Long past the age of adorableness and magic, I began to realize I never had an imaginary friend. I think I read about it (yes, I was that precocious) and heard about it (undoubtedly, by my mother’s friends who gushed over the cuteness of their littlest angels) but began to feel I had missed out on something important. Something I could do that would get my mother to gush. I missed an important normal step and knew it was crucial to fill this lacking, and that clearly, was something I could fix.
I set up my family (why have just one imaginary friend?) behind the couch. My mother tastefully arranged her two love seats at a 90 degree angle, in our expanded Levitt living room, so there was space between the wall and sofa pieces, as well as a large, 3 panel divider behind them, which created a nice hidden corner. This is where my dollhouse furniture went. I just had to figure out how to differentiate between ordinary dollhouse play and conversing and playing with a small family that did not exist.
I began to spend time behind the couches, in my imaginary family’s little rooms. I felt smaller. I fit in. I made sure my parents knew I was there, and, in rapt attention, translated the invisible, silent dialouge that occured.
I could tell I did not have them fooled.
I knew my miniature people did not exist, but as I became more adept at pretending they did, the more I took comfort in them, that space. The quiet. Out of sight. Agreeing, out loud, with whatever advice my imaginary people were telling me. They were accurately right most of the time.
One day, after the mail came, my dad called me out from behind my lair. Dad was home during the day, as his newpaper had gone on strike months before. He had an air-mail letter, which I immediately recognized was from my brother who was in Vietnam. The thin, transluscent paper, scrawled with my brother’s small, even letters, spelled out my parent’s worst fear- he had been gravely wounded. The letter was written from the hospital, so he had been through the worst of it (describing the gangrene in great, gory detail). My father, at that moment, told me my job. My job was to create a last page forgery, a “rosier” army portrait of events, and dad would throw out the bulk of the letter. My dad was company historian for his company in WW2 and recorded both “official” documentation and “unofficial” documentation- the latter, as it turns out, was the true version.
Forgery seemed to be a talent of mine. My father figured that out when he never received my report cards. I got good grades, was placed in advanced reading, but my conduct was always a red letter “U”for unsatisfactory. Signing my parent’s names became secondary nature. My dad took out blank pages of air-mail paper and told me what to write. It only took me two tries before he felt it would pass the test. It was brief, “counting the days ’til (he) returned home,”and sending love. It managed to bypass the injury, hospital stay and near-amputation. My father felt he needed to tell my mother the news another way. Hysterics followed her and preceded her.
My brother returned to the states that Christmas. I don’t remember what happened to the home for my imaginary family. I imagine it was cleared out, as we had company and no one mentioned or asked “who lived behind the couch?” if they accidentally saw any evidence of doll furniture. Or heard quiet voices.
I never went back to check on them after that day. I guess I lost that part of my childhood. But I gained something even more important; my dad needed me to soften the blow to our family. Something that happened far off, away from our minds and imaginations, created havoc unless I fixed it.
And I did.