I had a lot of friends when I was little. I was the kind of girl who would walk up to someone and go “My name is Senna! You’re gonna be my friend!” And then we’d go off and color together or something.
But my best friends of all were my imaginary ones.
Now, I don’t mean imaginary as in “I-made-these-up-all-by-myself” imaginary friends. Most of my imaginary friends were pulled from books, movies, or TV shows. The first one I can remember having was the Swan Princess who adorned my favorite nightgown. She and I went everywhere together, did everything together, and for a long time, she was my best friend in the whole wide world.
It did, however, go beyond the Swan Princess. Somewhere along the way, it bridged over into the anime I watched as a kid. Now, there were only two animes I actively watched; Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh. Pokemon, because it also happened to be my first video game that I ever owned, and Yu-Gi-Oh, because my dad would take business trips a lot and we’d wait up late for him to call to say goodnight, and it was the only thing on. Naturally, all the girls were my best friends, and all the guys were madly in love with me.
I remember falling asleep at sleep overs in my room with all of my imaginary friends. I remember opening up a dance studio in my basement where I would play the same ten songs over and over and make up routines to them and teaching them to my imaginary friends. I remember talking to them on my invisible cell phone. I remember playing Barbies with them. I remember days when I would go on dates with every single guy I could remember from either show. (Except Ash. For some reason, I didn’t like Ash.) I remember Mewtwo was my “father” and I didn’t have a “mother” but somehow I was still a human.
I was the queen of unwritten self-insertion fan fiction. And I loved it.
There came a day, of course, where all of that came crashing down.
I was friends with a girl named Rachel. She was one of the only kids my age in my neighborhood who would talk to me on a regular basis. We would go to each others houses and play Polly Pockets and Barbies almost every day. She was the kind of girl who knew more than her age group probably should, meanwhile I was on the opposite end of the spectrum. She was the kind of person who would punch you in the arm “gently” and you’d go “ow” and she’d call you a big baby. She was the one who told me in second grade that I was “too old” for my Winnie the Pooh lunch box, or for my mom to be packing me a lunch at all. I should be buying my lunch. I went home that night and told my mom that, and she just shook her head, scooped me up, and said “baby, you are never too old for anything you love, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
So of course, when in fourth grade, I was still actively playing with my imaginary friends, she has something to say about it.
“You still have imaginary friends?”
“Of course, why wouldn’t I?”
“Only little kids do that. You’re too old for that.”
Well, what was I supposed to do? Rachel knew more than me, obviously, or she wouldn’t know all the things she knew that I didn’t know. It had never dawned on me that you might outgrow imaginary friends. But they were my friends! What would they do without me? Where would they go? I didn’t say a word at dinner that night because I was so distressed.
I stopped playing with my imaginary friends.
I entered middle school, and everything was very different from elementary school. None of my friends were there, due to the fact that my district is large and I lived right on the line between what schools I went to for what grades. Everyone at my middle school was with their elementary school friends, and they made it obvious that there was no room for me. Most of my friends were guys, which the girls hated; how was weirdo Senna closer to the guys than they were? So they did what girls do best – they passive aggressively made it clear that if any of these boys wanted girlfriends, they would have to stop hanging around with me. And so they did. Meaning most of my friends were gone. Not only that, but the girls would pull a Regina George. They’d tell me “Oh, I love your ____ that you’re wearing today, where did you get it?” And as soon as I’d turned my back, I heard them giggle at me and start talking about how ugly I looked. I went home crying more often than not.
I gave in. I drew out my imaginary friends again.
They weren’t mad at me. They weren’t even a little angry. They were just as happy as they were when I drew them into my reality.
And I’ve learned to use that power in my stories. My characters are, in essence, just imaginary friends that I’m gifting to the world in a format where they won’t tell me I’m being a baby. And while sometimes I may forget about a story for a long time, most of my characters are just happy when I start writing about them again.