friends: real and imaginary

Many kids have imaginary friends. My daughter has an imaginary posse. She calls them The Girls, and their presence in our home is inspired by the children's book character, Madeline , who lives in a Parisian boarding school with eleven other girls. The Girls are sometimes unruly, needing Amelia to remind them of the rules and keep them in line. They don their hats and sweaters and wind their way down our castle stairs behind us when we run errands, and they are quick to follow Amelia on a dance winding through the apartment like an invisible riotous conga line. Amelia informed me that The Girls will be going to Pre-K with her next year, but they will all be lonely there.

I don't remember having imaginary friends of my own, but I do remember hearing about them later and feeling like I'd missed out somehow. The best friend I never had, or apparently I could have had a whole following, like my daughter. Real friends, we find out later, don't take direction near as graciously. In the times when they force us to acknowledge their autonomy, they teach us how to begin loving. Like Amelia anticipating Pre-K, some part of us knows that controlling others isn't the real thing, that it's just hiding that we're standing alone on a plain of loneliness. Then someone shows up and reaches across the plain to take our hand, accepting the bundle of psychological disorders and fears that we are, and we are so relieved that we momentarily look past the bundle of psychological disorders and fears that they are. We notice later, usually the moment they stop graciously taking direction, but the solace of being held across the plain gives us the strength to do the same, somehow.