SJF – Chapter 4

This entry is part 4 of 25 in the series SJF Chapters

background-tile3.jpgCaptain Freedom was the leader of Super Justice Force, a team of superheroes and crime fighters committed to protecting the world. His bright blue costume, made out of material that could not be burned or torn, fit him like a glove. The bald eagle emblem on his chest stared out at Darius, and even though there was no breeze in the room, his cape seemed to flap in the breeze nonetheless.

Capes looked stupid on most superheroes and had been out of style for years, but somehow Captain Freedom still managed to look cool. And while other heroes and crime fighters hid behind masks, Captain Freedom made no attempts to hide his face, making him that much more of a badass.

As far back as Darius could remember he worshipped Captain Freedom. He learned how to read with Captain Freedom comic books. He slept in Captain Freedom pajamas that he wore over Captain Freedom underwear. He saw the movie based on the Captain’s life at least ten times, and even owned the whole line of Captain Freedom action figures, which his mother and father would argue about him playing with.

“I don’t want him playing with a toy that doesn’t look like him,” his mother said. “Why can’t he be into someone like Human Tornado or the Uptown Avenger?”

“Baby, you’ve got to be kidding me. I can’t believe you’d even mention those names,” his father responded.

“You know what I mean.”

“Look, there are worse role models for him to have than a white guy in a silly suit who fights crime,” said his father.

At the time, he didn’t understand what his parents were talking about. All Darius knew was that his mother wanted him to play with action figures of guys like Human Tornado and Uptown Avenger, who had stopped fighting crime and didn’t even have their own line of toys or comic books. His father, on the other hand, would say, “I don’t care what color dolls you play with, as long as you understand what these men stand for in real life.”

Darius didn’t know what his father meant by that—especially since he didn’t play with dolls, he played with action figures. And even though his parents didn’t agree over what he should play with, neither of them had a problem with him reading Captain Freedom comic books. Once a week his father came home from work with one or two new books, and he would always say the same thing: “Don’t just look at the pictures.”

After he read the comic books—some of which were the adventures of superheroes other than Captain Freedom—Darius recounted for his parents what happened in each issue. And this led to Darius becoming obsessed with Captain Freedom and the rest of Super Justice Force. The thing he liked best about Captain Freedom and the others—as opposed to superheroes like Spider-Man and Superman—was that the heroes in Super Justice Force were real. The comic book adventures of SJF were based on real things, and that was so much cooler than the make-believe superheroes in other comic books.

When he was eight years old, Darius wrote an essay about Captain Freedom and Super Justice Force—“How Captain Freedom and Super Justice Force Keep the World Safe.” His teacher submitted the essay to a citywide competition, and it actually won.

Darius met Captain Freedom for the first time at an award ceremony for students being honored for academic excellence. Darius earned his place at the ceremony for the essay he’d written and for being a straight-A student. His teachers all said he was “unusually bright.” He skipped second grade altogether, and halfway through third Darius was bumped up to fourth—all of which factored into his being named Student of the Year, much to the surprise of him and his parents.

The school superintendent gave a speech about Darius and his essay, and then announced him as Student of the Year. The room erupted in applause, his mother burst into tears, and his father never looked more proud. It was definitely the best moment of Darius’s life, one he thought could not get any better. But when Captain Freedom himself came out to give Darius his award placard, he knew that his life would never get better than that moment.

Nine years later, sitting in the interrogation room at the police station, Darius was reunited with Captain Freedom. If his first meeting with the Captain was the best moment of his life, the second meeting was one of the worst.

“You wrote an essay about me,” said Captain Freedom.

“Yes, sir,” said Darius. How can he possibly remember that?

“And you were Student of the Year, isn’t that right?”

Darius should have felt proud. After all of the years, after all of the things Captain Freedom had done and all the people he met, the superhero still remembered him. Instead, he felt ashamed.

“What happened to you? Where did you go wrong?” asked Captain Freedom.

Darius didn’t have the answers. He didn’t know where he went wrong. He didn’t know what happened to him. All he knew was that one day he was happy, living with his mother and father and waiting for the birth of his baby brother who he was going to share all of his toys and comic books with. And then came The Attack. In one instant his family was killed, his life destroyed.

