For all my life, I had hated writing. In fact, I had loathed it. When we were at school, our class would have to do writing exercises every day. My teacher, Ms. Sanders, would write a seemingly random topic on our whiteboard every morning. Before the end of class, each and every one of us had to write at least ten sentences about it. I remember doing this day after day, and I found it tedious and time-consuming but also quite pointless. Although I didn’t like it, I would write my ten sentences anyway. This continued for the first couple months of the school year, and after a while, it wasn’t so bad.
One day, I came into my classroom. There was change in the air, and I realized what it was very quickly. Rather than “Current Canadian Holidays” or “Early Wind Instruments,” there was something unusual written on the whiteboard. It said, in large lettering, “Free Writing—write whatever you want.” I wasn’t going to waste any time. I expeditiously began writing a short story that I called “The Ghost Child.”
As I sat at my desk and commenced work, a boy named Robert walked up behind me. Robert was fairly tall for his age with a pasted-on smirk, jet-black hair, and constant bad breath.
“The Ghost Child,” he said mockingly, leaning over my shoulder. “That has to be the stupidest name I’ve ever seen. Out of all the kids in this room with cutesy titles like ‘Little Dead Hiding Wood’ or ‘Jack and the Leanwalk,’ yours is the worst.” While I don’t want to call anyone the meanest kid, Robert was pretty mean and quite annoying.
I rolled my eyes, the best tactic for getting him to leave me alone. “Robert, please just do your writing.”
“Ha!” he scoffed. “Let me get right on that, Griffin Boy. What should mine be called? Hmm… How about ‘Peter Griffin Writes Hit Story!’ But I’m sure my lowly writing could never compete with ‘The Ghost Kid,’ could it?”
I rolled my eyes again. “Very funny. And it’s ‘The Ghost Child.’” I resumed writing my story as Robert walked off to find someone else to put down.
For the rest of the week, Ms. Sanders would write the same thing on the whiteboard: “Free Writing—write whatever you want.” Working in the mornings, after completing lessons, and sometimes at home, I was able to finish writing “The Ghost Child” over the course of the week. Creating that story, I was opened to a better and more enjoyable side of writing—fiction.
I decided to show my newly written story to my mother, Anna Griffin. She has curly brown hair and beautiful green eyes. She is a fantastic singer, would eat key lime pie every day if she could, and loves the color yellow. She’s also the sweetest, most encouraging mother in the entire world. Once I finished perfecting the details of my story, I went downstairs and walked into our living room where my mom was sitting on a red chair, using her computer.
“Mom,” I said. She looked up from her computer. “I wrote this, and I thought you might want to read it.” I held out the papers that made up my story.
“Of course I would, honey,” she replied as she took the papers. I watched as she adroitly scanned the page. When she finished reading, a smile emerged on her face.
“Wow!” she exclaimed. “This is really good! When did you write it?”
“I started about a week ago at school, and I just finished.”
“At school?” She looked taken aback. “I thought you didn’t like the writing that you did at school.”
“That was before,” I said, “back when all we wrote about were Prehistoric Amphibians and Civil War Leaders.”
“And that’s not what you write about anymore?”
“That’s right. One day I walked into the classroom, and Ms. Sanders had written: ‘Free Writing—write whatever you want.’ I think she might do that for a while because that’s what she’s written this whole week.”
“Well, that’s fantastic! Promise me you’ll write another story soon. I really like ‘The Ghost Child.’ It’s hard to believe that a ten-year-old wrote it!”
“I’ll write another story soon, Mom,” I replied. “I promise.”
“Great!” My mother leaned over her computer and kissed me on the forehead. “I love you, Peter. More than you’ll ever imagine.”
* * *
Over the next few months, I was able to write five original short stories. My mom would always love them no matter what and encourage me to write more and more. The only conversation I recall from that time period occurred when I was feeling discouraged about my writing.
“Mom,” I said, “it’s not any good.”
“Of course it is, Peter,” she replied. “It has to be good. It was written by you, after all.”
“OK, whatever,” I said, handing her the sheets of paper. She took them and began reading. As she finished, I anticipated her telling me that my story was great and I was kidding myself to think that it wasn’t. That didn’t happen.
“Peter, you see only the bad things in your writing. You may think that it’s bad now, but when you’re my age, you’ll see how good it truly is.”
“When I’m your age,” I said, “that story will be somewhere underneath a golf course. There’s no way I’ll still have it for that long.”
“Then let me word that differently. Your children will surely write stories, and sometimes they will only see the bad things. At that point, you’ll be my age, and you will see the good things.”
That actually made a lot of sense. “I guess I see what you mean.”
“Hopefully, you can see the good things about your story now. Just try looking as hard as you can.”
I began to notice some small details, little snippets of writing that were really well made. “I see some good things here and there.”
