Riddle me this. What’s covered in black, confusingly hairy, and has unrealistic goals? No, it’s not a penguin with werewolf syndrome. The answer is me at sixteen.

Teenagers are stereotyped to be angsty, rebellious, careless, unsympathetic, and so many other negative words. Inside their minds, teenagers think of those words as positive and liberating, and think that their own opinions are the correct ones. But after seeing my now teenage sister grow into a strong, smart, witty, sarcastic young woman, I now know that stereotype to be false. However for a teenage Jimmy, it couldn’t have been more accurate.

Now in my twenties, I laugh about how I can sum up my past personality to the lyrics of the ironically-named “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus.

 

‘Cause I’m just a teenage dirtbag baby

Yeah I’m just a teenage dirtbag baby

Listen to Iron Maiden maybe with me

 

That’s pretty much the only thing I cared about when I was in high school: music. In particular, rock music. A young boy Jimmy sat in the car with his mother and heard Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” for the first time and was forever hooked. I still have memories of when I first heard songs that changed my life: Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the way to karate class, which I quit shortly after (being the next Bruce Lee wasn’t exactly in my itinerary), and Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” while watching my Dad play the rapid drum part on the steering wheel of the silver Hyundai station wagon that he’ll never get rid of.

Music only plays a part in this because music can shape your personality. I studied the genre of music; I could have taught a college level course on it. Like most fans of the genre, I wanted to be like them. I wore nothing but band tee-shirts, grew my naturally curly and thick hair out to my shoulders, shunned any other type of music, and started to adapt that rebellious, edged attitude my idol Nikki Sixx had.

Let me make this perfectly clear, I was in no way Nikki Sixx. I wasn’t a heroin addict, I didn’t sleep with hundreds of women, and I didn’t play shows and write music every night. I was barely able to smoke a cigarette because I was asthmatic, only had sex with one girl whom I was dating, and the closest I got to being a musician was thinking I was good at Guitar Hero. Real pussy magnet I was, me and my plastic red guitar with buttons.

Like any kid, I had no idea where I was going with my life. They try to prep you in school for those sort of things, but I was going down a path of being a “husband” to a crazy, manipulating, cupcake-obsessed, self-proclaimed “guidette,” and frankly I didn’t give a shit about the future. I just wanted to be a badass rock star. My dad would always tell me and still does to this day, to enjoy life while you can because your dreams could be over in a flash when you are hit with the realism of life, and that came from him not being able to be a musician because he chose to settle down.

My father couldn’t have been more right. One day in 2009, my mother unexpectedly had to be rushed to the hospital. After several misdiagnoses from several doctors, a dermatologist was able to figure out that my mother had a rare disease called “Steven Johnson’s Syndrome,” or SJS for short. SJS is a life-threatening skin condition that affects the dermis and mucus membranes, caused by a medication allergy. To put it bluntly, it could work two different ways: burn your skin from the inside out, or the outside in. My mother’s was the inside out. No words can sum up how gruesome the disease is and what it does to you. My mother was suffering with this for a while, and wasn’t being treated properly. She was read her last rights on a hospital bed, twice.

Luckily, she survived. What is unlucky is that she needs to deal with the effects for the rest of her life. Her skin has healed since, but she almost lost her ability to walk due to scar tissue buildup. My mother was “super mom.” She was always super-involved in my and my sister’s lives, always cleaning and always doing something to keep busy. After the disease flared, she became the opposite, though she tried. Seeing someone who is like your best friend, the person who birthed you, rendered to nothingness fucks you up.

I didn’t know how to handle the situation. I was not very good at communication or expressing myself, I kept everything in. That made me depressed, which made be suicidal. My mom was the only world I knew and that world was crumbling in front of me. All I could think of was my dad saying that the realism of life could flash in a second and that second flashed several times in a week’s span of time, and I didn’t know how to handle it. Although I was thinking about suicide, I didn’t actually do anything. Razor blades hurt too much. I was the worst suicidal kid ever. After getting into a confrontation because I’d written a note to my parents about what I was thinking, my dad took me out to try to cheer me up. He took me to Target and bought me the Batman: Arkham Asylum video game.

It was a dark and stormy night on the streets of Gotham City. A little boy and his parents walk out of The Legend of Zorro, when they are ambushed and the parents are murdered by a mugger in front of the young boy’s eyes. I saw the pain that the boy felt because I felt that pain— granted, it was only one parent, but the same pain. Bruce Wayne dedicated his life to seeking revenge on his parents’ killer and ensuring that nobody should ever feel the pain he felt.

I used to picture myself in dreams standing alone in my driveway, during the night, in the rain, watching my parents and my sister through the wide window that allows you to see into the living room. They would be happy. Laughing, hugging, enjoying life, without me. I used to picture Bruce Wayne, standing above his parents’ corpses, rain beating upon him, feeling every drop like a heartbeat, and just watching. Wondering what’s next? Why? How? All the questions one feels with loss. But why did I feel alone I still had my family? To this day I can’t answer that.

Finally I was able to connect to someone whom I could share similar feelings with. I studied everything about Batman, I wanted to get in his mindset. No, I didn’t want to run around in a bat costume with a small boy, but I wanted to get in his psyche, to learn how he handled the pain.

Batman is more than a superhero. More than a corporate image that’s on lunch boxes, t-shirts, stamps. He’s a lifestyle, a role model. He’s someone that has faced the worst and has risen up stronger than ever. He faces adversity every night he puts on the suit, and he learned how to not face his problems alone. He has Robin, Barbara and Jim Gordon, and Alfred, who will always have his back no matter the occasion. I found my support group as well. Batman taught me that being alone when you are sad or upset isn’t a healthy choice—you need family and friends to support you, even if they are just hanging out with you.

Every day I look down at my shoulder and see the comic idol I worship, forever inked on my arm and it reminds me of what I went through and what I need to do to keep on keeping on. I have three tattoos now: Batman, Deathstroke, who is there to remind me how complicated fighting a battle can get, and how the enemy can be defeated, even if it looks impossible, and Bane, a symbol of strength who proves that when you are broken, there’s always a way to rise back. I’ve been asked on several occasions if I regret getting cartoon characters tattooed on me, and the answer will always be “fuck no.” Sure, they are fictional characters, but they aren’t cartoons for me—they are the ways and morals that saved my life.

So back to the question, yeah, I always wore black, yeah, I had ridiculous hair and odd facial hair that refused to grow properly, and yeah, my dreams were just dreams, but I don’t regret anything in my life. I learned from any mistakes that I’ve made, and from mistakes come miracles. I’ve stepped forward, pursued a career, dreamed more dreams that I’m taking strides to accomplish, and even met the love of my life. But if I was never that depressed wannabe rock star teenager, then I never would have become Batman.

Jimmy Gubitosi’s personal essay, “A Dark and Stormy Knight,” won third prize in the Fourth Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. He is a Screenwriting major who graduates this spring.