Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Hero Re-Discovered

This image is from a comic book series called Mage, and while it may not seem to have anything to do with my leukemia right now, well... keep reading.

Mage was an independent series created by Matt Wagner in the mid-1980s. I was an easy mark for it, because I've always loved stories that map ancient legends and figures to the modern day. In the 1990s follow-up series Mage Vol. 2: The Hero Defined, the cast expanded, including the character you see on the far left: Joe Phat, the modern-day incarnation of the trickster Coyote figure.

Anything who knows anything about independent comics of the era knows that Joe Phat was a black, dreadlocked version of his pal and fellow comics artist Joe Matt. But it took about two seconds to realize that despite Wagner's intentions, Joe Phat was, well, me. Absent the dreads, Coyote wore the same glasses I did. We had the same physical build. He shared an apartment in Montreal with his two cohorts, and his room looked an awful lot like mine. He was a talk-too-much, always-grinning trickster. And his power was to run at super-speed. He ran like I loved to run.

It's hard for a middle-class black kid to find a comics character they really relate to, but Coyote and I resonated on exactly the same frequency. There's even a scene in The Hero Defined which spoke directly to a very painful part of my life at the time I was reading it.

When a Coyote t-shirt became available, I couldn't afford it. I bought it anyway. When I wore it I felt unbeatable, like I could get out of any situation and come out on top, just using wits and speed. Knowing that I'd wear the thing out in no time at all if I wasn't careful, I tried to only wear it on special occasions, and I'm happy to say it survived pretty well even into the first few years of my son's life. (It also outlasted my ability to run. I damaged my knee in 2000, and I can't run flat-out anymore. I miss that a lot.) Eventually, though, the shirt gave up the ghost, and my attempts to replace it over the years have been futile.

Now we come more or less to the present.

Last week I was resting at home, enjoying my renewed mobility even if I was still a bit under the weather. My mom dropped by with a package from Tamu—we're always shuttling stuff back and forth—and handed me something I couldn't open until they got the camera so they could photograph my reaction. Of course, that set off alarm bells. I removed the item from the plastic bag. I lifted the cover. And I wasn't at all prepared for what I saw.

Sandwiched between two boards was an original drawing by Matt Wagner of me running, dressed as Coyote. (Click the image for a higher-resolution version.)

Four photos were taken of my reaction. In the first two I look surprised and happy, but you can't see what I'm looking at. The third photo, the one you see here, is is the transitional one. It was my last moment of composure before I started crying uncontrollably. Part of it was of course the drawing itself, and the thoughtful and unexpected gift. But what really started the waterworks was a detail that no one else could possibly have known about: Three weeks earlier, when I had the vision of racing against the leukemia to make the bone marrow transplant date, I was wearing exactly the clothes that Matt had drawn me in. I was Coyote, relying on pure speed (and maybe some last-second trickery) to beat the disease to the finish line.

I almost managed to pull myself together when my subconscious pointed out something I'd missed. Matt's drawing had one essential detail that I hadn't even thought of in my original vision: I was smiling as I was running.

As soon as that clicked, I completely lost it.

Coda:

I've been meaning to write this post since August 27, the day after I got the picture. As usual, it was mostly composed in my head already; it was just a matter of sitting in front of a keyboard. But it was right around then that my blood pressure dropped, making me too weak to do much of anything. (In fact, I discovered that sitting up straight in a chair was tiring.) I've been getting lots of food and rest, but it's taken me about three days to tap this out, bit by bit. I fear that I've lost some of the feeling I was trying to get across, except for the fact that I can sometimes bawl like a baby.

In any case, profound thanks are due. To Tamu, for coming up with such a great idea for a present; to Matt Wagner, for truly listening to her while discussing her request, resulting in a letter-sized coloured-pencil drawing that I will always cherish; and to Karine Charlebois and Marc Mackay, who shepherded the drawing from Comic-Con in San Diego to here with such care. It's because of people like you, from relatives to friends to people I've never met, that I keep running.

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4 Comments:

Blogger plexipixie said...

that's so amazing, emru!!! keep running... we've all got your back.

4:30 PM, September 02, 2008  
Blogger Dorothy said...

Keep running Emru, keep smiling ( although I know that can sometimes be difficult) I will see you like our Jamaican olympian (Lightening Bolt - with his 100m gold) dancing thru the transplant - winning Your "Goals". Tamu is one heck of a sister.

Prayers abound
Dorothy Duncan

4:32 PM, September 02, 2008  
Blogger Jas said...

Wow, that is so super awesome thoughtful, I can't even begin to...well, you already said it! Props to Tamu for sure!

4:37 PM, September 02, 2008  
Anonymous Pippa said...

How fabulous! May you always be able to outrun the nasties.

5:03 PM, September 02, 2008  

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