A young boy struggles to find courage in an abyss of despair and hopelessness.
| Whenever Aaron Rolland ran away, he went to space. He worshipped the Captain of the rocket Comet, emulating his every move and hanging onto his every word. As they flew from planet to planet Aaron could not get enough of the Captain’s wisdom. He knew everything there was to know! If they were on Mars, Captain Darllon Addyd would let Aaron peek out at the Red planet through the window of the rocket, sharing how the Martian land got dubbed Mars after a Roman god of war. And he always paid full attention to Aaron, always the same Captain Addyd whenever Aaron saw him- he never changed and never acted weird. He had to have told Aaron at least a thousand different facts and stories about space in the short two months they had been sharing their adventures on the Comet. Whether they were cruising the solar system or racing asteroids, Aaron couldn’t be happier than when he was with the Captain.
Aaron of course, had to go home every now and then- and while he would much rather have stayed to explore the depths of the universe, the Captain reassured him it would not be long before they would again soar into the unknown together.
“Aaron, come on, you’ll be late for school,” his mom would say just as the Comet landed back at his room, depositing Aaron on his bed.
“Coming mom!” he would yell down the stairs before grabbing his backpack and bidding goodbye to Captain Addyd. School was alright, he always thought, but he could never wait for the minute when his dad would pick him up to bring him back home.
His dad was a proud man, tall and handsome and smart. But to Aaron, his hug was the best thing about him.
“Daddy!” he’d shout out running straight into his outstretched arms at the speed of light. Anyone could see the resemblance between the two- Aaron was a miniature of his father. As they walked towards the Toyota waiting for them in the school parking lot, even their gait was alike. However, much of that could be attributed to the fact that Aaron mimicked his father in everything he did- from the way in which he styled his blond hair (swept to the right and gelled up), to his straight stance and slight bounce in his step. It had taken his mother every ounce of effort to convince Aaron that jeans, a t-shirt and a sweater were a much better ensemble for school than his father’s oversized suit and tie.
“You know something Aaron,” his dad would say on the way home.
“According to scientists there are about 100 billion galaxies in the universe,” Aaron would reply.
“That’s right Aaron, that’s my boy. But I wanted to show you something else today.” He would allow Aaron to sit in the driver’s seat on the condition his mother would never find out- because according to her and the law, six was too young for the front- and take Aaron home a different route everyday. While driving he would point out things and people and places, weaving together stories that sucked Aaron in, as a black hole sucks in light- telling him the history of that building, or the story of the girl who got lost in that forest.
Mrs. Rolland was a worrywart by nature, and the events of the past two months had only made it worse. There were days when Aaron’s mom would wear away the rug in front of the kitchen window, pacing with worry and peeking out at the driveway every few seconds, praying the Toyota would soon pull up. And it did, eventually. Eventually she would catch sight of Aaron and his dad strolling out, deep in conversation about some star or another, completely unaware of the time.
But there were times when his dad refused to tell any stories. These were the times when Aaron quietly retreated to his room and called to Captain Addyd to bring the Comet around. He would ignore his parents’ voices from downstairs, his mom’s coaxing and his dad’s puzzled and livid, and he would silently count. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Blast off! Every time, Captain Addyd would be there before he reached one, and in a matter of seconds they were on their way to Jupiter or Saturn, and sometimes even the moon. By the time the Captain brought Aaron back home, his dad lay curled on the couch, fast asleep and snoring.
“Daddy,” Aaron said one day. “Can you help me read this book?”
“Yes daddy, I got it from the school library, I know you’ll like it too. It’s about a detective who has to figure out what happened when a girl goes missing.”
“Help you with what?”
“To read the book,” he whispered, now not so sure that his dad would like the book after all. His dad’s eyes darted from the thin picture book clutched in his son’s hands to Aaron’s face.
“Daddy! Can you read it!?” Aaron stamped his foot, heat rushing to his face- why wouldn’t he answer him?
“Uh- okay.” He bobbed his head up and down, up and down, up and down, his eyes clouded over with confusion. Aaron thrust the book into his dad’s lap and cuddled in closer to him.
“Daddy!” Aaron whined. But his dad just looked at him, sighing and expecting Aaron to tell him what to do.
