When I was little, I had imaginary friends.
Gobs and gobs. For a long time.
A vast cast of characters that changed and morphed depending on what I was interested in—or what I needed—at the time.
Ewoks and Wonder Woman. Big Bird and E.T. Real-life people, too, sometimes.
When I “got caught” (most kids my age were NOT speaking to beings that others couldn’t see), I was old enough to start writing.
Those imaginary friends came to life on the page.
Gobs and gobs of pages.
“That was me. Helping out there. You just hadn’t seen me yet.” Little Miss Muse flits and lands on the desk next to me as I type this. I love it when she reads over my shoulder as I’m writing something I don’t need her help with. Like blog posts.
Her tutu is unraveled in three places, her lavender nail polish is a mess, and she’s missing a high heel. One long, curly tuft of her hair has been dyed, well, Big Bird Yellow. She twirls this lock in her fingers.
“Yes, we’ve established this. You were my muse from before I can even remember.” I pause at the keyboard and really give her a good look. “What have you been doing? You’re a disaster.”
She cocks her head at me and winks. And then I realize.
Adultish-Male Child and I went to Vegas for a mother/son trip the first week of January. She went too, of course, but come to think of it, she’s gone quiet for a couple of days. Quiet, as in not on the airplane home.
Quiet, as in I actually got to rest this afternoon.
Quiet, as in MIA.
And I just now realized because of jet lag and New Years and thyroid and injured knee.
Grinning, she replies, “I took a later flight home.”
I groan. Things got out of hand the other times she went to Vegas with me. Like security guards, smoke alarms, and permanent bans from certain establishments kind of out of hand.
“You don’t need to take a later flight. You literally fly…” This is going to cost me. Plane tickets for a winged muse. Great.
“I met someone who couldn’t fly, so… I took a later flight. Don’t worry; it’s not another writer. I’m well and truly yours. Have been since you could imagine anything at all.” She swings her chonky feet back and forth. Her remaining high heel drops from her foot and clunks to the floor.
“You know what, on second thought. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. I have a deadline. This has to be done by tonight.”
She’s still grinning.
“What? Am I gonna get a fine in the mail? Speeding? Vandalism? TSA bail money? Just let me know how much whatever it is you did is gonna cost.”
I turn back to the keyboard, and she’s in stitches.
“They jiggle. Like Jell-O.”
I’m typing fervently to get this written and move to the next project, but I pause long enough to follow her gaze.
She’s looking at my new friends.
Not imaginary ones, though. Ones that are on my desk. I have three at the moment.
She’s looking at my dragons.
Larry, Curly, and MW (short for Moe Words—don’t hate me). Red, green, and yes—purple.
They’re stress dragons. Squeeze ‘em, yank ‘em, rest ‘em on your shoulder. They’re draped with their heads hanging off the monitor shelf, staring down at my fingers while I compose.
And Little Miss is right. When I type fast, they do, in fact, jiggle.
“You’re an unhinged child, down deep.” Another huge grin as she pops a grape bubble. “Like me. Only I’m all out on the surface with it. No shame. Nothing to hide.”
I sit back in my chair and stare at her. I was going somewhere with this blog, and now I guess I’m going somewhere else.
Like every story she’s ever assisted me with. I think it’ll go ABC and D, and she’s all like ABDIF and W. (And it’s always better her way, quite frankly. ABC and D is predictable and boring. When I let her take the wheel, magic happens.)
She sweetly nods. She likes the praise.
“Unhinged child, huh? Tell me more.”
“Well, think about how you packed your bag for Vegas.”
“We don’t need to tell folks how I packed my bag for Veg—”
“Sure, you put in the adult things like toothbrush and underwear. But, in fact, most of what was in your backpack was stuff you enjoy doing. Like a little kid cramming in seventeen Lego bricks, a half-eaten ZERO candy bar, and a five river rocks.” She picked something from her teeth and flung it at a passing cat. “You crammed in notebooks and pens and this and that and the other. Toys. Comfort items. Boredom busters. A single rock—you have a modicum of self-control, evidently. Five Jolly Ranchers. The fuzzy llama stress ball that you’ve already pulled the tailfeathers from. You’re unhinged.”
“I don’t think—”
“And think about what got you giddy on the trip. Was it at the shows? No. You enjoyed those, of course. Was it the amazing meals? Likewise fantastic, but not to the giddy level. You got giddy in a bookstore. But you did NOT get giddy about the books, now did you?”
“I’m not ready to divulge—”
“And you still talk to imaginary creatures. Well, beings other people can’t see or hear. You blame it on the writing or the cats if you get caught, but, really, Beth. You’re a child.” She glances up at the top of the bookshelf toward our new office mate, giggling. “And that’s a good thing.”
She hops from the desk, bored of this conversation and goes to who knows what room to wreak who knows what kind of havoc. She peeks around the corner a few seconds later, “I do like the new guy, by the way. He’ll fit right in.”
I pause a few moments longer and try not to feel my years. Jet lag. Sore knee. I’m slightly older than middle-aged, and, she’s right. I’ve come full circle.
I’m a child.
Once again (or maybe it’s always been), I have a full cast of imaginary friends.
Little Miss Muse. (Just don’t let her know she’s imaginary. I mean, she’s not, but she is. I have to put this disclaimer here in case Couch Lady ever reads the blog. I’m trying as hard to stay out of a straitjacket as I am to stay out of jail).
On the wall over my shoulder, I have a gallery of art prints. Ewoks. Wonder Woman. Big Bird. E.T. All framed and cozy here in the office. Old friends from long ago…
And behind me, the newest member of the gang adopted from a Vegas bookstore.
A pink cockatoo named Zeppo.
More about him later…
Right now, I’m thinking about what amazing real-life friends I have. Those who source Jiggle Dragons. Who sew capes for Trudi the Office Goose. Who craft beautiful dolls in the likeness of Little Miss Muse. Who mail little black cat magnets across the ocean. Who sit at library tables and dream ridiculous dreams with me.
Like they’re caring for an unhinged child.
Or maybe it’s play for them, too. An outlet.
Maybe, given the smiles on the bookstore staff and my “adult” son during the rigorous adoption process for Zeppo and the level of dedication my gang possesses to sourcing the tiniest things that bring that little bit of giddy to an otherwise random day, they’re all unhinged.
My whole tribe.
Unhinged children pretending to be adults to get the bills paid and the underwear through the laundry and something that resembles dinner on the table because that’s what adults do.
But how fun to let that little kid out and enjoy whatever brings giddy-little-jump-and-squeal moments. Those are rare.
Here’s to many, many giddy-little-jump-and-squeal moments in 2024.
Go ahead, be unhinged.
Buy all the Jiggle Dragons you want to buy. Adopt a concrete goose and a few pink cockatoos. Give them names and personalities. Penguins and peacocks, too, if that’s what makes the little kid version of you happy.
Imagine all the beings you want to imagine. Talk with them. Buy them grape bubblegum and bottle rockets and bottles and bottles of purple glitter.
Just, maybe don’t tell your Couch Lady about them…