Dear younger, confused, twenty-third year old me,
You must be wondering why I am writing such an unusual letter to you and why now. Out of all the times I could have gone back to, I chose this particular time because this is when you needed me the most.
On any other day, I would be out on the street fighting against evil and protecting the community( Did you just roll your eyes upwards?). But today is a special day. I have just received confirmation that I am now a permanent member of the Majestic Superheroes Academy, after being a trainee for almost a decade. About time!
Let me tell you something. These past years were never easy for me –– as a woman and as someone with superpowers. People preach about breaking barriers and empowering women. But most of the time they can’t see past the batting eyelashes and the hourglass figure. We have to fight the enemies and then we have to fight for our equality. In my field of work, I have had good days and then days I don’t want to remember at all. My pride gets bruised more times than my skin does. But at the end of the day, I know I am in a happy place. I have a purpose and I am living for it.
Looking at the credentials listed in the glossy certificate in front of me, I can’t help but think about my journey and what I could have done differently –– to confront the mistakes and to face the fears. I see the wheels turning in your head. I see that you are already eyeing the door. Before you plan an exit strategy, please take a seat and hear me out. I am not here to instruct but share the things I have learned along the way. The things I wish I had known back then.
And before we begin, I have a confession to make. We, the superheroines( Well, calling us ‘female superheroes’ is mildly insulting) might have many superpowers, but being articulate with words is never one of them. I might even use a cliche or two to get your attention. Bear with me.
On a breezy Saturday evening, exactly two days after your twenty-third birthday…
You are in your bedroom in the midst of an emotional tornado because you can’t find a proper dress to wear for your date with Joe. He is your colleague from work, the one whom you have had a crush on since he joined the office. You both have been messaging each other for so many months. So it’s natural that he asks you out and you say yes.
You finally find a dress pretty enough for a first date. You spend two hours getting dolled up and then you go and sit on the sofa, waiting for the knock on the door. Instead of the knock, you hear a chime, from your phone. Without even looking at it, your heart starts to break a little. But you still look. Why prolonging the inevitable? As expected, the message says ‘ I am sorry. Something came up. Can we do it some other time?’ Disappointment would be an understatement for what you are feeling at the moment. But it isn’t new for you, is it? You very well know how it feels like being –– unimportant, invisible, a second choice or a last-minute backup plan.
You don’t expect men and women turning their heads as soon as you enter a room. But you wonder if they really see you or see through you. You would be sitting at a family gathering and no one speaks to you unless you speak first. You would be in a salon in the middle of a discussion with your stylist and she suddenly picks up her phone and starts texting. You would be approaching the assistant in the shop with a smile and without a warning, he turns around and attends another customer.
You don’t ever get invited to parties because you are not a cool girl to hang out with. You don’t ever get to be the bridesmaid because you are too clumsy that they fear you will make a scene. All these little hurt moments combined together make you think, “ Am I invisible?”
You believe you don’t have any physical presence at all. You are just an average girl with average looks, as plain as a Jane. But you know you have a good heart and that you go out of your way to help everyone – whether taking the grandparents to medical check-ups or babysitting for your cousins or even taking your neighbour’s dog for a walk.
While you call yourself ‘ the good girl in the neighbourhood’, you know what people say about you? They say you are a cookie-cutter, so predictable and boring. And they conveniently put you away in a box –- of prejudices and stereotypes. Don’t be disheartened. I am just stating the truth. The earlier you know, the better. Stop expecting applause for every ordinary thing you do. Stop trying too hard to be a people-pleaser. The more you try to please others, the more they take you for granted. Instead, invest in yourself. Do the things that make you a better, happier person.
I know you are still thinking about Joe’s rejection and your eyes are welling up. Hold that thought and wipe your tears, honey. You are made for better things.
Next day, you go to the office as usual and try to act absolutely normal around Joe as if he didn’t pluck your heart and stomp on it a few hours ago. Do me a favour. Keep ignoring him. You know the saying. Fool me once…
You get into your mundane activities one by one. Refill the coffee. Answer the phone calls. Refill the coffee. Check the emails. Refill… Wait a second. You stop on your tracks. The unread email at the top of the list...
“ Are my eyes deceiving me?” You ask yourself. With trembling fingers, you click it open. With bated breath, you start reading it.
Congratulations! Here in Majestic Superheroes Academy, every year we randomly select a few young candidates who have the potential to bring a change to the world we live in. And we are so proud to announce that you are one of our elite selectees this year.
We will be in touch with you regarding the recruitment and training procedures. Meanwhile, we kindly advise you that you don’t discuss the content of this email with anyone due to the sensitive nature of our organisation.
