Why I Love the X-men, pt. II

by Randall S. Frederick

In the mid-Seventies, under the writing of Chris Claremont, similar themes were explored. Jean Grey, the only female of the original team when the comic premiered in 1963, grows into a mutant so powerful that her death attracts the attention of a cosmological entity of destruction and rebirth, the Phoenix. This force revives Jean in 1976 and makes her into a demigoddess through its power to resurrect life. Jean, inhabited by the Phoenix, is now able to read the thoughts of every living being and manipulate reality. The destructive powers of the Phoenix inside of her, in turn, attract the attention of an alien superteam who must defeat and ultimately kill her. Which they proceed to do. Only the Phoenix cannot be killed and, as the host for this power, neither can Jean. The narrative was never meant to be read superficially, Jean’s growth is internal. Having a cosmological force inside of you is great, but power was never the issue. Substance of character was.

Claremont takes the story in other directions too. Under his writing, the team expands to become more diverse – a member from Japan, another from Africa, from Russia, from the reservations of the Native People in America – and takes on stories exploring the role of faith (namely, Nightcrawler’s Catholicism and Kitty Pryde’s Judaism) in a time of superheroics and tragic loss. Claremont also takes the team to the future, briefly. In a storyline called “Days of Future Past”, readers see their favorite characters have been killed in action by the advancement of technology under hawkish governments. His writing explores the possibility of whether anyone – heroes, villains, even regular people – is able to create a better future if they know the consequences of their actions. The idea was revisited so many times that it becomes the defining theme of his writing run in the following decades. We discover that Jean has a daughter, Rachel, with her teammate Cyclops in a possible future. Rachel becomes trapped in the present, which in some ways is a relief because – here and now – she can affect events to presumably change the future in which she was born. However, this presents a time paradox: Changing the future means things will be better for everyone else but it also means Rachel will die. Again, the crisis is an internal one, even private. In the midst of the constant action of heroism, panel after panel examines the internal landscape of characters. Later, readers will discover that Jean and Cyclops have another child, Cable, who faces the same dilemma. Once again, the child of these two characters will become trapped in the present and be faced with daily decisions regarding his future. As the story develops even further – and here, we arrive in the mid-Nineties when I began reading comics – readers discover more time-travelers who face the same complex knot of their own existence. Is it better to die today than face the challenge of tomorrow? 

A month after my stepfather’s public explosion, my brother was diagnosed with Autism. At that time, Autism was a mysterious but increasingly frequent diagnosis at that time. Celebrities held fundraisers to raise awareness, but the truth was no one understood it. One book said it was the mother’s fault. Another said Autism was a result of vaccines. Still another said it was a result of processed foods in America, water contamination, air pollution. Again, my mother cried. She is, I think, still crying some two decades later. After a husband abandoning her, then being told that her child from this marriage was Autistic – whatever that meant – and having an unsupportive, indeed hostile and toxic family were not enough, you must still remember Reader that she was grieving the death of her mother. She had not fully processed the loss, caught in the landslide of a now fractionated family eager to blame her and excuse themselves. Apart from her family, the immediate impact of losing her mother caused her to spiral through one decision after another. Reinforced by their words and behavior, she began to believe their abuse. The psychological and emotional toll of that one event, her mother’s death, was incalculable. 

Before my brother was diagnosed, my mother became sick and then progressively got sicker with an undiagnosed illness. We were too poor for her to see a doctor and after all, what did it matter? She wanted to die and felt she had no reason to live. According to her family, she was the reason for everything terrible that had transpired. Her mother died because she wasn’t there. Her husband divorced her because she wanted to be respected and loved instead of enduring his abuse. Her second husband was gay, which proved she was a failure as a woman. And now she had a child with Autism? Clearly, she was the problem. To my memory, she laid down and didn’t get back up for almost a year. Depression and unrelenting migraines made her an invalid. Like the biblical figure Job, she maintained that God would never give us more than we could bear but still, what the fuck, right?

The psychologist who diagnosed my brother with Autism was cheery. She assured my crestfallen mother that things would be alright. It would all work out. God had a plan and He gave this child to our family for a reason. The best course of action was going to church – we went to church, didn’t we? – and accepting the label as a death sentence. “I see this all the time,” she assured us. “It really will feel like a death but thank God for the resurrection!” It was an intense form of toxic positivity, one able to ignore that even Jesus wept sometimes. 

