HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!
On Thanksgiving, while I was eating things like soup due to my broken tooth, and seething that my hubby was gorging himself in turkey and stuffing, I thought to myself: yes, but he does not have almost 1,000 followers in his blog (ignoring the fact that he does not have a blog)! So I sat there with my soup, giving thanks for all of you. For every time you have clicked on this blog, followed it, spread the word, told someone about the story, sent me a message, wrote a review, or simply thought of 30Nights, THANK YOU!!
In honor of the holidays, I thought you should meet Aiden’s mother, Stella Hale, through an interview. I have had a lot of questions about Aiden’s childhood. Let’s see if she can answer some of them for you. As always, some sequel hints are embedded as well. Be careful, Stella does not know that she is a character in a book.
AS: (has changed into sweat pants for the occasion) Mrs. Hale, I’m Ani Surnois and I’m your son’s creato—ahh…creativity director… yep, that’s me.
Stella Hale: Hello, Ms. Surnois, how do you do? Do I owe Aiden’s brand-new campaign called Il Legal to you?
AS: Well, I only named it but it was Aiden’s initiative through and through.
SH: (smiles proudly) That’s my son! May I ask … where am I exactly? I was just in an airplane, and my husband was telling me to get some sleep, and now I’m here. I have a family emergency, you see, and I have to get to Portland, Oregon, ASAP.
AS: Umm… yes, the plane is … refueling. You will be on your way very shortly. While that happens, this … ah… place is my head. Sort of.
SH: I beg your pardon?
AS: My head … my office.
SH: Ah! Ah, yes, of course. (looks around with bright blue eyes, very much like Aiden’s). How curious a place! What is that thing in the back? Is that a… ballroom?
AS: Oh,that! Yes, yes, it is. Here, don’t mind that, Mrs. Hale. I’m doing a … biography of Aiden. And I’ve seen so much curiosity about his childhood. Would you be willing to answer some questions for me?
SH: Of course, of course. As long as I get back on the plane in the next few minutes. I really need to see my son. (fidgets and wrings her fingers.)
AS: (feeling like an emotional leech.) I understand. I’ll get you out of here very soon. Here, have some Baci chocolates. They really help. Now, let’s get started. What was Aiden’s first word?
SH: (eyes soften and speaks softly.) Aiden didn’t have a first word. He had a first sentence.
AH: A first sentence?
SH: (nods with a smile). Yes, he said “Mama,” paused for a just a second and continued “Mama, fank you.” I couldn’t believe my ears. He dropped his little bouncing ball and I gave it back to him, and there it was. “Mama, fank you.” So I did it again, and again he said it. With a big grin. “Mama, fank you.” I called my husband, Robert, at work in a tizzy. He came home immediately—we spent the whole day just watching Aiden. He was only 13 months old! And the words were almost fully pronounced. (shakes her head. Oh hell, there’s a tear. Yep, there it goes, down her cheek.) We should have known right then that something was different. But the pediatrician kept saying “he’s just a smart boy.” We had no idea just how advanced his little brain was…
AS: Are you referring to his eidetic memory?
SH: (looks up startled) You know about that?
AH: Umm… yes. Aiden told me.
SH: Really? That’s very unusual. Aiden does not share private information. (frowns, purses lips, eyebrow flies in the air and squints her eyes at me.) Are you sure you are his creativity director?
AS: Positive. I also do his hair so that means we’re friends. Plus, I’m very nosy. Mrs. Hale, when did you first notice Aiden’s intellectual gifts?
SH: Well, in retrospect, from the first time he fully opened his eyes. They were almost… too intelligent for a baby. Here, I have a picture, would you like to see it?
AS: (melting into a puddle of raging female hormones) YES, PLEASE!
SH: (pulls out of her bag, not a wallet, but an album, thicker than Brothers Karamazov, full of Aiden baby pictures and sniffles). Here is my favorite. This is how he watched us from the very beginning. Like he understood it all! Even Doctor Nikos who delivered him said, “smarty eyes! Looks like he’s telling me how to do my job.”
AS: (can’t talk because she is experiencing an out-of-this-womb moment!)
