I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD when I felt certain I was Wonder Woman. Lying on a hospital bed, almost cured of dengue, and about to be discharged the next day, I had a revelation—a voice whispered to me telling me that I had to save the dying boy on the bed across me with my “wonder” powers.
The boy was in the hospital ward with me for two weeks. He came on the same night my father rushed me to the emergency room where doctors poked me with needles, got blood samples and told my father I had dengue fever and had to be hospitalized. The boy and I were then transferred to a hospital ward where six other children were also admitted because of dengue. In the succeeding days that I was in the hospital ward, I watched each child in that room die. Some of them, including the remaining boy I was certain I could save, died not because dengue killed them but because they couldn’t handle being hooked up through a dextrose bottle. Everyday, I saw nurses and doctors wrestle a child my age unto his/her bed as they tried to stick the IV needles for the dextrose into the child’s veins and eventually, failing in the process. Without the dextrose which I was told “delivers food into your body honey so that you won’t be hungry despite not eating anything since you got sick,” my fellow dengue sufferers died of dehydration. Yet, some of them died basically because their blood platelets skydived into oblivion. So dengue killed them anyway.
The remaining boy across me had the same story except that he stayed longer than the rest of them. His body refused to take in the dextrose so that the doctors had to stick IV needles in almost every part of his body where they could find visible veins. There were several needle marks on his body. Three were on both of his arms, one somewhere on his left leg, three on his buttocks and more on his hands and wrists. They first started sticking the needles in his wrist but overnight he pulled the needles out and blood gushed out of his wrists prompting nurses to panic. After several bloody instances involving needle-pullings, the doctors found other means to prevent him from “killing” himself by placing him in a straightjacket.
I called him “Pin-boy” or “needle-boy” as my sister took to calling him such names when she visited me. We sort of grew fond of him—his daily screams, his refusal to be pinned down on the bed, his refusal to live. We also grew fond of his alalays—the three women who accompanied and watched over him throughout his stay in the ward. They’d bring with them their crochet and knitting tools and would knit and crochet the whole day. After two weeks, they were able to finish a baby sweater, a short skirt and a tri-colored cloche hat adorned with sunflower appliqués. While they would be doing their crocheting and knitting, I would regale them with stories of Wonder Woman and her adventures culled from the many episodes I saw on TV and the DC comics my uncle lent me.
So when I had that revelation, I finally realized why I was sent to the hospital. It wasn’t because of dengue, I told myself. It was to save the children who were suffering of dengue fever. No wonder my condition stabilized right away. The first week was hell but the week after, I heard Dr. Buak (translation: Dr. Broken) assure my mother that my blood platelets were getting normal and that I’d be fine the week after. “But we have to observe her still,” Dr. Broken said. “Dengue can always attack by surprise. We have to be sure.”
Staring at the ceiling, I decided to do something. After all, I had no doubt whatsoever that I had “wonder” powers and that I was Diana aka Wonder Woman. I could save lives. Case in point: A week before, and two days after I got in the hospital, my brother had followed suit and got sick with dengue. (I guess the mosquitoes loved our family so much they wanted to contaminate us into the “denguehood.”) But luckily for my brother, he recuperated after a day and was only able to stay in the hospital for five days or so. I was certain that I had a hand in his recovery.
The night my brother got in, his temperature had already skyrocketed causing delirium. I was so scared that he had given up. His body shook, his eyeballs rolled like an epileptic, and he mumbled gibberish all night. I couldn’t bear watching him suffer all night, so I scooted over to his bed (which was beside mine), sat near his head and whispered a song to him to calm him down. He gradually settled after a song or two, and later hushed when I started telling him stories of Wonder Woman’s adventures. I ended up sleeping on his bed that night and the next morning, his fever had subsided as he broke into sweat.
I knew after my revelation that I had helped cure my brother. Hence, I was certain that I could save Pin boy from dying. I was also certain that my “wonder” powers involved the simple act of storytelling. I felt that if I could convince Pin Boy that I was Wonder Woman, he would finally realize that he wasn’t alone; that there was a reason to live after all.
The plan was simple: I would reveal my true identity that afternoon on the same day I received my revelation.
It was a typical afternoon for Pin Boy’s alalays. One of them had already began a new knitting project, a sweater for me as good-bye present since they knew I would be leaving soon, while the other two were chatting in low voices. Pin Boy was sobbing, as usual. The doctors had decided to stick another needle into one of the old marks on his arms. It was easier for them this time to hook him through the dextrose since he was in a straightjacket and couldn’t struggle like he used to. I waited for the right moment to interrupt their “usual” affairs. I waited for a gap, a gap of silence somewhere between the chatting and the sobbing, before exercising my powers.
I sat straight on the edge of my bed, faced them, and said aloud: “Do you know my secret?”
The woman who was knitting my sweater stopped, looked up, and with furrowed brows and a smile that looked more like a smirk, asked: “Uhm.. Okay, what’s your secret?”
I gazed at the three women’s curious faces, glanced at Pin Boy who had stopped sobbing and was staring at me his face deadpan, I sigh dramatically and blurted my secret.
“I am Wonder Woman.” I grinned then place my hands on my waist, arms akimbo.
Nobody spoke after I revealed my identity. They all stared at me for what seemed like eternity. Then Pin Boy spoke and asked me if I was telling the truth.