“Daddy, read it!” Aaron pointed to the book. His dad’s eyes slowly shifted to the colourful illustrations, sweat accumulating on his cold brow.
“Why don’t you want to read it to me?” Aaron brought his knees towards his face, and curled up in a tight ball next to his dad, began to cry.
“No, don’t cry. Please, don’t,” his dad muttered. “No. No. Why are you sad? No.” His dad looked on in horror as dark spots on his son’s blue t-shirt appeared where tears rolled down his cheeks and dropped onto the material. “No, don’t cry,” he said, but he didn’t know what to do. Something was wrong, and he should do something. But what was it that he should do? He felt so helpless, so hopeless. So lost.
Aaron’s mom came upstairs with a basket of laundry still warm from the dryer to find both her son and husband sprawled on the couch in tears.
“Aaron,” she said dropping the basket and rushing over to the fridge where she pulled out the tetra pack of orange juice, “I need you to do something for daddy and me, okay? Remember what I told you about? You remember our talk, don’t you?”
Taking his lack of response as agreement, she continued, “I need you to run upstairs to our room, and bring the small black case. The one with the zipper. Hurry honey.”
Aaron ran upstairs, but ran instead to his own room where he began counting. Ten. Nine. Eight. And Captain Addyd was there, the Comet all fuelled up and ready to pierce through the atmosphere, and into space.
The next day his dad was in his usual spot right in front of the double doors of the school, ready to greet Aaron the moment he stepped out. Everything was back to normal. Seeing Aaron, he slipped the cell he was talking into straight into his left coat pocket and stretched out his arms. And Aaron ran, at the speed of light, into his embrace. His mom tried to talk to Aaron that night, telling him all sorts of things, trying to explain yet again, but again he held his eyes tightly shut, trying to message Captain Addyd that he needed him to come and take him away.
The next week in school Mrs. Watts, Aaron’s first grade teacher, read them the story of the Scared Rabbit.
“Now how many of you liked that story?” she asked, swaying back and forth in the rocking chair with the kids at her feet. One by one all the children raised their hands.
“I think it was- it was funny, how the noise and everything scared him, how the bunny was scared of everything but he didn’t say- he said he was scared of nothing,” Mia said.
“Good Mia. But it’s okay to be scared of something. Everyone is scared of something,” Mrs. Watts said, glancing at each of her students. “Who here is scared of something?” Once again all the children raised their hands. All but one. Aaron drifted from the conversation, what was he scared of?
“What are you afraid of John?” Mrs. Watts asked.
“I’m scared of clowns.” Several of the kids giggled.
“What about you Michaela?”
“I don’t like spiders. Or bugs. Any bugs. Well, maybe ladybugs. But no other bugs, they’re gross!”
As his classmates voiced the things that plagued them most, Aaron was quiet. Maybe I’m special, he thought. He couldn’t think of a single thing that scared him. But as the spoken fears took a turn towards the dark side, towards ‘bad things happening to the people I know’ as Rachel had put it, he swallowed a stone and felt like he had to get out of the classroom.
He wanted to go somewhere he could be alone. Somewhere he could call to Captain Addyd. But he stayed rooted to the carpet, sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce style among everyone else- everyone else who hadn’t even noticed that something was wrong.
“What are you afraid of Aaron?” He heard Mrs. Watts asking.
The heaviness in his stomach, and his sweaty palms, brought back every single time he had separated from the captain. Every time he had watched the rocket Comet get smaller and smaller and disappear into space without him. Would he be okay without Aaron there to help him? Wouldn’t the captain get lost in the infinite space? How could he tell one star, one galaxy, apart from another? Aaron could already see Captain Addyd, shrivelling into nothingness in his space suit as he floated aimlessly through space, all alone and nobody there to hear his wise stories and funny jokes. Or what if Captain Addyd would never come back for him, what if the Comet was hit by an asteroid? Suddenly, danger was everywhere, and the more Aaron tried to tell himself to calm down, that for sure the Captain would come back for him if he called, the more he began to believe that he wouldn’t.
But surely, as always, Captain Addyd was in his room that evening, before Aaron even managed to reach the number three in his countdown. And together they went exploring the Milky Way Galaxy.
“Be careful Captain Addyd,” he whispered as the captain saluted and pulled the Comet up, leaving Aaron all alone with his fears in his dark room.
