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  • “Nice t-shirt,” he said. “Captain America.”

    “Thanks,” I said with a laugh, looking down, thinking of the friend for whom I had worn it, the friend for whom I had packed it. My friend, Joe, was a superhero in his own right and had chosen Captain America as his avatar in the fight against cancer.

    I am not sure if he'd agree, but I claim part the reason he chose the Captain. When he first started treatment, he wrote that he should have been a superhero after exposure to so much radiation, and I sent him a Captain America sweatshirt. It was silly. When he zipped up the hoodie, he looked like he was wearing the top half of the costume. It wasn't something he'd typically wear, but he wore it treatment. The nurses called it a good luck charm. He kept wearing it, and a movement was born.

    In the years between then and now, tie to the character helped him explain treatment to his children. As Steve Rogers needed Super-Soldier Serum to help him grow strong, Joe needed the medication they pumped into his body.

    When his friends raised money to send the family on a trip to Florida, his daughter explained the story to a character at Universal Orlando, the man handed over his shield and called him the true hero.

    When he ran a marathon, when he formed his own marathon and convinced others to run in the middle of winter, after a snowstorm, because he was starting treatment soon and hundreds came out to run and/or cheer (including his oncologist and a nurse), he borrowed the name from the second film in the series. The Winter Soldier. He ran in a Captain shirt as did many beside him.

    I flew from DC and ran nine miles as Batgirl before changing into my own Captain America t-shirt and stocking cap. Someone else had to button my jeans as my words slurred and my body slowed to the speed of molasses in winter because I don’t really do well with extreme temperatures, but I couldn’t think of any place in the world I’d rather be.

    When I travel the world and I do (albeit at a slightly slower pace than in years past), I take the Captain with me via a silly, worn t-shirt with the Captain’s symbol. I look for figures and movies in the markets I visit. I take pictures of them and of me, and I tag my friend. I even convinced three travelmates to pull on the t-shirt and strike poses on wind battered cliffs in offseason Greece.

    That Sunday, I had pulled out a dress to wear, a long, flowing thing with a halter, tassels, and stripes. When I wore it to work, three distinct coworkers compared me to a Greek goddess, which was flattering even as it convinced me that the dress might not be terribly appropriate for the office. (I did wear a cardigan.) As we talked, though, and developed a plan, I realized that jeans and the T would be more suited for hiking. I left the dress in my bag and pulled on jeans and the Captain.

    Later, as we hiked down (and back up) the equivalent of 30 flights of stairs to visit a light house, as we trekked through the woods to get nowhere in particular and down a path to watch and listen to elephant seals, I applauded my choice. The dress would have been an absolute mess.

    We stopped at Lagunitas as our final hurrah, for dinner and drinks with a brewery tour (which actually never happened). The courtyard was crowded. We found a place at a common table next to a family of adult children and parents, an aunt and an uncle. A couple followed, asking if we’d move over to make room for them so we did, but they found another table.

    “I’ll move back over,” I said to the guy at my left, “to make this less awkward. I don’t really need to sit right on top of you.”

    His mother laughed. The man didn’t seem as if he’d mind all that much, and we started talking. He complimented my shirt, but then his mouth just kept moving.

    “I mean, I guess it’s OK that you’re wearing jeans and a t-shirt.”

    I looked at him.

    “Is that a pickup line?” I wondered.

    In the past, I had met men who offered backhanded compliments as a way to start conversations. It seldom worked. I didn't really need a stranger to approve my wardrobe selection for the afternoon, yet he gave it grudgingly. Unsolicited. Undesired.

    My t-shirt was old and worn, slightly too big and slightly off kilter. I could not figure out how to straighten the logo, and I had spent hours trying over two years. I wore it anyway; it was more than all right. Through the miracle of modern technology, I had sent a message to one of my favorite people to let him know that I had his back. Wherever I was, anywhere in the world, I had his back. He could count on me.

    I slipped back to my place at the end of the table and picked up the menu. I had a long night ahead and little time left with the friend across the table. I hadn't gotten her to wear the Captain yet, but it would happen. Someday.
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