I had an imaginary friend growing up. Her name was Rachel, and I miss her terribly. When I was five, she moved to California, and I haven't seen her since.
That's how my story went, anyway. I mainly discussed Rachel to my mother while she drove me back and forth from pre-school. I never convinced myself I had a friend named Rachel I knew she was imaginary. In fact, I always referred to her as "my imaginary friend Rachel." But that didn't stop her from moving to California.
I created Rachel to have something interesting to say. My references to Rachel never had her sitting in the car with me; I always described things we did earlier that day. How we played board games or watched TV, or took her dog to the park. Rachel was not someone I played with she was someone I talked about playing with. In other words, I was just as bizarre then as I am now.
As the youngest of four with no actual friends to speak of, Rachel was a way I could compete with my siblings. Rachel's name even came from my brother and sisters. My siblings middle names are Benjamin, Rachel, Lorraine. My middle initial? I. Her name was going to be Rachel I. L'Benjamin, but I thought that sounded too French. I'm not kidding as a four year old, I must have been very patriotic.
I didn't have friends at the pre-school I was in, I had acquaintances. I was a year younger than everybody, and I was only there because my mother was a teacher in the program. I'm not sure if you become the kind of kid who develops intricate stories of imaginary girls that move across the country because it's hard to make friends, or it's hard to make friends when you're the kind of kid who develops intricate stories of imaginary girls that move across the country. Chicken or the egg, really.
So Rachel was born. She was my age with black hair and had a dog. I'm sure there were other details, but that's all I remember. It was ironic that she had a dog, since I was scared of dogs as a kid. (And as a teenager, but I already wrote that column). Anyway, I wasn't scared of her dog. Maybe that was to look like less of a wuss in my stories.
"Sure, I'm scared of my neighbor's dog. But there's this one dog I love playing with. What does it look like? Well, I haven't made that part up yet."
I got tired of her dog, and eventually killed it off. Well, I didn't kill it, but I invented a station wagon that did. I wasn't a violent kid, I was just a little too creative with details.
Eventually, I started outgrowing Rachel. None of my siblings cared anymore, and I was no longer at that pre-school. I was enrolled in a real kindergarten where my mother didn't have a job, and with real students my own age. I say "students" as if we were studying anything.
"What'd you get for question 7?"
"Damn, I put Jane. I'll never pass this class."
I made actual friends there like Billy Haug, who had a giant Ewok play set and shared my love of Voltron.
So, one day my mother asked me how Rachel was doing, since she hadn't heard about her in a while. I explained that Rachel's family had to move to California because her father got a new job. It was okay though she said she'd write to me, and told me she was getting a new dog. My mother was equally happy that I had made some real friends and that I knew where California was.
Oddly enough, I now live in the Golden State. I wonder if Rachel still lives here; so much can change in twenty years. Maybe we'll get along just as well as we did when we were five. I've been out here for over a year now, and I had yet to look up Rachel until just now. I tried looking her up on the web, but all I could find was some column about her by this guy named Steve. Rachel, if you're out there, give me a call. You know the number, since you're in my head.
Maybe I should look up Billy Haug instead. I probably have a better chance of finding him, since he exists. And he might still have that Ewok play set.
Steve Hofstetter is the author of the Student Body Shots books, which are available at SteveHofstetter.com and bookstores everywhere. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.