Imaginary Friends

What do Wonder Woman, Mr. Rogers and an unnamed teenage girl I met playing in a creek bed down the road from my childhood home have in common?


They all became fixtures in the imaginary universe I created when I was young.

Call it boredom. Call it only-child syndrome. Call it psychosis.


Call it whatever, but those figures (some borrowed from others’ creations and some all my very own), spent countless hours with me padding around after my Boston terriers, lazing in my room or swinging—alone, but not alone—on the rickety metal playset in my backyard. You know, those old swing sets where that one pole always left the ground once the swing hit a certain elevation, twisting the entire top support beam into a squealing pretzel…


A precursor to that epic space adventure I scribbled, these characters would come and go as I needed them. I was the center of their universe. How cool is that? Mr. Rogers and his entire neighborhood gang all mine—right down to the mailman. All mine to have whatever adventure I could muster—including a trip to the Crayola Crayon Factory through his magic Picture Picture.


And Wonder Woman never had to use her lasso of truth on Mr. Rogers—only on the rotten kids from my class that would also show up in the yard or in the living room. She’d kick their bully butts and we’d be off to lasso up another adventure. Superman showed up occasionally, too. Wonder Woman constantly had to save his rear end from the first-grade bully bearing the kryptonite crayon. (See any themes to my madness?)


Adventures. Day in and day out.

Alone, but not alone.


I can only imagine (no pun intended) what kind of adventures I would have had back then if the Marvel movies of today played in theaters in the ‘80s. [And I just deleted two paragraphs of wonderful what-ifs to file away for another writing session. Although, now that I understand copyright infringement better than my six-year-old counterpart, I’ll proceed carefully.]


Looking back, I know my parents must have seen me talking to myself. Or maybe they thought I was singing to the pudgy Boston pups who were never far from my heels. They had to know, right?


But I distinctly remember the day I knew I’d been “caught.”


My dad built our house, and he routinely did maintenance on the place himself. On this particular day, he was running wire or plumbing or something in the crawlspace. He took me into the dusky damp underbelly of the house with him, and I got to take my own hot pink flashlight. (The things we remember…)


The access to the crawlspace was through a small, partial basement the size of a closet that always had about a foot of water at the bottom. He dropped a ladder in as there were no stairs, leaned it against the wall, and once he was set, he one-armed me through the air, over the mini pond, and through the access door. The space was big enough for me to walk hunched over. I handed him some tools as he slithered on his belly and tinkered with the project. Then he dismissed me to explore.


Imagination fodder! Before I became claustrophobic.


The nameless girl from the creek I’d met a few weeks before showed up in the crawlspace. (I’m not quite sure why I latched onto her so tightly. She was kind and played with me—a real person, to splash and be splashed with, maybe—but I named her Alice and we had great times together though I never actually saw her again.)


Then Wonder Woman appeared. I got miffed at Alice for hogging all the attention, since it was Alice’s own stupid fault she got herself stuck between the floor joists and needed rescue. Superman showed up—in the form of Clark—to settle things diplomatically. My pink flashlight lit the corners and crannies with a pale yellow beam, showing the characters where to go and what to do next.


And then it happened.


“Who are you talking to?”


I froze. I remember that heart-stopping sensation where the seconds don’t move. My dad was incredibly intimidating most of the time, so I wasn’t sure if I was in trouble. Lie or tell the truth?


Lie.


“No one.” Well, maybe it wasn’t a lie. There was no one there.


Truth.


“Sounds like it was someone.” I whipped my flashlight toward him, he scolded me for shining it in his eyes, but he was grinning. My heart started beating again and I turned back toward the corner where just seconds before Alice had gotten hung on the floor above us.


Diana Prince, Clark Kent, Alice.


Gone.


Alone.


I tried to be careful from then on. I realized talking out loud meant letting others afford a small peek behind the curtain—a curtain I didn’t want real people to look behind. Because it was mine. I think I held on to that world a little longer than most kids. My daughter’s imaginary friends (a boy named Tyler and B.I. the cat) moved out after she started preschool. My son never had any that he let me know about.


Maybe I eased into writing that epic space story as a way to add layers to a universe where I could control things. I could stop talking to myself and eliminate the risk of getting “caught.” (Though, as I age, I find that I’m talking to myself at an increasingly alarming frequency, but at least it’s to myself, not Clark Kent…or Tony Stark.)


I could write in solitude for as long as I wished. Alone, but not alone.


Call it boredom. Call it only-child syndrome. Call it psychosis.


Call it whatever, but the drive to create and write (and, yes, to control something in an otherwise uncontrollable and unpredictable life) still burns inside me. At any given moment, I have entire paragraphs of dialog running in my mind with descriptions of settings, beats of action and twisted plots.

And that little girl with the hot pink flashlight is having a blast again.


Occasionally my inner critic will boom out, “Who are you talking to?” The voice that threatens to halt heartbeats and freeze time.


So I summon Wonder Woman to kick butt.


And I move on.


Alone in my thoughts. But never alone…


Thank you for hanging out for a bit. Check back on Mondays for a new blog and the first Friday of every month for a free fictional short, and be sure to visit my Amazon page.