Photo by Yulia Matvienko / Unsplash

My first memory is of static. It started with my feet being caressed by the soft, cocoa-scented hands of my nanny, the one who could make me laugh with a wiggle of her nose. I was not yet two but I remember the way she tickled me, nuzzled me, the way her singular goal was to make me laugh and smile. On that fateful day she'd discovered that I especially liked the scratchy feel of fabric softener sheets against the bottoms of my feet. So she swaddled my feet into a pair of sheets and rubbed, rubbed, rubbed while I giggled uncontrollably until there was a sudden loud pop against my ears and I was enveloped by a flash of pure white light, followed by immediate darkness and the sound of fizzling static. When I woke up my nanny was gone and a stern face peered down at me from behind the shiny plastic face shield of a Hazmat suit. I screamed.  

Before I knew it I was being fitted for my own protective suit. The Suit was made up of layers of protective insulation - scratchy, industrial-strength cotton which clung tightly to my arms and thighs. This scratchiness was different from the pleasant tickle of the fabric softener: it was rather a heating, persistent rash, a constant pricking which never dissipated. I remember the frantic battles with another nanny, a wrinkly woman who insisted that I call her Mrs. instead of going by her first name the way I had with Mina. Mrs. would jab my arms and legs into the suit with her gloved hands and then quickly pull the zipper tight, nipping me in the chin half of the time. hen came the oversized nylon mittens, which were eventually swapped out for gloves on my thirteenth birthday. The outermost layer of The Suit was smooth - sleek, polished fabric which did a good job of masking the stifling layers beneath it. Thankfully the doctors didn't see any need to cover my face with an insulating mask; the hood of The Suit extended far enough away from my head that nobody was likely to brush against it. And besides, the greatest current was in my extremities anyway. The physicist in the Hazmat suit measured the electricity in my fingers and toes and estimated that I could kill an average-sized cat or small dog with a brush of my index finger.

I didn't realize that The Bad Thing had happened while playing footsy that day with Mina until years later, when Mom and Dad were recalling something funny I had done on my second birthday. When I asked, "hey, whatever happened to Mina?" Mom looked at Dad who cleared his throat and changed the subject to pancakes.

In gym class, a girl named Carly asked me if I had to sweat extra because of the suit when we did our Friday laps around the running track. "I bet your armpits must stink like hell 'cause you never shower," she said, snickering. She dared her elfish companion, a fidgety girl named Amanda, to smell them. But Amanda only laughed nervously.

Showers were indeed a hassle. Twice a week I stood in the stall of my parents' bathroom but instead of turning on the water spout, I tugged on a rope to open a trapdoor which my father had cut into the ceiling, dispatching five gallons of shimmery dust over my body. It was a disinfecting powder which came in two forms which I was allowed to choose from each time: glittery, silver-and-gold sparkles or multi-colored rainbow powder. Even with my eyes and mouth squeezed tightly closed, little crumbs of powder would sneak their way into the corners of my eyes and lips. Afterwards my mom would help me comb excess glitter or rainbow dust out of my hair.

Naturally I couldn't enter the pool at swimming parties, or dip my toes into the waves at the beach. But these rare exclusions didn't bother me much; it felt soothing to watch quietly from the sidelines, to see the way people are when they think no one is watching. The way they laugh unencumbered, showing their tongues and gums and teeth; the way they shrug their shoulders and let their hair fall messily to one side.

Today, on the Metro, something strange happened. A boy of about six brushed the back of his hand against my cheek as he was rushing to find a seat; I had been leaning forward into the aisle at that very same moment, something I rarely do for more than milliseconds at a time. Shocked by the fleeting sensation of his touch, I craned my neck to see if he had felt anything. As the physicist had said years ago, the amount of electrical charge in my face is minimal but surely a small boy would have felt something: a shock, a tinge of pain, something to jolt him awake from his otherwise routine morning.

But instead, there was nothing. No pain, no shock, no reaction at all. The boy sat down, tucked his Metro card away and immediately began fidgeting with a toy dinosaur which he'd fetched from his pocket. Looking around, I realized that there was no caretaker with him. Where was his mother? His father? His nanny?

The only thing which I had lacked while growing up after The Bad Thing was touch; the only skin I've felt under my fingertips is my own. Dry patches begin to appear on my cheeks and the backs of my hands towards the end of every October and are replaced by think, greasy spots by the start of May. I can see the same effects of time playing out on my parents' hands and faces but always from a distance, or from behind the safe barrier of a gloved hand.

I'd never thought of my disability as a superpower until the age of sixteen, when my parents sent me to Dr. Acker for help with my bouts of insomnia and tinnitus. It was Dr. Acker who asked me how it felt to wield such power, the ability to both kill and give life. I stared at him for moments as I struggled to understand. My body's electricity had always been a threat, a poisonous thing, never a life-giving force.

"Ah," responded Dr. Acker with a smile. "I suppose you've never witnessed someone re-animating a stopped heart."  

I've decided to follow the boy from the train, getting off at the same stop as he did. I'm trying my best not to be creepy; I am trailing him from a distance of about half a football field, watching his head bob up and down behind fences and gates as he weaves his way down the street. I am not sure what I'll say if I manage to catch up to him. Perhaps we could be friends. I imagine that we are woven out of the same cloth; perhaps he once, too, had a nanny who both loved and unknowingly injured him, transforming him into someone like me, a lone superhuman with forbidden powers.

This story is a contribution to the 8th STSC Symposium, a monthly collaboration from STSC's writers around a set theme. Our topic for this month is Beginnings.