As we were leaving, the psychologist patted me on the shoulder and reminded me that I should be a good solider. I “had to be the responsible one now.” I’m not sure what I mumbled in reply, but I remember that I laughed. It felt by then that I had been the responsible one for years. I had been the responsible one, telling my mother yes I thought it was a good idea to divorce my dad. I was the responsible one, telling her I wasn’t mad that she was smoking cigarettes, I was just disappointed. I was the one encouraging her to go to bed so she could sleep off whatever her chosen vice was that evening. I was the responsible one who would clean up the living room, pick up the broken lampshade, attend to my brother, work odd jobs so we could squeak through another month of Just Barely. I was the responsible one, telling her that this man – the one who would become my stepfather – had beaten a child and threatened my life. I was the responsible one when he threw me across a kitchen and held a boning knife to my throat when I threatened to make his abuse public. I had been the responsible one mowing lawns in the summer and raking yards in the Fall when my stepfather walked off a job and my mother was bedridden with depression, then drugs and alcohol, then depression, then this undiagnosed illness of hers. I had been the responsible one who didn’t even complain when she refused to enroll me in 9th grade. Instead, I pivoted and began reading abandoned college textbooks, making sure not to go outside during the day so neighbors wouldn’t consider me a truant and compound the problems already taking place. Yes, I was quite the responsible trooper, soldiering on. I was the responsible one who watched his brother when she went back to college. I was the responsible one who testified against his stepfather in court, even when he didn’t show up for the hearing. I was the responsible one who rationed a box of crackers with his mother one Thanksgiving to make sure his brother would have diapers. I had been the responsible one for a decade. But, according to this expert, I needed to be the responsible one now. So I laughed.

I think about that moment a lot. Her office was located at the corner of King of Kings Avenue and Lord of Lords Avenue in Pineville, Louisiana. This remains a perverse irony, many years later. In my mind, I can recall the incline of her parking lot, the other tan brick offices in the office park, the McDonald’s conveniently across the street, but it is her cheeriness, her conviction that everything would be okay at the intersection of these two streets that stays with me most. Whether these events were tragicomedy or sober reality, her words explain my longstanding pessimism toward Evangelicals who are too eager to celebrate every coincidence as providence and bypass the painful quotidian with a misplaced optimism. Bluntly, it was easy for her to issue this “death sentence” on my brother because, after all, he wasn’t her kid. It was easy for her to tell me I needed to grow up and be responsible because that’s what anyone would say in these circumstances. Toughen up. It only gets worse from here. I recognize that her misplaced optimism as well as her encouraging pessimism were the best she could offer, but whatever the intent, her vapid inconsideration hurt. Desperate for any remedy though, I took her words to heart. I needed to, as she said, be responsible. I needed to, as the Bible teaches, “put away childish things” and stop hiding in my books. I needed to grow up, to “get over it” and embrace the real world. I needed to get rid of my comics.

In 2000, X-men was translated to film. Marvel, facing various financial and legal problems, optioned some of their properties for leverage – Blade the Vampire Hunter, X-Men, Punisher, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, and a few others that never made the transition to either serialized or cinematic screens. Blade, while a cult classic today, did not resonate. I was aware of the popular roleplaying game the film “borrowed” (stole?) from, Vampire: The Masquerade, and did not enjoy the departure Fox Studios took from the source material. In fairness, I was disappointed in most of the other Marvel-leveraged projects for the same reason. The movies were not familiar characters or stories. Spiderman and X-men were debatable exceptions. 

Spiderman, released in 2002, gave Americans permission to celebrate duty and heroism after the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. X-men, coming before the attacks, was a compactly grim vehicle for antiheroes. Wolverine is an undefeatable brawler in a Canadian bar who slowly recognizes there is safety in numbers. End Credits. It’s a familiar trope, the loner who comes in from the cold. The wicked villain convinced peace is only achievable by killing unnamed politicians. Evil, as the film presents it, takes the form of those who challenge the status quo. These were our villains, people who named injustice and wanted something better. Familiar, yes. Simplistic, yes. Devoid of the elements that made X-men great, abso-freakin-lutely. I watched the movie and enjoyed it as fan service, but it did not feel familiar. Costumes were stripped of color for uniform black leather. Kinky, but not what I grew up with. 

