I Was Batman

Many children pretend to be superheroes. It’s a common fantasy, along with the childhood desire to be a firefighter, police officer, or ray gun maker (I used to think that was a real job).

Unlike those other chumps, though, I never once pretended to be a superhero. When I was six, I actually was Batman. I’m serious! My mother fashioned my first Batsuit (I had several throughout the years) out of the world’s cheapest Adam West-era plastic mask (it only covered the front of my face), a football shirt (the brown helmet in the center looked kind of like a bat icon, if you were either drunk or not good at seeing), and a cape so thick that my neck bore a sweat-induced black ring long after I’d removed it at night. Did I care? Not one whit. I honestly believed I was this crime fighter, and as such, that I answered to a higher calling. There really should have been some kind of help for kids like me.

I wore that Batman costume many full days, and I still have pictures of me watching television, playing with my toys, and even eating with it on. My friends, also children, put up with it - maybe they respected me (as I hoped), maybe they felt sorry for me (the probable reality), but I’m willing to bet the sheer strength of character I showed by truly believing I was the Caped Crusader won them over. Maybe.

“It’s okay, Batman. We’ve got everything under control.”

It all changed for me one beautiful night, when any doubts I had about the reality of my “identity situation” were purged from my system completely. Since it was the 1970’s, young children were allowed to walk out their front doors in the evenings in order to visit accident scenes – which was fortunate for me because I lived in a semi-urban area of north Jersey just two houses away from a gas station, a very busy road, and (that night) a really ugly, but non-fatal, multi-car pileup.

While my parents were enjoying their post-dinner coffee, I heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights out our front window. Without hesitation I donned my Batman garb, told them I was “going out to play” and walked down to the end of the block to see what help I could offer. This was my big chance!

As I approached, I saw smashed cars, accident victims being put into ambulances, reporters, police vehicles and a small battallion of officers presiding over the scene. I’m pretty sure my speed slowed, because as much as I genuinely believed I would not be questioned in my Batman costume, the shock of being on the periphery of an honest-to-goodness accident caused me to hesitate. I stopped just short of the gas station parking lot, hoping not to be noticed as I worked up the courage to offer my services to the police on duty.

One officer must have been keeping an eye on me. Surely he sensed my apprehension and understood my intent. He walked over to me, and with a complete lack of humor that I am still grateful for, looked me square in the eye and said:

“It’s okay, Batman. We’ve got everything under control.”

I don’t know what I said to him after that, if I spoke at all. I know I made it home, somehow (maybe by walking backwards), and I know a switch had been permanently flipped in my brain. A real authority figure had acknowledged that I was Batman. Despite what I had thought prior to that moment, I must have been harboring some doubt - because now, without question, the hero and I were one.

I told anyone would would listen - my family, neighborhood friends, that old man Duncan who liked to eat pastries in front of his house - and they nodded and acted impressed, though their enthusiasm was clearly lacking. In retrospect, they may not have even believed that the incident ever occurred. It was a formative experience for me, though, perhaps blending fantasy and reality so convincingly and at such a young age that I’ve never fully recovered. Deep stuff, huh?