A Saturday morning car ride with your girlfriend on a path to join her parents and pass idle moments photographing cherry blossoms in D.C. is most honestly described as a situation on the brink of disaster. I was playing passenger, listening to the radio and gazing out the window as our car made its way south on I95. The day was settling into a rhythm that my antsy twenty-five-year-old mind feared with distractions purporting as entertainment and, in an effort to maintain peaceful appearances, superficial conversation. I wasn’t the problem. My girlfriend, still at the steering wheel, wasn’t the problem and the looming rendezvous with her parents wasn’t the problem, but these pieces mixed in my mind to make the day’s prospects seem heavy and dull.
A short story about an alternative universe in which Clark Kent and Superman vie for Lois Lane’s attention filled the otherwise silent car for several minutes until my girlfriend announced, “This is so stupid. Superman’s not even real.”
Spliced among my other distractions, I too had been listening to Clark Kent compete in vain against Superman for left over scraps of Lois’ attention I found the interpretation playful and wondered where I could also turn an assumption against my audience for fun.
Superman is not even real.
I mulled over this statement for several moments before both realizing my opportunity and unwittingly ruining this otherwise perfectly boring day. Why did she feel the need to state something so obvious as Superman not being real? I assumed he was not real and assumed others thought the same. At first her statement struck me as redundant, but perhaps it was more of a request for affirmation and hinted at a doubt over the truth of Superman. Game on.
“Superman is real”, I respond monotonically while continuing to watch trees stand still from our moving car.
“No he’s not”
“Yeah, he is”
“Superman is not real”
This moment may have been the event horizon for keeping the peace that day. Superman, it seemed, real or not was about to become a real debate. “What fun!”, I thought. This day may not turn out to be boring after all.
“Superman is real. I’ve seen him”, I asserted in an effort to not only stand my ground but to advance forward.
“No you haven’t”
“Yes I have. In 3rd grade, behind the barn at school with Jimmy DiPietro. We saw Superman flying over the tree tops at recess.”
Not too detailed and endowed with a confounding mixture of fact and fiction, I was pleased with my ability to quickly produce details for the event, deliver the statement with a confidence usually reserved for actual beliefs and tint the work with an aloofness that pretended not to care about convincing anyone.
I let out an indignant puff of air and responded. “Why would I lie?”
“Superman isn’t real”
“That’s fine, but I know what I saw in 3rd grade and I think he is real.”
The trees appeared to being falling into the distance more quickly now. Was the car beginning to speed up?
“You’re a liar.”
Of course I’m lying! We’re talking about Superman! But I had to respect her indignant angle of play so decided to relax my position and allow it to evolve.
“Well maybe it wasn’t Superman, but someone was flying over the trees behind the barn.”
“You’re such a liar”, she resolutely declared while I glanced at the speedometer and confirmed that we were definitely traveling faster.
“Why would I lie about Superman being real? That’s ridiculous”
“I don't know, but you’re lying! Just tell me that you’re lying!”, her calm demeanor, much like my Superman story, was now a myth and she turned off of the highway. We were then 5 minutes out from meeting with her parents.
“Lying about Superman?”
“Yes! Just tell me that you’re lying!” Her voice's pitch raised and it appeared that she was starting to cry.
Oh shit! I thought I knew what I was starting with this game, but I'm starting to think that I was wrong.
“But why would I lie about Superman?”, I heard these words ringing in my voice as my brain struggled to convince the rest of my being to reverse course and cut losses.
“I need you to tell me the truth! Tell me that you’re lying!”
I couldn’t help but smirk at this brilliantly delivered paradox and hoped it served as proof that she too was playing the game though just more skillfully than me.
“Don’t laugh at me!”, she ordered upon catching sight of my waning smile and whatever fading hope I had of this game being equally understood vanished.
“Ok! Ok!”, I began as she sped thru community neighborhoods and wiped tears from her eyes.
“Of course I was joking!”, still not ready to call it lying. “It’s Superman! I do not think that Superman is real.”
“Then why did you say that?”
In a dispassionate conversation about the fact versus fiction status of Superman, I would laugh at such a question but I had to realize that Superman had long dropped from being the actual topic. Her voice trembled, questions fractured from gasps between sobs, her entire body spoke of pain and anger and pedestrians were in very real danger as we careened thru the streets. How did this happen, I stupidly wondered?
“It was a joke!”, I exclaimed. A telltale phrase underlining that everything had gone to hell.
“I asked you to be honest and you lied to me! Why would you do that?”
A repeat of this question and answer went on for another minute before she slammed on the brakes and yelled, “Fine! Get out!”
I rushed out of the car, with a mixed sense of freedom and shame. As the door swung to close, she sped off thru a stop sign and past several suburbanites. They stared incredulously at her car as it whipped past them ignoring most every law and then they turned their gazes towards me. Feeling a need to offer justification and continuing to reveal my confusion, I murmured, “Sorry, we had a fight about Superman.”