I’ve written extensively of my memories of Lonoke, Arkansas and Norman, Oklahoma, but my memory goes further back to Texas. In fact, my first memory is around one-and-a-half years old, and it involved Batman in a small way. We lived in a trailer home somewhere near Houston. One summer evening, my mother had some friends over for coffee. My twin and I were riding down the gravel drive of the trailer on little plastic scooters. No peddles, just powered by our sandaled feet. Mine was green and it was a nominally akin to a tractor. My mother had cut the rubber head of a toy tom-tom drum into a mask just like Robin’s from Batman. I recall coming in from the humid night air to have her retie it for me a couple of times. This tells you how deep my roots with the Batman franchise grows.
Fast-forward a couple of years, we were living in a small brick house on the shady campus of Austin Theological Seminary. I’m not exactly sure what my exposure to Batman was, the cartoon? The live-action television show? It must have been one of those because I knew the iconic theme song. Na-na na-na na-na na-na na-na na-na na-na na-na na-na BATMAAAAAAN! I would roam the neighborhood pretending to be Batman and singing that song, but I must not have thought there were not sufficient lyrics, because I composed a few additional words.
Na-na na-na na-na na-na na-na na-na na-na na-na na-na BATMAAAAAAN!
And he will kill you with his knife!
Pretty dark, right?
I have a few powerful memories from this early time in my life, but none more powerful than this. I must have been around four. We were living in the brick house. I was in the kitchen with my twin brother, Paul. Perhaps I was hungry or thirsty and was doing a little scavaging. I was just tall enough to be able to see things on the edge of the kitchen counter, and there I saw a small glass with a liquid that looked like apple juice to me.
I knew it wasn’t mine and Paul recalls warning me that I shouldn’t drink it, probably for moral reasons. But I loved apple juice, so I reached up on my tiptoes and grabbed the glass. I tipped it into my lips and began to swallow, but something was terribly wrong. My mouth and throat began to burn. I began to cough and then I began to scream.
My mother rushed in and found me holding the glass of turpentine. She took the glass from me. Perhaps she poured it down the sink. She called my father in. It was the first time I recall my parents panicking and not knowing exactly what to do. They began brainstorming, my throat still burning. One of them decided that they must induce vomiting.
“Get me a glass of oil and milk!” shouted one of them. I imagine that my mother was crying at this point. “Ok, David. You have to swallow this!” one of my parents said urgently, putting the glass to my lips. I took in the concoction and perhaps swallowed some of it. I do not recall if it worked or not. Paul remembers them sticking a finger down my throat causing me to throw up.
Swallowing turpentine is serious and life-threatening. Among many of the possible complications, it can burn holes inside of your body.
The next thing I remember, my mom was putting me in the car and we were racing off. I do not recall exactly what I was feeling. My throat must have hurt, but by the time we reached the emergency room, I felt ok.
They laid me down on an examination table. The doctor was calm, my mother was sniffling and weeping.
The doctor said, “What is your name?”
I had not spoken since swallowing the turpentine. My mother touched me gently on the arm and said, “Can you tell him your name?”
Without thought or hesitation, I said, “Bruce Wayne.”
The doctor chuckled and said, “Sounds like he’s going to be ok.” An examination revealed absolutely no damage to my body. He may have pronounced it a miracle.
Over the years, usually after having sung a solo or a recital or a musical, my mother reminds me that it’s a miracle that I can sing. She recalls that the doctor speculating that it should have destroyed my voice, perhaps even rendered me mute or doomed to eat from a tube and that inducing vomiting was not the right thing to do because it might have caused the turpentine to pass through my throat again, further damaging my vocal cords.
I’ve spoken with her about what she remembers. She knows that it must have been only seconds that she had left that cup on the counter. Every parent knows that that’s all it takes. Most every parent has had a similar experience with their child. I certainly did with my children.
“Bruce Wayne” must have been the sweetest sound to my mother that night. I don’t know exactly what happened that night. Perhaps I never completely swallowed the liquid. Perhaps my cough reflex was swift and powerful enough to save me from permanent harm. I don’t know. But I believe that something protected that night and I’m grateful for it today.
I don’t think about Batman all that much today. My son and I bonded over him here and there as he grew up, but we rarely speak of him anymore. He bought me a great replica of the 1960s Batmobile for Christmas last year. Perhaps to him, it is a symbol of our love for each other. I have it on display in the study of my house–mint in package, and once in a while, when I see it, I thank God that I can speak and am alive to tell the story.