1. While you’re at residency in Vermont, your son tells his Kindergarten teacher that his sister died in the army. Your husband texts you a photo of the note Mrs. C sent home. Primary colors don’t ease the word “died.”
You turn to your fellow writers, and say, “Oh no. He’s going to be a liar.”
You imagine his future will become filled with therapy sessions, or his friends will abandon him when he lies about his favorite movie–or worse, his marriage will fail when he loses his job after his employer realizes he falsified the degree on his application. Of course, you’d never say this out loud.
“Oh, a fiction-writer,” they say.
2. At the age of three, your son tells you that before he was born, he was an old man who built houses. There are whole descriptions of who he was before he was born– a gray hat, a red hammer–and then, he tells you how he died when the tornado came through.
3. While you and your spouse discuss something boring in the kitchen–like the state of your finances or travel arrangements to Vermont, you catch just the tips of your son’s fingers peeking from behind the refrigerator. When you call his name, he giggles. Eavesdropping. You wonder how he knows all your tricks.
4. When you were younger, you wrote stories about babysitters who went missing. You read book after book of scary stories–or just a few books, over and over: Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Alfred Hitchcock’s Stories that Go Bump in the Night, and Shirley Cox Husted’s Valley of the Ghosts. And now your son proclaims, “I’m going to write a comic book–a scary chipmunk book! I just need you to draw the cover and write all the words,” and you realize he means it. He works on this book, which he turns into a solo venture, every day. He talks about it fleetingly and sporadically, as though the story is always on his mind, “Oh! An idea!” he’ll say, or “I’ll put a volcano on the next page!” He sits on the couch next to you with the book in his lap and the colored pencils at his side. He is serious.
5. When he doesn’t know the truth, what reality is, the hard stuff that you’re thankful he doesn’t ask you about (well, not always, anyway), he makes it up. When his school bus drives down the dead-end street in the afternoon, he tells the kids on his bus that his great-grandmother went to the High Street Cemetery to die. A detail you steal for one of your stories.
6. He spends hours writing words that make no sense, and you begin to wonder if he’s been watching you in the middle of the day at your keyboard. He writes the letters K-B-I-V-A-P-W, and asks, “What does that spell?” You could probably find that same word typed somewhere in your manuscript.
7. When you drive by the house you moved from last fall, he recalls things about it you don’t remember–that once, he built a fort in the bathroom, and after you pass the house, his voice breaks and he says, “I really miss that house. I’m sad.” It’s the kind of emotion whole novels are built on.
8. In the summer, when you walk to Main Street for ice cream, he gives a tour of the town, relaying the setting in a narrative history. “This,” he says, gesturing toward the brick house on State Street, “is where a plane crashed and a boy died.” He revels in details, and you make a note that he is always listening.
9. While reading Dani Shapiro’s book Still Writing, you see your son’s face during her descriptions of a writer’s childhood. How a curious child clings to the parts of life they don’t know (the scary, the threatening, the unknowable), and then mulls those parts over and over until that focus resides alongside memory and lived-life, and so the mind has somehow forged its own recollection.
10. His nightmares–the kind of dreams a creative mind spins wildly while the dreamer should be resting. His mind never stops. When he wakes up, he narrates every movement that he’s slept. He tells you his dreams as though he’s lived them, and there are times when he cries at their dark premises–his new friend turned into a lizard by a monster. You tell him these things aren’t real, and when he calms down, with his head on your shoulder, you wonder what you can tell him that you know, for sure, is true.