Do you see this face? This cute, innocent, trusting face?

That is a picture of my baby brother, John, taken when he was about five. Doesn't he look sweet? Who would want to hurt a little fellow like John Andrew?

I'll tell you who.

Kim Nichols, that's who. The bane of our existance. Our nemisis.

Next door to the old rectory where we lived, there was a duplex. It crouched between our hulking wreck of a manse and the Smith's house where my best friend and her five brothers and sisters lived. In order to reach the oasis that was the Smith's house, you first had to pass by the rowhouse where Kim Nichols lived with her grandmother and her grandmother's 26 chihuahuas.

Kim Nichols was the troll that lived beneath our childhood bridge.

Every day, without fail, Kim beat me up. If she didn't catch me on the playground, she trapped me on the way home. She was my age, maybe a year older, and she was a torn-down terror of a girl. Redheaded with horrible buck teeth and freckles. She would outrun me, overtake me and knock me down no matter how I tried to escape and I lived in fear of her throughout my elementary school years.

Little did I know she was torturing my little brother at the same time.

I guess we each thought we were the only weakling tormented by Kim and it was our private agony to bear in silent shame.

But my brother was five years younger than Kim. He wore a heavy metal brace on his leg, the result of running through a plate glass window. He was a very easy target.

The only relief we had from Kim came at dinnertime when her grandmother would step outside onto the back stoop and surrounded by her yapping menagerie would yell in a high, shrill voice "Kim-eeeee!!!"

The screech would echo across the narrow back yards, bounce off the the brick walls of our homes and signal blessed relief from our tormentor. Kim's supper was the equivalent of a Christmas Truce in wartime. It lasted as long as it took Kim to eat and elude the clutches of her grandmother.

Late every afternoon we all smelled supper cooking at the Nichols' house. It was always the same odor because Kim's grandmother cooked a homemade meat and rice concoction for her 26 dervish dogs every single night. I have no idea what she fed Kim.

I only know that I loved supper time at the Nichols' house.

It was just never enough of a respite.

This past April, as my family gathered to be close to Dad for Spring Break, John finally gave up his secret.

"That bully beat me up every day!" he said, taking a pull on his Corona. "And I was just a little kid!"

"She did it to you, too?" I asked.

He nodded. "Yeah. I hated her. She'd knock me down and I'd run home cryin' every single day...Until one day when I'd had enough." John looked around the table at the adults, a mischevious smile bringing a gleam into his eyes. "Do you guys remember Ultraman?"

Unbidden, the long forgotten theme song of the Ultraman T.V show streamed into my conscious memory. Ultraman, the precursor of the Power Rangers.

My brother doesn't wait for the answer, he sees it in our faces.

"I watched that show every day," he said. "Every single day."

I remember my brother, inches from the T.V, soaking up shows that feature superheroes, believing every bit, every word...crying for an entire week when Robin got swallowed by a giant clam in a cliff-hanger episode on Batman, unconsolable until the following Sunday night when Batman saved his fearless buddy. Of course he watched Ultraman.

"This one day," my brother said. "She knocked me down, hard, and I just lost my shit! I got so mad I cried. I screamed at her, 'I'll get you!'" And then I ran back home, only this time I knew what I had to do. I was going to turn into Ultraman...You know how the guy stuck his fist up in the air and lightning hit him and he turns into Ultraman?"

I am nodding, trying to see how a five year old boy could actually believe he could become a superhero.

"No," John insists, reading my mind. "I was going to be Ultraman. I was going to show Kim Nichols!"

He is laughing, tears streaming down his face, reviewing the home movie in his head.

"I ran into the kitchen and I was crying and saying "I'll show her! I'll get her!" And I pulled open the drawer, took out the tin foil and wrapped myself in tin foil!"

Our eyes widen, we are now laughing with him, seeing the sweet, little boys swearing vengence and believing himself capable of exacting his revenge with super powers given to him by a roll of tin foil.

"I ran back outside. I was screamin' for her and there she was, still standing out on the sidewalk, looking at me like I'm nuts. I mean, here's this little kid screaming he's going to kill her and he's covered in tin foil...which of course comes flying off while I'm running but I don't even know...I'm Ultraman and I'm going to kill Kim Nichols!"

We all want to ask, "What happened?" but we are also dreading the inevitable answer. My brother sees all of this in our eyes but for a long moment he is laughing too hard to continue. We are at once horrified and unable to look away.

"I run up to her and I'm screaming, 'Ultraman!' I punched her as hard as I could and then I turned around and kept on running right back to the house."

"What did she do?" We ask.

"When I got to the front porch, just before I ran in the door, I looked back and she was still standing there, looking at me, like she knew I was crazy or something...But I didn't care because Ultraman had defeated her!"

He was laughing. We were all laughing, big, fat tears pouring down our reddened faces. We were John, we were victorious against the neighborhood bully.

"Did she leave you alone after that?" someone wants to know.

John shrugs. "I don't know. Probably not, but I don't remember it happening again. I think she thought I was crazy and maybe that's why she left me alone. But it didn't matter anymore what she did. I was Ultraman!"

I try to remember when Kim stopped beating me up and can't. There was a brief period when I tried to befriend her. I don't know if this was before or after Dad told me Kim lived with her grandmother because her mother was a biker and had run off with Kim's father, leaving her mother to raise Kim...like a 27th chihuahua.

I remember taking Kim to church, kneeling on the thin, red velvet cushions as Dad read his way through the communion litergy, the church hot and stuffy, quiet except for the sound of Dad's voice. Dust motes danced on a shaft of sunlight that lit the aisle beside us. That is what I saw just before Kim fell out onto the floor in a dead faint.

I was petrified, frozen in a self-conscious panic. I didn't know what to do. Was I supposed to stay respectfully kneeling and not make a scene? I ignored her, watched as the ushers rushed to her aide and finally, as her eyes rolled back in her head, moved to follow her as the two men carried her out of the sanctuary.

I have only one other memory of Kim. We are in her house, in her small bedroom where the wallpaper is a sepia memory of rose sprigs and her bed is hard and covered with a cheap chenille spread.

We sit side by side and I realize, too late, that she is staring at me with an expression I do not understand.

Without warning she turns and kisses me, hard, on my lips.

I am once again frozen, incapable of reacting for what seemed like the eternity it took to inhale and run down the steps, out her front door and back to my own bedroom with its bright colors and pink cabbage rose wallpaper. I slam the door behind me, sink into my bed and try to erase the entire memory from my head.

But here it still is.

I remembered her kiss when I heard years later that she'd died riding drunk and high on the back of a Pagan's chopped Harley.

And for a brief second I wondered if it were somehow my fault. If I hadn't run, if I'd somehow avoided that kiss, come up with another way to deal with her advance, rushed to her side when she fainted, known, understood, read her better...would she have made other choices? Would she still be alive?

I hear my father's chuckle in my head..."You are not that powerful," he would say. "You can't make anyone do or feel anything. That is up to them...You don't have that much control, no one does. We all create our own reality."

I know, in my head, that what my father says is true. I am powerless to change anyone but myself. The only demons I can defeat are my own.

I didn't understand Kim then and even if I had, that knowledge alone wouldn't have been enough to save her. One gesture, one word would not be enough to take away her anger and pain any more than it would be enough to push her over the edge into a self-destructive end. I couldn't stop the sea of rage and unhappiness that led her to attack others and eventually destroy her own life.

We can only control our own lives. This seems at once freeing and selfish and I think long and hard about it, wrestle with it until I can flip the concept over and face its other side...

My brother changed his life the day he became Ultraman.

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