My Imaginary Friends: Twenty-Five Years Later

Captain Friendship

When I was a kid, Captain Friendship inspired me to stick up for myself against the numerous bullies who picked on me for not having any “real friends.” Unfortunately my childhood psychiatrist, Dr. Shelly Halberstrom, told my parents the Captain was “a dangerous masculine fantasy your son has manifested to compensate for his many social limitations.” The Captain and I drifted apart shortly after this, but I have followed his career closely in the years since. Carl Friendalman (his real name) eventually dropped the whole superhero persona, but he used his reputation for vigilante justice to launch a successful career as a no-nonsense conservative radio talk-show host. Carl now only appears as Captain Friendship on special occasions, mostly to advocate for lower taxes or open-carry laws. We recently reconnected and he has agreed to don the costume again to help me with a more adult problem: confronting a co-worker who keeps stealing my yogurt cups from the break-room fridge.

 

Zip-Zap the Cat and His Magic Fart Orchestra

Zip-Zap the Cat and His Magic Fart Orchestra are best remembered as my backing band for that one time I entertained my family with an armpit-farted rendition of “Tutti Frutti.” On the advice of Dr. Halberstrom, who was worried my musical ambitions were “a problematic distraction for a child clearly lacking in any real musical talent,” I left the band to focus on senior kindergarten. Much to my surprise, Zip-Zap managed to keep the band together over the years through countless lineup changes, rehab stints and a near disastrous rap-rock phase in the late nineties. ZZCMFO just announced they will be returning to their R & B/soul roots for a twenty-fifth anniversary album, and I am a “soft yes” to reprise my role as lead fartist for the project.

 

Betsy Jenkins (née Poo-Pants)

Betsy Poo-Pants was my first and only love. Our relationship was so intense that it was documented in great detail in an academic article on the subject of imaginary friends.[1] It was Dr. Halberstrom’s scholarly opinion that Betsy’s lava resistance and willingness to overlook my bedwetting set an unrealistic standard for my future relationships, and was therefore unhealthy to my development and psyche. As a result of my therapist’s disapproval, Betsy and I broke up. A heartbroken Betsy would go on to quit her dream job as an intergalactic space princess before settling into a loveless marriage with the prominent venture capitalist Lee Jenkins. I still cherish my days with Betsy and, at the time of publication, I was awaiting her reply to my imaginary friend request on Facebook.

 

Jubby the Closet Troll

Jubby was the gigantic troll who protected the doorway to the magical, fantastical Kingdom of Trollsylvania that was located in my wardrobe. Or, as a certain childhood psychiatrist explained to my parents, “The most obvious case of repressed sexual desire I’ve seen in three decades of clinical work.” I have no idea what happened to Jubby after my parents forced me to throw out my wardrobe, but I hope he’s enjoying a peaceful retirement from his job of “acting as a kind of powerful Freudian psychological barrier to prevent a confrontation with confusing Oedipal desires that are at the very root of your son’s numerous neuroses.” Frankly, that sounds like it must have been exhausting.

 

Troubles McDoubles

“But Troubles McDoubles made me do it!” This was my refrain whenever my parents caught me sneaking a cookie, pinching my sister or trashing a therapist’s office in a rage. I spent years working with Dr. Halberstrom to rid my psyche of Troubles’s influence because she identified him as a particularly pernicious fantasy as well as my excuse for being “such a petulant little shit all the time.” Troubles suffered even more than me from this process because he internalized the guilt for always having to be the fall guy. From what I’ve pieced together, he spent the intervening decades in and out of jail after washing out of the Merchant Marine. If you would like to learn more about Troubles, I will be documenting our estrangement and my attempts to reconcile with him in an upcoming serial podcast, tentatively titled Imaginary Friends, Real Pain.

 

Dr. Shelly Halberstrom, Psy.D., MFCC

In rare circumstances, some children with very active imaginations develop a make-believe authority figure that manages or even subverts their other imaginary friends. In my case, I believe this manifested in the form of the powerful “Dr. Halberstrom” delusion. So commanding was her influence that I maintained a clinical relationship with her until last fall, when I was finally able to envision her being devoured by an enormous rainbow dragon while she led a symposium on early childhood psychological development at Stanford University. With my new-found freedom I have begun to reconnect with my old friends under the supervision of a new therapist: Professor Giggly-Wiggly, the Insane Flying Robot Monkey.

 

  1. S. T. Halberstrom, “The Sad Little Friendless Boy: A Case Study,” Juvenile Psychiatry 74 (1993): 78-137.
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