|by Samuel Hawkins
SUPERBOY APPRECIATION DAY!
In a more sophisticated era of perceiving and massaging public opinion, perhaps the young Superboy and his parents would have adopted a more proactive approach to introducing him to the world. Instead, they followed their instincts, which, tending towards reserve and humility, effectively left the public and media a blank slate on which to project their fears and aspirations. Heíll save us, one group said. Heíll conquer us, said another. And any point in between the two extremes could be easily found in the commentaries and conversation of the day. Most of the publicly broadcast opinions tended towards suspicion, fear, and hostility. These were, of course, rather human responses, and maybe nothing would have come of them, if not for one unavoidable fact.
Humans run the world.
Only in Smallville, perhaps, was response unambiguous. It was here that heíd first appeared, and Chief Parker vouched for him. That was enough for the good people of the town to brand him as theirs. No matter what Shelbyville or Cooper Springs might claim, this Superboy fella was Smallvilleís favorite son. No one here wondered what he wanted. They knew that like any other good Smallvillian, he just wanted to help. And they were happy to let him.
After two weeks, five rescued cats, two extinguished brush fires, three jump-started cars, and one thwarted bank robbery, the Smallville City Council felt that it was time to hold a Superboy Appreciation Day. Pa Kent recommended that his son graciously attend. "People need to feel like they know you, Clark," he explained. "The things you can do Ö well, letís just say that people need to know that despite all that, youíre just plain folks."
With reluctance, Clark agreed to the Saturday afternoon event. The reluctance was primarily the result of his almost innate habit of trying to keep a low profile, but there was something more.
Saturday was the day that Lana was coming home.
While the excitement of operating publicly had taken the edge off his longing for Lana, her imminent return had renewed his exhilaration. Why, so distracted was he with thoughts of Lana, heíd even slipped and, as Clark, had effortlessly lifted a two hundred-pound crate in front of Mrs. Potter. Fortunately, Mrs. Potter didnít see so well any more, but he knew he had to be more careful. If only Saturday would come, he kept thinking, he would be able to think straight again.
Heíd planned to coincidentally be waiting by her front gate when Lana came home, but that wouldnít be possible now. Resigning himself to a chance meeting with her downtown after the festivities in his honor, he put his best face on for his parents, and attempted to genuinely appreciate the gratitude the town was showing.
The crowd for Superboy Appreciation Day was the largest ever to assemble in Smallville, larger even than that of the annual Corn Festival. Of course, the number of out-of-town reporters who covered the Corn Festival was significantly less than the 500 or more who showed up that day. Those that came saw an outpouring of small-town enthusiasm and warmth that even the most jaded of them were forced to admit was notable. The Smallville High School band, hastily reassembled from their summer break, turned in a rousing performance despite their lack of practice. Tom Johnsonís lemonade sold like hotcakes on this hot summer day, and Emma Johnsonís fried apple pies sold like, well, her fried apple pies. And the mortgage on the Johnson place was sizably reduced.
Superboy descended from 2000 feet promptly at noon, and graciously accepted the handshakes and speeches of the mayor and town council and the newly cast key to the city. Superboyís speech was the shortest of the day, clocking in at a mere 37 seconds, or approximately 30 times shorter than Councilman Taylorís. The youngster thanked the town, thanked the mayor, thanked the town council, promised that he would do his best to live up to all this, thanked everyone again, and sat down. Four more speeches and two more renditions of Stars and Stripes Forever later, Smallville had exhausted its bag of tricks. Besides, it was hot, anyway.
Over time, Superboy would learn the value of making an appropriately dramatic exit, and indeed, how to make one. At this age, though, instead of treating the crowd to a slow ascent into the clouds that they would have talked about for thirty years, he simply stood around as the festivities ended. It was a mistake he wouldnít make again.
It speaks volumes about the upbringing of the Smallville citizens that there was no pushing until the out-of-town reporters surged into Superboyís proximity. But then a gaggle of enthralled teenaged girls followed them in, and a press of bodies began that was going to seriously hurt someone if it went on much longer. Superboy quickly realized that the best way to defuse the situation was to remove himself from it, and he slowly rose out of reach, and prepared to soar away.
