A Selfie Within the Mythic and Domestic
I used to live for the scent of my English teacher’s perfumes, and label them according to whatever mood prevailed in my head since homeroom period: Elizabeth’s Garden for feeling so-so, Piss of Prada for vindictive, or Dolce & Putana when I was on the verge of ditching classes for the nearby arcade. Welcome to the world of sixteen, a fresh, uncompromising age of hyper-consciousness about one’s body image and body language, framed in the logic of erotic thoughts that makes adolescence the normative boot-camp for sexual awakenings. Indeed, a teacher is always involved somewhere in the narrative of these awakenings.
In my case, my English teacher occupied the face of Wonder Woman and Red Sonja in numerous sketchbooks. But who knows, maybe I was just a sucker for large, green eyes back then, almost reptilian in the way they looked at you, as though her radar could figure out I was destined to be a C-student in her class. Of course if you’re part of the league who wears cool so naturally, you’d look even cooler trashing assignments in the bathroom, because a D-paper on a poem by Sylvia Plath or Andrew Marvell has no impact on your desire to be the first pick after baseball tryouts.
But I still remember the hate words about her on bathroom stalls, and their counterparts in social media back then. I got sucked into the schadenfreude that tore my teacher apart to pieces online, however marginal and cautious my echoes were against the hateful variations of ‘slut of the year’ on MySpace.com. This was more than ten years ago, before the term ‘cyberbullying’ wasn’t a buzz-word yet among parents, teachers, and legislators. But in the privacy of my charcoal sketches, I had my own thing: my teacher was something else: she was the energy of Batgirl and Superwoman, and other beings who replenished the world from elements who deserved to be eliminated.
Unfortunately, my teacher didn’t have their power in real-life. She didn’t survive our school. She was fired, and probably ditched teaching for another career. Maybe we knew this would happen, after all the rumors we consumed like smoothies at 7-eleven, that her affair with two football players would eventually make it to the evening news someday. One time, she said “Good job,” when I got a B+ on a short-story assignment that used Ernest Hemingway’s father-and-son story “Indian Camp” as a prompt. But before walking back to the blackboard, she looked at me a certain way that signaled something intimate, and made my workouts at the gym feel worth my time. This moment was probably the highlight of my life for the rest of high school.
It’s almost 2am now. From my drawing table on the Hollywood Hills, the city appears deceptively calm. After earning a fine arts degree on the east coast, I felt like a stray cat for a few years and survived on part-time gigs in production companies around Burbank and Downtown L.A. I was too afraid to settle down in a nine-to-five rhythm of something stable that might pay for medical insurance, house mortgage, and a set of shiny wheels that makes you feel nostalgic of your Japanese jalopy. But I’ve moved on. I’ve been employed for almost six years now for an imprint of Milo Comics, while moonlighting as an art teacher for a summer extension course at a junior college.
Now the on-going trend in my work at Milo is that women superheroes should not be exempt from the duties of motherhood, a separate galaxy entirely from the current trend of using the children of superheroes as protagonists. And I’m probably channeling my mother’s awesomeness for raising me alone, while pursuing a successful career as a real estate broker. But I’m not sure how my current work will fly though. We’re not exactly rebelling against the pornographic imagination of our usual teen-aged male demographic, because, the truth is, we’re simply not progressive enough to dismantle their ties to the rugged individualism of women superheroes who wear the waistline of Barbie dolls. No, my project is a kind of experiment: a somewhat-brave venture into an adult niche others may have ignored or haven’t tried yet: female readers between twenty-five to thirty-five, an energetic demographic of super-moms who juggle career-life and domestic life, and still feel young and adventurous.
Now and then, when I hold my one-year-old son away from his crib, I’d hum the first few bars of Superman: The Movie’s music soundtrack, and wonder how he’d make his dreams fly into the future. But frankly, I’m not sure what possessed me to agree with my wife and name him Kent; maybe it’s her light-brown eyes, and the way they inflect come-ons that once inspired a pick-up line I prefer not to remember. On the other hand, maybe I was channeling the mythical in the name, which might contain something positive and superlative for our son’s body and mind, a kind of prayer for a world that would challenge him with multiple kryptonites soon, like everyone else.
But looking at my son’s eyes in my arms, I sometimes wonder if my father had held me the same way years ago, before I was old enough to understand that he and my mother were simply not meant to be, or that they had a different arrangement bound by unspeakable things or truths festering in racial difference, the kind of story where, at first, I’d always cast him unfairly as the bad guy, that he never cared about me at all.
M. LELAND OROQUIETA has been a library page, draftsman, cashier, stray cat, and other things he can’t remember, while reading for a humanities course at university. He lives on a valley, near the edge of an ocean. His work has appeared or is forthcoming at The Galway Review, Cricket Online Review, Eastlit, Eunoia Review, Ink Sweat & Tears, Local Nomad, Lunaris Review, Origins Journal, Otoliths, and Queen Mob’s Tea House (Misfit Docs).