My Imaginary Imaginary Friend

I never had an imaginary friend growing up but for about a week in fifth grade I pretended that I did.

One night I was just hanging out at home alone, because that’s what I did when I was ten. In between eating microwaved tv dinners and playing indoor baseball with balls of aluminum foil, I watched the Disney Channel Original Movie “Don’t Look under the Bed.”

Giving five-year-olds nightmares since 1999.

Giving five-year-olds nightmares since 1999.

The movie itself is a horribly terrifying story about a teenager and her little brother’s imaginary friend doing battle with a Boogeyman that is terrorizing her town. Apparently the movie was so disturbing to children that the Disney Channel was only allowed to air it during Halloween and slowly it just kind of disappeared. But the nightmares never went away.

Seriously Disney. WTF? I'm a grown man and I'm still terrified to turn out the lights after seeing this.

Seriously, Disney. WTF? I’m a grown man and I’m still terrified to turn out the lights after seeing this.

But while the people who ran the Disney Channel were drunk at the wheel, I was home alone watching this movie. Sure I slept with a bat by my bed for the next four years, but I was also noticing how large a role imaginary friends played in the movie. They were these fun-loving symbols of innocence, always there to protect and entertain little kids. They were these secret friends that only you could see and they cared about no one else but you. And for a ten-year-old sitting at home alone that was a really awesome idea.

The only problem was that I didn’t have an imaginary friend. Heck I didn’t have a real life friend either, but I’ll save that story for my much sadder memoir: “If Only My Hips Didn’t Lie -The Life and Trials of Shakira’s Number One Fan.”

So that night while I was fortifying my bedroom for the oncoming Boogeyman siege, I started creating my imaginary friend. I knew it was silly from the get-go. I had always thought that imaginary friends didn’t require so much active creation. They just kind of existed in children’s minds like adventure seeking hallucinations that loved to play hide and seek and didn’t require weekly visits to a child psychologist. I thought that if I had to actively create this person in my head that it was kind of cheating.

So over the course of the night, my imaginary friend went through about seventeen different revisions. I don’t remember any of the stupid names I created for these “people,” but it was either something ridiculous like Orbstutroth the Soul Crusher or like Jeff. But anyway, there were versions of Orbstutroth that liked skateboarding and had a pink mohawk and would rock out to Nickleback with me. Then I scrapped that idea and he became Kimberly and she was supposed to be my dream girl. She was the first female second baseman of the Atlanta Braves. She liked to mix Sprite with Diet Dr. Pepper and we were going to get married in the Death Star. But then that diddn’t stick either and I created someone new.

I never told my parents that I had an imaginary friend because I could barely keep up the charade on my own time. Every time I sat down to play Monopoly with Joey the Five-Star Grilled Cheese Chef or Rebecca the Exiled Princess of Candy Mountain I knew that I was really just talking to a chair. I didn’t really feel the need to bring my mom into that three ring circus of crazy.

But I still totally played entire games of Monopoly by myself.

But I still totally played entire games of monopoly by myself.

Eventually it just became to hard to pretend and I gave up on the whole idea of having an imaginary friend. As rewarding as it was to let my imagination run wild for a while, it wasn’t the fulfilling friendship I was wanting. I never really believed there was someone listening when I talked about my Dragon Ball Z theories or retold a classic Stephanie Tanner one-liner from a Full House re-run. At the end of the day I was just a bored kid who didn’t want to do his math homework.

But I would eventually make friends with kids from around the apartment complex where I lived. Sure they weren’t battle-tested Viking Warriors or secret werewolves, but they liked playing hide and seek and thought “How You Remind Me” was the defining song of our generation. They were real tangible kids who answered when you talked to them and laughed at the hilarious antics of 90’s sitcoms. Sure I don’t remember any of their names either, but, for a time, they were there. And that was enough for me.


Playing a Concert for One

I always like to think that I am a lot older than I’m but then some nights it’s fun to think like I’m six years old again. When I was younger and bored at home, I would always lock myself in my bedroom, turn out the lights, and dance to N*SYNC (or some other boy band my sister had turned me on to) as if I were performing at a concert. I’d just slip away in my head and there I’d be dancing before thousands of adoring fans. Imaging flocks of girls falling in love with my sweet voice even though publicly I was still declaring girls icky. Then someone, my mom or sister, would walk in and I’d scream and stop what I was doing as if they had just caught me watching porn or something equally inappropriate. But then they’d leave and I’d turn the music back on and get back to dancing to the great “Bye Bye Bye” while the embarrassment faded away.

Now at twenty years old I find myself doing the same thing. N*SYNC has since been replaced with the cool, folk-rocky tunes of Mumford & Sons, The Oh Hello’s, and Milo Greene. On a Friday night, when others my age are off partying and hanging out with friends I am in my room alone. Why is not important. But where I could be sad and frustrated, instead I turn out the lights, put in my headphones and let the world fall away.

There is nothing graceful about a twenty year old man flailing around in the dark playing air guitar and lip syncing. But there is something freeing. I always play out the same fantasy no matter the song. It’s me, my best friend George, and some vague miscellaneous band members thoroughly rocking the faces off the student body at the SCAD Talent Show. I don’t know why the talent show seems to be the height of my stardom. Maybe it’s just me knowing my limitations. Every time I begin to start rocking out with my “band” I always have to check myself. “You know you really don’t know how to play guitar, right? Play something you’re good at, like clapping or something.” “Why are you the lead singer again? George is a much better singer than you are.” But it’s my fantasy and I refuse to be a backup singer in my own fantasy.

There’s always a girl in the audience. Whatever crush is currently renting space in my imagination. She’s never in the front row. She gets lost in the heat of the music, so it’s important for me to find her in the crowd. The songs always something heavy and cathartic with plenty of moments where I can pretend to scream along with the music. Hammering away at invisible guitar strings.

I always imagine it like it’s in this perfect music-video-type slow motion. As I silently belt “I Will Wait”, I thrash about with passion for the music. I see me, the anguish of singing these personal songs all over my face, then I see her (whoever “her” happens to be at the time) in awe. I throw the guitar across the stage; I kick at the mic stand. I’m a destructive tour-de-force.

If someone were to walk into my room at these moments they’d think I was a lunatic. Everything is silent outside of my little bubble. But inside, it’s truly an escape. For a moment all eyes are on me. For a moment I’m not alone in a dark room.

Tonight I heard myself actually screaming the words to a song out loud. Over and over I kept belting the words, “Don’t you give up on me”. For the first time I don’t think I was singing those words for the magical “her” at the concert. But I do think the right person heard them.