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March 9, 2010
My imagination ruled my childhood. After dark, as I lay snuggled in my little bed, my imagination would come alive as it told me fantastical stories of fairies and goblins before the darkness of sleep consumed my consciousness. If I was scared at night, the stories would get wild, whispering about witches who stole children from their beds and evil stuffed animals that came alive and ate their owners. As the stories progressed, I would curl into a ball under my flowered quilt, plug my ears with my fingers, and try to push the darkness away by imagining a blinding light whose glow would burn any evil creature that happened to be in my room. My uncontrollable imagination shaped stories that were both delightful and terrifying, whimsical and gloomy, but most importantly, my imagination created a friend.
Her name was Givvy and she was exactly my age, three years old. She was very naughty and did all of things that I knew I shouldn’t do, like break vases, roll in the mud and run away. Whenever I tell people that I had an imaginary friend when I was young, they sigh longingly and say, “How wonderful. You must have been so fond of her. It must have been so nice to have a playmate who never goes away.”
I always smile and nod politely, but do not tell them the truth because it is perfectly clear that these people have never had an imaginary friend. The truth is that imaginary friends aren’t any easier than real people. They have their own little idiosyncrasies, they aren’t very good at following orders and they can get you into quite a bit of trouble. Many times I felt only resentment towards Givvy. I was jealous of her when she held my mother’s hand, I was angry with her when she stole my dolls and hid them under the bed and I was ashamed of her when she stole popsicles from the local supermarket.
Givvy had short brown hair and light blue eyes that sparkled mischievously whenever she was up to one of her many tricks. Although she was very young, she had a remarkable poker face that remained perfectly serene and sincere when she was lying. When I was happy, she spoke to me in a loud and rowdy voice as she tried to convince me to do things that would get me into trouble. When I was angry with her, her voice would become soft and beseeching as she tried to calm me down.
Givvy was not always a happy, playful person. Whenever she and I were at preschool together she was often homesick and missed her mother, Lukalee, who lived in South America. She would huddle in a corner crying until I toddled up to her and told her her favorite story about a little girl who never grew up. As the story progressed, her tears would stop and a small, wistful smile would brighten her face.
One summer day, my mother and I sat on a park bench facing the Garfield Park playground. I wore pink overalls with a white lacy blouse and giggled in delight as the warm breeze tousled my platinum blond curls. The hot summer sun shone down on the other kids as they chased each other on the cool sand, the sound of their laughter penetrating the late afternoon air. My eyes were fixed on the monkey bars before me, watching Givvy as she swung back and forth, her bare feet dangling three feet off the ground.
“Careful Givvy, you fall,” I said in the soft voice of a toddler. “Careful Givvy, you too little for monkey bars. You get hurt: boom, crash! Come sit by me.”
Suddenly I jumped to my feet and ran down into the sand box before stopping at the place where Givvy had fallen. My blue eyes filled with tears as I turned back to my mother and said, “Givvy falled, Mommy. Givvy falled and broked her arm and now she is crying. Come quick, Mommy!”
My mother rushed towards me and said, “Moriah, sweety, is Givvy all right?”
“No, Givvy hurt arm. She crying. Mommy, you step on Givvy! Back up Mommy, back up!”
My mother backed up a step before she bent down and pretended to examine Givvy’s arm. Then she hugged me and wiped the tears off of my cheeks with her soft sleeve. “Moriah, Givvy’s arm is going to be just fine. Why don’t you two build a sand castle?”
“No, it is just bruised. She is going to be okay.”
“Ok. Come, Givvy. Don’t cry. See little leaves, they fairies. Fairies live in pretty home. Rain fell and broke the house. We build fairies a castle. Then they have picnics and dance on geranium leaves. See them dance Givvy?”
Givvy nodded and together we sat in the sand, planning an elaborate castle for the fairies we both imagined.
Givvy and I had many sweet moments together but the frantic moments were the ones that truly defined our relationship. The summer before I went to kindergarten, Givvy had one of her biggest and most frightening adventures. My mother and I had just finished having lunch at Sabieng, the Thai restaurant on Mission Street, when Givvy ran away from me and jumped on the bus that had just unloaded its passengers. Before we were able to get to it, the bus pulled away from the curb, with Givvy waving gleefully at us from behind one of its back windows. I shouted at her to come back, but she wouldn’t listen. My mother and I jumped into our car and, at my insistence, quickly followed the bus. I sat in the back seat, looking frantically out the window for any sign of Givvy. I had started to cry when my mother pulled into Bay View Elementary’s parking lot.
“Momma, what are you doing? Why are you stopping? Givvy is still on the bus and if we don’t find her she’ll get lost.”
My mother turned around and stroked my hair as she said convincingly, “Givvy got off the bus here. See, there she is over by that tree. Don’t you see her waving at you?”
“I didn’t see her get of the bus,” I said suspiciously, “and she isn’t under that tree.” Suddenly I could no longer hold back my sobs. They shook my small frame and it felt like they might tear me apart. “Why did she run away? What if she never comes back?”
“Look closely, sweetheart, and you will see her. There she is, walking up to the car. Open your door and let her inside,” my mother said soothingly.
I opened my door and saw Givvy. Like me, tears were streaming down her face, making a wet mark on the collar of her purple shirt.
“Givvy, why did you run away?”
“I don’t know,” Givvy said gently.
“Don’t ever do it again!” I commanded. “Promise that you won’t ever leave me.”
“I promise,” said Givvy as she squeezed my hand with her fingertips.
“I believe you,” I said.
That was one of the last adventures that Givvy and I had together. When kindergarten started, my teacher would inform us about how life needed structure and would give us assignments that would shape our young minds. Givvy never went to kindergarten with me. When I asked her why she didn’t, she said that she didn’t belong in a classroom, trapped under fluorescent lights learning how to grow up. She preferred to wait for me outdoors, where the wind, the grass and the trees created a magical kingdom that was just waiting to be explored.
One day halfway through the school year, my mother noticed I had not mentioned Givvy lately and asked me where she was.
I looked up at her with sad eyes and said, “Givvy went back to South America to live with Lukalee. She just left one night without saying goodbye.”
Givvy never returned from South America. During the first few weeks after she left, I sat on the curb in front of my house after school, waiting for her to come and play with me, but she never came. A month came and went and I had forgotten that I was supposed to be waiting for her. I made new friends and we played with flowers and imagined fairies together. At times I still missed Givvy. I missed her quick imagination, the way she knew exactly what I was thinking, and her wicked, mischievous grin when she was up to no good, but I learned to live without her. My imagination created thousands of other elaborate stories as I grew older but they were never about Givvy. As my childhood memories faded, hundreds of the stories about Givvy’s adventures were lost, leaving only a few that my mother was able to write down. Givvy remains a distant, sweet memory from my childhood, my first best friend who made me laugh and cry for two and a half years.
Sometimes, when I walk by Garfield Park on my way home from school, I still think I see her, standing motionless in a crowd of playing children. She stares at me, her blue eyes gleaming from her young, rounded face and I notice that after all of these years, she hasn’t grown up. Suddenly she will tilt her head to the side and flash her wicked grin. I smile back and as I watch, she slowly fades away until she is nothing more than a shadow of my imagination.