I have a confession to make. What better place to make it than here? It is a little embarrassing to be telling you this. Maybe it is a lot embarrassing since no one knows about this, not even my wife. I don’t know why I feel the need to come clean now, but it is time. I must. My hope is that my readers will not judge me too much. I realize that this is much different from anything you have read from me before. I also understand that what I am about to tell you may sound crazy to many. It may seem even mentally insane, but for me it is something so normal that I am not bothered by it. What does bother me is what I am about to confess to you.
Let me tell you the more typical part first. You ever see a spider trapped in its own web? Well, this is how I feel. We all play a part, a role in our social lives. In our day-to-day social lives everyone is acting. The role that I play is that of a psychotherapist. I am a very well-respected psychotherapist who is good at the job that I do. I care about the people I work with, probably too much. Everyday I come to work, conservatively dressed and ready to help others in need. Not far from my office I have a nice two bedroom home, on a quiet suburban street. I live there with my wife and three dogs. My wife is also a psychotherapist and we share the same office. Since I was married five years ago, my wife and I have built a very comfortable, safe, secure and meaningful life for ourselves. I suppose that you would be correct if you were to say that we live in domestic bliss. But underneath domestic bliss, there is always someone who feels stuck.
Unlike city living, suburban living demands a certain degree of conformity. One must play a particular part if they want to not deviate from the norm. If a person deviates too much from the norm in the suburbs, they could lose all of their cultural legitimacy. In the city, the norm is not as narrow and rigidified as it is in the suburbs. This is why many people who live in the suburbs live very different lives behind closed doors than the lives they live while working. If we really knew one another, we would be shocked by how different they are from the person we thought they were. Maybe this is why the suburbs breed a quiet life of desperation. You would not be wrong if you said that I was living a quiet life of desperation. I have done exactly what I am not supposed to do if I really wanted to be the person that I am. I am not supposed to find domestic bliss just yet.
So I guess I will just come right out and tell you. I apologize for taking so long but I needed to preface my confession with some important supporting details. In the back of my bedroom closet I have what I guess you could call a uniform. It has been hanging there for years, unworn by me. The uniform consists of a black suit, with a black belt and black button down collared shirt (which, I wore buttoned all the way up). There is also a black face mask and a black rimmed hat. Beneath the suit there is a pair of wingtip black shoes with a pair of black dress socks stuffed in them. The black face mask I keep hidden, so my wife has not seen it. She has seen everything else though and wonders why I have never worn my “nice outfit.” I tell her it is something I wore a lot before we met but have just not had a chance to put it on since. She has often wanted to go out to a nice club, a place where I could put the black suit on and have some fun, but I always tell her I am not in the mood. She basically thinks of my black suit as an outfit I used to go out and have a stylish, fun night in. She knows nothing about The Man In Black.
Yes, I was once The Man In Black. I was what most people would refer to as a superhero. I never thought of myself as a superhero but I guess I was. In my mind I was just some guy who was inspired by the graphic novel The Watchmen and wanted to do something about all the tricks I saw the police and local government officials playing on the more disenfranchised people in the city where I lived. I bought my black suit and all of its accessories at a Salvation Army store in downtown Oakland for less than forty bucks. From the moment I put the entire outfit on, in my small studio apartment, I felt strong and powerful in a way that I had never felt before. I was in my mid-twenties and living in a poorer neighborhood of Oakland, California. I was confused and angry like most men in their mid-twenties who are yet to figure out what they are going to do with their life but the moment I put the black suit on I found my life’s purpose. I knew I could not change the world, but I could make the city where I lived a better place for those with less power and money. This became my main objective.
I suppose that I was not your typical kind of superhero. I did not get in fights. I did not kill anyone. I did not jump off buildings or scale walls. I had no real superhero powers other than that of my intellect and sense of confidence when I put the black suit on. All I did was talk to people. Go figure. I would walk around the Oakland ghetto (West and East Oakland) dressed in my black suit with hat and face mask on and speak with the prostitutes, the crack addicts, the pimps and the gangsters. I would tell them that they were capable of so much more than what they were doing and that they were falling into the trap that society had created for them. I would tell them that the government wanted them to be doing exactly what they were doing so that they could catch them, charge them, put them in jail and make lots of money off of them. I would help these “social deviants” to see the errors of their own ways and get them off the streets and working towards bettering their lives. I believed that knowledge was ultimate power and because of this, they listened.
I would walk into the middle of a dark street and stop the men who would spend hours and hours driving around the ghetto looking for young prostitutes to pick up. When the men would see me in front of their cars they would be startled. It was always after midnight that I would go out so I imagine that the site of me was quite frightening. I didn’t mean to startle anyone but it was better that they be shocked by me than handcuffed and publicly humiliated by the police once they got caught. There is no greater social disgrace than to get arrested for soliciting a prostitute and I would make these men, some of whom would spend hours in their cars day after day searching for just the right prostitute, realize this. I would walk up to their car window, make them roll their windows down and then tell them who I was and that I realized that they were addicted to pornography and trying to live out sexual fantasies but what they were doing was incredibly dangerous to their social reputation. I told them of the humiliation they would suffer if caught by the police and most of these men would listen and head home when I was done speaking with them. I would go out on these missions at least three or four nights a week and every time I returned home to my apartment I felt incredibly satisfied, like I was doing real good in the world.
