Bruce Banner and I have precious little in common. I’m not interested in his solo comics or movies, and he wouldn’t make it onto a list of my favorite Marvel characters. If we’re going by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, OK sure, Mark Ruffalo is adorable and he and I both have brown eyes and brown hair (his curls are artfully tousled, my straight hair refuses to hold any styling whatsoever), but that’s where the similarities end (beyond us both being human, though I would argue Dr. Banner can’t even claim he is fully human anymore…).
Before those of you who are Marvel savants begin debating with me about Bruce’s humanity, that’s not my point. I rarely read comics, but fan hard over anything related to the MCU. While I love me a good origin story, The Avengers was a phenomenal conclusion to Phase 1 because it brought together an ensemble cast without sacrificing the integrity of the individuals.
But every time I watched it, from the first time I saw it in theaters, to the various reruns in anticipation of the Next Big Release, one line always bothered me. It’s this huge moment – the Team is finally together, working as a united front. Iron Man tears through the sky, kiting a skyscraper-sized Chitauri Leviathan towards the Team.
Captain America says to Bruce, “Dr. Banner, now might be a really good time for you to get angry,” and Bruce casually looks over his shoulder as he’s moseying towards the beast, and replies calmly, “That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.” As Bruce turns back towards the Leviathan, he morphs into the Hulk and wreaks enormous-green-rage-monster-level havoc.
IT IS EPIC AND I WILL FANGIRL ABOUT IT IF I WANT TO but that is not the point, either.
The point is, for five years, I didn’t think it was epic. For five years, it was the single most nonsensical, ill-advised line in the movie to me; inevitably, that line always jarred me out of my immersion. I hated that line. Always angry? How could someone be always angry, and still a functioning adult? I get that the writers wanted to make a statement, but for me it just fell flat.
If Bruce is truly always angry – as in, every waking moment full of rage angry– how can he possibly function? How can he deal with Tony’s teasing and prodding and be so good-natured about it all? How does he have any room in his brain to conceptualize and implement an algorithm to track the Tesseract based on his gamma radiation research? How is he moving calmly, serenely even, through the world, causing the least ripples of disturbance of any of the Avengers?
There’s no freaking way this seemingly Zen-master – who, by the way, was working as an unregistered physician in Calcutta, of all places, when he was confronted about the Initiative – is always angry.
What a stupid, over-the-top, gimmicky line.
And then, on one unextraordinary winter morning of February 2017, I got it.
One moment, I was crossing the threshold into work, and the next, I had to duck into the main office as my grief and rage unleashed in the form of body-wracking sobs.
Nothing triggered me. It wasn’t the first time I’d broken down into seemingly arbitrary tears – Chris and I often burst into tears apropos of nothing; the turmoil was ever present and between one breath and the next, we never knew if we were going to exhale on a sob – but this was the first time I’d done so in front of other people.
“I just need a minute,” I said to my stunned audience – fellow teachers who had been innocently preparing for their day. Doubled over, I cried and cried, trying and failing to pull back on the carefully curated façade of normalcy.
“What’s wrong?” someone ventured.
“Love Bug,” I managed.
“What happened?” they asked, now urgent, genuinely concerned as they wondered what new tragedy had befallen my little girl.
That’s my secret, Cap.
“Nothing,” I choked incredulously, affronted and bewildered that they even had to ask.
I’m always angry.
These are people who only ever had Love Bug’s best interests at heart, who adored her and had been prepared to comfort me as I divulged some new affliction affecting her, and yet upon realizing nothing new was actually wrong, their urgency shifted almost imperceptibly into impatience.
As though Love Bug’s paralysis was something that happened six months ago, not something that we’d been fighting for the past six months. As though, because they had come to terms with it and were so over it, I obviously should have been as well. As though that was even ever an option for me.
I didn’t know how to explain to them, at the time, that this is how I always felt. And frankly, I was bitter that it was something that even required an explanation. Did they not realize the suffering I’d been enduring for the past six months? That I wasn’t a person anymore, I was devastation and rage and grief incarnate?
Thinking back on that day, over one year ago now, I remember the emotions, their extent, how they reached into every corner of my life. The grief and rage left marks that will never truly go away, carved into my bones and onto my heart.
And I realize something. I realize that those well-meaning individuals stared at me blankly, as though my explanation wasn’t enough – as though they couldn’t fathom how the devastation could still be so raw, or felt that I should have somehow come to terms with our situation, because to them, Love Bug’s paralysis was a finite event that happened on ONE day six long months ago.
To me, Chris and I had been living with (and suffering, raging, grieving) her paralysis EVERY day for the past six months, with no end in sight.
What a nuance of tragedy, how those to whom it happens directly move through time differently than those on the periphery, aware but unaffected.
They couldn’t possibly comprehend my reality. They saw her every day and were devastated when she got sick, especially during the weeks when we had no answers. But they could walk away from What Happened, detach themselves from My Reality, because it’s not something that happened to them; they certainly were not dwelling on it every waking moment, whereas for me, it was utterly inescapable.
And I don’t really blame them, because it took me five years and a singular tragedy to get it, myself.
If on the inside, I was always angry-raging-grieving-suffering, how could I possibly also be functioning? How could I appear “normal” on the outside? How could I possibly feel all that, all the time, and still look and act like a functioning member of society? When on the inside my turmoil was as bleak as the arctic, my grief as bottomless as the ocean, my rage as hot as the sun, how could I possibly go on?
How could I NOT?
Giving in, losing hope, succumbing would mean giving up on Love Bug, and since I didn’t have the luxury of losing control and turning into an enormous green rage monster to vent my emotions, I had to accept what was left: going through the motions, operating on autopilot and hoping for the best. Hoping the facade held intact, trusting that, for the most part, I could continue to skirt the edges of that bottomless pit of despair, without losing myself entirely.
When an option isn’t really an option at all, what choice do you actually have?
Because as all-consuming as these emotions were, the only thing to ever break through them was Love Bug herself. And I would not abandon her for the world.