Was it porn? Was it drugs? What were we losing our son to, in his solitary world?
As our 16-year-old son slipped away after dinner to sit in his dark bedroom with only the light of his laptop for company, my husband shook his head and asked, “Porn?”
When his grades dropped and he started missing homework assignments and blowing off his friends, I looked at my husband and said, “Maybe drugs?”
We ransacked his room and dug through his computer history, and found nothing other than a half-eaten sandwich under his bed that we think used to be turkey, and that he watched a lot of Weird Al on YouTube.
We asked him what was going on. He shrugged, looked at the floor, and mumbled, “Nothing …”
A few weeks after that he began slipping out the front door and heading for the creek at the end of our street. We finally followed him to see what was up, and saw him crouched down in the brush slinking from tree to tree. His father shook his head, motioned for us to leave and whispered, “Your son is out of his freaking mind.”
We stopped seeing his friends hanging around our house. His teachers were constantly e-mailing us about forgotten homework. He was failing algebra and very nearly flunking chemistry. He was walking a path straight toward juvenile delinquency and having to repeat the tenth grade. We were swimming in a sea of red flags with no solution to the mystery of what-had-happened-to-our-son anywhere in sight.
Last night, I hit the end of my rope. I stood in the kitchen holding notice of a failed test in my hand and really gave him what for. I let my frustration burst forth, and it rained down heavy on his head. He stood in front of me with his head bowed, chewing his lip and nervously shifting his weight.
“You haven’t been turning in anything!” I hollered. “What on earth could you possibly be doing that’s more important than passing the tenth grade?!?”
Without looking up at me, he whispered, “I wrote a book.”
I stared at him dumbfounded. “What?”
“I wrote a book. Last fall.”
I just stared at him, the anger gone out of me, replaced by complete confusion. “A book? How long of a book?”
“Around 60,000 words.”
“What kind of book? Has anyone seen it? Why is this the first I’m hearing about it?” The questions just poured from me.
“Ummm … it’s like a medieval fantasy fiction kind of thing.”
“Have you shown it to anyone? Can I read it?”
“I self-published it, Mom. Like in e-book format? It’s been downloaded almost 1,000 times. The readers seem to like it. And they like the sequel too.”
“There’s a book and a sequel? When do you write this?”
“At night. I turn off the lights so there’s no distractions, and I just write. I told my friends that they have to be patient. I’ll be back in a few months.”
I just kept staring at the man-child in front of me as the pieces of the puzzle slid neatly into place. He wasn’t on drugs or suicidal. He wasn’t just blowing off school; he was succumbing to the soul-aching need to put words on paper. It’s an addiction, a driving need. It’s one that I know intimately and can’t believe I didn’t recognize.
He’s not an antisocial delinquent, he’s his mother’s child. He’s a writer, God help him.
I wrapped my arms around him and said, “Three things: The book thing is cool, but you still have to pass algebra.”
He sighed “okay” into my neck. “What else?”
“I get to read it. Dad and I pay for the Internet, we get to know what you’re using it for.”
“And the third thing?”
“What were you doing at the creek in the brush?”
“Choreographing battle scenes.”
“Of course you were.”
I’ve signed him up for a writer’s workshop over the summer and told him that he can take a gap year after high school to work on his writing, as college isn’t necessarily for everyone; and as of this moment I’m halfway through his first book. It’s funny. And good. And really funny. At only 16 years old, he’s already a better writer than I’ll ever hope to be.
He still has to pass algebra.
We’ve hired a tutor.
Rebecca Frech blogs at Shoved to Them.