December 19, 2011

Imaginary Friends

As a kid I never had an imaginary friend.

Instead, I had imaginary enemies. Not in a paranoid, schizophrenic kind of way.  I grew up in the country where the most exciting thing that might happen during the day would be running across a poisonous snake or baby chicks hatching in the incubator.

Baby chicks are cool, don't get me wrong, but there's something really super-awesome about running through the woods with communist spies chasing you or laying low on the ground commando-crawling up to a window to gain intel on Mr. Burnett and whatever perverse goings-on are happening in his basement. Classmates were surely locked in there for his heinous doings. Or perhaps he was a mad scientist with potions that would turn him into the monster I heard outside my window at night.

I'm thinking part of this behavior might be because my mother never bought me Barbies.  She wanted me to read. She read to me a lot and then when I was four she bought me a little record player that would read to me and I could follow along with the book. That is how I learned to read on my own.

BEEP! Turn the page!

Cinderella. Snow White. Aesop's Fables. Grimm's Fairy Tales. My literary diet. So much richer and more exciting than real life. There was always tension and drama. It was good stuff.

As a kid being raised in the boonies, we learned to entertain ourselves with sticks and dirt, paper bark from river birch trees. Rocks. Old, dried bread crusts we'd feed the fish which were certainly flesh-eating piranhas guarding pirate treasure.  (Sometimes with gnats, but that's a story for another day.) My father was a beekeeper and I would sit for long spells and watch the bees land and take off from their little bee runways on missions to procure more pollen for the hives.

I think a childhood of solitude gives one a rich inner life. And now as an adult, I'm writing -- writing for myself (creative expression, sometimes catharsis) and writing for others (to entertain, to inform). I feel the gathering crowd of invisible people -- imaginary enemies, and also now imaginary friends, I guess. Companions. They mimic the steady drone of the bee hives I watched for hours during long, hot summer days. The buzz is a hypnotic comfort and I can pick and choose who I listen to, who I see, like dialing up my favorite radio station.

Because of this it's hard for me to understand why people get bored and impatient waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting at the doctor's office. Those are good times for me, quiet moments when I don't have to be doing anything or answering to anyone. I can dial in to my imagination and see it play out like a movie in my mind.

Sometimes I stand at the kitchen door and look out at the backyard, just looking. My husband will notice after a while and come look over my shoulder.

"What are you looking at?"

"Nothing. Just looking..." I say, because I don't even see the back yard. I'm somewhere else, somewhere that would be hard to explain if I even had the desire to do so. Somewhere that's... not here.

* * *

My youngest son has a tiny wound on the inner side of his thumb. It's very small, like the head of pin, but I noticed it was red as if beginning to be infected.

"We should go take care of that boo-boo," I told him.

"Sure," he responded, for once good-natured and agreeable.

As we walked down the hall to the bathroom I said, "We'll put some magic medicine on it and it will be all better in no time."

He began to cry, then started screaming, "NOOOOOO!"

"Come on, it won't hurt. You've had this before. It's just the antibiotic, not the peroxide."

The screaming turned to snivels. "Will it disappear?"

"Yes, definitely. It will be gone in no time at all. Completely better."

Another bout of screaming erupted. "HE'LL DISAPPEAR!"

"He who? What are you talking about?"

"Scabby! He's my friend and you'll put the magic medicine on him and he will disappear and then I won't have a friend to sleep with me anymore!"

He waved his wounded thumb at me before collapsing on the floor in the hallway, weeping inconsolably.

I heaved his limp and wailing form off the floor and carried him folded in half down the hallway like a disloyal suitcase with a mutinous zipper. I set him up on the bathroom counter and asked him to show me his friend, Scabby.

At first he refused, considering the possibility it might be a trick and I would do Scabby in. He hunched over and wept with such profound loss that all I could think was what a horrible mother I am to have raised a kid whose best friend is a scab on his thumb.

But finally he relented and showed me. After close examination, I admitted that Scabby was a pretty fair friend as friends go, although he looked a bit grouchy.

"See that red ring around him?"

He nodded.

"That means he's mad about something. How about we just put a little bit of medicine around the outside, not ON him. That will make him less grouchy at least and then he won't be mean to you."

"It won't take him away?"

"Nope, he'll stick around for another couple of days, but you won't want him to stay for longer than that. Sometimes Scabby is a mean friend who can hurt you.  You need to only hang out with nice friends."

He let me treat his sore and we covered Scabby with a band-aid "blanket" so he could have a nap and eventually all was right with the world.

Since then it's been all ninja assassins and rogue dinosaurs and top-secret strategic military maneuvers. So, maybe getting rid of Scabby made room for those super-awesome imaginary enemies that were the mainstay of my childhood. 

Maybe having a rich inner life is hereditary.

Maybe he'll finally solve the mystery of what's going on in Mr. Burnett's basement.