But then, for some reason, he paused. In silence, he hovered there for a long moment that almost allowed the pushing to begin again, before speeding into the sky so quickly it made at least three members of the Smallville DAR lose their summer hats.
Though most didnít give it a second thought, the hesitation puzzled a few. One Metropolis reporter put in his dispatch a critical comment about how the youngster had hovered over the pressing mass of humanity in a gesture of his superiority, but his grizzled editor quickly excised it. "Donít project your psychobabble into your stories!" heíd barked to the reporter over the phone as he excised the statement. Perry White did this without even knowing that the feeling that caused the boy to pause was as far from superiority as was possible.
Jonathan Kent had definitely noticed his sonís hesitance upon departing, and the possible ramifications of it. Clark was sitting in his room with the curtains drawn when Pa came in. At least he hadnít gone to the moon, like he usually did when he was upset, Pa thought. Casually walking over to look out the window, Pa said, "Pretty big day."
Clark nodded, but didnít look up. Jonathan took a deep breath.
"You upset about what happened there at the end?"
Clark nodded again.
"You just hesitated. Itís only human. You were a little confused, but no one was hurt. Youíll know better next time."
Clark nodded again. He still didnít look up.
Jonathan was beginning to sense that more was wrong here than a brief lapse in judgment. "Son?" Still, Clark didnít look up. "Son. Whatís the matter?"
Clark still didnít look up. Instead, he stood. Then, Clark slowly walked into his fatherís arms, and began to cry. Pa, who couldnít remember how long it had been since Clark had cried, just held his son in silence while he wept. When Clarkís sobs began to subside, Jonathan said again, "Son, whatís the matter?"
It was hard for Clark to answer. "Lana," was all he could finally say.
Jonathan Kent felt the tiniest moment of relief. The question, "Is that all?" percolated in his brain. But then he remembered what it was like to be 13 and in love for the first time, and he realized that, however trivial this infatuation might be in the grand scheme of things, it was beyond all importance right now to Clark. Perhaps in light of Clarkís abilities, that made it non-trivial in the grand scheme of things, but all Jonathan really cared about right then was that his boy was hurting.
"Tell me about it," Pa said.
Clark did. "I Ö like Lana. A lot. And Iíd been so excited about seeing her again. And then all of a sudden, there she was. As I was about to leave, she was one of the girls trying to get close to me. And I was so happy to see her, I Ö didnít move for a second. I almost forgot that Ö you know, that I was there as Superboy, not as Clark."
Jonathan didnít know quite what to make of his boyís worries. "I Ö donít understand. Youíre upset because you were so glad to see her that you stopped?"
Clark shook his head. "No. It was Ö it was the look Ö the look on her face. She was Ö ecstatic. She looked, you know, like those girls did when they first saw Elvis."
Now Jonathan was even more confused. "But, son, thatís understandable. Youíre Ö something no one has ever seen before. Not to mention that youíre as handsome as can be. Of course a young girl like Lana is going to flip over you."
"No," Clark said sharply. "Over Superboy. She had liked me, but now Ö I could see it in her eyes. The thrill. After that Ö plain old Clark Kent just isnít going to match up."
Jonathan took another deep breath, and tried to think of what to say. "Son, I donít quite know what to tell you. Youíre right, if what youíre saying is that as Superboy youíre going to turn more pretty little heads than as Clark. Probably every teenaged girl in Smallville, if not the whole country, is dreaming about holding your hand right now. And probably every teenaged boy in Smallville, if not the whole country, is feeling a mite envious of Superboy. But things will settle down. People tend to get all excited about new things, but then things go back to normal. And you might not be giving Lana enough credit. Right now, Superboy is new and exciting, but that doesnít mean that the history the two of you share is just wiped away. Thereís a bond between you two. Always has been, since the first time you saw each other when you were three, and she walked right over and kissed you plumb on the lips."
