Including an imaginary friend in your family story or memoir seems a little odd at first. Shouldn’t it be a non-fiction account?
But think. Often, the role of an imaginary friend in childhood reveals other stories. Depicts family dynamics. Portrays childhood fears. Unveils heartbreak and hope.
What follows is a case in point.
My Very Real Imaginary Friend
I’d like to introduce you to my Magic Dragon. He’s the only imaginary friend I remember from my childhood. Of course, the fact that my father gave him to me gave him might make him stand out from other, more fleeting, childhood affections.
We may have dabbled around giving him a name, such a “Puff,” since I did love to put on my sister’s old dance recital costumes and dance around the living room to Puff the Magic Dragon, but the Puff that Peter, Paul, and Mary sung of was a different magic dragon. He lived by the sea. Mine lived on Pinelake Court.
The first time (that I can remember) seeing him, Daddy called my attention to him. He challenged me to see him.
It was a dark and stormy night. Literally. The flashes of lightning and house-jarring thunder had not only driven me under my covers. Fear had driven me to tears.
Daddy came into my bedroom. Instead of trying to comfort me in the traditional way, he tried talking some sense in me. He stood by my windows, insisting something along the lines of, “If you’d just watch the magic dragons playing out there in the puddles, you’d know there’s nothing to be afraid of. Dragons wouldn’t come out in a storm if it were dangerous.”
(Admittedly, logic was my particular strength as a child. Daddy and Grandpa had also convinced me that, although he could break glass, the abominable snowman couldn’t get past a window screen.)
Watching Daddy stand at the window laughing, after a few minutes, curiosity got the best of me. I climbed out of bed, wiped my tears, and took a look for myself.
How Real is an Imaginary Friend to the Child?
Did I really think I saw magic dragons?
Whether I believed they were real or not, the dragons I “saw” that night undeniably influenced me. I imagined dragons having fun, feeling safe, despite the storm.
I can still see them in my mind’s eye. The flash flood coming down the hill beside our house still gushed water into the pond-sized puddles on the street. The two most visible dragons (remember, it was dark out) walked upright on my side of the street, where the puddles were the deepest. With large wings, they didn’t look as whimsical as the famous “Puff,” but neither did they appear intimidating.
A red one, the one that became our magic dragon, waded behind the blue one. Kicking through the puddle, he splashed the blue dragon. The blue one laughed and skimmed his tail against the surface of the water, forming a wall of water with which he hit the red one. Both threw their heads back in laughter before dropping to all fours engaging in an all-out splash war, oblivious to the sheets of rain. Across the street, shadows of other dragons did the same.
Real or not, laughing with my father at our shared mental image, I felt less scared. I imagined feeling safe, enjoying the storm.
My magic dragon became both a code and a talisman. An open secret between my dad and me.
When I was afraid to go downstairs after dark when the stairway light was burnt out (not a rare thing; that lightbulb was a bear to change), he wouldn’t tell me not to be scared. He wouldn’t tell me to be brave. He’d say, “Take the magic dragon with you. He’ll hold your hand.”
The story within the story
Like most stories of an imaginary friend, there’s a greater truth. Often, it’s one of loneliness or feeling misunderstood. Sometimes, it’s a story of creativity.
I think that my magic dragon taught my dad how to parent better. And he was proud of it. In the 70s, as he traveled four days a week, he installed a CB radio in his car. His handle was “The Magic Dragon.” Like he held my hand when I was scared, my imaginary friend would travel with my dad, keeping him safe.
Together, my dragon and my dad taught me courage and compassion.
What a magical gift of love!
After I moved away from home, the tables turned. Daddy liked to think of me keeping my dragons close. His dragon gifts still grace the house, though he’s been gone for twenty years. Their goofy, big-bellied countenances make me smile. I’m not sure if that was how he imagined dragons or if he was giving me some sort of parenting self-portrait.
Either way, they remind me why I love thunderstorms.
I hope that in Heaven, where Daddy surely is, he can see dragons playing in the water.
Who in your family had an imaginary friend? Tell us about it!
Background of top graphic courtesy of Pixabay user silviarita, CC0.
Dragon in the rain adapted from image by Pixabay user ractapopulous, CC0.
Ceramic dragons and final graphic © Laura Hedgecock 2018