“Yes, of course,” I told him, still grinning. I knew that I had to look the part. Linda Carter was Wonder Woman in that TV series and she did look the part. I had never missed an episode of that TV series. Every night, I would practice doing Wonder Woman moves in front of the mirror. I would spin around my room several times, with my head going “wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder woman,” until I’d be too dizzy to stand. I also educated myself about Wonder Woman’s roots by reading the pile of comics my uncle gave which dated back to the first issue that chronicled Diana’s beginnings. My mother even gave me a costume on my seventh birthday, a red crochet bikini number, which she made all by herself. My sister and I bought golden tin foils to create my very own Wonder Woman tiara and wristbands to complete my outfit.
“Prove it,” Pin Boy glared. “Prove to me that you are indeed Wonder Woman.”
I wasn’t prepared for that. I thought that I’d be convincing enough. So I told everyone in the room that I would prove it but there’s no use doing so because I was in fact, Wonder Woman, and “heroines don’t have the habit of showing off their powers. They just save people. That’s all. And they’re not after fame and glory…”
Pin Boy glared at me. At that point, the three women were probably uncomfortable with our exchange that they decided to play along. What followed was a slew of questions thrown at me as though I was in an interrogation cell. Do you have an invisible jet? Where’s your lasso? How come you’re not wearing your costume? What happened to your tiara? Where were you born? Can you really fend bullets with those metal wrist bands?
I answered all questions carefully and confidently as I could. Nothing should come between me and my mission, I thought. Besides, I really believed I could ace every test they’d make me take since I knew every thing about Wonder Woman. I was her. I was Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, my answers didn’t convince Pin Boy as he kept rolling his eyeballs every time I spoke. And it was important to make him believe. He was after all my raison d’ etre. I had to save him.
“I can fly,” I said, starting to feel desperate. I looked Pin Boy and everyone in the eye, stuck my chin up in the air, and added, “I can even show you now. Here.”
This time, Pin Boy raised his head a bit, eyes twinkling, and exclaimed: “Show us! Show us! Now, now.”
I knew he was taunting me and I couldn’t stand being taunted. I was a seven year-old bully. At kindergarten school, nobody dared to bully me. My best friend Ethel Grace and I used to play Queens and had a sandbox as dungeon. We enjoyed luring handsome and pretty classmates to go play in the sandbox and then locked them inside. So I was beginning to get really annoyed at Pin Boy for egging me on, yet I also knew that I was not a quitter. I had to save him. There was greater mission to accomplish that was above it all. So with eyes narrowed, I told Pin Boy to “watch me fly.”
Carefully, I hoisted myself up to a standing position on the edge of the bed. From that vantage point, everyone in that room appeared smaller than me and I felt a rush of confidence. Stretching my arms above my head, my hands forming fists, I prepared for a graceful dismount. I inhaled then pushed my weight down on the bed propelling my body to a higher jump. The ceiling was inches away from my nose and I felt buoyant. For a second, I thought I was really flying until I saw the floor the getting nearer. That’s when I knew that I was falling.
My head landed right on the floor, on the space between my bed and Pin Boy’s bed. I couldn’t recall what happened after. My mother told me later that I was unconscious for an hour. The nurses found me slumped on the floor, blood streaming from my nose and ears, my body twitching. Apparently, I had a relapse. If Pin Boy’s alalays hadn’t called the nurses on time, I would have died of body trauma.
Dr. Broken’s face was the first one I saw when I regained consciousness. He forced my eyes open, beamed his flashlight, then continued pressing my stomach, checking my heartbeat with his stethoscope and asked me questions like: Can you hear me? How many fingers do you see? Later, he scolded me for being too active. “You were supposed to be resting. If should be or else you won’t get better,” Dr. Broken said. Then I saw my mother’s stern face and I knew I was in big trouble. By the time, my mother started nagging me about being so stubborn and stupid because “honey, you could have died!” I started drowsing off to dreamland.
The second time I woke up, I saw my mother sobbing and I had a feeling that something awful happened. I turned to my side to look at Pin Boy only to discover that he was no longer there. All I saw was an empty bed with fresh white sheets. His alalays were not there either. There were no traces of them having been there. No ball of yarns, no knitting sticks, no showbiz magazine, no radio, no sobs, no screams, no struggle, no life. Nothing.
It was as if they never existed in the first place.
“He died. That boy,” my mother said matter-of-factly. Then went on to tell me how I shouldn’t do what I did again, ever. “You worried me to bits. What would I have done if you died?” she sobbed.
Dumb-founded, I lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling, while my mother ranted on and on. Her voice seemed distant, her words meaningless as they melded with the soft drone of the airconditioner. Every thing seemed very strange at that moment, yet so vivid and clear at the same time. I could feel the gnawing pain caused by the IV needles stuck into my wrist. I could see the liquid dripping from my dextrose bottle into the long tube that’s connected to the needle stuck on my wrist. I could see perfectly that I was alone with my mother surrounded by eight empty beds covered in fresh white sheets.
“Don’t be sad. The boy died because he pulled his needle out again.” I heard my mother say.
But I didn’t care. At that moment, I was waiting for another revelation. I waited with eyes wide open the entire night. Amidst the starkness of my reality, I waited for an assurance, a voice telling me that I was Wonder Woman after all; that I could have saved that boy’s life even though I couldn’t fly. Or that I could fly even though I fell. Either way, I wanted to matter, I wanted to be her.
this essay was originally posted in adam’s reef: http://jeanclairedy.wordpress.com/2007/01/10/the-wonder-years/