While worry nagged at Aaron, he was able to distract himself the next day. Everything was alright and everything was going to be alright. Forever. He was out the door almost before the bell even rang, and he couldn’t have been more relieved to see his dad. Now they’d go home and he could check on Captain Addyd.
“Daddy!” he ran in for the hug.
“Aaron!” his dad laughed, holding him close. And not letting go.
“Okay dad! Let’s go,” Aaron said, still laughing. He didn’t know exactly at what point he realized his dad wasn’t just playing around- but he all of a sudden felt that something was not as it should be.
“Hmmm,” his dad sighed as he held him close.
“Let’s go daddy,” he whispered as he pried himself free of his father’s strong grip.
They didn’t go a home a different way this time, and his father was unusually quiet, not responding to any of Aaron’s questions.
“Captain Addyd,” Aaron whispered to nobody in particular. “He’d know what to do- he never acted crazy.”
And suddenly, Captain Addyd was there, beckoning for Aaron to join him.
“How far away from Earth are we?” Aaron asked, delighted to find himself once again in the familiar space of the Comet, but irrationally worried, about what, not even he knew. “How many light years?”
Before the Captain could give him an answer Aaron found himself back in the car, the car that was going extremely fast. But it was okay- they were almost at their street. Just two more streets and his dad would turn right onto Clinton Rd. and they’d be home in less than three minutes. Only one street now.
But the car didn’t turn, proceeding straight towards the heavy surge of traffic flowing through the street perpendicular to the one they were on, speeding right past Clinton Rd.
It would be years before Aaron could even think of going out for his G1 license, and years more before he could actually drive, but even he got a strange inkling, a warning, that his dad was not going to stop the car.
“Westerville Rd. is dangerous! Busiest road, Aaron. You do not cross it without me or your dad. Got that young man?” his mother had ordered him when he had almost stepped into the heavy onslaught of traffic of the very road they were now headed directly for. This was months ago, but suddenly his mother’s words screamed at him: red alert! Red alert!
And then he was back in the Comet, almost grateful for the escape. But just until a siren erupted in screeching wails, threatening to explode his mind. And the Captain fell to his knees in one fluid motion, unconscious.
“Daddy!” he screamed back in the car, “Daddy!” His dad didn’t seem to hear, the car just a few short metres away, a few short seconds away from getting squashed like a pesky mosquito.
“Daddy!” he screamed at the captain, but to no avail, and without the captain, even outer space did not sooth him- only sent him into a further state of panic.
He unbuckled himself and threw both of his feet onto his dad’s shoe, bigger even than both his own. Left, he knew it was left. Relying only on his recollections from when his dad had allowed him to sit up in front, he was risking everything. And he pushed down with on his father’s foot on the pedal with his full might- half expecting a crash.
But no crash came. Shaking with relief and terror he yelled at his dad, “Turn left! Turn left daddy! Please! Turn left!” All Mr. Rolland understood was that the car needed to stop. His son’s screaming, his face, but what did it all mean? After a few seconds of staring studiously at his son, Mr. Rolland turned into an abandoned small plaza where he managed to park the car across three parking spaces before laying back astonished and drained, pale as a ghost. Cars whizzed by on Westerville Rd, but nobody looked their way, and even if they had, nobody noticed that there was something askew. Just a car whose driver suddenly decided to turn into a plaza. Who knew what for, and most importantly, who would care?
“Daddy,” Aaron began, but his dad did not even acknowledge hearing him speak.
“Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Blast off,” he said, his voice wavering. But it only confirmed what he already knew. The captain wasn’t coming back anymore. He was on his own. Should he go home and get his mom? His house couldn’t be that far and he thought he knew which way, but he wasn’t sure.
His dad moaned in the seat next to his, oblivious to what had happened. Tears pushed against Aaron’s eyelids, his throat dry. What should he do? Wasn’t his dad supposed to take care of everything? Make everything okay again? But a quick glance at his father changed his rage into dread. Daddy looked worse by the moment.
“Your dad’s going to need our help sometimes,” his mom’s words that he had tried so hard to block out during the past two months had just now reinstated themselves in his mind. “He’ll be okay, but we have to help him Aaron. You can’t just run away from it honey. It’s our responsibility.”
