Lynda Barry, the great graphic artist whom I was privileged to see at RISD in early January, talked a great deal about childhood. She talked about first crushes (you remember yours, don’t you?). She talked about remembering your first telephone number, and how most people smile (and sometimes even laugh) when they recite it.
She talked about children playing, and how they go into something almost like a trance when they do it. She described a little boy playing with his bacon and eggs in a restaurant, and when his mother suddenly noticed what he was doing and challenged him, he dropped the bacon as if he’d been awakened from a dream.
And she talked about imaginary friends.
I had lots of them. Mine were mostly based on cartoons: Bugs Bunny was my best friend (I had a stuffed Bugs Bunny that talked, so he was very important to me), and also Top Cat (I imagined that he was my husband – go figure that one out), and Superman, and Porky Pig, and lots of others.
We were all very happy together. I especially enjoyed imagining them all together; it was very exciting. You never knew what was going to happen.
Lately I’ve been polling my friends on the subject. One said that she’d had a hundred imaginary friends, but they all had the same name. Another immediately told me the name of her imaginary friend, and said she was sort of like an American Girl doll, but not really.
I knew exactly what they were talking about.
This is a paraphrase of Lynda Barry:
“I didn’t really have an imaginary friend when I was a kid, so I made one up. I had an imaginary imaginary friend. He wasn’t very convincing. I’d say: ‘My imaginary friend says you have to give me your Popsicle,’ and nobody believed me.
“The daughter of a friend of mine has a real imaginary friend. His name is Sprinkles, and you can only talk to him through an electric fan.” Lynda paused, and looked at us, and shook her head. “You cannot make this shit up.”