I can be your hero baby

When I was in grade five, I was singled out as a “gifted” student.

Because of this, I was shipped off every Thursday to room 320, in order to spend the day away from my friends with the biggest losers I had ever met.

(Or at least the biggest losers in my highly-evolved eleven-year old opinion.)

And no doubt, all of those kids were looking at me in the exact same light.

The condescension hung heavy in that classroom, let me tell you. Like a really snotty cumulus cloud.

We were all there to participate in a program entitled “COW: Changing our World.”

This was horrible.

I was missing double gym to spend my day talking about environmental and political actions that, sure I cared about, but didn’t really care about.

Not more than kicking ass in frisbee death anyway.

One afternoon, after emptying our juice boxes and wiping the peanut butter from our mouths, Ms. Marvin asked us to sit in a circle and tell the group about our heroes.

I panicked.

What kind of question was that?

I can remember wracking my brain for strong female icons that I could proudly say were my heroes.  I admired Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedman, but they weren’t mine. But I admired them to such an extent that they were pratically mythological, made-up figures and they existed for me because of everything my mother had told me about them, and the few books I had found in my library.

The same for Roberta Bondar and Nancy Green and Nelly McClung.

My beauty mom and beauty sis. Two women I admire greatly.

Each name stuck in my throat like a ball of hair; I could feel my tongue trying to push words to the front of my mouth, but nothing would come but nerves and peanut butter breath.

I cannot remember whom the first three students named.

Perhaps this is because of the enormity of Justin’s (number four’s) pick.  He sat there in his green club-med sweatshirt, tapered jeans and classic bowl cut, so confident, so ready.

He was more than prepared to announce to the world his hero.

I remember he even inhaled before speaking.

“My hero is Jean Chretien.”

I want to embellish here and say that I came close to passing out upon hearing this, but it’s not true.  I might have been a drama queen, but I knew where to draw the line.

But still – Jean Chretien?

How could anyone in their right mind possibly say that he was their hero?  It certainly didn’t make things better when the girl next to him (I’ve since forgotten her name) declared that her hero was Kim Campbell.

The only thing running through my head was: WHO ARE THESE WEIRDOS?


From library and archives Canada
The usual suspects. HILARIOUS side note: when my mom was working in Ottawa in the early 90s, she was walking down the street one night and a woman yelled out "There's Kim Campbell!" This has kept me laughing for years.


Now to be fair, in retrospect, I can (kind of) understand the reasoning behind an eleven-year-old girl’s decision to pick Kim Campbell.

Being the first female prime minister of Canada definitely propels you into a certain category of individuals (despite the fact that her party had already been decisively trounced in the elections).

But didn’t she listen to Double Exposure? They made fun of her all the damned time!

I do not recall the way the rest of the day panned out; I was too unsettled, too shaken up.

As I walked home, scuffing my tennis shoes and tripping over their laces, my mind raced with makeshift answers.  Justin was not the athletic type – his legs were even skinnier than mine (and I was of such a stick-like nature that I could see my heart beating every time I emerged scrubbed-pink from the bathtub), so it was acceptable that he wouldn‘t pick a sports figure.  He didn’t seem one to idolize film stars or literary giants.

And because of this, I began to question the defining qualities of this commonly used label.


If someone could say that Canada’ twentieth prime minister was their hero, what did that mean for the term itself?  Could just about anyone be a hero?  What were the specific requirements and did they all have to be met?  How could Jean Chretien be so special to one little boy?  It was obviously not a choice born out of passion.

But then again maybe he was just a HUGE fan of the Constitution.

Looking back, the best that I can come up with was that this choice was one of utmost pragmatism.

On the first day of class Justin had said that he wanted to be a politician; somewhere along the line he must have realized that in order to accomplish this, it might be good to look up to someone who had already achieved this position.

And now of course, I know that there is nothing wrong with that.

In fact, if I could go back in time I would say party on Justin.

