What Happens to Heroes
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What Happens to Heroes

I rolled the glass vial in my hand, back and forth, as if I were rocking the steroids to sleep. Ben had just lifted it from a small box hidden in his bedroom. The box looked like the kind of case gamblers might carry to hold their chips all in a row. I'd watched Ben's big fingers pry open the latches and raise the lid. Inside, several small vials were lined up neatly, the syringes askew; two of them slanted so that the skinny needles pointed right at me.

I stood there, twenty years old, holding the vial of steroids in my palm and looking at Ben for affirmation. He had bought this specific type of steroids, this tiny vial, just for me, a novice who hadn't injected anything yet. [End Page 121]

"I can help you out, if you don't think you can do it yourself," Ben said.

"I just get freaked out by needles." I looked over to the case still lying open on the bed. "There's no way I can do it by myself."

"I can stop over whenever you need me to stick you," Ben said.

Ben was always cracking jokes, but whenever he spoke of bodybuilding and the greater sacrifices it takes to compete on a high level, he kept his eyes half closed as if he were a religious man. And really, he was. Each day in the gym he was trying to atone, rebuilding his naturally fleshy body into something flawless, so that on the exterior at least there were no imperfections.

"Tell me again," I said. "What will happen when I take this?"

"Within a month you'll gain thirty pounds of muscle," he said. I looked along my arm to my hand holding the vial, tracing the veins as they split like roots under my skin. "You'll be bigger and stronger, and that feeling you have the day after a workout, the exhaustion and the soreness, it all goes away. You never feel that lactic acid buildup. It's like drinking bottles of saltwater and eating a handful of bananas—just washes it all away."

I was tired of always coming up sore and feeling like my gains were short and slow and nowhere near enough. In the palm of my hand, I held a solution which, when combined with hours of hard work and dedication, could grant me the body I had dreamed of ever since I was a little boy watching He-Man with his powerful sword and reading comics about Superman and his steel chest. The men I had wanted to grow up and be like most were professional wrestlers. I envisioned myself as large and All-American as Hulk Hogan, as intense and veiny as the Ultimate Warrior, as rough and sinister as the Undertaker. No matter how tough their opponents talked, how badly they were broken and bleeding, they always stood up in the end, their hands raised in victory: living legends in a world of fallen heroes.

"What do you think?" Ben said.

We stood there for a moment, our bodies inches apart. I couldn't look at him when I asked, "Can you hang on to it for me? Just for a little while?" I studied the steroids in my palm, afraid of his reply. I had been trying to find the right way to delay my decision, so I wouldn't be moved further out of this circle of bodybuilders I had tried so hard to be a part of.

"Sure," he said.

I handed the vial back to Ben, and he closed his fingers over it. He pulled the baseball cap on his head down so it cast a shadow over his eyes.

"It's just the whole needle thing," I said. [End Page 122]

Ben walked into the bedroom and placed the vial back in its spot next to the others. He closed the little case and returned it. I stayed in the living room, watching him from a distance, feeling that I had let him down.

"I want to help you," Ben said, returning from the bedroom...

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