The gun fired and we were off to the races. I was one of the first to dive in the water without a moment’s hesitation; it was as if Denzel trained me himself. It was the early-mid 80s so “Eye of the Tiger” was quite possibly in rotation on the radio as I stroked ahead of the pack, feeling fresh and new, keeping my eyes on the arrows directing our path.
To my surprise I saw another racer coming up on my left. I pushed harder, inspired by the spirit of competition until I saw another coming on my right. The one on my left shoved me to the side and called me a name; the one on my right spat water in my face as they moved in front.
Not wanting to look back — looking back displays weakness! — the pack began to overtake me and swim ahead pulling me from the leader, to second place, to fifth place, and then to the middle of the group. I started to flail in panic, realizing that despite my quick dive, I am naturally a terrible swimmer. I continued to flail in desperation as my best efforts were only met with more passersby.
“This is bullshit,” I thought, tears welling in my eyes, at an obvious disadvantage because, well, stereotypes. “Who are these good swimmers? How many of my ancestors were messing with white people?”
I gagged on water as two hundred million other swimmers left me behind. I paddled slowly to the sidelines, dejected, and leaned on the wall.
“Whatever,” I said to no one in particular. “I didn’t want to win anyway,” my voice cracked at the lie.
I had turned around and was almost back to the start when I heard screams from behind me. I looked over my shoulder to see a tidal wave in the distance, the largest I had ever seen, pulling everyone under as they fought against the current. I saw the two front-runners fighting under the wave, having turned against each other near the finish. The crest of the wave came crashing down as I dove into the starting cave, barely catching the edge and holding on for life. I was never very strong, and I couldn’t hold on, so I fell to my fortunate fate. I fell slowly back down and stared in awe from my descent as the rest of the pool was airlifted away.
I was born on the heels of the Bronze Age of Comics. The Bronze Age — precursor to today’s Modern Age — saw comic creators returning to more socially relevant storylines as it evolved with the times: Spider-Man and Iron Man struggled with substance abuse, Lois Lane became Black for a day, and Luke Cage became the first Black superhero to star in their own comic. This evolution was likely a large part of what made comics more relatable and accessible to people like me. So when I think back to when I become a “geek” myself, I’m reminded of Stan Lee on the early days of the Marvel Universe:
“I could think of superpowers for them, but how do they get their powers? I have already had cosmic rays and gamma rays and bitten by a radioactive spider. What was left? So I said I’m going to just say they were born that way. They’re mutants… and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.”
Can you think of a better way to put it? The sequential art, the suspension of disbelief, the dialogue that was digestible to a young kid from Detroit — like mutants themselves, I was just born into it. Many of us have loved comics and animation for as long as we can remember.
Weak swimmer that I am, I was still born to love art as a dynamic storytelling medium thanks to improper use of a condom. I still don’t swim much because, well, stereotypes… but cue the Lady Gaga music because I made it out alive, baby. I was born this way.