(Liberal) PARTY ON.

But that night I sat at the dining room table with my feet tucked neatly into the folds of my knees and slowly mashed my tofu around my plate.  My mother, used to my pickiness, sat across from me and told me to stop molesting my bean curd.

“It’s not the tofu,” I said.  Because in fact it wasn’t the tofu, as I really liked tofu (and still do to this day.)


“Well then what’s the matter?”  My mother crossed her arms and looked at me, cocking her head to one side, making the dangly parts of her earrings knock together like wind chimes.

“Some stupid idiot in my class today told everyone that Jean Chretien is his hero.”  I rolled by eyes.  My fork clanged onto the plate as I let it slip from my fingers.  “Isn’t that the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard?”

I knew that my mom didn’t want to laugh.  But she was one with whom I would listen to Double Exposure on the CBC. She also read Frank Magazine (in fact she had been lampooned herself in the rag) and like her daughter, thought that this was just too much.

My mother let out a wallop of a laugh.


Her whole body shook like an oversized maraca.

So I let loose too, laughing with an intensity that felt unnatural, but I felt like if I laughed hard enough the uncomfortable pit buried deep inside of me wouldn’t sprout leaves and grow into a tree.

As long as I laughed I could think Justin as a strange anomaly and continue to think of heroes as easily definable, realistic beings.

But eventually, I stopped.

And I, on this day, April 30, 2012, would like to extend an apology to both Justin, and the unnamed Kim Campbell fan.

In an age of Jersey Shore and Kim Kardashian and Twilight – I’ll take their choices.

But I”ll probably still need that juice box.

Because although I might take it, it’s still not going to go down any easier then it did the first time around.

And for that I blame Double Exposure.

(And my mom.)

Where we lay our scene

Currently, my husband and I are operating at full speed ahead.  It is quite a shock to acknowledge that we are now into November and before we know it, it will be December, then New Years – seriously within a hop, skip and a wink he will be wracked by arthritis and my hair will be tinted blue and stiff with aqua net.  Or is it the other way around?  I can never remember.

I would like to take this opportunity to give credit where credit is due, in so far as the man to whom I have pledged my troth until the end of the world (see: Michelle Bachmann, President) is without a doubt the coolest teacher of all time.

Please see exhibit A: his Halloween costume (which also happened to be his first day teaching Romeo and Juliet).

That ruff was made from a loofah. A loofah!

Exhibit B is a little longer – a snapshot from four years ago – that I hold close.

It is night time and I am writing.  Sitting at the computer, freezing, fingering the frayed edges of my boyfriends old boxer shorts (that I am wearing) I am also listening to my cat, Nymeria, talk to the small birds outside in our cherry tree.  M is lying on the couch reading Ovid, laughing with his eyes, and he speeds through the Amores with zeal unknown to non-classicists or non-nerds.  Despite the chill, there is a slightly sweet smell to the air, and I know this is because spring is slowly breaking out of the frozen walls of ice and fog that winter has trapped her in for far too long.  I think about how we herald spring as a rebirth for the world – for its flora and fauna, for the sleepy bears and their growing young, for the blue jays that rattle our window panes and the daffodils that smile at us as we pass them by.  But I wonder how much of this rhetoric about spring is representative of our time and place, of living life outside an area marred with conflict, violence and fear.  Spring in Poland, during the Russian and German occupations would not signify rebirth, nor a celebration of new life: it would serve as a reminder that despite the change in season, the oppressors and their destructive regimes remained entrenched in everyday life.  I think about what kind of strength of character is required to deal with such a strain.  And how I would do in a similar situation.

I ask M if he has a hero.

“Why?”  He closes his book and pushes his glasses up against his nose.  He is wearing a stained t-shirt (it is the one I wear each time I dye my hair) and shorts whose elastic is so old he has to hold them up as he walks towards me.

Because it is late at night, and we are dressed comfortably.  We are dressed like bums.  We are dressed like those who have nothing, though we have everything.

