Learning Center, and sometimes he works on his speech with Mrs. Riner, and sometimes he plays games with other kids in Mrs. Hume’s office. And sometimes he reads and does homework with Mrs. Patterson.
As far as I can tell, no one knows why Max is different from the rest of the kids. Max’s father says that Max is just a late bloomer, but when he says that, Max’s mom gets so angry that she stops talking to him for at least a day.
I don’t know why everyone thinks Max is so complicated. Max just doesn’t like people in the same way other kids do. He likes people, but it’s a different kind of liking. He likes people from far away. The farther you stay away from Max, the more he will like you.
And Max doesn’t like to be touched. When someone touches Max, the whole world gets bright and shivery. That’s how he described it to me once.
I can’t touch Max, and Max can’t touch me. Maybe that’s why we get along so well.
Also, Max doesn’t understand when people say one thing but mean another. Like last week, Max was reading a book at recess and a fourth grader came over and said, “Look at the little genius.” Max didn’t say anything to the boy because he knew if he said something, the fourth grader would stay there longer and keep bothering him. But I know that Max was confused, because it sounded like the boy was saying that Max was smart even though the boy was actually being mean. He was being sarcastic, but Max doesn’t understand sarcasm. Max knew the boy was being mean, but only because that boy is always mean to Max. But he couldn’t understand why the boy would call him a genius, since being called a genius is usually a good thing.
People are confusing to Max, so it’s hard for him to be around them. That’s why Max has to play games in Mrs. Hume’s office with kids from the other classes. He thinks it’s a big waste of time. He hates having to sit on the floor around the Monopoly board, because sitting on the floor is not as comfortable as sitting in a chair. But Mrs. Hume is trying to teach Max to play with other kids, to understand what they mean when they sarcasm or joke around. Max just doesn’t understand. When Max’s mom and dad are fighting, Max’s mom says that his dad can’t see the forest for the trees. That’s like Max except it’s with the whole world. He can’t see the big things because of all the little things that get in his way.
Today Mrs. Patterson is absent. When a teacher is absent, it usually means that the teacher is sick or her child is sick or someone in her family has died. Mrs. Patterson had someone in her family die once. I know this because sometimes the other teachers will say nice things to her like, “How are you holding up, dear?” and sometimes they whisper to each other after she has left the room. But that was a long time ago. When Mrs. Patterson is absent, it usually means that it is Friday.
There’s no substitute for Mrs. Patterson today so Max and I get to stay with Mrs. Gosk all day which makes me happy. I don’t like Mrs. Patterson. Max doesn’t like her, either, but he doesn’t like her in the same way he doesn’t like most of his teachers. He doesn’t see what I see because he’s too busy looking at the trees. But Mrs. Patterson is different from Mrs. Gosk and Mrs. Riner and Mrs. McGinn. She never smiles for real. She’s always thinking something different in her head than what is on her face. I don’t think she likes Max, but she pretends that she does, which is even scarier than just not liking him.
“Hello, Max, my boy!” Mrs. Gosk says as we walk into the classroom. Max doesn’t like when Mrs. Gosk calls him “my boy” because he is not her boy. He has a mother already. But he won’t ask Mrs. Gosk to stop calling him “my boy” because asking her to stop would be harder than listening to Mrs. Gosk say “my boy” every day.
Max would rather say nothing to everyone than something to one person.
But even though Max doesn’t understand why Mrs. Gosk calls him “my boy” he knows that she loves him. He knows that Mrs. Gosk is not being mean. Just confusing.
I wish I could tell Mrs. Gosk not to call Max “my boy,” but Mrs. Gosk can’t see or hear me and there’s nothing I can do to make her see or hear me. Imaginary friends can’t touch or move things in th human world. So I can’t open a jelly jar or pick up a pencil or type on a keyboard. Otherwise I would write a note asking Mrs. Gosk not to call Max “my boy.”
I can bump up against the real world, but I can’t actually touch it.
Even so, I am lucky because when Max first imagined me, he imagined that I could pass through things like doors and windows even when they are closed. I think it’s because he was afraid that if his parents closed his bedroom door at night I might get stuck outside the room, and Max doesn’t like to fall sleep unless I’m sitting in the chair next to his bed. This means that I can go anywhere by walking through the doors and windows, but never through walls or floors. I can’t pass through walls and floors because Max didn’t imagine me that way. That would’ve been too strange for even Max to think about.
There are other imaginary friends who can walk through doors and windows like me, and some who can even walk through walls, but most can’t walk through anything and get stuck in places for a long time. That’s what happened to Puppy, a talking dog who got stuck in the janitor’s closet overnight a couple of weeks ago. It was a scary night for his human friend, a kindergartener named Piper, because she had no idea where Puppy was.
But it was even scarier for Puppy, because getting locked in a closet is how imaginary friends sometimes disappear forever. A boy or girl accidentally (or sometimes, accidentally on purpose) locks an imaginary friend in a closet or a cabinet or basement and then poof! Out of sight, out of mind. The end of the imaginary friend.