Storm, a literal goddess in the comics, was defeated at the hands of a savage white man who could barely talk. He shows disregard for her body and literally chokes her, a prophetic image that would become familiar to Americans a generation later. This confusion of Storm’s role on the team was not worth exploring, though and we, in our American eagerness for spectacle, might excuse it. In the scene where her character is choked, Halle Berry’s head was actually smashed into a wall on set and she was severely injured. A decade later, she continued to speak about that scene and how it had affected her, but at the time, the producers probably didn’t want to challenge her further. She was a problematic black woman on set, not strong enough to be slammed into a wall, knocked out, and choked by another actor. Maybe she should have taken professional advice and been more responsible.

Similarly, Magneto, portrayed by stage legend Sir Ian McKellan, is able to control the magnetic fields of the Earth in the comics. Instead, his character seeks a way to release the mutant powers of all humans. He fails miserably, instead transmutating his test subjects (unnamed politicians and world leaders) into amorphous blobs of goo. It doesn’t make sense for the character or the story. Rogue can’t fly. Professor X couldn’t read minds of anyone with a helmet on. Sabertooth, a wild and truly threatening playboy in the comics, is reduced to a non-verbal growling menace. Wolverine, with his complex backstory, is reduced similarly to an angry man. Little attempt is made at grounding his frustrations, suggesting to the audience that oppression is a real thing and it makes the oppressed people tired and angry. Every interaction Wolverine has in the film ends with him extending his claws – sometimes comedically, sometimes terminally, sometimes tragically. Again, I watched the film because I loved the comics and not because I actually enjoyed it. 

In the sequel, new characters are introduced. Nightcrawler, a religious exile, is made into a brainwashed circus performer. Wolverine continues to pop his claws, this time with sex appeal. Thanks to producer Avi Arad for recognizing what women want in a cinematic hero: a guy who can extend his indestructible appendages and ride a motorcycle. This time, the bad guy is an insider, a former military general who, like Magneto, wants to level the global population. Unlike Magneto, he tries to do this by deactivating the mutant gene, thereby making mutants normal. It is, to be clear, the plot of the first film but in reverse. Instead of making everyone a mutant, the villain now seeks to make mutants into normal, everyday people. I’m not sure which villain is worse; the one who wanted to make people exceptional or the other who wanted to make people mundane. Seems like a wonderful high school debate but not especially stimulating to those of us who know the history of these characters. Almost every mutant has lost their powers at some point in the comics through experiments, fatigue, or intervention of other mutants. Depowered, unpowered, or in hiding, they went forward to live a life that passed for normal in comic books. Marital partners would cheat. Drinking and drug issues would abound. Some superhumans set aside their abilities and become accountants or teachers. A few enter the law profession. They pay their bills, they take vacations, they have families and fight with those families over who does the dishes. As it was with Jean Grey and the Phoenix, the issue was never the powers but instead the individual’s character and substance. Spiderman 2 proves this.

The greatest issues affecting the hero of Spiderman 2 are whether Peter will declare his love to his high school sweetheart, continue going to class, manage an argument with his best friend and whether he would be able to pay his rent on time. If the villain of X-men 2 had been successful, a lot would change – no more mutants – but the greatest crisis would be whether X-men 3: Jean Grey Gets Audited would be exciting. Wolverine gets a papercut. Okay, and? Does Hugh Jackman still take his shirt off? He does, great! I’ll buy a ticket to that. A de-powered, confused Spiderman is not a challenge to the genre. Exploring who these people are apart from their sources of power is a thematic anchor. Even in real life, apart from the movies, we want to know about celebrities when they are not on camera. This is why Iron Man needs to prove that he is solid even without his suit, Captain America that he has a moral core even when he loses his shield. Audiences want spectacle, sure. But they also want to care. Audiences of Spiderman 2 apparently liked what they saw and let’s face it, narrative originality is not a prerequisite for audiences. Soap operas entertained audiences five times a week (and sometimes in primetime specials!) for decades even as they unapologetically recycled, borrowed, and revisited storylines. Fast & the Furious has proven consistency is key, but it’s nothing without family. X-men 2 and Spiderman 2 proved that superhero movies were a commercial success even when they departed or reimagined the characters because people gravitate towards character studies. Heroes, like religious figures, are a reflection of our mistakes as well as our aspirations. Writers could retell the same story over again and audiences would eat it up. 

