"Astronaut," I said stupidly. Really more for her benefit than for for mine. But it was the answer she wanted to hear. I pick up on these things, you know, being as smart as I am. She wouldn't be interested in the real story anyway.
Even when I was a child, I lacked a sort of gleam you can still see in the eyes of some adults. You can be anything. That's what they tell you, isn't it? And when you're a child, it's the full truth. I never had these delusions. I knew always – not what I wanted to be, exactly, but... the difference. I suppose you could say I sensed it.
Children are natural-born showoffs. We all are, to some degree, but before the haze of adolescence blurs our vision and the walls of conformity break us down into sensible adults, we are purely ego, and purely dreaming. Every word spelled correctly marks a future as an author; every successful steer of the bicycle makes a world-famous athlete. That's the way it is for most children, anyway.
Oh, yes, I watched them. I observed them as I do her, and they were easier to figure out because they understood even before I did that I was not quite of their ilk. Before I stuffed myself into the cage with the rest of the geeky menagerie, I was already cast in a different role. Other children's uneasiness when faced with the conflict of me was almost palpable. But let me illustrate for you the example I'm referencing here.
When I was seven years old, I joined a peewee soccer team upon my parents' halfhearted recommendation. I can't say they forced me, because they never forced me to do anything. Like the children, they understood the juxtaposition of themselves to myself, and they learned to keep their distance, too. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I was on this soccer team. I wasn't much for sports, never was, not even – especially not even – after the accident, when I could've possibly succeeded at them. Soccer is not so repelling as some other sports are to me, which was probably why I agreed. Even my crystalline memory can't recall everything precisely.
The other children at first took something of a liking to me. I was funny. I'd never realized I had any sort of sense of humor, but once you get past the layer of arrogance I make sure to exude, it is there. I don't remember what exactly I said to them; something a seven year old would find funny, I imagine. But before we even started to play, I'd made a few comrades, impartial souls who didn't quite understand their purpose in this game either. Of course, the game for me was life and the game for them was soccer. I understood its rules perfectly, but I humbled myself for them. No one likes a know-it-all.
I only specifically remember one single fragment of conversation. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" asked another boy. Funny I hadn't even thought of this old, frayed thread of memory before she'd brought it up, but she must've awakened something in me.
The question caught me by surprise; I had never really thought of it before. I noticed other kids, their frantic attempts to procure attention from the world, even through activities they didn't exactly excel in, to say the least. I, meanwhile, would not waste my time on such hapless experiments. I knew I wasn't an artist; I knew I wasn't an author, a teacher, an athlete, a performer, or a doctor (laughably, but I don't have a degree after all) – all at the tender age of seven. "I don't know," I replied truthfully.
"Why don't you know?" he pressed.
"I don't know. I just don't."
"Oh. Well, I want to be an astronaut."
And that's where that came from. In that split second, I had the greatest respect for him. Astronauts were scientists, after all.
"I want to fly a rocket!" Well, that went right out the window. I could've told him there's hardly any actual flight in a rocket, at least in terms of the flight he was talking about. One doesn't simply steer a rocket around with a wheel or something. That's why we have computers.
"Really?" I asked him, however. He was my friend, sort of, so I figured I ought to humor him.
"Yeah!" he said, excitedly. This is where that child's ego kicks in. "I'm going to fly to the moon, and Jupiter, and Saturn, and land on the rings!"
And here I wanted to point out that he could fly to the moon... maybe. Was this kid NASA material? I figured most of the scientists they had were more like, well, me. Anyway, just as well, I wanted to let him know it'd take generations to reach either Jupiter or Saturn; he'd die before he saw either, assuming a rocket could run so long on what fuel it had. Jupiter is a gas giant; good luck parking there. And Saturn's rings are made of small ice crystals. There is no physical surface. All I said was, "It's impossible."
The boy's face went slack. "Huh?"
"All of that is impossible. That's it."
Word gets around quick. You say one wrong thing and suddenly you're right back where you started.
Now you see why she wouldn't have wanted to know anyway. No one finds these things to be of any value except me. What lesson can be learned from a story without even a happy ending? In the privacy of a single pair – just the two of us – even then I am the black sheep. Normal people have a natural way of alienating me without even realizing it. And she talks about her life, perfectly normal, almost; as far as metahumans go it's not much to speak of. She uses the word "average" a lot – this is a term I cannot relate to. I have never been able to.
Apparently I was meant to be paying attention, because I'm getting a look for it now. You see, this is what happens when people start talking to me. Normally I dwell on my past more than I ought to, but it starts to get ridiculous once I have someone around to unintentionally remind me how it felt. And they wonder why I usually work solo.