Okay, Aaron thought, my responsibility. But what should he do?
A new voice entered his mind, Constable Rowelle, an officer who had visited his class. “Whenever you’re in any kind of trouble,” he had said, “pick up a phone and call 9-1-1.”
That was what he had to do. Aaron was slightly relieved, but seeing his dad’s eyelids flutter as he emitted a low groan, Aaron knew that he was running out of time.
“The most important thing is to help him fast,” his mom had said.
Phone, he thought. Phone. Cell phone! In his dad’s pocket. He quickly checked the right coat pocket, but his fingers met air. This was it, he thought, left or nothing. And- yes! It was there.
He carefully flipped it open, as he had seen his dad do many times before, and pressed 9. Then 1. And 1 again.
“Operator, what’s your emergency?”
“My dad’s not feeling good and we almost crashed, but we didn’t and I don’t know what to do!” he said in one breath, grateful for the adult voice on the other end. Surely she would help him.
“Can you tell me your name please?”
“Aaron. Aaron Rolland.” he barely whispered.
“Wait,” he said, suddenly remembering something his mom had told him. He grabbed his dad’s hand and turned the silver bracelet around to the engraved side. “He’s- he has diabetes.”
Before he knew it, the lady told him to hold on, promised him that help was coming. But it would be too late, it suddenly dawned on him. His dad needed help now.
“When his blood sugar level drops too low,” his mom had explained, “he sometimes needs us to help him by…” What had she said? Aaron strained to remember. It was the day the captain had taken him to Uranus. What had she said?
“Needs us to help him by giving him something sweet.” That was it! He grabbed his bag from the backseat and ferreted through it madly. His hand closed around a chocolate bar- well, half a chocolate bar to be exact, that he was going to give to his mom for Mother’s Day. But he was sure she wouldn’t mind.
“Here daddy! Eat this.” But his dad just watched him, unmoving. “Eat it! It’ll help you.” His dad managed to shake his head no before looking away.
“Daddy, please. You’re sick, if you eat this you won’t be anymore,” Aaron urged.
“I’m not. Leave me alone,”
“Daddy?” Aaron was afraid, but he knew what the captain would have done, and he knew what his dad would have done.
“You have to eat this.”
“No, not now,”
“Eat it, it’ll make you feel better,” he held the bar right in front of his father’s mouth, pushing it against his pursed lips.
“Daddy eat it!” And at last, as Aaron heard the distant howling of the sirens approaching, his dad took a small bite of the chocolate he was holding out. And then another. And another. Only when the whole chocolate was gone and when an ambulance took his dad away, did Aaron allow himself to relax.
“You did a good job, kid,” somebody told him, but Aaron didn’t smile. He was only relieved that it was over and that his dad was going to be alright.
Aaron’s dad came home soon, with no physical marks, but inside he felt broken. How would he be able to live his life like this? He could manage if it was just the diet and even the needles, but this? Blocks of his life, just missing. Almost killing his six year old.
“Daddy,” Mr. Rolland was plucked from his thoughts by Aaron’s feeble voice.
“It’s okay, daddy. I promise I’m going to help you now, and we can go on more adventures,” he whispered.
It pained Mr. Rolland to see his son like this, to accept that he couldn’t control everything himself, to admit that he had a long way to go to learn how to live with diabetes, but Aaron’s words touched him in a way nothing else could.
“Where are we going buddy?” he asked with a smile. A smile that reflected back to him in his son’s face.
At first, especially when his dad’s disease meddled, Aaron still missed the captain, but he stuck in there, often losing patience but never breaking his promise. Because Aaron Rolland didn’t run away from things- not anymore.
“What are you afraid of Aaron?” he heard Mrs. Watts asking.
“I’m afraid I won’t always be there to save my dad. I’m afraid my dad gets lost sometimes, somewhere I can’t go to find him. I’m afraid of a lot of things.”
“But it’s okay to be afraid,” Mrs. Watts says, “Even your dad is afraid. Everyone is afraid, “But it’s those who face their fears that are the real heroes.”
Slowly the escapades with Addyd Darllon were replaced with the brand new adventures he shared with “Daddy” Rolland. And those adventures were a thousand times better even than soaring through space.