(Retroactive Blog #1: December 18, 2013)
My Imaginary Friend (IF) texted that she had a care package to give us before we left on our trip. Actually, I threatened to deliver something to her house, but I don’t know where she lives. She’s moved at least three times in the last five years.
Zan is a real person, by the way, but I never get to see her. Our sons attended the same preschool and Kindergarten, but didn’t “take to” each other in the way that we’d hoped.
This was disappointing. Zan’s one of the few moms I’ve met who can actually make me laugh. Waiting for our sons to burst out of Kindergarten, we used to snicker and guffaw like adolescents. Maybe that’s what made the boys so suspicious; their moms having too much fun.
Now that Felix is homeschooling, Zan and I struggle to stay in touch, doggedly arranging play or mom date that we will never consummate. Her preferred medium is voice mail, and half of it is usually incomprehensible—she murmurs, she giggles, she fades—as if she is on a different continent altogether instead of just a few miles away. But the coziness of her tone indicates that—even if we never see each other again—I am often in her thoughts.
Nine and three-quarters times out of ten, she cancels on me. Usually due to “a virus.” And you can’t argue with “a virus,” can you? No one wants to expose themselves or their kids to weeks of potential hell. And so I let her slide.
After a while I stopped asking Zan to do things, but I still can’t resist her invitations, which are enticing PR promos for mommy-friendship: “Let’s go to the Bosque del Apache and see the cranes!” or “Come over and we’ll make snowflakes and drink hot chocolate!” I gullibly accept, knowing that they will never come to pass.
It used to hurt my feelings, but now it’s sort of funny–all of the imaginary things Zan and I will do together. And I forgive her, because she is probably even more of a recluse than me. She likes the idea of being friends, but just can’t go through with it. It’s a lot of work, and there’s too much at stake. It’s much safer to carry on the charade of a friendship, never getting too close, never revealing anything of any significance. I didn’t even know that Zan and her husband had divorced until halfway through Kindergarten.
So this December, she shocked me by showing up at my door the night before we left for Mexico, bearing a profusion of gifts that included homemade cookies, tangerines, an autographed children’s book, a gripping memoir, a tiny (fake) Christmas tree with mini-bulbs, and a cute card with a photo of her son, Quentin. Everything was contained in a handsome gold basket adorned with a “Peace” sign.
I was overwhelmed. I’d only gotten her a Mancala game from Target.
Zan quickly informed me that—apart from the edibles—everything was recycled; she’d had the tree in college; it’d been lying about her house for ages, unused. She’s Jewish, after all. And then she brought forth what I really wanted, the semi-precious stack of The New Yorker magazines she’d been promising me for months.
This was the real treat for me, signifying Christmas. My father read the The New Yorker for over forty years until he died. (As Oz says, “When you’ve had a subscription that long, they should call up and offer their condolences!”) In some way, it probably contributed to my decision to become a writer; anything piquing my father’s attention for so long being worthy of respect.
Sometimes the fiction is disappointing—produced by a coterie of famous writers—but I love the cartoons and reviews and in-depth non-fiction pieces about the things we usually overlook in life. Like the heat-factor in Chile peppers. Or driverless cars. If you’re not interested when you start the article, you consider yourself something of an expert when you finish.
And if the content is occasionally dull, the writing is satisfying on a purely sensory level, like one of those crispy little meringue cookies between the teeth—chalky and airy at the same time. There’s an almost metaphysical sense of awareness as you consume it, like “Wow, I’m eating a meringue!” or “Wow, I’m reading a New Yorker!” And then it dissolves tartly without a trace, making you hungry for more. That’s why I can’t subscribe to The New Yorker.
As the house was uncharacteristically empty, I invited Zan in for a little girl-talk. I didn’t think that she’d ever been inside, but she said that she and Quentin had “come over to use the hot tub once.”
We didn’t have a hot tub, but I didn’t correct her. Entering someone’s personal space is about as scary as it gets for an introvert, ranking possibly higher on the fear scale than doing improv or throwing a wedding.
Zan rested a haunch tentatively on the nearest ottoman and began patting my dog. Neither of them looked very comfortable.
I suddenly remembered visiting one of her houses. The couch was standing vertically on its end in the middle of the living room. She said she was cleaning it, but as there was really nowhere else to sit, I took this as a cue to keep my visit short.
“So how did it work out with the mail man?” I prompted, knowing that this was bound to be very old and possibly expired news.
She rolled her eyes. “He was a perv!”
“A perv?” I sniggered.
“He was into phone sex and threesome and I was like, ‘If I haven’t done that yet, there’s probably a reason!’”
I laughed. “Was it hard to break up with him? I mean, with him delivering your mail every day?”
“No, I moved.”
“Because of him?”
“No…” she said, shaking her head in a way that aroused my skepticism.
“Do you want something to drink? I asked, trying to recall some manners from my pre-loner days. “Tea or a glass of wine?”
“Oh no,” she said quickly. “I’ve got to get back to knitting!”
“Well…” she said, and explained that she was knitting something for Quentin’s second grade teacher, who let him stand at his desk if he felt like it, instead of issuing him red marks like his previous teacher. “She really gets him, you know?”
She looked so grateful, I couldn’t blame her. I’d be grateful too.
We talked a little bit more, and then she got up to leave. I thanked her again for everything: especially the magazines. I couldn’t help but to note that the address labels had been ripped off. “You really don’t want me to know where you live, do you?” I teased.
“No…” she demurred. “I didn’t want you to come over because Quentin had a virus; he was puking and shitting for five days straight.”
“He didn’t help you with the baking, did he?”
She just laughed enigmatically.
That night when the kids got home, they happily devoured the cookies and tangerines, and were enchanted by the basket and the little tree, which they insisted that we must take with us to Mexico.
I caught Felix studying the photo of Quentin on the Christmas card.
“Do you remember him from Kindergarten?” I asked.
“Yeah, “ he said wistfully. “I miss him! Do you think we could get together soon?”