Sometimes Julie wakes in the night. There’s a bad man in her dream or the backfire of a car, and she calls, cries out to me: “Come, come. I’m scared.”
It’s all I can do to get up. Like a sunken vessel being pulled from the deep, I rise slowly. My feet touch ground as I grab my robe and struggle to find the arms, then the belt. I make my way down the short hall to her room. She’s under the covers whimpering, too scared to sit up, afraid of the dark or perhaps the cold that comes when you wake suddenly.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, sitting beside her, trying to open my eyes, focus on her face.
“I’m scared,” she says pitifully.
“What are you scared of?”
Sometimes she can tell me, sometimes she can’t because she’s already slipping back into sleep. Either way, her fear has dissipated. Like a flash of light, I have entered her room, chased the shadows away and exorcized her demons. The world has become safe again for democracy and little girls. I’m faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap flights of stairs in a single bound when I hear my sweetheart cry.
After I’ve tucked the quilt under her body — knowing full well she’ll toss it off before morning — I head back to my room, peeling off my magic cape — my bathrobe — and let it fall to the floor. I lose my mythic proportions and become human again, and oh so tired.
Waiting for sleep to return, I think of the world, how scary and uncertain it is with all its wars and earthquakes and rising costs of movies, and I wish there were someone who could wrap my blanket around me and sing my demons away with a lullaby. How I wish I still believed in magic.
Once, a lifetime ago, my mother was my magician. She stood between me and all that was bad in the world. But each year as I grew taller, she grew shorter until we were both the same size. And over time I discovered I had the capacity, the terrible capacity, to worry about her life as much as she worried about mine.
But now, the torch has been passed, and I have become Mother, the Great Protector. One kiss from me and Julie’s owies disappear. To her, I am the woman with all of the answers and none of the fears, the woman who can perform impressive feats, like color inside the lines. I relish her adulation because I know it is short-lived. She grows taller each day.
And so, for now, I will don my cape and fly down the hall whenever Julie needs me. And I will try to do what even Superman can’t: make the world a safer, sweeter place.