Like a lot of children I had a friend that only I could see. Although no one else could see her, it didn’t make her any less real and somehow validated our special friendship. Her name was Reen, well that was how I pronounced it back then, and we played for hour upon hour in the wonderland inside our home. Reen stayed close to me, she waited in my room while I slept, rocking gently on the rocker beside my bed and joined me at the table for meals, we spent hours at the bottom of the garden in our camp under the old coalbunker and I shared everything with her. It was Reen that helped me wrap the hedgehog up warm and put him in the dressing up chest for the winter and Reen that taught me not to eat the slugs we found on the path. When I was having my hair washed Reen would stand by the door watching and smiling as I screamed and wriggled away to the other end of the bath, I don’t recall her bathing but she was always shiny and bright. When my daddy didn’t come home any more, she stayed close to me at night as I listened as mum cried in the distance. Whatever the weather was doing and however many layers I was wearing, Reen always wore the same dress, with little white flowers on a pale green background with a white collar and cardigan.
I can’t remember when she stopped coming or I stopped noticing, maybe about the same time my little sister could join me in play and moved into my room. I feel bad now I think of it someone so important, just forgotten. That’s it with imaginary friends they just leave your imagination one day and that’s it your on your own. I remember mum telling me how one day we were running for the bus and she noticed my hand held out behind me, like I was dragging something along. ‘Wait for Reen’ I fussed as we mounted the bus, a petrified look on my face, because I might leave my friend. Mum told it as if she believed I really did have a friend, even with all the excitement of running for the bus and a fun day ahead, I had not forgotten Reen. I didn’t remember this and although I had a slight dream like memory of a girl with a pretty dress and curly blond hair, Reen was cast to the back of my mind. Mum often said she wished she had asked me more about my friend back then, but a busy mum bringing up two girls she let it go as I did myself years later with my own child.
I’m in my fifties now, I’m on the downward path now although still hopeful, and today I walked into the lounge to find Reen sitting on the sofa. I saw her as I walked through the door just sitting waiting, like your family might, familiar, comfortable in the surroundings and all grown up. I suppose that would make sense as she would have been growing with me, but she didn’t have the worry lines I see on my face each time I look in the mirror or any of the ravages of time this stressful world brings, she was truly beautiful. I recognised her immediately, there wasn’t a moment when I didn’t know who she was. The dress was gone but replaced by a blouse of the same pattern and her face was soft and creamy as I remembered, with big eyes and the gentle smile that was so deep and warm and hair the colour of summer. The shopping bags I was carrying hung heavy on the end of my arms as I stood and watched, holding my breath, not blinking in case she disappeared again. She smiled some more and I felt safe, I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time, with a bubble growing in my throat, I couldn’t speak. There I was like an idiot, standing in my coat, hair dripping into my eyes, the light still not switched on, with those sodden bags hanging from my arms.
Oh dear god, what a loser I must be to have my childhood friend return at my age. It wasn’t that I was not happy to see her it’s just that it made me realise what a total bulls up I must have made of things since she had left, had she returned to repair me, put right all the wrongs and untangle all the lies. She must know, yes, I looked into those eyes and knew instantly she had been with me all the time, I just hadn’t seen her until now. You know when something is so real, there is not time for excuses, embarrassment, ego polishing or the like, well that was the moment I was caught in. I bent to put my bags down on the floor, still dripping from the rain on to the waxed floorboards, knowing, as I did there would be a watermark later. I walked slowly, yet within one held breath to the sofa and sat beside her. I sat on her left, she was on my right and the feather sofa gave beneath me, this was not a dream. I might have breathed but I’m not sure as in my mind a breath might have blown her away. We sat there, comfortable like we had never been apart and a small bit of me realised we hadn’t parted, I had just stopped seeing her.
I want to be able to tell you how we spoke, how we caught up with the time and how I apologized for forgetting her but I can’t. Because we haven’t spoken yet, she is still sitting there watching as I write this down with my cat Eris, snuggled up comfortably and purring softly beside her.