Is that what you want me to say? Darius wondered. Do you want all the details of my crappy life these last eight years?

Darius didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing. And he and everyone else in the room remained silent, while the second hand on the clock ticked. Darius counted thirty-five ticks before someone said something.

“It was The Attack. His parents were killed in The Attack,” said Edith O’Malley. She paused, while the second hand ticked by ten more times. “He’s had a very difficult time since then.”

The sadness in Edith’s voice reminded Darius of how many people sounded after The Attack, when they talked about people who’d been killed. To Darius, it almost sounded like Edith was talking about someone else—someone dead. And as he sat there in the interrogation room in the police station, Darius wished that he was dead. He wished that he died with the rest of his family, which would have been better than living without them.

“A lot of good people were killed in The Attack. That’s not a reason,” said Captain Freedom. “It’s an excuse.”

His lower lip began to tremble, and Darius could feel the tears welling up in his eyes—the first tears he had cried in many, many years. He couldn’t tell if they were tears of sadness or anger. He dealt with many bad things since the death of his parents, but few were worse than this. And as he fought to keep from crying, for a very brief moment, Darius began to realize that this was the worst time of his life—even worse than the death of his family. He couldn’t explain it. He just knew it.

For so many years he wished he died alongside his mother and father and baby brother, but now, sitting in the interrogation room, he realized that his life really was ending. He would be going to prison for possession of the most controlled substance on the planet. For resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. For being unlucky enough to not die with his parents and baby brother who was only two days old when Darius’s whole world crashed down around him.

“What would your parents say if they could see you now?” asked Captain Freedom.

Darius sat for a moment and searched deep within himself for an answer. His parents worked hard to raise him proper. His mother pushed him to get the best grades possible. His father taught him how to defend himself. They taught him not to lie, and how to be respectful, and all the other things good parents teach their children. But sitting in the interrogation room, one thing his father always said to him stood out more than anything else, echoing in his head.

“Don’t be a stereotype or a statistic,” said Darius. His voice trembled with too many years of nothing but sorrow and rage. Darius recognized the words, but he didn’t even recognize the voice as his own, nor did he notice the first tear as it began to roll down his cheek.

“What’s that? I can’t hear you,” demanded Captain Freedom.

“Don’t be a stereotype. Never become a statistic,” said Darius. His voice louder, repeating what his father said to him since as far back as he could remember.

Dwayne Logan told his son that there would be times in life that people would ask and expect many things from him, and the only thing Darius had to remember was to “not be a stereotype and never become a statistic.”

“Looking at you, sitting there, it seems to me that’s exactly what you are,” said Captain Freedom. For a brief second, his voice almost sounded like Dwayne Logan. “What happened to the kid who was Student of the Year? Was he killed in The Attack as well?”

Darius sat, waiting for someone else to answer the question.

“Was he killed in The Attack as well?” Captain Freedom asked again—his voice louder and more demanding. The walls in the interrogation room actually shook. And it wasn’t just Darius that noticed; the others felt it as well. Even Detective No Name, who tried to look tough and act like Clint Eastwood, looked a little shocked and scared.

But no one in the room was more scared than Darius. Every day since his parents had been killed was a fight to simply stay alive—bouncing around from one foster home to another, spending time locked up in juvenile detention, living on the streets. There were nights when he went to sleep with his stomach empty and days when he woke up to rats or roaches scurrying around whatever floor he slept on. It had been nearly eight years of living hell, with no one to care whether his next meal was cooked in a kitchen or came out of a garbage can. No one to care if he lived or died. And no matter how scared he felt at any given moment, he never gave into the fear, because that would have meant he had lost.

Sitting there in the interrogation room, Darius couldn’t hold back the volatile mix of emotions—fear, sorrow, rage—any more than he could hold back the tears. And as he cried, he thought about what Captain Freedom had asked him: “What happened to the kid who was Student of the Year? Was he killed in The Attack as well?”

As much as he wished he’d been killed with his family, Darius didn’t die on that terrible day. He was very much alive, and about to face the consequences of his actions.

“No, sir. He wasn’t killed in the attack,” said Darius, crying for the first time since the day his parents died.

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