My imaginary friends when I was 3 years old were two bears, Letsy Bear and Betsy Bear; Letsy married Dot Stott, a dalmatian, and became Letsy Bear Stott. They used to ring the front doorbell because it was one of those old-fashioned turn-keys, and I let them come in.
(Many years later, I learned of Nancy Behr, a high-school girlfriend of my father’s, and I wondered if I’d somehow heard her name and translated it into Bear before incorporating it into my imagination.)
When I speak of imaginary friends today, I mean online friends. “Imaginary friends” is what my sister used to call my husband S.’s friends from the Europa Universalis internet forum.
EU is a map-based strategy game, one of many S. has been obsessed with over the years. He hung out in the forum hours a day for several years, much of the time on the Off-Topic Forum. Occasionally he’d read a particularly trenchant comment out loud or show me a witty thread, introducing me to the various personalities he’d gotten to know all around the world.
The OT Forum became too hot to handle some time in the early 2000s; my memory is that there were flame wars concerning European-American relations (possibly around differing responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and the game company felt they didn’t need the heat. An offshoot forum was established, Languish, and S.’s attention migrated.
Around the time our daughter was born, S. went to his first IRL meetup. The imaginary friends became real people, and a handful of them came to our house one summer evening. They were fun, interesting people; the ones who showed up in person may have been among those with the best social skills, but I could easily see why S. spent so much time talking with them.
Another meetup shortly after that one involved S. taking a trip to Vancouver BC and participating in The Death March, a fast-paced miles-long walk around the city including art galleries.
Besides the ones who came to our house, including a scion of the Alaska state fair, I’ve met imaginary friends in Portland OR and outside of Chicago (where we ate dinner with a couple who’d had three weddings, one in Everquest). There was a time when we had open invitations all around the world, and I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if the British lawyer S. had private conversations with would still welcome us.
I’ve been thinking about the imaginary friends a lot lately, mostly because yesterday I met two of my own. Not Betsy, Letsy, and Dot, but two women I’ve spent hours talking with online over the past 6 months to a year. I feel I know these women, not because I’ve read their witty comments, but because we use Skype and Google hangouts to chat.
I have to say, I like the future we’re living in. I remember well the moment in 2001: A Space Odyssey when Dr. Floyd phones home and his daughter asks him for a bush baby as a birthday present:
Unlike my computer camera, the little girl’s camera reframes her (a common “mistake” seen in movies and TV when fixed video-camera footage is incorporated), and the framing is portrait instead of landscape, but the undeniable foresight of this moment reminds me that the world is constantly becoming more amazing.
Things from our fictional imagination are happening all the time. And every time I have trouble with my vid-phone call or my two-way wrist TV, I try to remember that I can fly through the air like a bird and take phone calls on vacation. From people I hugged for the first time yesterday, deliciously, in person, IRL.