Naturally, there would be another sequel after X-men 2. Wolverine would get two spinoff adventures of his own. Then the team would be rebooted in the 1960s with yet another sequel and another to follow. To date, nine X-men movies (plus a failed attempt at an adjacent film, The New Mutants) have been made and they’ve all been watchable. While they were not great in my estimation – seriously, what the hell was Oscar Isaacs doing with his depiction of Apocalypse? – they were more or less successful. More importantly, they inspired a new generation of fans. My brother, born in 1996, has only known the X-men through their movies. The animated series I grew up with, in contrast, was superfluous to him. Batman is Christian Bale and Ben Affleck, not Kevin Conroy or Michael Keaton. Batman didn’t wear multi-colored spandex. X-men, real X-men, wore black leather outfits without shoulderpads or cargo pockets. Wolverine was pessimistic, yes, but in a funny way, not the Gloomy Gus I grew up with. Wolverine always did the right thing. 

The last issue of my collection was Uncanny X-men #337, “Know Thy Enemy.” It was an epilogue to the appropriately titled storyline, “After Onslaught.” If you can, imagine me reading and then re-reading this issue with the light of a single lightbulb. For years, I took private amusement in this. “After Onslaught.” After the wreckage. I kept flipping pages, trying to figure out what had happened, what the ongoing storyline had to say about doing the right thing and growing up. Some heroes left. Some died. Some went a little crazy for a while. But it turns out, they were just fictional characters. That’s it. Real life was so much worse. Even during my own onslaught, I would sneak glimpses over the years in bookstores and supermarkets. Random issues here and there that never made it into the cart. Then the Twin Towers fell and superheroes, I discovered, were not equipped for the realities of the world. In a Borders bookstore, I became aware that the X-men went to space. The world was too much for them. In a supermarket aisle, I saw Superman go to therapy. The world, externally as well as internally, was decidedly disenchanted. X-men sat in a box at the foot of my closet until I sold them.

My uncle had gotten got so drunk that next Thanksgiving that he told my mother she should kill herself. Someone had asked how things were going and my mother told the truth, “Things aren’t going so great, to be honest.” Before these words were even out of her mouth, my uncle – pardon the expression – cut her off. He unclasped the knife from his belt, unfolded the blade, and handed it to her. “Here. Do it,” he sneered. “Get it over with. I’ll help.” There was no physical violence, no further threat. He did not gesture to her that he would do it himself. As a family, we knew the threat of physical violence. We even knew this knife. We had been here before. A decade earlier, one of my cousins held that same knife to his mother’s throat during a schizophrenic episode. He had been terrifyingly close to killing her. This is not what my uncle did; he merely tried to hand my mother the blade so she could do it herself. Taken together, this was not the most painful part of that day. Rather, it was the silence of other family members gathered there. Their acceptance, their complicity, told us they felt similarly. Having no food in the pantry except a box of saltines, we rationed crackers until the start of a new month.

The silence of other family members gathered there told us it was time to leave. 

You see, my little brother had been diagnosed a few weeks earlier with Autism because he was not meeting the prescribed benchmarks for someone his age. What I mean by this is that he, like many differently-abled young people, still wore diapers when he was five. He would continue wearing them until he was ten. That Thanksgiving, our presence was a reminder that all was not well with our family. Maybe it was easier to suggest suicide than name that. 

Here are some things we never discussed as a family. Allow me to name them:

