?
My father was removed from my life by the police. The boys in blue. Every time I see a police officer now, I see a red cape too…
In my career I have gotten to work alongside many people with capes. I have watched impossible become achievable. The dead are brought back to life, the wounded are healed and the scared are rescued. Seeing the world through the glass of a paramedic’s ambulance however, did not help combat the perception that the world is a cold, nasty, beautifully wretched place.
One thing that the fantastic world of superheroes never gets right, is the crushing blow of defeat and how it feels. Superman gets up from Kryptonite—I am still digging myself out from the rubble of PTSD…
In school, they would tell us that we will lose someone. That people will die. What they don’t tell us, is that those whom wear capes die too… I have had the misfortune of burying too many. Far too many…
As I got older and experienced more of the darkness, I began to relate more to that of Batman over anyone. A brooding orphan. My dad may as well have been dead and my mum, well, throughout childhood, not only did she try to end her own life (only to succeed at that later on), but we were told that Cancer could kill her at any moment. And as a man on the ambulance, I got to see firsthand the sick and the twisted of the truly depraved. You’d be surprised to see how different your city looks through a pair of medic’s eyes…
There is a scene in Superman 3, where Christopher Reeve (Superman) becomes disenfranchised and apathetic to the plight of man. He even pours himself a hefty stiff drink to combat the ails of a mid-day’s troubles. Not gonna lie, I relate to that, too. I knew that I would see bad things. I understood that I would experience hard times, believe me, I get it. What I didn’t think about or know of, was the seemingly targeted nature of which the world would shatter beneath my feet.
My father—a child beater and molester.
My mother—dead by way of suicide.
My best friend in the army—dead.
A man I considered a brother serving alongside me—dead.
Another medic from my unit, barely old enough to be considered for the title of man—dead.
A mentor that once told me of the good in this world only to succumb to the bad within it—dead.
A boy I once tried to save—dead.
The hanging girl in the bathtub—dead.
Dead, dead, dying and gone, one after the other, away they went. Now, that is not written as a woe is me tale, it’s just how things have played out. I never read any of that in comics. Even when Superman died, he lived!
I had a friend come up to me today—she said that she had had a dream about me (not that kind of dream, knock it off!) She said that in the dream I kept her safe. I saved her from something. It felt nice to hear, even if it was just a dream. You see, I can’t and don’t save much of anything anymore. I can’t even save myself from the tremendous fear of my own bed. That’s right, your eyes have not misread anything—I, Matthew J. Heneghan am terrified of my own fucking mattress. Nightmares. Remnants of all those aforementioned things above… and more…
I wanted to be a hero, once… Turns out if you can’t fly, you fall—hard. I am only mortal. Cape-less, tight-less, mortal. You’d think that having been a bleeding child I would have learned that lesson in a much easier classroom. But like I said, I tried to find the better in the world. Or at the very least, make it better.
After my mother passed away, I was finally granted access to the court documents pertaining to my father’s case. You ever want to see the world as a dark place, just read a traumatic court proceeding where every name written is a person you know… including yourself.
My upbringing made sexual assault calls as a paramedic particularly distressing for me. Perhaps even more-so considering I never told anyone about my past. This meant keeping all of the irksome and hauntingly painful aspects of said call to myself for the rest of my shift and beyond.
I won’t tell you that the world is not a cold, nasty, beautifully wretched place. It is. It most certainly is. What I will tell you is that it is also much more than that. As a kid, I had to grow up quickly. Learning if Santa was real or not was of little consequence to me. However I still managed to have moments in my youth of unrivaled innocence. Times spent laughing and joking with my mum on holidays such as: Thanksgiving. I have delivered three babies in my life. Having watched a mini-human take their first untainted breath in this world is a hard image to capture in words. I have seen the world both through whiskey haze and sober eyes—you’d be amazed how bright everything is when your eyes aren’t bloodshot all the time. I have felt the embrace that my father refused me and my mother can no longer gift to me as given by a friend who selflessly chose to do so. If you ever want to experience how beautiful the world is, hug somebody…
This world may not allow for me to be a superhero in the way in which I had envisioned as a child. It may keep me awfully humble and terribly sad at times. But it has shown me that heroes really do exist. And if you look hard enough, there are an awful lot of people wearing capes—even if they don’t know it.
I am afraid of my bed, but I am blessed by that inevitable text in the morning from a friend asking how I am… I have PTSD, but I am digging myself out of that hole. I am crying as I write this, but not because I am broken… but because I am mending…
As a kid, I wanted to be a superhero. As an adult, I am blessed to know of many. And that suits me just fine.
Fly high, my friends.