Yesterday over Easter brunch, my family got to doing what it does best – inadvertently chipping away at the foundation of my relationship with my girlfriend. Last time, at Christmas, conversation turned to astrology, and when Brooke asked what sign I was a resounding chorus of “SCORPIO” came out in unison, as though I were a little Korean midget and the questions was “What is Dan?” and a chorus of “A LITTLE KOREANtal MIDGET” rang out, because my grandfather is 82 years old and maybe a little racist.
They went on to explain how I am the stereotypical Scorpio: black, hollow and conniving in every way. Sitting at the table, one would have thought I wasn’t there, or that if I was everyone desperately wanted me to leave. Brooke and I had been together for approximately two months, yet this did not stop my mom from leaning back in her chair so she could peer down the table directly into Brooke’s eyes and say, “He is dangerously manipulative.” I let out a gasp of shock as everyone at the table nodded along in assent, even my father, who hadn’t acknowledged any of us since asking for the gravy twenty minutes earlier. Brooke, seeming like she might cry, looked at me across the table and I said, “They’re exaggerating. I’m not like that at all,” while my sister said under her breath, “That’s exactly what a manipulator would say.”
This time the topic of conversation was imaginary friends. We were all laughing at the memory of my little sister’s imaginary friend (Friend Jenny) and her imaginary entourage (Piar, Candle and Pichetti). Unbeknownst to us, Friend Jenny and the crew would go everywhere with us, until one day my mom asked my sister if friend Jenny was safely in the car before we left and my sister informed us that Friend Jenny had moved to Massachusetts.
Not content on letting it end there, where it should, with the playful ridicule of the youngest person at the table, everyone then decided it was time to talk about my imaginary friend. Obviously my family has seen a lot of romantic comedies where a guy brings home a girl for dinner and they sit around showing naked baby pictures and telling stories about how when they first brought him home from the hospital the dog was so unfamiliar with him that it peed on him. Everyone laughs, the guy is embarrassed, but later the girl wraps her arms around his neck and says, “I think it’s cute,” and they cut away before the sex scene.
In real life, when your parents tell your girlfriend how you had an imaginary friend named George who lived in the attic and came down into your bedroom through a hatch in the top of your closet, her reaction will be a polite smile. Then later on when the two of you are alone, she will say something like “You never told me about George!” as though there was an appropriate time, maybe right after sex or while cooking dinner together, to say, “Oh hey, did I tell you about George and his family, the imaginary people who lived my attic?”
Brooke wasn’t startled by this, more just amused. She asked if I made him up because I was lonely and I reassured her that despite the picture of me with the glasses and the high top fade, I had a lot of childhood friends. I told her that when I was young, the only entrance into the attic was at the top of the closet in my bedroom, so naturally I was scared that if the monsters ever decided to come down I would be the first one eaten. (This is the same reason I would sometimes sleep with my head under the covers, so that maybe if the monsters didn’t see me they would go down the hall and eat my older sister first and the screams would serve as an alarm for me to run.) But having George live in the attic meant that he was keeping tabs on the monsters for me. And George and I were so close that of course he would never let the monsters eat me first. So, in reality, creating George as an imaginary friend was an ingenious move by a precocious, advanced child who realized that if he could harness the power of his imagination, he could control his fears.
To which Brooke replied, “Your family is right, you really are manipulative.”