16: Befriending a Superhero

16: Befriending a Superhero

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Befriending a Superhero

I am Sailor Moon! I stand for love. And I also stand for justice.

~Sailor Moon television series

My sixth grade English teacher had us write letters to our heroes. While my peers wrote to Nelson Mandela or Hillary Clinton, I wrote to Jennifer Cihi, an actress and singer who was popular on Nickolodeon in the early 1990s on a show called Roundhouse. We didn’t actually mail the letters, so mine was stashed away with my other memorabilia in my parents’ attic.

In that fan letter, I promised to dedicate my first book to Jennifer. As an adult, I did in fact become a published playwright, and did in fact dedicate my first book to Jennifer, but she was a mere passing thought that surfaced maybe once every five years. Then, at age thirty-one, a social media twist of fate allowed me to connect with Jennifer Cihi. I sent that first Facebook message excited to reminisce about my childhood, even if just to myself.

I didn’t want to seem like a crazy, stalker fan. And so I spoke honestly. I simply said, “I want you to know that you inspired me to live the amazing life that I’ve led. I have written a published play, been an actress in New York, lived in South Africa for two and a half years, and now I am a teacher. Thank you.” By that afternoon, I’d forgotten all about the message. But two days later, in the wee hours of the morning, my phone made the familiar “ding” that signaled a Facebook message.

Ironically, that very day, I was visiting my parents, with the arduous task of going through all my boxes in their attic. And there, right before my eyes, was that twenty-year-old school assignment. Jennifer had me mail her that fan letter, a virtual time capsule, and we exchanged a few more pleasantries via Facebook. I told her that I was teaching at a unique school in New York for kids with mental illness, when suddenly Jennifer asked if we could talk on the phone. I pretended to think it over and act a little busy. But, of course, I would want to talk to her!

After several phone calls, we shared our experiences with mental illness. We realized that we both shared a passion for being active in the larger societal discussion regarding this topic. I shared my insights as a teacher and writer, and she shared her experiences as a performer. The more I spoke with Jennifer Cihi as an adult, the more I pondered my childhood recollection of what a “hero” really is. A hero is someone who does what’s right when presented with the opportunity. A hero is someone who sets herself apart to serve others, even if there is no recognition or praise.

Within months, I had traded in New York for Nashville, where Jennifer lived. Together, we began to develop programming for schools to implement support systems for kids suffering from depression, bullying, and other mental health issues. Ironically, as I grappled with the word “hero,” I learned that Jennifer is actually the English singing voice of a famous television superhero, Sailor Moon. That little project she did many years back now resurged in the form of Comic Con.

Jennifer and I began traveling to many different cities in the United States, Canada, and even the island nation of Malta in Europe. She would go as Sailor Moon, and I would be invited as a writer. That fun side project helped inspire us even more in our quest to give voice to mental health issues. Together we founded, Mariposa, dedicated to providing support and education on mental illness. One highlight was when we were both selected as presenters at the Mental Health America 2016 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. We both facilitated a breakout session on the intersection of theatre, celebrity, and mental health.

As I think back to my eleven-year-old self, writing a fan letter in vain, I cannot help but wonder if that young girl could ever imagine what a serendipitous adventure lay ahead of her. God scripted our unique story, and as many chapters are yet to be written, I know they will be filled with humble service.

~Stefanie DeLeo

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