My first imaginary friend came when I was a little boy laying on a wooden floor and rolling a marble. It was a voice that had a presence. It frightened me with its intrusion but I was happy for the company. I didn’t see a face. It was before I ever had a friend and that voice taught me what a friend was like. The friend was my imagination but I didn’t know it, and it was shy and a bit reluctant to be revealed. It created a conversation about what I was doing.
Aren’t friends those people with whom you feel at home? That presence that brings the comfort of acceptance? But maybe that feeling is just a re-enactment of your imagination that has placed a face and voice in someone else. Maybe all friends are imaginary.
I don’t wish to offend but I can’t help asking questions long after I should stop. Friends make you vulnerable. Friends hold promise and sometimes along with promise comes disappointment.
Reading is like having an imaginary friend, if you discover the voice. My first such voice was that of Clarence Darrow in his autobiography called simply, The Story of My Life. I remember sitting in an elementary school classroom and creating a “cover” for the book. When my teacher saw what I was doing, she said, “Kenneth, it has to be a real book.” I told her who it was about and she looked a little shocked. “Your parents allow you to read that kind of book?” she said with a distinct air of disapproval.
Darrow made me want to be a lawyer. Perhaps it was a voice to which I should have paid more attention. In those days, I read anything that was considered too old for me to understand. As long as I could hear the voice and had a dictionary, everything was ok. It was his voice that taught me about injustice. I repaid him with my devotion. But was he ever my friend?
My boyhood friends are about sports and fistfights. Those friendships didn’t survive and I doubt that I have a place in their history. Why do they live in mine? Is it that I think my life something so special that everyone should remember it? Is it that I try to capture moments and hope that they can live beyond their moment? To what end do I need to do this? Can a friendship be one sided?
There was that time of elation when I thought that friends constituted a new tribe. We were something new. We were more special than blood. Combined imagination trumps blood, or does it? Is imagination just a form of subterfuge? Have I dedicated my life to a form of camouflage?
I never wished to believe that friends were temporary, but they are, aren’t they? They are a product of time, place, and interest. But they seem like so much more at the time. Memory revives but perhaps advanced directives are more appropriate. Do not resuscitate. Let those moments go.
Memories are leftovers. It is rare that they taste as good as they do at first serving. Maybe it’s the preservatives. Maybe they aren’t as fresh. Maybe they shouldn’t be food. Perhaps they should be tossed into the garbage or fed to pets. I have trouble doing that.
I believe that there is bravery in friendship. After I doubt, I believe in the sanctity of imagination. I hope that it doesn’t sound like religion, but part of it feels like it does.
Experience teaches the difference between colleagues and friends, but is there one? Aren’t colleagues people who are rooted to time and place and interest? Are friends really so much different? Time is more deceptive than place and interest. They are easier to categorize. Time has a way of seeping into other things. At least for me it does.
Time and friendship: are they allies or adversaries? Maybe they are a bit of each. An imaginative form of natural selection. What is saved and what is deleted? What does the selective process say about us? Do we know the criteria that we use to select?
Unlike Clarence Darrow and the voices that followed his, music was different. My first voice was Little Anthony singing “I Think I’m Going Out of My Head.” That was followed by the Duprees. Their versions of “Have You Heard” and “You Belong to Me,” were strong but the song that resonated in my head and became my soundtrack was “Ebb Tide.” It was the seductive power of the kiss of the sea. It spoke to my soul like friendship.
Love and friendship are different. Love without friendship is vicious. Friendship masquerading as love is soft and sad. One sunny afternoon in Westfield, New Jersey, my girlfriend came home and told me that she had met a boy in the park. He played the drums. He was a jazz musician. We went to his apartment and he said in an excited, almost manic tone, “These are my friends,” as he pointed to his vinyl records. We drank juice and talked about friendship while he played his records. I have no idea of what became of him but I know that in that time and place all his eggs were in the same basket.
I have learned to be friends with creatures that require a different form of communication. When you communicate with plants, are you really just having imaginary friends? When you think that you feel the spirit of a horse or the kinship of a dog, are these just manifestations of your own imagination?
When I feel that I encounter the spirit of a horse, I am in awe of the strength and speed but feel that an eagle and a horse are more alike that either is to me. Does that remove the potential for friendship? Is there little common ground?
What does friendship require? Is it a combination of need and opportunity? Perhaps it is a mutual agreement. Something like “our minds are good for each other.” Or maybe it is that friends can put each other at ease though some kind of alchemy. The common element seems is purity.
I had a comical imaginary friendship with Jackson Browne. It began when my friend Tom came back from California after learning that his friend Steve was no longer alive. He played “Song for Adam” from a new record by this new singer songwriter. He looked at me with a profound sadness and said, “This guy wrote a song about his friend who died.”
Jackson became one of my favorite imaginary friends. He once auctioned that he would go into a recording studio and work on a song with a person who donated enough money. I bid everything that I had, which was all of $12,000. I was outbid at the last moment. But later I had a recurring dream that Jackson was my friend. He came to me in dreams and we were light and easy with each other. I was embarrassed to share these dreams with anyone. And then they went away. Friends require a certain kind of maintenance.
Perhaps genuine friendship does not. I read this piece to someone who said, “Do you feel that your friends will be offended by being called imaginary?” I thought about that. I decided that if they knew me, they would not.