I did this for around ten years, until my wife and I moved to the suburbs. There was never any mention of me in the newspapers but over the course of the ten years that I would go out on what I called my midnight missions, violent crime, prostitution and crack abuse declined by 70% in Oakland. There was word on the streets about a crusader who went by the name The Man In Black, but outside of this, I was completely unknown. No one could understand the reason for the massive decline in illegal activities in Oakland. All I knew was that I was happy because now the police, the city and state government where not making nearly as much money off of those who had fallen into less fortunate fates. In fact, Oakland was going broke because they were now making very little money off those who were considered serious offenders. They could not get nearly as much money from parking, speeding and jaywalking tickets as they did by incarcerating prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts and gangsters. I was succeeding at the job of setting people straight. The only difficulty was that no one knew about me.
I was just Randall to everyone. No one knew what I was doing after midnight. I was just some poor, struggling artist who worked as a waiter and was confused about what I was going to do with my life. This is what most people thought of me. But I knew I was so much more than this but could not figure out how to make any money off of being The Man In Black. I did not want to sell out (like most superheroes do) by publicly claiming who I was and then getting all kinds of comic book, action figure and film deals. No this would be despicable. I could not live with myself if I sold out, so I kept my secret to myself. When I unexpectedly fell in love with my wife, I knew that I was going to have to give up being The Man In Black and go back to graduate school so I could find a decent career that would provide us with security and a comfortable life. Since I cared about righting the wrongs that had been done to people and since our parents are often the ones who do real wrong by us, I decided to go to school to become a psychotherapist. This way I could help undue the damage done by dysfunctional parents with personality disorders. My wife decided to join me and we became psychotherapists together.
But it has been very hard for me. Being a psychotherapist has been nice. I am grateful that I have been able to be successful helping others undo the trauma from their pasts but being a psychotherapist is not what I really want to do. I am not made to be confined to an office all day long. I need to be out in the world, late in the night, wandering around. Now my job as a psychotherapist causes me to become so exhausted that I can not keep my eyes open after 9pm. I end up falling asleep in front of the tv. I am also a quiet man. It is not my nature to have such deep and emotional conversations with other people for such an extended periods of time. Having to have these conversations over and over again, five days a week leave me feeling flat and with no energy to do anything else. I have gone to various hypnotists and healers to find a way to keep my energy intact, while working with other people, but nothing has been effective thus far. I have tried to only work six hours a day, three days a week, but this is 18 deep interactions with people a week and I am still feeling flattened out after day two.
I have no energy to even think about being The Man In Black anymore, so my uniform is collecting lint, dog hair and dust in my closet. I do not know what to do at this point. I know I am not living my purpose but at the same time I feel fortunate that I can help others as a psychotherapist. But being a psychotherapist is not in line with who I truly am. I feel that in order to live a life that has some cultural legitimacy, where I have a good income and am able to support a comfortable life for my wife and I, I must continue working as a psychotherapist. I have no other choice since I have no idea how to make a living as The Man In Black. I’m stuck. I remember reading in The Watchmen about how if a superhero lives a more conventional and domestic life that this would lead to their rapid decline. I suppose I did not take this into consideration when I built the life I have now with my wife. I did not realize that it would leave me with very little energy to pursue my deeper purpose.
So here I am now, sitting at my desk dressed in sweat pants and a sweat shirt. I am wearing my bedroom slippers. My hair is still the way that it was when I woke up this morning. I have a cup of coffee by my side and after I am done writing this I need to get dressed and ready for work. I live with this deep pain about continually having to pretend to be something that I am not. In truth, deep in my soul I am still the strong and powerful Man In Black that I felt like the first time I put on the black suit in my studio apartment. But now I have to go to work each day and pretend to be someone else. I must pretend to be a conservative, professional and upstanding member of my community. I must spend my entire day sitting in a chair, stuck in a dark office talking with other people about their lives and helping them work out deep emotional traumas. Things could be a lot worse, but it is difficult to pretend to be someone other than who you really feel like you are. Maybe if I came to work dressed as The Man In Black this could help, but I think that I would scare most people away. No longer would my clients see me as the qualified mental health worker that they think I am. Most professionals suffer this fate. They must compromise their personal values, their sense of who they really are in order to create a persona that gets them paid. I try very hard not to fall in to this. I like to think that I am being myself but it gets tough.
So this is my confession. Now you know who I am and what I struggle with. I am a superhero who can not be a superhero anymore. I am The Man In Black but I am seen as being a nicely dressed and conservative professional man who lives a simple life. I have my black superhero uniform hanging in my closet. I struggle to embrace and make peace with the more domestic life that I am living now. This is me and I needed to get it off my chest. Hopefully in time I will figure something out. This hope keeps me going. The hope that things will change, that I will find a way to live a more authentic life that does not compromise my personal values and sense of self as much. To become again who I really am, The Man In Black.
Thank you for reading.