SH: (looking at the photo.) When he was born, he came so gently. Doctor Nikos said it was almost as if he was worried he would hurt me. It took Robert and me a while to conceive but once I got pregnant, Aiden gave me no trouble… Here are some other ones (starts flipping feverishly through baby pictures). Here, this one. He was born with a full head of hair. Robert called him “Mohawk.”
SH: I tried to comb it a few times but Robert wouldn’t let me. Here he is with our dog Marlow. He loved that dog! We always had a dog. I have no clue why Aiden doesn’t have one now. He’s so good with dogs. Every time I ask, he gives me some joking answer like “because I don’t have a mailman,” or “because I can’t neuter another male.”
SH: I have some others, too— would you like to see them? (pulling more pictures now.) Are you okay, Ms. Surnois? You seem choked up?
AS: Ah, yes, yes, I have a tearduct allergy. Something about polaroids. Go figure. Mrs. Hale, aside from the intelligent eyes, when was the first sign of his memory?
SH: (looks up from the baby pictures as if she forgot I am here.) Oh! When he was five. One night, I was reading Fantastic Mr. Fox to him. The next night, I was tucking him in and started to read again but I couldn’t remember the page I’d left off so I picked up a few pages earlier. Suddenly, he started reading with me! It took all my strength not to scream. I was terrified. I thought he was really reading. But then I covered the words with my hand, and said “Aiden,can you read it now, love?” So he recited what he remembered from the night before: “Bogis and Bunce and Bean, one fat, one short, one mean, these horrible crooks, so different in looks, were nonetheless equally mean.” He didn’t know how to read, he just remembered it perfectly (shakes her head again, tearing up.)
Here he is, reading later, on Manzanita Beach. This is how he used to read, roughly two pages or so per minute, which is the speed of an average teenager.
AS: Was eidetic memory something that ran in your family?
SH: (shrugs.) We don’t really know. My grandfather spoke four languages so there may be a genetic strain but scientists can’t say. I wonder if that’s why—(stops abruptly if she spoke one word too many.)
AS: If that’s why what, Mrs. Hale?
SH: (shakes head). An errant thought… my apologies.
AS: No, please, I’d like to know. And the sooner you tell me, the sooner you can go.
SH: Well, I was wondering if Aiden worries that the memory would be passed on to his children. Whether that’s not part of the reason why he has never really talked about having a family?
AS: (mental note to address with Aiden; he did put this in his first letter to Jacob Marshall. Damn him!) How many languages does Aiden speak?
SH: Seven, I think. Let me see… Farsi, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Greek, Sanskrit and English. The first four, he learned in the military, of course. The others, he picked up from reading.
AS: (picks up her jaw from the floor.) How did Aiden get so wealthy so quickly? A lot of … umm… investors want to know about that.
SH: (breaks into a laugh). Well, darling, he didn’t exactly get wealthy “quickly.” See, Aiden started making money when he was six. He started his own business, inventing mnemonic devices. (stands up straight, looking proud)
AS: (picks up jaw from the floor again and glues it to her face.) What?
SH: (laughs again). It’s true. One day, I went to the grocery store but forgot his Honey Nut Cheerios. He was not a happy camper. So he had Robert—who is an architect and engineer–install this contraption in my alarm clock that shuffled song lyrics in sync with our grocery list. That way I would never forget. The first song that played when the alarm went off was “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.” I couldn’t believe it. It was the story of being Aiden’s parents: being astounded on a daily basis. From then on, he started inventing other mnemonic devices. One time, he converted his baseball card statistics into a gambling operation, and showed up at home with all sorts of treasures from baseball bats and toys to candy. We made him return them—he was furious. He kept saying “I worked so hard all day long and no one helps me.” (laughs.) But soon, the private middle schools around Seattle were buying his mnemonic devices. We started patenting them for him, and saving the money. By the time he entered high school, he had about $100,000 in the bank.
AS: So that’s how he started HH?
