Optimus’s tactical intelligence rang true to me. He deftly avoided or countered attacks from Megatron, his nemesis. I, too, strategized how to avoid my enemies—namely the English-fluent, U.S.-born Puerto Rican girls on my block. On school days, I’d rarely make it around the corner as I headed toward our five-story walkup before hearing someone call out one of the odious nicknames they’d bestowed on me. That’s when I’d repeat in my head, “More than meets the eye,” one of the catchphrases from the credits reel in the Transformers cartoon. It was a solemn and simple incantation that helped me make the few yards between the mean girls and the building’s front door. It also reminded me that I was more than a skinny and decidedly unsophisticated pre-pubescent walking target.
The most memorable insult—and one which I took great pride in later in life—was, “You talk like a teacher!” That meant that I spoke in complete sentences, enunciated all my syllables, and didn’t use expletives as exclamation marks. But what my neighbors failed to hear in my speech were the overtones of Optimus Prime’s elegant and high-minded elocution, which was one of his most distinctive attributes. Yes, I wanted to sound like Optimus. I worked at it. I took great pride in it. This secret linguistic practice was probably most responsible for my early acquisition of the English language.
Then there was the All Spark. In the cartoon series, this was a tangible, touchable artifact and the source of the eternal life energy that powered Optimus Prime and his Autobots. For me, it was a metaphor, a symbol, a talisman for the potential I carried within me across the sea from my childhood home in the Dominican Republic to my new life in New York City. Like Optimus, I carried an All Spark encased in my ribcage. It glowed with potential when I did well in school. It faded to a glimmer when I was afraid. But it was always there, fortifying me when fear of the unknown held me still.
I imagined Optimus Prime reaching out to me, reminding me that I carried the All Spark inside me as I faced off against older junior-high-school boys who pressured me; when I sat through puzzling standardized tests that asked indecipherable questions; when a high-school guidance counselor told me I wasn’t good enough to attend a prestigious college after I’d been accepted. During those times, and countless more, believing I possessed some of the strength and power of Optimus helped me persevere when the odds seemed insurmountable.
At one point in my early 20s—when I felt cornered by life choices—I even ran away to Japan, the ancestral home of my childhood icon. I can’t say with certainty that my decision to cross the globe after discarding my childhood ambition of being a lawyer was fueled by my belief that I was Optimus Prime for most of my formative years. But I can see how clearly some of the foundational character elements I adopted from Optimus were essential in taking a running leap toward my future life as a writer. Moving to Japan was landing on a foreign planet and having to rediscover who I was and what my essential building elements were, a time for reclaiming and reigniting my All Spark.