I dial the number. The phone is ringing. It keeps ringing. And ringing. Click. A woman answers. It’s a youngish voice. We exchange greetings.
“Am I too late?” I ask.
“Nope, right on time, Miller is right here, waiting for you with his pen and notepad ready.”
I’ll admit it upfront. I’m not having the greatest day today. I didn’t sleep well last night. Also, we ran out of coffee and had only decaf in the house. That’s what I’m drinking now. Worthless decaf.
But I promised a young man I’d do a phone interview for his homeschool assignment. So there you are.
I don’t know anything about him, but his email seemed so sincere.
I hear the sound of a little kid breathing on the phone. “Hello?”
“Hi, Miller. Sorry I’m a little late calling, I got tied up this morning.”
“You did? Doing what?”
“Well, if you must know, I was walking my dog and she ate something funky. And then I discovered that all we had was decaf. Not the greatest day. It’s a long story. Do you have a dog, Miller?”
“Well, no, but my grandma has a cat, Jilly Billy, we named her that ‘cause we don’t know if she’s a boy or a girl.” Then the kid changes gears. “I’m gonna record this interview with your permission. But before we start, I just wanna say thank you.”
“For, I dunno, just talking to me.”
Next, I hear the sound of a soda can cracking open. And the noise of a satisfying slurp.
“Let’s begin,” says Miller.
“What’s it like to be a writer?”
This is probably not a good day to answer this question. I’m a little too decaffeinated. Also lately I’ve been a rollercoaster of emotions when I think of how turbulent the world is right now. “It’s great.”
I hear the noise of a young person scribbling notes and saying under his breath, “It’s… Great…”
“Thank you,” he says. “Now can you tell me what your inspiration is?”
Inspiration? Hoo, boy. This is definitely not my day. For one thing, I know what my inspiration is, I looked for it all morning and couldn’t find it in the Folgers can. But truthfully, sometimes recently I’ve felt very uninspired. This past year has been—how do I input this?— a psychological disaster.
“My inspiration?” I say. “You mean what motivates me?”
I can’t quite come up with an answer. This is just not my finest hour. So I say, “Gee, I’m not sure, Miller. What about you, what motivates you?”
He pauses. “Oh, lots of stuff. But this is about you.”
So I am desperately trying to rally some thoughts for Little Mister Sunshine, but I discover that, while talking about motivation, today I have none.
He takes another hearty slurp of his beverage. This noise almost ruptures my eardrum.
“Are you drinking Coke?” I ask.
“No. Can’t have that.”
“Your mom won’t let you?”
“Well, all the treatment I’m taking gave me diabetes, can’t eat sweet things anymore because they’ll make things bad, and I don’t have a strong immune system.”
He fires his next question: “How have you handled adversity in your life?”
My life? The short answer is: obviously, not very well. Today I was forced to drink decaf and my world started to fall apart. This kid is on insulin because of some kind of “treatment.” I’m not a good example.
So I say, “How do YOU handle adversity?”
“Me? This interview’s about you.”
“Yeah, well, you seem like an interesting person.” I remove a pad and paper from my desk drawer.
“Well,” he begins. “I handle it by just saying to myself, ‘Miller, it’s not that bad. It’s really not as bad as you think.’”
I make a note. Then I wait for the rest of the story. But this is all there is.
“That’s it?” I say. “You just say, ‘It’s not that bad,’ and, boom, everything goes away?”
He slurps. “No, nothing goes away. Nothing ever goes away, don’t be stupid. But I get through it. Like the one time when they all thought I was gonna die.”
I wait for more. But he is not elaborating.
“You almost died?”
I ask, “Do you ever get mad about… Things?”
“About what? My cancer?”
There it is.
“No. I don’t get mad. My friends understand it, they text me and say they’re praying for me. And my mom helps me. And everyone is awesome..”
I scribble something. “And… My… Mom… Helps… Me…”
He slurps again. This is followed by a refreshed exhalation. He says, “Can we do YOUR interview now?”
“How old are you, Mister Sean?”
But I can’t answer it. Not yet. “Miller, I just have one more teensy little question.”
I say, “You seem so happy. Mind if I ask how you stay so happy after all you’re going through?”
“Well, I just started exercising with my mom, they say that helps since I can’t play with my friends ‘cause of my immune system. I try to, just, I dunno, have fun, even if I’m doing dishes and I help Mom vacuum and stuff.”
“Are you upbeat all the time? Do you ever get sad? Isn’t life kinda hard?”
“Yes. It’s hard.”
“But you’re getting through it okay?”
He laughs. “Well, yeah, I’m not dead.”
There is quiet on the other end of the line, interrupted by occasional slurping from an exceptional child who picked the wrong guy to interview.
“Miller. Thank you.”
“For, I dunno, just talking to me.”
This decaf doesn’t taste so bad anymore.