This is the moment you almost expect someone to jump in front of you and scream ‘you have been pranked!’ Superhero, really? You shake your head in disbelief. You wait for the reality check to give you a wake-up call. Nothing happens. This is neither a dream nor a prank. This is real. Your ‘pinch-yourself’ moment. Your head spins. Your palms start to sweat. You feel the urge to run and hide. Don’t go anywhere. You are at the right place.
You would be lying if you say you had never thought about being a part of the distinguished Majestic Superheroes Academy, otherwise called MSA. Who wouldn’t want to be? MSA is rumoured to be a centuries-old mysterious institution that specializes in identifying the right talent and training them to be saviours of the world. No one knows their whereabouts –– where they are located, how they operate etc. But everyone is aware of their existence. Once in a while you come across a headline in the newspaper about a mysterious man/woman doing a good deed, you know it’s them. And you had always secretly hoped to be a part of it. But you don’t remember expressing your interest to anyone.
Plain Jane as a superwoman? People would laugh at you. Let them laugh. There is a reason why everyone adores the idea of a superhero. Not just because they can accomplish what normal people can’t. It’s also because of their imperfect past –– of struggles, trauma and pain –– before their perfect present. It gives hope to messed up people like us that one day we can be great too.
This is all happening too fast. You are scared, overwhelmed. But think of the positive aspects this new turn of events will bring you. Your days don’t need to be so dull anymore. You have something to look forward to. Something that makes you feel worthy. Too nervous to focus on anything else, you shut down the laptop and leave the office.
When you reach home, there is another email from them, waiting for you, with details about meeting in person. You are surprised at their choice of location –– the old coffee shop right across the street. Were you expecting a dungeon?
A week passes. Then two. No more emails. You start to wonder, “Was any part of the emails real or is it just the continuation of my saga of rejection and injustice?”
You spend your days binge-watching superhero movies and gradually filling your mind with questions, “What kind of superhero will I be? Someone conventional like Spiderman and Superman? Or someone more complex, like Batman and Deadpool?”
“The email says I was randomly selected. What was the criterion? And how random?”
Don’t think about any of that now. You will have plenty of time later to figure that out. Just go with the flow and enjoy the journey.
Finally, the day arrives and you are standing in front of the coffee shop, looking borderline hysterical. Take it easy. It’s time to embrace your new identity. Go in with a smile.
You push the door open and step your foot inside. You immediately sense a sudden shift in the air. The place is completely empty, not a single person to be seen. It’s too warm, too quiet and it's unsettling.
You are expecting an old man to come out and greet you –– someone who looks like he belongs in Chronicles of Narnia filming set. Instead, you see a middle-aged woman in a waitress uniform walking towards you in long strides. “Have I seen her before?” You search in your memory but come up with nothing. You give her a friendly smile, but her demeanour suggests she is not up for a friendly chat. She puts her hand inside her apron pocket and takes out something. A black square-shaped velvet box. You look at her extended arm and take the box from her. No questions asked. With a curt nod, she turns around and walks away.
Carefully, you open it. Inside, there is a simple silver necklace with a long crystal pendant, along with a small note.
Consider this as your welcome gift. Put it on.”
Unable to contain your curiosity, you take the necklace out of the box and put it around your neck. As soon as the clasp is tightened, you feel a jolt of electricity entering your body, moving slowly all the way down your spine. You feel hot, feverish. Your skin is burning. Your bones make a cracking sound. Your muscles are being stretched. Your body starts to shake uncontrollably. Hang in there. This is going to be your last fear. It lasts for less than a minute but seems like a lifetime.
You look down and you are shocked to find that you can’t see anything –– your clothes, your body –– nothing at all. Frantically, you move your arm up to your neck and come to the revelation that you can feel the necklace even though you can’t see it all. You grab it and jerk it over your neck. To your astonishment, the necklace becomes visible again, along with the hand holding it and the rest of your body. You stare at it without blinking, confused and stunned. Then reality hits you so hard that it kicks you out of your trance. The object in your hand is your special gift, a gift that is going to take you to places. Your throat tightens. Your lips tremble.
A moment later, you are walking out of the coffee shop with a proud smile on your face, the necklace safely tucked in your purse. You have just received a gift along with a chance to live the life your way. A chance to turn your greatest weakness to your greatest strength. A chance to feel more ‘visible’ than ever.
You also have a question in your mind, something that has been bothering you ever since the day you have received the first email.
“Am I being chosen for a reason?”
Well, you will have to wait a decade for the answer!
For now, just wipe your tears, honey. Because you are made for better things.
With all my love,
The older, wiser, thirty- three year old me