There is a world beyond my imagination.
This realization came much later for me than it did for other children. To my younger self, this great, terrible world of ours might as well have been alien soil. I existed solely in a land of my own invention, population: one. It was here that I could float freely throughout the dimensions of space-time. I made the universe my oyster, drawing upon knowledge from the Magic Tree House series and I Wonder Why Encyclopedia. Unlike Jack and Annie, I didn’t have a sibling who was close enough in age to be my accomplice. Clever as I was, I made one up. Her name was Mimi; she was the aardvark who lived in my refrigerator. I named her after the character in Rent before I was old enough to understand that I had named my imaginary friend after a stripper.
Mimi and I were bosom friends. We had such a good relationship that I felt little need to befriend actual people. Mimi just got me. She never asked me to unpack all the thoughts and feelings I had crammed inside my head. She took one look at the mess and understood instinctively what I could not put into words. You don’t make a connection like that with just anyone, you know?
Alas, nothing gold can stay. I inevitably had to grow up, and Mimi and I parted ways. I assimilated into the strange realm of reality – I even made human friends. To further prove that I was well-adjusted, I found a new outlet for my hyperactive imagination in literature.
I inhaled books. The kinship I felt toward fictional characters quickly filled the gap in my life left behind by Mimi. They became my socially acceptable imaginary friends. I related to them more than anyone I had ever met in real life. And in a way, I still do.
On mornings on Bay State Road, I pass Esperanza Cordero even though I’m nowhere near Mango Street. And some days, I’ll look out my window and see Francie Nolan reading on the fire escape. It doesn’t matter than I’m in Boston and she’s in Brooklyn, because she still finds a way to wave back at me.
It gets hard when you feel more invested in your internal life than your external one. It’s like being a balloon caught in the branches. So little is holding you there – just one gust of wind and you’ll lose yourself somewhere in the middle of the stratosphere.
I feel that way sometimes. And when I do, I’m like Nick Carraway – surrounded by friends and familiarity, both within and without. I’ll cross Comm Ave, fighting against the cold air sweeping across the Charles River. Holden Caulfield will be at my shoulder, whispering for his brother Allie not to let him disappear.
Though they may not exist in reality, these characters ground me without pinning me down. Still, I know I can do without them. As fantastical as my imagination can be, there are several advantages to living in the real world. For one thing, I’ve met so many wonderful people at BU. I connect with them just as well, if not better, as I do with the characters inside my head. If I’ve learned anything in my two months here, it’s that you can’t always play pretend. Occasionally, it’s good to dip your head back under the clouds and catch up on everything you might have missed.
As for Mimi and Francie and Holden and Nick – I will see them every now and again. I have my own life now and they have theirs, and there’s a world out there that I have yet to explore.
Besides, I think it’s against dorm room regulations to house an aardvark in your microfridge.