“Yeah, I’m all right, don’t worry, I’m all right, fortunately the ground broke my fall.” - Night Shift (1982)
Whether you’ll turn out to be the hero of this story, or whether the villain, in this case, gravity must show.
Because you’re falling.
How did you end up in this position? The fright has wiped your memory clean. All you’re certain of is the truth of the matter.
And so, once again, you are falling.
Now, thanks to your cultural education, you have learned that antagonists drop out of the sky as if they were aerodynamically designed to do so, engineers having labored morning, noon, and night to streamline their constructions, eliminating all drag, refusing to sleep until they brought their projects to completion, no, we’re going to get this right, while protagonists, whereas they might not float down like so many feathers, are still somehow granted a more viscous atmosphere (the writers, the directors, the producers be praised!), or a supernaturally reinforced body, so that even if they crash to the ground, the worst that can happen is, sure, they might appear worse for wear, bloodied, bruised, but the physical trauma sustained immediately increases, by several orders of magnitude, their epic stature.
Since you’ve learned this lesson, the question of whether you are a hero or a villain is of the utmost importance, seeing as how the answer will determine whether you live or die.
But then how can you tell? On the fly, as it were, you’ll have to make up a test.
The Villain Test
Have you ever put a severed head onto a pike to display it before the populace at large? If so, how did you feel about yourself afterwards?
Scoring: Only a villain, at the end of a long day, could prepare themselves for bed, reflecting that earlier they had put a head onto a pike and think, “That was absolutely the right thing to do.” Even more absurd would be to imagine a nonvillain reflecting that earlier they had put many heads onto many pikes, had then called their friends and inquired about the morality of their actions, receiving the unanimous response: “Yes, indeed, you had the opportunity to put heads on pikes, and, as you ought to’ve, you took this golden opportunity.”
However, does the scoring become trickier if the head or heads in question had originally been attached to villains themselves? No, it really doesn’t. Because if, seeing no other way to deal with them, you slew these villains (in extremely rare circumstances, a just decision), you then looked upon their corpses wondering what … oh, well, sure, I could … but, like, is that what I should … yes, oh, yes, that’s exactly what I’ll … and so you finally settled upon, though it didn’t seem right at first, the idea gaining a sort of momentum as you got going, meaning you finally settled upon removing their heads and then, you know, they’re dead anyhow, certainly they don’t care, and then placed those heads onto pikes, perhaps surrounding your domicile with them, thus allowing the populace at large the opportunity to not only see what you’d done (slew the villains), but also allowing the populace at large to see what you did afterwards (decorated your yard with fresh decapitations ensconced on finely wrought skewers, as if to celebrate the violence of the deed for as long as the remnants held up), yes, no matter the moral depravity of those punished, by making this selection, you’ve fully embraced your inner villain.
How you felt afterwards doesn’t really matter.
But having never put a head onto a pike, perhaps you notice an uptick in your mood, thinking you’re closer to the rank of hero than villain, meaning you will certainly survive your fall. However, you must now take The Hero Test.
The Hero Test
Have you ever saved a child from getting run over by a car? If you have not, have you ever had the opportunity? If you have, how many times?
Scoring: Without a doubt, if you save one child from getting run over by a car, that act is heroic, but it could also be passed off as luck. There are perhaps legions of others who would happily save a child from getting run over by a car, but they haven’t had the chance. (Oh, those poor, unfortunate souls who never witness an automobile bearing down upon a youngster, doomed forever to the margins of history!) If, however, you save two children from getting run over by cars, then absolutely, you must be considered a hero, luck having been abolished. Three? Congratulations! You are not only heroic, you have reached legendary stature. No one will question it. And after you bounce on a trampoline-like awning, after your descent is inexplicably slowed to a safe speed by tree branches, after you emerge from a strategically placed swimming pool (the water somehow negating your 120 mile per hour drop), or after you smash directly into the ground, bruised, bloodied, but somehow A-OK (are you fucking kidding me?), we will sing your praises for the rest of time.
After three, however, an interesting thing occurs, proving once again how difficult it is to be a hero. For each child beyond the third, your grand stature actually diminishes. Even if you’re a crossing guard. Why? Because your record starts to get more and more suspicious. How is it that you’re so frequently around children imperiled by automobiles? Are you putting them in danger so you can subsequently rescue them? Have you hired a fleet of alcoholics to go barreling around the neighborhood right before school begins, or right after it lets out in order to add extra feats of valor to your tally sheet? Are you keeping a tally sheet? Heroes are not accountants. You don’t think they are, anyway.
Having never saved a child from automotive disaster, having never even had the chance, perhaps your spirits have fallen, seeing as you will likely smash into the ground, or be impaled on a line of impossibly sharp fence posts, or be electrocuted by a nest of live wires, or crash into a railroad crossing and get run over by a convoy of semis and then a train. A really, really long train.
So, what are you left with? You haven’t put any heads onto pikes, nor have you saved any children. Granted, this is an incomplete test. An utterly insufficient, laughably constructed test, even. In your current situation, how could it be anything but? The problem, however, is you’re still left not knowing what to think of yourself.
Which brings us back to the original question: Why are you falling?
Perhaps, thanks in part to the seemingly omnipotent moral ambiguity of the world, you wish your cultural education were right, so you could separate people, all people, including yourself, into two groups: on one side, those meticulously arranging heads on pikes in their gardens, afterwards enjoying a fine wine, as the gore from the collected necks slides down exquisitely wrought skewers, the vacant eyes staring into nothingness, the wind blowing handsomely through their eccentric, villainous outfits, and, on the other side, those rescuing the appropriate number of children from being run over by cars, the sun shining from behind them just at the right moment, as they look up and to the right, heroes without a doubt, but since you cannot use these classifications, since again and again each group you’ve been taught to believe in appears to be a null set, or damned close, leaving you with ambiguity, and because critiquing the cultural education that bestowed upon you this yearning only leads to despair and confusion, you decided to do the one thing that would dispel your not-knowing, you devised a foolproof test, and thus you leapt into the air, the open air that will flay off the dross, will strip away the superfluities, will at long last give you the answer you crave, a univocal judgment that has been approaching at 120 miles per hour, and has now, finally, arrived.