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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Interview with Natasha, a superhero from #BecomingHero (Comic coming May 2016; Book Summer 2017)

It's interview time again, but this time we're on a rooftop overlooking a city with the wind in our faces and only a hint of motor oil smell filtering up from the streets below. A river sparkles in the sunset as tugboats and industrial ships honk, and thunder sounds even though there isn't a cloud in the sky.

The thunder grows nearer, and rocketing towards us like a shooting star, arrives Natasha. Natasha lands with a thud on the rooftop, her fists pounding the cement before her knees hit. "You wanted to talk to me?"

She's my favorite.

"Yeah, yeah I did." I shake as she offers me her solid grip. The rings over her gloves pinch me a little; I point at them. "Those are cool."

"Thanks." She doesn't tell me that she shoots sonic blasts out of those to propel her through the air, or take on human traffickers, but she does say, "I designed them."

"Very cool. Aren't you still in high school, though?"

"That doesn't mean bullcrap. If I take out the time and put in the work I can do anything."

"Wow, okay then." She's a little intense, and I'm not sure how to answer that platitude. "Well, I bet you're busy, so let's dive right in. I like to start easy. What's your favorite food?"

She starts and doesn't stop. "I'm trying to eat more organic lately, I guess. I'm also working on eliminating food waste, to drive down world hunger. All the food resources we misuse could go to ending malnutrition. Did you know that if we all just ate what we needed, and saved our leftovers instead of throwing them out, we'd save $165 billion dollars that could go to supporting small businesses in less economically privileged areas?"

"Uh--" Yeah, I did know that (it's public knowledge through the NRDC), but I can't hand her the End of World Hunger on a plate as an interview snack. "You want...peanuts?"

She laughs. "Actually, I just ate. Guardian potluck. Black Butterfly made this awesome rice--some kind of Middle Eastern thing--and Skye brought his mom's takoyaki."

"What did you bring?"

She laughs again. She's the merriest person I've ever interviewed, for sure. "Collard greens and fried chicken. That's not usually my style--I go for that Japanese cuisine--but my mom's a Southern girl, and that's what she made, so that's what I brought."

"You didn't make anything yourself?"

"Ha! I can't cook for crap." She sits on the edge of the building and waves me to sit down, too. I kind of want to decline, but I don't want to let her outdo me, so I inch forward until my legs dangle over the tangling traffic, too. "You know what, though, I could go for pizza," she says.

"That I can do." I crawl back away from the edge, jump to my feet, wave my hand, spin, and when I'm facing her again I've got a piping hot pepperoni. I'm wondering if it's going to be an issue--pepperoni's a major abuse meat--but I couldn't think of anything else. 

She steps back. "Oh wow, that's super-generous. I literally was thinking like we could share a slice or something. This is a awesome--we should share with those guys!" She points down the street to the corner I can barely see.

"Oh, the homeless guy," I say. "Superhero work never ends for you, does it."

"Yeah, I don't believe in small talk, small thoughts, or small people."

"Wait," I tease. "Isn't that discriminatory against people with achondro--"

"Shut up, you know what I meant." Natasha punches my arm and grabs the pizza. "No small spirits, no small dreams. Let's go!"

I follow, a little overwhelmed. The "homeless guy" has a name, and Natasha knows it well. Dave's having trouble getting back on his feet since his wife left him, and Natasha's trying to get him into a temp agency. "He's a super-talented architect, but with his trouble, well." She shrugs and injects an imaginary syringe into her arm. "I'm thinking of taking out the guy who deals to him, but I'm not really done figuring out what that might do to the local trade. I don't wanna make the sitch worse." She abbreviates situation oddly and makes a point of adding, "Not all the folks in this area are users, though, you know. They just really need a chance."

I just nod and smile. Watching her laugh and joke with Dave tells me far more than anything she's said so far. She's a different person in action--the preaching at me, the desire to prove something to a world that refuses to change, the subsurface unease, all drops away, and she's a fountain of strength that Dave seems to know well. She's cool. She's confident. She's not afraid to punch him in the arm and ask when he's going to hit up a methadone center to get off "it," and he's so comfortable with her he's not afraid to be honest about why he doesn't want to deal with getting clean right now.

"It'll be there when you're ready."

"I honestly don't know if I ever will be, Nat."

"You will."

"You're an amazing kid, you know, but some of us just aren't like you. When you get older you'll understand."

"No, I believe in you," she says. She notices me again, standing here like a cardboard cut-out, and jerks her head in my direction. "We gotta head out, Dave. I'll see you around, okay?" She leads the way, and I follow, as apparently she's decided to set a new location for this interview over which I just don't seem to have much control.

"We all have our crap to deal with," she says. "We're all the same. Dave, you, me, the freakin' president, it's all a battle. Everything's a fight."

"Everything? Even love?"

"You kidding me? Especially love."

"And what's your fight?"

"People say I have trouble picking my battles."

"Are you fighting that?"

"No really. It's just a thing people say. They also say I need to focus my priorities and become more realistic. They diagnosed me with ADHD when I was a kid, you know. I'm difficult."

"And what do you say?"

"Nothing. I've got stuff to do." She pauses, and then answers honestly. "I don't know what to do with my life."

She grips a fire escape and starts to climb. I'm out of shape, huffing behind her, as we rise. "What do you mean by that?"

"There's too much need. The hell am I gonna do when I graduate high school next year? World hunger? Human trafficking's a huge problem, and I can fight, but do I want to deal with the politics and corruption of police work? I love experimental physics. I love it! My internship's the highlight of my day. But what would I be doing playing with force and sound in a lab all day while people out there starving?" As she gets frustrated her grammar changes a bit, and I wonder if that's her southern mother coming out. "And now there's this guy I like, and I can't tell him, because I don't know if I have time to be a wife or a mom, and I know that's thinking way ahead but I don't wanna be wasting my time and my body with something that isn't permanent, you know? I'm better than that." She's not politically correct, and the passion's, again, intense, but I don't say anything.

"You believe in fate?" she asks suddenly.


"Fate. Like someone's planning your life."

"Well." This is awkward because she's in a comic book, which is inside a story, and in that story her author doesn't treat her right, and I'm not exactly sure what that says about me, the person who invented her author. But she doesn't know any of that yet, at least not beyond--well--"Do you believe in God?" I ask. There's my way out.

"Yeah. Not like my mom does--she's way baptist--but yeah. And if it's God, or fate, or whatever, I'm wondering why this guy just happens to be in a physics internship, like mine, and just happens to do rescue work in a suit like I do--I mean, how may people in the world do this? Like thirty out of 7.4 billion? And we've met, and I'm wasting time thinking about little things like how sushi's the best thing ever and he likes that, too, and how we both dig folk and weird alternative hip-hop like no one else likes, and I'm wasting my time but--shoot, what if it's meant to be?" She stops. "I sound like those stupid girls who think every thing with a flat chest is their soulmate. Listen," she shakes my hand with both of hers all of a sudden. "This has been great--really therapeutic--but I've got a history reading to do and a history teacher to argue with tomorrow. I'll see you around." 

"Good luck with your--decisions," I stammer.

"I don't need luck." She grins. "But if you're handing it out I'll take some." I wave my hand as if showering her with fairydust, and she bows, and rockets off.

The End

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