A fortnight ago, before the breeze off Lake Constance turned brisk, Ute and I were visited by a denizen of the dark, a creature of the night.
A bat had somehow found its way into our apartment.
It was an hours-long struggle to get the helplessly lost and confused little fellow out.
His visit (I assume it was a “he” as girl bats are much smarter!) and the events of the past week remind me of the origin story and subsequent career of the DC comics character Batman.
It is a rare Westernised person who doesn’t know the tale of Bruce Wayne, the Batman.
A young boy is present when his parents are gunned down in an alleyway hold-up.
The boy uses his fortune to train both his mind and body in crime fighting techniques.
The man tries to fight crime as an ordinary man, finding that criminals are unintimidated.
A bat crashes into his mansion.
Remembering his boyhood fear of bats when he fell into a batcave below his family’s estate, he adopts the bat as his symbol and becomes a vigilante.
Batman, after years of solo crimefighting, would not only take on sidekicks and inspire other bat-themed heroes, but would also be one of the founding members of the Justice League of America, whose ranks would include Wonder Woman, Superman, the Flash, Green Lantern, the Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, just to name a few.
When the boy witnessed his parents’ murder, he could have easily turned out quite differently than he did – a theme explored by DC Comics in their animated movie, Crisis on Two Earths.
The Crime Syndicate was an evil reflection, a dark collection of evil counterparts, to the Justice League.
So, Superman’s evil “twin” was megalomaniac Ultraman, Wonder Woman’s sadistic “sister” was Superwoman, the Flash had Johnny Quick, etc.
In the climatic battle to protect all alternate realities from complete destruction, Batman battled his doppelganger, Owlman.
Owlman commented to Batman how easily Batman could have become as anarchistic and nihilistic as he was.
“We both looked into the abyss, but you blinked.”
On Friday night, after a Starbucks night shift, I went out for a beer with friend and co-worker Bryan.
Like my other colleagues, Bryan knows very little about my life pre-Starbucks (I’ll have been there a year this November.) and beer loosened my tongue and inhibitions.
So I told him how I was raised by wolves in the depths of the deep majestic Canadian forest…
No, just kidding.
I was born at a time when my biological folks were in the middle of a nasty divorce dispute.
My American mother took me and left my Canadian father to raise my brothers and sisters on his own.
She was a woman who loved her youngest, but, between bouts of both physical and psychological illness, she would drift in and out of my life, raising me on her own and then letting others raise me before reclaiming me, again and again.
This “here today, gone tomorrow” process repeated itself a number of times until I was four when she went down to Florida for her health and died in Fort Lauderdale from cancer.
I have little memory of the first decade of my life, but future research would reveal that I was placed by the province of Quebec in many different foster homes until my last one with a spinster housekeeper and a retired bachelor labourer.
(See Alex Supertramp and Canada Slim of this blog.)
As any adopted or foster child will attest, the need to know one’s origins, as irrational and painful a process it is, is a drive and obsession that haunts him until answers are unearthed.
(Why was I rocketed as a baby from Krypton?)
My search for self would result in hitch-hiking travels from Montreal to St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Key West, Florida, over to California, up to Vancouver and back to Montreal.
I entered the States with $20 Canadian dollars in my pocket.
Eight months later, I re-entered Canada with $20 US dollars in my pocket.
In between I was sustained by my wits and the amazing generosity of average Americans I encountered along the way.
I had many adventures from the frightening to the fantastic and met many people from the weird to the wonderful.
Bryan marvelled at my tale.
In his experience he had heard of many a foster child of similar background ending up addicted or mentally ill or in prison.
(Actually, the last place and I did meet on a few occasions, but that is a tale for another time.)
He was surprised that I was so rational, so optimistic an individual.
(Clearly he doesn’t know as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote:
“In the brightest light lurk the deepest shadows.”)
I don’t think I can adequately explain why I am who I am except to say when I compare myself with others less fortunate:
“But for the grace of God, go I.”
Of course, like most folks, I have my own emotional baggage, my own psychological scars, but I can only continue to hope that my past has made me stronger and that what was learned from it makes me more sensitive and humane a human being.
Bryan was also surprised that I did much of my travelling, pre-meeting my wife, with little or no security.
I can only say in retrospect that I was convinced that if I had waited until conditions were ideal before leaving, I might never have left.
I had already met too many people who waited until money and time were ideal, only to find that circumstances, usually in the form of ill health or misfortune, would never permit the realisation of these travels.
Granted, a hand-to-mouth existence is not the ideal way to see a place…
(Even Forrest Gump had a fortune to sustain him when he ran across America.)
…but discovering places only ragged people know is an education in itself, and one really begins to understand a culture by how it treats its disadvantaged.
In my “wasted youth” of my 20s I would hitch the above-mentioned route as well as other hitching adventures along the Mississippi and in Arctic Canada and Alaska as well as in Britain and continental Europe.
(I would also do a fair amount of actual hiking / walking in my home and native land of Canada as well as a wee bit of meandering in Europe.)
And though these travels were never career-enhancing in this capitalistic document-obsessed culture I live in, I still have no regrets for the path I chose to travel.
As to what lies ahead, I remain as lost and blind as our nocturnal visitor, but not knowing…
Well, that’s half the fun, eh?