“Good,” my mom said. She kissed me on the forehead. “I love you, Peter. More than you’ll ever imagine.”
* * *
I’m pretty sure it was the middle of January when my mom became very sick. I remember once at school when I was trying to write a story. I couldn’t though. All I could do was think about my mother. Robert walked up behind my desk.
“What’re you doing, Ghost Peter?” he asked.
I rolled my eyes. “Really? That was back in October, Robert.”
“Let’s see, Ghost Peter,” he said. “You’ve got a pencil. You’ve got some paper. But you’re not writing!”
“Will you please go away?” My mother was sick, and I didn’t need Robert bugging me.
“Aw, come on,” he said. “Open up a little.”
I took a deep breath and decided to tell him. “My mother’s really sick and there’s nothing the doctors can do about it.”
“Oh,” he said. A look I had never before seen on Robert came over his face. It wasn’t a look of mockery or superiority. It was a look of sadness. It was his turn to take a deep breath. “I used to have an older brother,” he said quietly. “He meant everything to me. The crash was inevitable. When some chucklehead goes at a red light, bad things happen. They took my brother to the hospital, but he died before I could say goodbye.
I turned away from Robert, feeling guiltier than I ever had. He had lost his brother in a car crash, and I thought poorly of him for it.
That night, my mother’s condition worsened and she was taken to the hospital. At school, I didn’t talk to anyone. All I did was write. My dad came from the hospital and picked me up from school. We went back to the hospital where my mother was in a bright yellow room that smelled like brand-new rubber gloves. She was an odd sight, clad in a hospital gown, her eyes closed, and her brown hair mussed. My father and I sat in two very cushiony chairs with a chevron pattern on them.
After a little bit, a nurse walked in, woke my mother, and gave her some dinner. My mom noticed us as the nurse left.
“James, Peter,” she said, slowly turning her head toward us. “The doctors told me that I probably wouldn’t have much time left. Peter, tell me a story.”
I reached into my backpack and pulled out the pad of paper I had been writing on today. As I read the story to my mother, she seemed to grow tired. I remember her eyes fluttering as if she had been awake for days and needed sleep badly. When I finished reading, my father and I walked over and held each of my mother’s hands.
“I love you so much, Anna,” said my father. He bent down and my mother kissed him on the forehead. She turned to me.
“Peter, I love you,” she said. “More than you’ll ever imagine.” I leaned down and she kissed my forehead. I remember her hand feeling frail and fragile in mine. I squeezed it tighter.
“Mom, please stay alive.”
“Listen, Peter,” she said. “This is life. Both good and bad things happen. No matter what happens, please remember that I always love you.” Her eyes closed, and I realized how lucky I was to be able to talk to my mother. Robert’s brother died before he had a chance to say goodbye to him. My father and I sat back down, and a few nurses came in. We watched the line on the heart monitor go up and down, up and down. I think the nurses, my father, and I sat there for hours. At long last, my mother opened her eyes with great strain.
“I love you all,” she said. “More than you’ll ever imagine.” Her eyes fluttered closed. The line on the monitor stopped moving and stayed right in the center. In that moment, I remembered all the times she had encouraged me and helped me feel better. A horrible silence poured into the room. No one breathed. I cried. I couldn’t help it.
I wanted to scream at the nurses, “She’d be all right if it weren’t for you!” But I couldn’t. It wasn’t true. The truth was that my mother was gone, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. My father put his comforting arm around me, and I concentrated on breathing in and out, in and out. The tears slowly stopped dripping from my eyes.
“This is life,” I said, repeating my mother. “This is life.” The nurses looked on as if they saw this happen every other day.
“I’m so sorry,” one of them said. I didn’t respond. I just sat there taking it all in. After a few minutes, I felt like I had to do something. I stood up and walked over to my mother.
“I love you,” I said. “More than you’ll ever imagine.” I bent down and kissed her on the forehead. In that moment, I knew what I had to do. I would publish a book and dedicate it to my mother.
* * *
About a week later, I was at school, writing my story. Robert walked up behind me, and I braced for the insults. Instead, he apologized.
“I’m sorry for the way I treated you, and I’m even sorrier about your mother.” He noticed the sheet of paper I had. “What’re you writing?” he asked.
“A story dedicated to my mom,” I replied.
“Can I see it?” he asked.
“Sure.” I handed the paper to him. His eyes quickly scanned the page.
“This is really good!” he said.
I continued adding more to the story, and Robert continued reading it and making suggestions. When I finished it, I called and sent it to a publisher. It wasn’t published instantly; Robert and I spent months revising, editing, and rewording, and finally it was published with the title of “Search for the Heart.” For the dedication, I wrote: “For my amazing and encouraging mother, who passed too soon.”
That book is my pride and joy, but it’s more than a book. It’s a piece of my mother here on earth.