Sunday, April 5, 2015
The Imaginary Friend: A Tale.
When Tom was very young, his parents weren’t concerned about his imaginary friend. From the age of about two and a half, when he was starting to put together quite complex sentences, Tom would always chatter at night in his bedroom. When he was playing with his blocks or his Play-Doh or dressing and undressing his teddy bear—Ralph—Tom would hold intense conversations. Sometimes his parents would think he was talking to Ralph, but it soon became apparent that he wasn’t.
‘We should put a jumper on Ralph,’ he might say. Or, ‘No, that will make him too hot.’
Mr and Mrs Ellwood never directly confronted Tom about this. It was cute. He would grow out of it when he had some real friends.
Tom was a little frightened at night time, alone in his room, even with the door wedged open and the night light on. It comforted him to know that Foofoo was there to keep him company. He couldn’t remember when he first became aware of Foofoo, or how he learned his name. It was easy to express his feelings and ideas to Foofoo. He always understood. It was frustrating, sometimes, that his mummy and daddy couldn’t understand what he was saying. There was never that problem with Foofoo. Having someone beside him at night; having someone to protect him from whatever lived in the darkness; having someone who could understand him. Foofoo was all these things to Tom.
When Tom started at day care, and later at pre-school, Foofoo went with him. He would often rather talk with Foofoo—tucked away in a corner—than to the other children. He would turn to Foofoo when he sensed the disapproval of others, particularly the adults. Foofoo never judged him.
His parents were becoming a little concerned.
‘He will grow out of it,’ they were assured.
‘It’s harmless’, confirmed their priest.
‘I can’t remember having an invisible, imaginary friend like that. Can you, Emma?’ Mr Ellwood asked his wife.
‘No,’ she said, ‘but apparently it’s quite common. Maybe it’s something we forget when we grow older.’
However, once Tom started school, they had reason to worry. Sometimes Tom didn’t listen to the teachers.
‘He is off somewhere else,’ the teachers would say on parent/teacher nights.
One day, when Tom was six years old, he stole a candy bar from the supermarket shelf.
‘Foofoo was hungry,’ he explained to his distraught parents.
So they talked to Tom, then. They took him to see the priest. They took him to counselling.
Tom wasn’t silly. Tom knew that Foofoo wasn’t there the way other people were there. It was just that sometimes the real world and real people were too difficult to deal with, so he would turn to Foofoo.
Lately, though, he hadn’t been scared of a night time. He was beginning to learn how to deal with the people and tasks around him, and Foofoo came to him less and less often. Even when he stole the candy bar, he knew, deep down—indeed, not so very deep down—that he was the one who wanted it, not Foofoo.
For a while longer, Foofoo was handy to have around. His imaginary friend brought him some attention. He provided him with an excuse from time to time. But pretty soon, football and video games drew his focus away from Foofoo. He began to forget him.
His parents were pleased to see him at the video game consul, or on the football field, rather than talking quietly in a corner to someone who wasn’t there.
Tom began the—sometimes exciting, sometimes terrifying—process of growing up, and dealing with the real world around him.
It was about two years later when Tom, who would have been eight or nine years old, thought about Foofoo during an Easter service. He wasn’t sure why he thought of him then. The memory amused and embarrassed him a little. As he was walking home with his parents after the service, he raised the matter of Foofoo with them.
‘Do you remember,’ he said, ‘my imaginary friend Foofoo?’
Mr and Mrs Ellwood shared a look and laughed a little nervously. What would they do if Foofoo returned?
‘Yes, Tom, we remember.’
He laughed at their worried expressions. ‘It’s OK. He’s not back or anything. It was a bit silly, I know.’
‘Not silly, Tom,’ assured his mother. ‘It was just something you needed as a child, I guess.’
‘Yeah. I used to be real scared sometimes... and lonely.’
‘We all are sometimes.’ His father laid a hand on his shoulder. ‘But you grew out of it.’
‘Yeah.’ Tom thought for a while. He wasn’t really sure how to ask the next question. It had been on his mind during the service. ‘Dad?’
‘What is it, Tom?’
‘I was wondering... I was wondering, why do you and Mum and Fr O’Farrell...’ Struggling, he decided to try a different tack. ‘Dad, Mum, I don’t think I want to come to church anymore.’
‘Oh Tom, why not?’ Mrs Ellwood glanced again at her husband, perhaps wishing that he would deal with this one.
‘Well, Mum, you know, you and Dad—and Fr O’Farrell... You might need God, I guess, but I don’t. I don’t think I need an imaginary friend at all anymore.’