“Because I am thinking about heroes and I’m wondering if you have one.”

I am half expecting an answer.  The last time I started this discussion, I almost left Red Robin in tears.  This is because I am a bad debater: I have a hard time believing that my opponent’s efforts aren’t masquerading as a personal attack.  The last time we were talking I made it clear that I don’t think that the heroes of classical antiquity are proper heroes: they were too selfish, too obsessed with their own legacy and too drenched in the blood of innocents to have rightfully earned this label.  M, however, understands the reasoning behind Achilles and Odysseus’ actions (and those of their kin), and sees no problem with their association of “hero.”  He also believes that the democracy of Athens is dead and (jokingly) propagates the return of an oligarchy.  Old white men running this old white country: that isn’t so far from our present truth.

As he thinks about the question he thrums his fingers along the cover of his book.

“No, not particularly.  I don‘t think I could say I have a hero.”  He rolls his shoulders and kisses the top of my head, and I can sense him pausing to smell the shampoo scent of my hair.

“What about Romeo Dallaire?” I ask.  I swivel around in my chair and look up into his eyes.  He inhales with a sharpness that sets the hairs on my arms on edge.

“I wouldn’t contest the idea that he is a great man who tried to make the best of an impossible situation.  I admire his strength and courage, but no, he’s not my hero.”

I exhale.

It seems as though tonight, we will be spared a debate (and therefore, my tears.)  M picks me up.  As easily as a rag doll.  He likes to gauge how strong he is getting, by carrying me about our apartment, and measures his gains by how well he can lift me up with one arm.  My hipbone grinds into his shoulder as we pace the length of our living room.

“What about when you were a kid?  Did you have any heroes then?”

Nymeria weaves between M’s legs as he makes his way over to the couch.  She purrs as she rubs up against him, like she knows she is trying to trip us up and loves every minute of it.  The patches of orange and black on her back stand stark against the white of her legs and the slits of moonlight that fall through the blinds.  M lets me down on the cushions, before taking a seat.

“I used to pretend I was one of the X-men.  I had the power to shape matter, and create force fields.  My best friend was Jubilee and we’d hang out at the mall bothering overweight security guards while drinking orange sodas.”

I feel my nose scrunching up as I start to laugh.  I too used to imagine such things when I was younger.  My sister and I would dress up in our highland dancing skirts and wield my father’s blunt tai chi swords because in our minds we were Sailor Venus and Sailor Jupiter battling intergalactic space monsters who wreaked havoc on our homemade Tokyo and its environs.  But although I never missed an episode, I can honestly say I never saw those long-legged cartoon girls as heroes.  They were too weak in times of crisis, always on the verge of annihilation before the masked gentleman would show up and save the day.  As a newly self-discovered feminist, this always horrified me.

I talk to M about my Slavic film class.  I probably talk to him about this class more than any other class I have ever taken.  I am not saying this as a sly way of sucking up to my professor, somewhere, out there, but because it is a truth and my new years resolution for the past five years has been to stop lying so much.

I talk to him about how I am trying to become more aware of the words I use when illustrating a point.  I am becoming aware of the power of speech.  I am becoming aware of the baggage that come with certain terms, or the taste a sentence can leave in your mouth when peppered with contested “truths” or “normalcy’s”.

I tell M about how the Polish Solidarity movement happened the same year as the Moscow Olympic boycott and that I am thinking about the connection between the two events.  And about how Lech Walesa has always been presented to me as a hero, and I believed this because of the enormity of his actions because they took place during a time when enormity was discouraged and suspect and therefore punished.

“I am very proud of you,” he says.  “I am proud to be marrying you.”  I don’t really know what this has to do with Poland or Lech Walesa, but it I feel relief spread over me like fresh jam across crunchy french bread.

“I am trying to find answers,” I whisper to him.

I feel his hand in mind.

“I know.”