Caden always had a vivid imagination, just like me when I was young. He’s the kind of kid who would rather walk around the backyard pretending to be a knight, rather than play sports or spend time with friends. He likes to have adventures in his mind.
Truthfully, I can’t complain, being a single father and having just opened up a tax office in my home. It was reassuring, knowing that I could rely on Caden to take care of himself while I’m busy with work and errands.
So when his teacher asked me to come in for a parent-teacher conference, I figured she was going to sing his praises as a self-reliant, good kid. But instead, she just gestured for me to sit in a tiny, plastic chair and proceeded to lay a spiral notebook on the desk in front of me, without saying a word.
Before I could ask her what the meeting was about, she told me that the notebook belongs to my son, and I should open it. On the first page, in huge letters was written “My Mother.”
“I gave the children a writing assignment,” Mrs. Sailor said. She stepped back and sat on the edge of her desk at the front of the class. “I asked them to recollect the most memorable thing that has happened to them. They were to think hard and decide what one experience has made the biggest impact on their lives.”
I gave the first page a cursory glance and chuckled a little.
“He’s not getting great grades in grammar, is he?” I asked.
“I think you should take a closer look, Mr. Barnes.”
I still have the notebook. I haven’t brought myself to throw it away not, despite the fact that it makes me sick to even think about it. Maybe some day I’ll burn it or something. But in the meantime, I have it here so I can copy what Caden wrote, verbatim. Obviously I will fix his spelling mistakes, so that it’s easier to read:
The most important thing I remember is my mom. She was nice and she made better sandwiches than dad and she used to make me give her kisses before bedtime at night. I didn’t like that at the time but now I wish I could give her another kiss sometimes. Dad says that boys shouldn’t give kisses so when I tell him that I miss giving kisses to mom he puts his hand on my head and tells me he misses her too. But that’s the only time he talks about mom so I don’t think that he really misses her.
The most important thing I remember about mom is the night that Adam got mad at her and pushed her down the staircase in our house in Arizona when we used to have a basement. Dad told me I shouldn’t tell people about that time but it’s the most memorable thing that has ever happened to me so I wouldn’t know what else to write about.
Mom was yelling at Adam because he left his Legos on the floor of the living room and mom stepped on them and hurt her foot. She used to yell at Adam a lot though so this time she sounded even more mad than before. Adam tried to ask Mom for a kiss but she got a wooden spoon from a drawer and spanked him and told him that he really hurt her. Adam was mad about that for a very long time because it was the only time he had ever been spanked.
He used to tell me at night when we would fall asleep on our bed that he would never forgive her for that until the day that he dies. So one day the power went out and dad wasn’t home and mom had to go into the basement to flip a switch for the power to come back on. So Adam followed mom to the door into the basement and pushed her down the staircase and she screamed the whole way down until she stopped all the sudden.
He got scared when she stopped screaming because he said he just wanted to get her back and that he didn’t think it would hurt her that bad. But I think he was probably lying because he shut the basement door and when dad got back and asked where mom was Adam told him that we hadn’t seen her all day.
When dad found mom down there and she was dead he woke me up and got really mad at me even though I wasn’t the one who pushed her. Anyways that is the most memorable thing that has happened to me because I miss mom so much and that day made me very sad.
Once I had finished reading Caden’s notebook, I just sat there staring at it in silence. I felt extremely ill. It was like this dam broke inside of me and I couldn’t stop thinking about that night when I woke Caden up. He said it was Adam. What does a father respond to something like that, except in denial?
“Who is Adam,” Mrs. Sailor asked suddenly. “Does Caden have a brother?”
“No,” I said. “Caden has a very vivid imagination.”
“Sir, I have taught hundreds of children throughout the years. I know when a child is telling the truth, and this is not a lie.”
“Well I don’t have another son,” I snapped, feeling a little frustrated. “So how can it possibly be the truth? It was tragic, but it was an accident. She couldn’t see in the dark very well, and she tripped.”
The tension was still palpable, but I felt as if I had triumphed a little. So I thanked the teacher for bringing this to my attention and left the classroom with the notebook. When I got home that day, I walked straight through to the backyard to talk to my son about the conference. He was just sitting on the swing, not moving, looking blankly down at his feet.
“Caden,” I said, trying to sound stern and parental. “You’re in big trouble, buddy.”
“Caden isn’t here,” he said. “He didn’t want the neighbor’s cat to die so he left and hasn’t come back yet. He is off being a knight and saving some princess right now.”
The boy on the swing looked up at me with that empty, thousand-mile stare. His eyes almost took on a darker, black color, like plastic.
“Do you want me to give him a message when I see him again?” he asked. “Is Caden in trouble?”
“No,” I blurted out, trying to hide the notebook behind me. “Everything is okay. Sorry to have bothered you, Adam. Have a good time.”
I backed away from him in order to keep him from seeing the notebook. I didn’t want to risk having Adam find out that I know the truth. So I just made dinner for two and sat at the table in silence, like I do most nights when Adam shows up. And I wait for Caden to finish escaping into his imagination. I wait for him to leave the swing-set and come in for dinner.