While Others Leave Her Side, I Never Will
y Tess is a sly one. Quite the little actress. When called upon to do so, she can appear to be a concerned citizen . . . a capable mother . . . the confident wife of the president of the Chamber of Commerce. Appearing ordinary is one of her best talents. As long as nothing unexpected blows up in her face, which, of course, life being the minefield that it is, is about to.
Morning winter sun is streaming through the four-paned kitchen windows that overlook the white picket-fenced backyard of the darling red-brick colonial in Ruby Falls, Wisconsin, population, 5,623. There are three of us gathered around the distressed pine kitchen table that's been passed down through the Blessing family for generations—forty-nine-year-old, Tess, her lovely eighteen-year-old daughter, Haddie, who has returned to the roost to spend the Christmas holiday, and me, who has always been and always will be, but remains unnamed, for the time being. The man of the house, Will, has already left for the day. He's busy seating the breakfast bunch at Count Your Blessings, the popular Main Street '50s-style diner that he inherited from his father upon his passing. Tess's other child, Henry, a junior in high school, remains upstairs wrapped in his Star Wars sheets. Like most fifteen-year-olds, the boy believes the world revolves around him.
"Just a nibble?" Tess asks her daughter.
When the gifted photographer struggling through her first year at Savannah College of Art and Design turns her nose up at the French toast her desperate mother prepared with her secret ingredient—tears, Tess can barely keep herself from pounding the top of the pine table and asking yet again, "What did I do wrong? How can I make this better? Please . . . please let me in." She swallows the questions back because she knows from experience that Haddie'll only change the subject, at best. Worse, she'll get angrier than she already is.
Tess sets her gaze out of one of the kitchen windows and locks on the solitary snow angel I watched her create last night while her family remained snug in their beds. Others may leave her side, but I never have, and never will. We are bound together not only in this life, but for all time.
Most of what you think you know about "imaginary friends" is probably inaccurate. We're a much more complicated lot than the way we're often portrayed in books, movies, psychological articles, and such. For instance, not once have I heard it mentioned what an important part readiness plays in our relationship. Nor have I seen it noted how we are imbued with whatever qualities our friends need the most, which depends upon at what point in their lives we are called into what is known on our side as, "Service." The profound spiritual component in our friendship has never been touched upon either. Even the term, "imaginary friend," is nothing more than a handy phrase a psychiatrist came up with to describe the indescribable and put the inexplicable in its place.
Since Tess has had quite a bit of prior experience with an IF—a nickname we like to call each other sometimes—I'm not anticipating that she'll put up much of a fuss when the time comes for us to connect again. (At Last.) While I can't know exactly when that momentous occasion will occur—that's entirely up to her—I can feel it drawing nearer. Hoped it might happen last night when I was perched on the faded green Adirondack chair under the weeping willow tree in the Blessings' backyard watching her swish her arms and legs back and forth in the snow. (Wearing just her ancient cows-sipping-café-au-lait-on-the-Champs-Élysées nightie on the chilliest night yet this winter proved that she needs someone to lean on sooner rather than later.)
© Lesley Kagen