  • My great-grandfather’s alcoholism. My grandfather barely knew his father before he died faced down in a ditch, ostensibly from pneumonia but then again how had he arrived in that ditch if not for the fact that he was the town drunk of War, West Virginia.
  • The abuse of my grandmother. My grandmother told me one summer that her mother regularly chased her with a knife, accusing her of being “a hussy” and “Jezebel” and – tellingly- that she was trying to seduce her own father. Punctuating this story, my grandmother added, “You know, a lot of girls in those days had babies with the dads and brothers, but I wasn’t one of them. We used to use vinegar or moonshine to stop all that and my daddy loved me, but he never did that.”
  • The death of my oldest aunt, Sandy-Kaye, when she was six years old, mangled by a tractor-trailer while walking home from school.
  • The mental and emotional collapse of my grandmother, pregnant with her third child, as a result of this. While my grandfather, an Adventist Christian pastor, spent most of his days outside of their house, visiting the members of his congregation or painting houses, my grandmother owned her own beauty salon. She was the primary earner for their small family. After the death of Sandy-Kaye, my grandmother was told her daughter’s death was a consequence of her “not being responsible” for her family, working outside the home at a time when many frowned on women doing this, much more owning their own business. It was her fault, she was told. She should have been there. 
  • The role of religion in compounding this grief. My grandfather was a pastor who, we discovered, encouraged the deacons of the church to visit his grieving wife a year after the death of Sandy-Kaye. They told my grandmother she just needed to get over it “and be more responsible.” After all, she had two more daughters to take care of, my aunt Janey and the newborn Frances-Anne. “Isn’t that enough?” She had abandoned God’s will by laying in bed all the time, suffering from what was obviously a mental breakdown compounded by their spiritual care. “You just need to get over it and be more responsible.” 
  • My second aunt, Janey, married when she was fifteen years old. My grandparents agreed to the marriage because Janey, it was known but never discussed, was physically and sexually abusive to my mother. Janey became pregnant a year later and, after the birth of my cousin – who she always said she hated – she began beating her daughter, Samantha. It was so bad, in fact, that a relative called my grandparents who were living in North Carolina then, to assure them “If you don’t come get this girl, Janey is going to kill her. You can either come get Samantha now or you can start preparing for a funeral.” When they collected Samantha, she was painted in green-yellow and purple bruises. But at least Janey didn’t use a safety-pin on her daughter’s clitoris, or place a plastic bag over her mouth, which had been her previous favorite forms of torture. 
  • My third aunt, Frances, began experimenting with black men during the tail end of the Civil Rights Era. She was married at the time, so, you know, double taboo of silence there. Her cuckolded husband, a white pastor known for his cleft palate, was granted a quick divorce when Frances delivered a black son without the characteristic palate. Frances maintained she had not had an affair, but her son was black “because I had excess iron when I was pregnant. That can happen, you know, people can be born black when there’s too much iron.” My grandparents raised this child too, but when Frances was pregnant a second time shortly after her divorce, they put their foot down. “We’re not raising another nigger baby,” my grandfather warned her. “So if this is another nigger, you need to get an abortion instead of embarrassing your family. Again.” Instead, Frances had the baby, a girl, and immediately gave her up for adoption without ever seeing her. 

In 1991, my grandmother died from complications following surgery. She had, it turns out, been the only thing holding this fractured and abusive family together. Ten years earlier, when my cousin held the knife to Frances’ throat, it was my grandmother who told him to put the knife down. When Janey came close to killing her firstborn daughter, it was my grandmother who agreed to take Samantha in. It was my grandmother who kept the peace in the family. Indeed, she more than any other member of this toxic pool had been able to understand how to negotiate the abuse because she had been living with it her entire life, dodging thrown objects from one family member or the threat of incest from another, the anger and frustration of the recession, the loss of life, well-meaning religious platitudes, and coming so close to living the life you wanted only to suffer another setback. Now that she was gone, better natures had receded into the gloaming. Who we were, who would could be, when left alone with another had been revealed in her absence.

You can imagine the lessons my mother, the youngest of four daughters, took from all this, the hide-and-seek of silence. Her role, I suppose, was to not do anything remarkable. Don’t die, for one. Don’t abuse your child to the point of death. Lie whenever you get caught – even if your lies become so outlandish and convoluted that it shames everyone who hears it. If possible, abandon responsibility. Whatever you do, for good or ill, just don’t bother anyone with it. 

When she sat down that Thanksgiving with one divorce behind her and another to a recently-out husband on the horizon, she had been suffering for a while, not only from the dynamic of paranoia and fear, but from recognizing time and again that even when you succeeded, no one at the table was going to support you or congratulate you. Although my mother was not asking anyone for help that Thanksgiving, the family lived in a perpetual state of fear that she might. After all, they had all needed help at some point. My grandfather couldn’t get his wife out of a depressive episode, so he asked the leaders of his church to say what he couldn’t – “Get up. Make breakfast. Be responsible.” My aunts had proven, without fear of objection in saying this, they were both unfit mothers. Hell, they were unfit humans. So when my mother was asked how things were going, the appropriate response was to continue the silence, to say she was okay and responsible enough to handle whatever she was going through, even if she – like the X-men years before – was in the aftermath of the onslaught. 

Imagine the outstretched knife again. Hear the words one more time.

“Just kill yourself.” Snap. “Here. Do it. Get it over with. I’ll help.”

Maybe my uncle said this in a joking way. We’ve all said inappropriate things at inappropriate times. Maybe he said it for shock value at an otherwise quiet table. Maybe it was said to break the somberness of what, in that precise moment, he wished were more lively. Whatever it was and however it was meant, the compounded silence of our family showed their tacit agreement. We should probably just die. Wouldn’t that be easier for everyone? No one wanted to take responsibility for an abandoned family. We were orphans and maybe had been from the moment my grandmother died. We couldnt’t cut it – hell, last year we couldn’t even put food on the table and serve them on time. We had failed in our last remaining role as servants to them. Still, the dynamic was there. We were the emotional servants of these people and, superior to us, their silence came with a demand. It was time for all of us – my mother, my brother, and I – to grow the fuck up and get over whatever it was that was keeping us in poverty. Either kill yourself and get it over with or stop talking about it.

