I Can Be Your Hero, Baby

If you like your superheroes tall, dark, and broody, Batman is right up your crime-ridden alley. Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered in front of him. He dealt with his grief by dressing up like a bat and jumping off tall buildings to eradicate the scum poisoning his city. He’s a misunderstood maniac, but also a beacon of hope, delivering justice where others cannot. A silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.

There is some disagreement among therapists as to the legitimacy of this approach.

Therapists disagree on the legitimacy of this approach.

Stew on that, Bruce Wayne-style, while I talk about something unrelated.

When I was 11, I moved to Hawaii.

At the same age wizards go to Hogwarts, preteen girls become terrible humans. Before the move, adults were always trying to assuage my angst by telling me it was going to be an experience. I quickly realized calling something “an experience” is a misleadingly positive way to say nothing at all. Describing something that way is completely accurate and completely inadequate.

Other “Experiences” One Could Have

– Getting kidnapped and tortured by the Russian mob.

– Sustaining a brain injury and constantly hearing a sitcom laugh track after everything you say for the rest of your life.

– Marrying a Kardashian.

– Finding out the person you thought was “The One” loved the fourth Indiana Jones movie, has a Jar-Jar Binks tattoo, and isn’t afraid of Andrew Jackson.

Dead 168 years and still giving me nightmares.

Dead 168 years and still giving me nightmares.

Hawaii was an experience. For many people, it’s a beautiful place to live. Other people never really adjust to living in the middle of a salty, shark-y, sea snake-y ocean on an island chain made out of volcanoes, drinking exorbitantly-priced milk.

I made a fool of myself the first day of school by accidentally standing in the boys’ lunch line instead of the girls’. After everyone stopped laughing, the class president led both lines to the cafeteria, where I was handed a tray with a hot dog covered in lo mein. I sat with one of the only other haole kids.

“Ugh,” he said. “Your arms are all veiny and white.”

After lunch, our teacher handed out books so the class could read along with him.

“I’ve read this,” I announced.
“We’ll find another one tomorrow, ok?”
“What if I’ve read that one?”

Before he was two pages into the chapter, I interrupted again.

“Did you say ‘ew-ee’?” I asked.
“Yes. It sounds like some kind of farm animal, maybe.”
“It’s pronounced ‘you’ and it’s a female sheep,” I explained patiently. I was pleased with myself, and even more pleased the next day, when I stayed in from recess and overheard him telling another teacher how helpful I was. “Helpful” was not exactly the word he used, but I knew what he meant. For some reason, my classmates were less impressed.

Whenever our teacher was out, he’d call Richard to come substitute. Richard had red, dry skin and licked his lips a lot. He leaned too close when he helped us with math, and he told us terrible things. We were confused and frightened, but we ate it up.

Pictured: Richard, in his favorite suit.

Pictured: Richard, in his favorite suit.

Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn

– “You’re all spoiled, with your cell phones and your purse dogs. Who are you calling on your little Barbie phones?”

– “I’ve eaten a horse before. I’m religious, so it was kosher.”

– “Look around the room. See all your friends? By the time you turn 18, most of you will be dead. Car accidents. Suicides. You’ll be dead.”

– “I have boxes of lizards. I’ll bring them in next time! Lizards and toads. You lick one of those poison toads on the playground and you’ll die way before you turn 18. I am a reptologist.”

When I heard that, I recognized a golden opportunity. The zoo’s lizard house was a “herpetarium”, and using that word properly would definitely wow my classmates into liking me.

“Is a reptologist like a herpetologist?” I asked innocently. Everyone was listening. I sat back, smug, and waited for the inevitable awe. Instead, Richard looked at me like I had shown him a booger collection.
“No,” he said, pitying me. “A herpetologist studies herbs. A reptologist studies reptiles.”
I panicked. Had I read the definition wrong? Was I suddenly bad at words? Was everything I’d ever known a lie? No one would ever like me! “A herpetologist studies reptiles! A herpetarium is a reptile house!”
“No,” he said gently, and turned away. “Would you all like to learn about keeping kosher?”

I ran to the dictionary. “Reptology” wasn’t there. It’s not a word, unless you’re an old man who tells sixth graders how soon they’ll die. It doesn’t exist in the English language. Herpetologists study reptiles. Reptologists are crazy people. I showed my seat-mate, but he didn’t care. I passed a note to my friend, but she didn’t read it. Richard was talking about kosher food. I’d lost them forever.

I spent the next week talking about it incessantly. Soon after, I was elected class president. My mom was proud, but I didn’t point out that no one has to stand next to the class president in line for lunch, so one has to listen to her talk about herpetology or look at her weird arms. She broods over her wrongs alone.

Richard may have been right about everything. I haven’t kept up with many people. For all I know, they all died years ago. I know he was wrong about kosher horses, though, and I know he was wrong about herpetology.

I know, and I’ve never forgotten.

These are dark times. People out there can’t tell the difference between “could have” and “could of”. The world is teeming with unrepentant criminals who wouldn’t know the present perfect if it bit them. They call me a grammar nazi, but I’m also a beacon of hope, delivering justice where others cannot. I’m a silent guardian, a watchful protector. I am a dark knight.

I need to work on my accessorizing, though.

Note to self: work on accessorizing.


  1. Idigina

    For half a second there I was afraid of what he might think herpetology was about. Being a crazy person, I would not have put it past him to think it was the study of herpes.

  2. angelajardine

    Great read, Stephanie … great … but weird … I love that in a girl. There are so few of us lexicography heroes left. (Just let me know if I’ve got that word wrong …
    ‘lexicography’ that is … not ‘left’).

    I too wonder how the teacher got ‘ewe’ wrong … an attempt to appear naive about female sheep for some dark reason? *raises eyebrows*

  3. gabrielgarbowota

    You are a woman after my own heart. This essay (minus the part about living in Hawaii) describes my youth perfectly: obliviously correcting the b.s. of those around him at the expense of love and friendship!

  4. vrbridge

    I was the same way in middle school. I would study words pretty regularly, and my classmates really disliked that I knew the correct the definitions of obscure words. My parents did too, but that was for other reasons, haha.

  5. lisareither

    Ah, yes. I can relate to this. Similarly, I thought that if I could just win the spelling bee just one time, it would catapult me to elementary school glory and seas of children would part before me. Turns out that it doesn’t quite work that way. I think we were both very “helpful” students.

  6. butimbeautiful

    I love that picture of you! Your teacher sounds eerily revolting – and stupid! Are you here to protect the world against morons? If so, I’ll put your bat sign up anytime!

  7. Le Clown

    As a full fledged, real life herpetologist-OK, more like a frog hobbyist-I can safely say that most frogs are more powerful than Steve Rogers, and look less silly in their bright colored skin than Captain America in his whatever you want to call it. Perhaps I should comment on the actual topic of your post?
    Le Clown

  8. fickleginger

    I am the exact same way. I have a wide range of vocabulary because I’ve been reading since I was in grade 2. Naturally it shocks everyone when I hand in a report and get 5/5 on the word choice.

  9. Pingback: I Can Tell That We Are Gonna Be Friends | Listful Thinking

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