I was 6 when I discovered the growth behind my ear. It was disk-shaped, about a centimeter wide.
I was fascinated. I wondered if this thing was the source of a secret superpower. So over the next year, I occasionally tried to do superhero things — you know, like fly. I taped a kitchen towel to a rubber band, and then put the rubber band around my neck, like a cape. Then I climbed our kitchen counter and jumped, Superman-style, onto the couch — where my great aunt was recovering from surgery.
Flight was not my superpower.
Much to my satisfaction, the growth got bigger. Soon, it was the size of a penny. I figured my superpower was ready to bloom. But I didn’t tell anyone because, in the most genuine way, I thought they’d try to do something silly — like cut it out.
I continued my superpower experimentation and, soon, my teachers thought I was suffering from a developmental disability. I was called into the counselor’s office and was asked several questions.
“There is no right or wrong answer,” she said. “So tell me what you did at recess today?”
“I tried to make fire with my hands.”
Kids are, to be blunt, stupid. They do stupid things, like mistaking a possibly malignant growth for superpowers. But back then, everything I did seemed cosmically important. I was discovering my superpower — an ability that could save humanity.
About when I turned 7, my mom discovered the growth midway through a church service. She dragged me out of the sanctuary and to a doctor. He snapped on rubber gloves and touched the growth. It hurt, it was tender, so I slapped his hand away. But he told me this was really important, and he looked really important — like he could possibly send me to jail — so I let him examine it.
“We should cut that right out,” he said. “Let’s schedule a procedure.”
Mom asked, “Is it dangerous?”
And he said, “It’s a minor surgery.”
Kid translation: You’re gonna die.
I knew there were risks with superpowers, so I accepted my fate and prepared for the end. I made a will — toys to my brother, the Super Nintendo to my dad and math homework to my mom. I stole my favorite food from the pantry — a can of Spam — and spooned it into my mouth while sitting on top of our jungle gym, watching the sunset. I was a poetic child.
A few days before my scheduled death, I went in for a preliminary exam. The doctor touched the growth; it still hurt. But then he said, “Great news! It’s shrinking. That means it’s a harmless cyst.”
Kid translation: You ain’t a superhero.
I was devastated. For one year, I was special — I had an undiscovered superpower, and I was about to become a martyr for it. But now I was just a regular kid, an irrelevant 7-year-old who would vanish in the context of this infinite universe.
The doctor gave me a cream to apply to the cyst. He said it would shrink my cyst. He kept saying the word cyst. The word cyst just sounded so ugly. I felt deformed.
I just wanted to feel like a superhero again — I wanted to feel important, powerful, strong. But I spent half the day covering the back of my ear, which didn’t help convince my teachers I was normal. It was hard times. My pog game was off, the kids forced me to be Rita when we played Power Rangers and my Tamagotchi died every other day.
Whether we want to or not, we develop a self-worth at a young age — we latch onto earthly things that give us confidence and safety, like superpowers.
But amid all that, I learned superpowers were not real — that no one had them. And, soon thereafter, I learned that I didn’t have world-class talents or stunning beauty. I was, like most people, nothing special. And that seemed unfair. Everyone deserves to feel like a superhero; everyone deserves to be able to jump off the kitchen counter and, for one ephemeral moment, float.
In sixth grade, I encountered superpowers again. My science teacher assigned me a lab partner, Jonathan, and he was one of those kids in the “special” class. The first thing he told me was that he could freeze water — with his mind. “That’s why white snow flakes come out of my hair,” he said, scratching dandruff onto the black tabletops.
That semester, we didn’t finish a single lab. It was the “buoyancy” unit. He wanted to freeze everything. I played along.
Then, at the end of the unit, it was time to switch lab partners and Jonathan got real sad, almost teary.
“You’re my friend, right?” he asked.
“Good,” he said, trying to smile. “You’re my first ever friend.”
There are times we think we’re special — that we have superpowers. But life is humbling. It reminds us each day that we are ordinary, that we are insignificant, that — compared to superheroes — we are broken. Then there are these moments, these incredibly ordinary moments. And we are repaired.