"What's wrong? " I asked.
"You wouldn't understand," he cried, sprinting from the room. "I am jealous of you!"
I chased after him and found him cowering by a bookshelf in the living room. I crouched down: "Why would you be jealous of ME?"
If anything, I am jealous of HIM. He is seven. He has energy. He has his whole life ahead of him. He can play the piano and compose his own songs. All I have left to my name is the fact that I now have decent hair, thanks to a treatment called "The Brazilian Blowout." That will fade in a couple of months, leaving me nothing but the after-effects of formaldehyde poisoning. He will go on to do great things.
He tucked his head under his arm like an angry little bird and cried inconsolably. Finally, I coaxed him to lift his head, and he glared sidelong at the shadowed wall over his bent arm. The skin under his eyes was pink and raw. He would not meet my eye.
"You are a better writer than I am," he finally confessed. And he burst into a fresh round of hot tears.
I was baffled. I spoke not.
Then he went on: "You wrote a book. I have written nothing, nothing!" He moaned like something hurt him.
I said: "My book is not yet published. And you are only seven. I have had lots of practice writing."
"Ah! It will be!" he accused. "I might have had an idea like that. To write that kind of book. But now I can't write it. You have already written it!" His entire tone suggested that he was ruined. He glared at me with such enmity that I was reminded of a long-ago continuing education course at Gotham Writer's Workshop, when the instructor had cast me a look of barely-concealed loathing for coming up with a short-story idea that he claimed he "had also had but hadn't had a chance to attend to yet." (That dumb story was never published, by the way. It sits on my hard drive somewhere, buried and unattended.)
"Oh gosh," said I. "You will write your own book if you want, and it will be great, and your own."
"All the good books have been written," he said mournfully, stompling up the stairs in his footie pajamas. "And my imagination was better when I was younger."
We reached his bedroom. Together, we cast a sad glance at the titles on his shelf. There were featured authors such as J.K. Rowling, Cornelia Funke, Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis. He's read them all. The kid is kind of a voracious reader.
"See all those?" I said. "Do I often wish that I had written them? Why yes, I do, for then we would be rich, and could afford a kitchen makeover, like the one advertised on the box of Crispix cereal. But we all have to write our own stories, eh?"
I pulled out a volume of The Hobbit and opened my mouth to speak about its virtues, but he cut me off.
"Oh no, not THAT one!" he shouted. "That author makes me most jealous of all! I can't even TALK about it!" He clambered up to his bunk bed with such alacrity that the floorboards shook.
"Oh, I know," I said, sadly. "I know."