Most kids go through an imaginary friend stage. Some adults go through it too, but I think we refer to that as Schizophrenia. When we were kids, my sister had a set of imaginary friends who would only come out to play when the toilet was being flushed. Bizarre, yes, but it seemed harmless enough. The creativity and detail that go into imaginary friends has always amazed me. And creeps me out a bit too. When kids talk so confidently about their imaginary friends, I have wondered if there may actually be friendly ghosts who have befriended them, and their “imaginary friends” aren’t imaginary at all. Also, I may have seen Casper one too many times.
I too had an imaginary friend for several months (years?) as a young girl. She didn’t live in the toilet, she didn’t have magic powers, and she didn’t hang around too often, but she was someone I thought about almost constantly. Her name was simply “New Courtney.” Not exactly the epitome of creativity there, Court.
I believed in New Courtney so deeply, with every ounce of my being. To me, she wasn’t imaginary. I remember I used to stand in our backyard by my favorite willow tree, peering out over the lake at New Courtney’s house. She lived in a town home with her family. That is how real she was to me, she didn’t live in the toilet or under my bed– she lived in a home down the street from me, like a real girl. For a while, my parents let me carry on about New Courtney, but at some point, they became worried that she was no longer imaginary to me. Essentially, my parents were starting to wonder if their 4-year old child was psychotic and could no longer separate reality from imaginary. Which oddly enough has become a sort of theme in my life. But hey, living in a dreamworld has its perks. PS I’m not psychotic, I just “live in my head a lot”, as my counselor says. Which is all well and fine until you daydream for an entire semester of school and write a research paper on the wrong topic because you just “didn’t notice” that the entire 6th grade was studying Middle Eastern culture, not Medieval fashion. True story. I digress.
One afternoon, my parents had “the talk” with me. They wanted to make sure I understood that while New Courtney was fun and really great, she was not real. I was not convinced. I told my parents that I would even introduce them to New Courtney, if they’d like. So we all loaded into the car and drove to the development over, to where the town homes were. Our car idled in the driveway as my parents patiently waited for me to say, “forget it, I know she’s not real. We can go home now.” Except that never happened. I scooted out of my car seat and made my way up the cement stairs to New Courtney’s door, sure she would be happy to see me.
Before you go all crazy thinking my parents let their 4-year-old daughter knock on a stranger’s door, don’t worry. The town homes were actually under construction so nobody was living there.
I knocked, and waited. And when nobody answered, I knocked again. And waited. I felt a slight sense of panic that New Courtney wasn’t opening the door– now my parents would never believe me! After a few minutes that felt like hours of waiting, I padded back to the car and explained that New Courtney simply wasn’t home, that was the the only reason she didn’t answer.
My parents probably felt hopeless, like if that didn’t work, then nothing was going to convince me that New Courtney wasn’t real. Except after that day, I never spoke of New Courtney again. I think that deep down I always knew she wasn’t real, but I enjoyed keeping up the facade, as all kids do.
My family will still occasionally tease me about New Courtney, especially when I do something odd or out of character. They will say, “was it you that did that, or New Courtney?” We all find it amusing, but it wasn’t until I saw a counselor a few years ago that I started to think about New Courtney again– in a different way. How cliche, right? Discussing childhood imaginary friends with a therapist. It wasn’t part of a therapy session, I actually brought it up because we were talking about my creativity and my “Other Courtney” who feels the need to express herself. I joked that I must have not been very creative as a kid because my imaginary friend was named “New Courtney”– doesn’t get more vanilla than that.
But Ken, my therapist, looked at me with sheer amazement. He shook his head and said “that is the opposite of non-creative, that is fascinating.” He speculated that New Courtney was not the product of a lack of imagination, it was a way for a 4-year-old me to have an emotional outlet of sorts. He thought maybe it was a version of myself that I wanted to be– or felt safe as. It’s not that I didn’t feel safe as a kid, I was just so miserably shy that I admired New Courtney– she was so much more confident and put together. Ken digressed from dissecting my alter ego, but we had fun talking about it for a few minutes.
The truth is, I still do think about New Courtney because as I’ve gotten older, I have become New Courtney. It took years and years, and only recently do I feel like I am doing the New Courtney I so admired as a child any justice. New Courtney is caring and strong. She is assertive and confident. New Courtney is responsible and says what is on her mind, even if it is not the popular opinion. New Courtney doesn’t let people walk all over her, which is a quality that finally emerged in early adulthood. And much to my four-year-old miserably shy self’s delight, New Courtney has no problem looking people in the eyes, public speaking, and sparking up conversation with strangers. New Courtney fully embraces her quirks and qualms.
I wonder if all the imaginary friends we have as kids are projections of what we want to be, or who we would be without our insecurities. I’m sure some kids have imaginary friends who are nothing more than just a friend to play with, but I do believe that some of us have imaginary friends who serve a purpose. Eventually we grow out of our imaginary friends, but maybe we don’t have to. Maybe we can embrace our inner creativity, explore what characteristics made our imaginary friends so appealing, and become them. Or adult versions of them. Unless your imaginary friends were of the sort who hang out in toilets.
Imaginary Friend Daily Post