My child has a purple bunny she bought with her cupcake money from the Cathedral of St. Phillip Thrift, and this bunny, she exclaims, has the ability to bestow superpowers on people. Here is the process: She will ask you to hold the bunny, which you will do because it's impossible not to, and she will say to you, "Now you have your superpower," and then she will take the bunny back.
"What is my superpower?" you'll ask her.
"You can run really fast," she'll say, or "You can fly," or "You can jump really high." My own personal superpower that the bunny bestowed on me is the ability of super strength, "like you can lift the whole world," she says, but sometimes that power doesn't sound as fun as flying or jumping really high, but my daughter says the bunny only gives people the power they need. "But I don't feel really strong yet," I complain. She tells me the power will come when I need it.
I could have used it the other day, I tell you. The two of us plus the purple bunny were in Washington, DC, walking along the massive courtyard that connects all the Smithsonian museums, taking pictures of each other that optimized the images of monuments in the background. I took one of her that made it look like the Washington monument was sprouting right from the top of her head, and she took one of me that made it look like our nation's capitol was perched in the palm of my hand, which could serve as testimony to my super strength if I ever need testimony of that. It was about 500 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and if my super strength had kicked in right then I would have used it to spin the giant Calder sculpture in front of the National Art Museum so fast it would have served as a fan to cool off the entire world.
We were on our way to the insect zoo at the Natural History Museum, because my girl loves insects -- the bigger the better -- and spiders, too. I'm forbidden from killing the spiders in our place, all of which she has named, and she can hold a Madagascar hissing cockroach in her hand like it was a little pet. She'll giggle about how all its hundred little cockroach legs tickle, while I try to muster the super strength to keep my skeleton from ripping itself free from my skin and scuttling into the corner where it wants to cower in repulsion.
But my daughter had told me she wants to be an entomologist, and when your child, who just turned 5 and is not even in kindergarten yet, tells you she wants to be something, especially if it's something you yourself have to look up in the dictionary, then you better get your insect-phobic ass on the ball and steer her where she needs to go.
The insect zoo was for my sake as well as hers, because she already knows way more about them than I do, so I was hoping I could bone up on insect awareness while the insect-zoo "handler" deposited all these massive specimens into my child's hand. Once I turned to see her holding a grasshopper bigger than a bird and more colorful than a tropical sunset. "It's luminescent," said my girl, and I thought, Jesus God! Where did she get that word? Then I remembered I'd used it to describe to her a large opal ring in the display window of a jewelry store once, and damn if that grasshopper didn't look exactly like it had been painted with about a million miniscule opal stones. I almost wanted to touch it myself after that.
Later, while walking back to the hotel, we stopped at the café in the sculpture garden, and as I fortified myself with liquid for the trek through desert heat, Mae passed her purple bunny around to the other patrons, bestowing on them each their individual superpowers. She announced proudly that her own superpower was the ability to become invisible, and to prove it she asked us to close our eyes for a few seconds, which we sort of did, and then when we opened them she was gone. "Do you see me?" We could hear her ask from behind the Lichtenstein, which prompted us to exclaim to each other very loudly, "I hear her, but I don't see her! How amazing!" And then she would ask us to close our eyes again, and when we opened them there she was again. Amazing!
Later, when the other people had gone and it was just me and my girl, she looked up at me and informed me that she was going to demonstrate her superpower right there in my lap. "Close your eyes again," she said, and I did. "Now open them," she said, and I did. "Am I fading?" she asked. "Am I disappearing?"
Just then -- looking at her lovely face, at her eyes so large I could see in them the life I almost had without her, how less luminescent that life would have been, her eyes so big and beautiful and unbearable -- all of a sudden I was desperate with hope that my superpower would come to me immediately. Please hurry, please, I begged the purple bunny, because I need my super strength right now. I need all the strength I can get. Because she is right. She is disappearing. My little girl is disappearing before my eyes.
Hollis Gillespie is now touring with her second book, Confessions of a Recovering Slut: And Other Love Stories (Regan Books). Her first book, Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood (Regan Books) is now available in paperback. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."