Being able to pass through doors can be a lifesaver.
Today I want to stay put in the classroom because Mrs. Gosk is reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory aloud to the class, and I love it when Mrs. Gosk reads. She has a whispery, thin voice, so all the kids must lean in and be absolutely silent in order to hear, which is great for Max. Noises distract him. If Joey Miller is banging his pencil on his desk or Danielle Ganner is tapping her feet on the floor like she does all the time, then Max can’t hear anything but the pencil or the feet. He can’t ignore sounds like the other kids can, but when Mrs. Gosk reads, everyone must be perfectly quiet.
Mrs. Gosk always chooses the best books and tells the best stories from her own life that somehow relate to the book. Charlie Bucket oes something crazy and then Mrs. Gosk tells us about a time when her son, Michael, did something crazy, and we all laugh our heads off. Even Max sometimes.
Max doesn’t like to laugh. Some people think it’s because he doesn’t think things are funny, but that is not true. Max doesn’t understand all funny things. Puns and knock-knock jokes make no sense to him, because they say one thing but mean another. When a word can mean a bunch of different things, he has a hard time understanding which meaning to choose. He doesn’t even understand why words have to mean different things depending on when you use them, and I don’t blame him. I don’t like it much, either.
But Max finds other things hilarious. Like when Mrs. Gosk told us how Michael once sent twenty cheese pizzas and the bill to a schoolyard bully as a joke. When the police officer came to their house to scare Michael, Mrs. Gosk told the police officer to “take him away” to teach her son a lesson. Everyone laughed at that story. Even Max. Because it made sense. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Mrs. Gosk is also teaching us about World War II today, which she says is not in the curriculum but should be. The kids love it, and Max especially loves it because he thinks about wars and battles and tanks and airplanes all the time. Sometimes it is the only thing that he thinks about for days. If school was only about war and battles and not math and writing, then Max would be the best student in the wholewide world.
Today Mrs. Gosk is teaching us about Pearl Harbor. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Mrs. Gosk said that the Americans were not ready for the sneak attack because they couldn’t imagine the Japanese attacking us from so far away.
“America lacked imagination,” she said.
If Max had been alive in 1941, things might have been different because he has an excellent imagination. I bet that Max would have imagined Admiral Yamamoto’s plan perfectly, with the midget submarines and the torpedoes with the wooden rudders and everything else. He could have warned the American soldiers about the plan because that is what Max is good at. Imagining things. He has a lot going on inside of him all the time so he doesn’t worry so much about what is going on outside him. That’s what people don’t understand.
That’s why it’s good for me to stick around Max whenever I can. Sometimes he doesn’t pay enough attention to the things around him. Last week he was about to get on the bus when a big gust of wind blew his report card right out of his hands and between bus 8 and bus 53. He ran out of line to get it, but he didn’t look both ways, so I yelled, “Max Delaney! Stop!”
I use Max’s last name when I want to get his attention. I learned that from Mrs. Gosk. It worked. Max stopped, which was good, because a car was passing by the school buses at that moment, which is illegal.
Graham said that I saved Max’s life. Graham is the third imaginary friend at the school right now, as far as I know, and she saw the whole thing. Graham is a girl but she has a boy’s name. She looks almost as human as I do, except her hair stands up like someone on the moon is pulling on each individual strand. It doesn’t move. It’s as solid as a rock. Graham heard me yell at Max and tell him to stop, and then after Max was back in line, she walked over to me and said, “Budo! You just saved Max’s life! He would’ve been squished by that car!”
But I told Graham that I saved my own life, because if Max ever died, I think I would die, too.
I think so. I’ve never known an imaginary friend whose human friend died before he disappeared. So I’m not sure.
But I think I would. Die, I mean. If Max died.
FIVE “Do you think I’m real?” I ask.
“Yes,” Max says. “Hand me that blue two-pronger.” A two-pronger is a kind of LEGO. Max has names for all the LEGO pieces.
“I can’t,” I say.
Max looks at me. “Oh, yeah. I forgot.”
“If I’m real, then why are you the only one who can see me?”
“I don’t know,” Max says, sounding irritated. “I think you’re real. Why do you keep asking me?”
It’s true. I ask him a lot. I do it on purpose, too. I’m not going to live forever. I know that. But I’m going to live as long as Max believes in me. So if I force Max to keep insisting that I’m real, I think he will believe in me longer.
Of course, I know that by constantly asking him if I’m real, I might be putting the idea that I am imaginary in his head. It’s a risk. But so far, so good.
Mrs. Hume once told Max’s mom that it’s “not uncommon for kids like Max to have imaginary friends, and they tend to persist longer than most imaginary friends.”
Persist. I like that word.
Max’s parents are fighting again. Max can’t hear because he is playing video games in the basement and his parents are screaming at each other in whispers. They sound like . . .