Clark almost grinned at the memory, but then shook his head. "I donít know Pa. You didnít see the look on her face. I feel ... kinda ... like Iím losing out. And the fact that I seem to be ... losing out to myself just makes it all the worse."
Sensing that Clark was about to cry again, Pa hugged him tighter. Then he held him at armís length and looked into his eyes. "Son, I can only tell you how sorry I am that I didnít figure out what was going on with you. Going through your first love is Ö well, letís just say that I remember thinking that I wasnít going to make it out alive. I shouldnít have put you through revealing yourself to the world while all this was going on."
"Pa, you couldnít have known."
"Yes, I could. I should have." Jonathan stopped and shook his head. "Son, I guess I keep forgetting that youíre only 13. Itís just that youíre so Ö advanced in everything, I forget that in addition to the problems being Superboy will cause you, you have to go through the problems of growing up just like any other young man."
"I shouldnít have to though," Clark protested. "I mean, Iíve read everything ever written on human development. I know Freud, and Erickson, and a dozen others. If I look at this objectively, I know that itís all just Ö part of the normal maturation process."
Jonathan shook his head. "But Clark, you canít look at things that way. You canít just Ö analyze life objectively. Youíve got to live it. Son, you may be the smartest person ever to set foot on this planet. With all that reading you do, you certainly know more things than anyone else ever has. But all that book learning is no substitute for the things that time will teach you." Pa paused. "Do you remember the first time you read Shakespeare? How old were you?"
"Four," Clark replied instantly.
"Right, you were four. Iíll never forget it. We knew you were ... special before that, of course. Not many three-year-olds can chop firewood with their bare hands. But I donít think we realized just how smart you were until then. You read and memorized the complete works of Shakespeare in what, two, three hours? One afternoon, and youíd done what few people have done in a lifetime."
"I really liked them," Clark recalled. "The cadences were so different. Kinda like what I remembered of Kryptonese."
"Yeah, you were a sight. A four-year-old spouting off lines from Hamlet or King Lear or Othello at the supper table. You did that for a week. Thought it would drive your mother crazy." He chuckled at the memory, but then was serious. "You knew all the lines, but, you didnít understand what it all meant, did you?"
Clark shook his head. "No, not really. I understood Ö the meaning of the words. But not what it Öreally meant." He furrowed his brow in thought, then added, "Maybe I still donít."
Jonathan nodded. "Some things just take time, and ... wisdom is one of those. Itís like building a house. Putting all the pieces together takes longer than getting them. And youíve got more pieces to put together than anyone whoís ever lived. Now, because youíre so smart and have such a good heart, youíll be able to do that. But itís going to take time. We all need to remember that. Whether itís figuring out what the limits of your powers are, or figuring out how Lana or some other girl feels about you. Even you canít rush time." Clark nodded, though his agreement was more intellectual than emotional.
Then Pa said, "And Clark, thereís something I should have told you sooner. You donít have to do this. This ... hero thing. I hope youíre not doing it on account of me and your mother. I know weíve told you over and over how special your powers are, and how youíll be able to help folks with them. But youíre our son, and what we most want is for you to be happy. If all you want to lead is a normal life, now or later, youíre entitled to that, same as anyone else is. If you like, you can put that costume away forever. Or you can put it away until youíre a grown man. Whatever you choose, itís up to you. This responsibility may not be too much to take, but it is too much to ask. The choice has to be yours."
Clarkís eyes locked with those of the man who had raised him. He was surprised to discover just how appealing the notion of a normal life was to him. Maybe this was all happening too soon. Maybe he did need to be a kid. Maybe Ö
His last thought was lost forever as he heard Ma practically sprinting up the steps to his room. She swung open the door and stormed into the room. "Jonathan, Clark! Itís on the news. Thereís about to be a war!"
"Between who?" Pa asked.
"Us and the Russians!"
The blood of both male Kents chilled at the prospects of such a conflict. Clark asked, "Why!"
Tears were in Martha Kentís eyes when she answered. "God help us, Clark. Over you."