Super Shadow

Leaves scuttled along the street, dry against the cool pavement. The outline of a hat and the billowing shadow of a cape undulated on the pavement, as if in some dramatic trailer to a new superhero movie. Something about it portended danger or might, power or worry, and the wind that tugged and chewed at it carried a vicious bite. What mystery-figure stood so tall, shrouded in cape and millinery madness, on a strange October night?

A streetlight behind me set the captivating motion into relief, where it danced according to the whim of the wind. On this cool night, we had assembled as members of the Amsterdam Marching Rams for the Halloween Parade. I made do with a simple hat and a cape, and though I was small my shadow was larger-than-life, shifting in the waves of air beneath the buzzing streetlamp. It looked much cooler than it was. (When your everyday wardrobe is as outlandish as mine tended to be, Halloween is a welcome day off; amateur hour for the masses who didn’t have the guts on an average weeknight.) As I stood there, my shadow caught the notice of a classmate who remarked that it was “wicked cool.” Another pointed down at it and agreed. Secretly smug that even my shadow was cool, I soon wondered if it might only be my shadow. What if the shell was the best part of the package? What if no one liked what was inside? It was a split second of pride and doubt, and passed quickly. Soon I was consumed with the task of marching with an oboe and trying not to have a double reed get shoved down my throat or into an eye.

I’m not sure why I remember that moment before the parade so distinctly. Nothing of import or note happened – I don’t even remember anything after that first few minutes of assembly. Yet it has stayed with me all these years – and I attribute it to the power of an image. An image of mystery, something that hinted and whispered rather than screamed in perfect bright clarity. It was a notion, a nudge, a suggestion – and somehow it was more powerful and omnipotent because of that.

Elongated and larger than life, my shadow stretched deep into that night, overwhelming and overpowering everything in its path. That it came from such a small kid seemed unfathomable, and my young mind struggled to wrap itself around the idea that I might one day have such reach. I would simply have to remember: the world isn’t kind to little things.

A hat and cape might protect me one day.

Or they might just look cool when set into stark relief.

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