So we did. Beaten down and having had enough, my mother and I looked at one another and we left, our plates untouched. We hadn’t even passed the rolls yet. If I spoke with my uncle again after that, I don’t remember it. I saw him in the bread aisle of Wal-Mart once and, recognizing one another, we turned away and headed in opposite directions.

There were suicidal ideations, of course. How could there not be? My own family wanted my mother, my brother, and I dead. Whenever my mother left the house, I would go to where her gun was at and walk around the house with it, trying to determine which room would allow me to kill myself without creating too much of a mess. I wanted to die, but I didn’t want to be an inconvenience. What kept me from actually killing myself was that I never figured out how suicide could be anything other than inconvenient to my mother. Mulling over how to do this, I once bought a mop and a bucket, a tub of sheetrock putty, and Mr. Clean because if my death was going to be messy, at least she wouldn’t have to spend money. I was trying to be responsible, you see. Hadn’t that been what the psychologist told me to do? Day by day, I leaned into our poverty and refused to eat. I lost twenty pounds, then another thirty. People at church said I looked great, and who was I to contradict them? Poverty and starvation were sexy well beyond the Nineties, but then again I wasn’t the only one affected by these lean years. Having already given up so much, I did most heroic thing I could imagine. I sold my childhood for thirty dollars.

A couple of years later, when I told this story, one of my former therapists began to cry. I’m not sure how I framed it or which detail he got hung up on, but when he began crying, I was thoroughly unimpressed with his inability to handle and process something I had already accepted. The comics, my childhood, food, the comforts with which I had sedated myself were insufficient to the current dilemma. They were, upon reflection, preventing me from “getting over it” – whatever ‘it’ was. Surviving sometimes demands that we cut off parts of ourselves mentally, even physically. Hadn’t comic books taught me as much? When I attended church, it seemed the refrain was that Jesus sacrificed himself for you and now it is time to sacrifice yourself. Die to yourself, if you have to. Give up your old self. Renew yourself in the embrace of the unknown  – but Jesus, stop talking about it. Shit. We’re trying to have a nice fucking meal here and you’re fucking ruining it.

Taking that first step of self-negation, self-sacrifice, “getting over it,” forgetting, all of these require that we kill parts of ourselves and, Reader, allow me to say that I was getting rather good at it by this point. As Sylvia Plath put it, dying is an art, like everything else. Sometimes it takes time and sometimes it takes more than one attempt. Even before all of this, watching people jump from the Twin Towers, I envied them. Can you believe that? I envied them. Their vertical descent was more beautiful and artistic than anything I had seen up to that point. Killing yourself is not always a physical thing, though. There are dozens of ways to do it – self-sacrifice, forgetting, “killing the inner child,” giving up what I loved most in trust and confidence that God would provide. These are all broad strokes to the art, though. Let me direct your attention to something specific: those comics, acquired over a decade, were sold to a red-headed man who gave me $30. This was the price of my childhood. $30.

Years later, my father told me I should have bought stock in a company with the money instead. “Would have been tough being hungry with no electricity, but it would have helped someone else. You’re not really smart, are you? You’re what we call ‘financially illiterate.’ Are you even my son?”

Instead, I bought groceries and a pack of diapers. This and a box of crackers got us to the 15th of December. The shop was called The Phoenix, ironically. Appropriately enough, it was not the first time they had opened or closed or opened again, though I will add this detail: After I sold my collection, they closed for the last time. There would be no more resurrections. The Phoenix had finally died and, in a sense, so had I. I had found a way to kill myself without creating a mess.

It wasn’t just the comics; that was the start of a long process of erasing the majority of my life. By the end of February, I sold all of my toys. I sold posters. I sold everything that the general person would have walked into my life and identified as “not adult.” Clothes, VHS cassettes, books, CDs, all gone. You want this television? That’s another $20. You want this picture frame? Sure thing, just left me throw this photo of myself away. In this, I was not alone. Although we never talked about it as it was happening, never analyzed it, my mother was right there with me selling jewelry from her first marriage, her second, her mother’s mementos, trinkets acquired over a lifetime, albums that had brought her joy, the scarf she got at a Stevie Nicks concert before I was born. She was wasting away and selling what she could alongside me.

Concluded in part III

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