SH: Yes, many years later. We held the money in trust. And I’m glad we did because he’d have blown it all away in his wild years. We just managed it until he returned from Iraq. Then he pulled it out, used it as seed funding for HH, and the rest is history. It helps if you never forget the stock market trends.
AS: What is your favorite moment of Aiden’s childhood?
SH: (wipes her tears.) There are so many. Like any mom. He was a character. But one that always makes me laugh despite the fact that it was horrifically embarrassing for Robert and me was something he did when he was 4. It showed me even then that he wanted to be like his parents and wanted a happy family.
AS: What happened?
SH: Well, he was in preschool one day. He usually played baseball or ran around in the jungle gym but he had this little girlfriend for about a week—Taylor. Taylor wanted to play house. The teacher told me that she and Aiden tucked in their baby dolls—Aiden got in trouble for holding the doll upside down—and then pretended to go to bed. There they lay, the two of them, next to each other. Taylor pretended to turn off the light and closed her eyes. Aiden tossed and turned, crossed his arms, and huffed and puffed. Eventually, bored, he asked Taylor “when are you going to go Aaaaaah so I can go play ball?”
AS: Oh my God!
SH: (laughs and blushes). I know! Robert and I were mortified when the teacher told us. We had no idea how much he was retaining. We were always careful of course, but he was four! He didn’t know any better, he just remembered a pattern. We had to be so careful. So very very careful. And we still let him down. (wipes a tear.)
AS: Looking back, would you have done anything different in raising Aiden?
SH: (looks down). Wouldn’t any parent? Hindsight is twenty-twenty. I would have done a lot of things differently. A lot…
AS: For example?
SH: I would have never kicked him out when he was spiraling. I would have rather he killed me in his rage than shut the door on my only son. I would have given him a brother if I could have. I wouldn’t have miscarried during our beach vacation. I would have never let him join the military. Never, ever. I would have slept outside his bootcamp every night. I would have laid myself in front of that damn plane when he was deployed. I would have gone to Afghanistan. To Iraq. Carry all that gear for him. All those guns. Have him sleep on me rather than on cold desert. Have my arms around him instead of bullet rounds. Enlist myself if they would let me, take his place. It really should be a law that mothers be allowed to take their children’s place in war. We would all do it. All of us. Kill those animals that touched a hair in his head. Or have them torture me. They hurt my baby boy. He’s always my baby boy. But I can’t turn back time. I just can’t… (wipes her eyes, straightens her camel-colored cardigan and looks up.) My apologies, Ms. Surnois… do you have any other questions? I really must get back to my son.
AS: (sobbing too, feeling like she might have wanted to take Aiden’s place as well). Only two more. Is there anything you think would help him?
SH: (looks at me, smiling.) Love. Love, if he lets it. But he is so convinced of his own danger that I don’t know what it will take for Aiden to ever really allow love in his life. If he has been able to isolate his own mother for years, what could possibly convince him to allow another woman to love him?
AS: Is that what you think Aiden’s main obstacle will be? Letting anyone love him?
SH: (nods firmly.) Yes. Yes. I think he will love, I have no doubt about that. And he will love deeply, that’s the only way he knows how. But accepting love in return… that, I don’t know. He has not accepted it from me, not once in the last 14 years … (wipes her eyes again, shakes her head.)
AS: (thinking furious of a way to cheer her up.) Can you show me another Aiden baby picture?
SH: (smiles immediately.) Oh yes, yes, of course. Here is one with him making his funny faces. He has not changed much.
AS: Mrs. Hale, thank you so much for your time. I see they have refueled the plane, and you’re ready to go. I’m sure we will see more of each other.
SH: (stands.) Thank you, dear. Oh, the ballroom in the back is all lit up!! What is that for? Wait— a girl just appeared in there! Who is—?
AS: Ah, don’t worry about that Mrs. Hale. That girl is a dream. Have a safe flight.
SH: You too, Ms. Surnois. And please, darling, I know you are a creative and all, but sweat pants??
THANK YOU FOR READING EVERYONE!!!!! I had no idea you would enjoy the interviews so much. We have more coming up, including Reagan, Elisa, Anamelia, and some other characters. See you soon. All my love – Ani