I enjoyed many cartoons as an 80’s kid, but the first one that I enjoyed to the extent of near-obsession was She-Ra, the kick-ass cousin of He-Man. I never missed the back-to-back episodes that came on right after I got home from school. I had a variety of She-Ra jigsaw puzzles. I had the She-Ra action figure and her winged horse Swift Wind (which sounds like a fast fart, now that I think of it). For Christmas, I asked for and received She-Ra’s musical Crystal Castle dollhouse. But my most prized She-Ra possession was my pink plastic She-Ra lunchbox.
When I was in second grade, a fifth grader the size of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man teased me relentlessly. I was a shrimp. Not only was I below-average in height, but I’d also skipped a grade, so I was EXTRA small in comparison to this boy.
After about a month of his teasing, I came home in tears. I told Mom that no matter how much I pleaded with him to stop, he never did. “He pokes me and says mean things about me and tries to intimidate me.” (I’m pretty sure I used that exact word).
HER exact words: “Well, Moxie, you might just have to kick his ass. Sometimes that’s the only way to get through to people like him.”
A couple of days later, he doubled his efforts to bother me. We got off the bus after school and he began following me home, going in the direction opposite from where he lived just to keep messing with me. I tried to ignore him. Finally, he crossed the line when he pushed me in the back (HARD) and said, “I know you hear me talking to you, NIGGER!”
It was like something snapped. Everything slowed down and I swear sensed the rotation of the Earth. The hand which gripped the handle of my beloved lunchbox grew hot; I could feel The Power of Greyskull travel up my arm. It morphed my fear into a focused anger.
I’m no fool; I hauled ass home, my little arms pumping away as I blazed a trail of fire in my wake. I was crying by the time I burst through the door and slammed it behind me (I locked it just in case).
Mom heard the commotion and came rushing out to see what was wrong. The words tumbled out of me and I was damn-near hyperventilating. In her ever-present calm demeanor, she told me that everything was going to be okay. I settled down enough to stop crying and went to watch She-Ra.
Not more than 20 minutes later, there was a knock at the door. I had a feeling that the visitor had something to do with Stay-Puft, and I knew I was right when I heard, “LOOK WHAT YOUR CHILD DID!” resound through the house and into the hallway, where I sat on the floor listening, but not able to see around into the kitchen where all the action was happening.
The mother was understandably upset, and I could tell that she was straining to keep her composure to talk about the matter without letting her anger get the better of her.
Unflappable, Mom simply replied, “Did you know that your son has been teasing my daughter?”
“Stay-Puft is only in fifth grade,” the mother countered, “and he’s a big boy. I’m sure that this is just a case of kids being kids; they tease each other sometimes. I think your daughter took things too far. For him to come home looking like this, your child has to be a lot bigger than he is. Please teach your daughter to pick on kids her own size.”
I could almost hear the triumphant smile in Mom’s voice when she said, “Moxie, can you come out here, please?” Somehow she knew that I’d been listening from the hall.
The mother looked at me. Then she looked at her son. Then back at me. Then back at him.
Then I looked at him. My eyes widened at what I saw: both of his lips were busted and swollen, there was a knot swelling on his forehead, and livid bruise was darkening on his cheekbone where She-Ra first made contact. I thought to myself, Oh, crap, I’m in A LOT of trouble!
The mom took one last, long, hard look at me. Then she whirled on her son and said, “THIS IS THE GIRL WHO DID THIS TO YOU?” She popped him upside the back of his head as she fussed at him: “THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU DESERVE! SHE’S SMALL! SHE’S LITTLE! I HOPE YOU LEARNED YOUR LESSON, YOU BULLY!”
She paused for half a second to apologize to both of us, then grabbed Stay-Puft by the scruff of his shirt and dragged him out the door. We heard her fussing continue as she pulled him away.
I’d always been a shy, somewhat meek child. For the first time, I saw that I had the potential to be my own superhero in moments when I needed to be saved; I could be my own She-Ra.
I owe it all to my pink lunchbox.
(And maybe also to my first superhero, who is every bit the heroine today as she was all those years ago.)