A friend told me a story the other night that sent me into a tailspin.
She’s been seeing this guy. I use the term “seeing” loosely, as they make no public appearances as a couple. There are no dinners at the latest “must eats” in the Bywater. No jazz and drinks on St. Claude. Not even a cold one on a warm afternoon at The Fly. It’s his place or no place. You use your imagination.
As we sipped on rosé at a local watering hole, my friend tells me that the previous night she was at the guy’s apartment when she had an epiphany--one of those aha moments where all at once she could see what had been blocked from view. She looked at the guy across from her, a crumpled sheet between them, and said, “I can’t do this anymore. You’re like my kryptonite.”
“Kryptonite?” I ask.
“Yeah, like Superman,” she says.
“I know what kryptonite is,” I say. “I’ve just never thought about Superman so poetically before.”
I think that thank God my problems have graduated from the likes of hers when life was little more than circling a drain controlled by a need for some guy’s approval.
But rather than cry into her glass, my friend seemed to be lighter than air, elated by her own oracle. She believed she had discovered her ultimate weakness--a temptation of hers with mesmerizing allure that appears to have transporting qualities to an end she thinks she wants, only to suck the power from her and leave her with nothing but a crumpled sheet.
While she exalted in her enlightenment, my vision wasn’t quite so clear. I wanted some of that cleansing tonic she was having. The conversation turned to an impromptu analysis of me. Surely, I had a kryptonite. First we eliminated weaknesses I don’t have: substance addictions except coffee and Twizzlers, impulsive disorders because I’m too indecisive, and behavioral disorders other than the paranoia of having a behavioral disorder.
Well, crap. Maybe I’m boring, I think. Did I even have a kryptonite?
In the “Superman” stories, kryptonite is a mineral that emits a radiation which weakens Superman. In my story I’m weak to any number of things: people pleasing, confrontation avoidance, and procrastination, to name a few. All of these pull me into their tempting clutch, tricking me into thinking they are the more peaceable option. But where was that radiating light, blinding me from a possible breakthrough, like my friend experienced?
I left the bar still chewing on her story, wondering if maybe I’d garnered enough wisdom from my past mistakes to not need an epiphany.
I’ve never been one to latch onto superhero movies. I find the stakes in reality far more nail-biting. So I had to Google kryptonite to make sure I even knew what the hell I was searching for. Turns out, kryptonite comes from Krypton, Superman’s home. This got me thinking, could my kryptonite be homegrown--a crippling mineral that I created on Planet Annie?
When I people please, I allow other people’s conveniences first. When I avoid confrontation, as awkward and unwanted as my feelings might be, I demean my needs, and when I procrastinate, I blow off my priorities another day. In every occurrence, I don’t defend. Rather, I claim I need defense from people I think impose upon me. On the dark side of the moon on Planet Annie, I proclaim to be made the least important citizen.
However, upon further Superman research, I found that the curious element of Superman’s kryptonite is that it doesn't eradicate his superpowers, just his super strength.
In strength training, strength refers to the ability to overcome resistance. Power refers to the same thing, but in a short period of time. So I wonder this: If life is just a series of seasons--several short periods within which our stories develop--we can never reach our maximum strength without using our maximum power to not only resist our weaknesses but understand what triggers them in the first pace. Only then do we master resistance.
As a 1990s adolescent, 3 Doors Down was a usual suspect in my CD changer. In their breakthrough single, “Kryptonite,” the strange thing is that the song doesn’t just ask, “If I go crazy, will you still call me Superman?” It adds this: “If I’m alive and well, will you be there holding my hand?” In other words, the singer poses this: If he resists his kryptonites and his superpowers and super strengths shine, will it be too much for the one he wants? Will anyone stand by his side and his superhuman might? I listened to this song for the first time in probably twenty years. And I wondered, is the superhuman might he sings of just another kryptonite?
Then a couple of days ago, I got my epiphany.
It was one of those April days when everything seemed more skittish than usual. Spring break was drawing to a close and the tasks I didn’t get done were now upon me. The spare room had yet to see its full potential as that multifunctional guest bedroom/craft room I’d pledged to create, the grass was so tall it could hide any number of small, unwanted creatures, the kids’ school assignments remained untouched and still tucked away in their backpacks, and even the dogs seemed to have this look about them as if to say, “You’ve had seven days to bathe me...what gives, human?”
Then my little girl tugged at my sleeve, “Mommy, we’re still getting snoballs today, right? You promised we’d end our break at a snoball stand.”
It was the question that tipped the scale from skittish to frenzied. One more request. One more item to check off an unending list. One more time I won’t get everything done, and one more slip of my own credibility in which promises are broken.
I must have looked like I was on the verge of tears when I said, “Oh, Fiona, Mommy has so much to do.”
She looked at me blankly, as if her thought was so logical it didn’t need processing.
“Mommy, do you need me to help you?” she asked.
It was so obvious and yet, I couldn’t see it through my ridiculous superhuman costume--that angle I take each time I convince myself that I can do it all, which is that it’s easier to carry a full load alone than to admit I’m no more resistant to unrealistic expectations than anyone else.
And so in that innocent moment of clarity, my seven-year-old pulled away my blinders and I saw the kryptonite--years of lists, promises, and yes upon yes never completed, and silence when I didn’t want to be silent. All I’ve ever had to do is ask. Ask for help, ask for patience, ask to challenge--ask for permission to not be superhuman, just human. The crazy thing is, I never needed permission from anyone but myself.
I don’t know when I first lied to myself about my superhuman abilities, but I know enough to know that the people who inspire me consistently resist their weaknesses by simply investing in what is superior about themselves. They come upon such brilliance by energizing what strengthens them more than what weakens them. They never fully eradicate their kryptonites because there are no such things as superhumans. There are only really strong people, vulnerable to the same false pretenses to which my friend and I are susceptible. Something draws my friend to dead-end relationships. Something triggers my Super Annie ruse. What separates us from the people who inspire me is that, at one point, they eventually stopped believing the lies they told themselves, at least enough to stop being their own kryptonite.
Before we left the bar, I asked my friend what the guy said when she called him kryptonite.
“Did he even know what the hell you were talking about?”
“Yeah. He seemed a little offended,” she said. “But he didn’t defend himself either.”
With that, she downed the last of her rosé.
“Humph,” I considered.
He was a bad guy. They always are. And yet maybe he wasn’t the real kryptonite?
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.