“Long time, no see,” said a familiar voice next to me. “Look at you. All grown up.”
I recognized her voice immediately. I was looking down into my rum and coke, waiting for my husband to come back from the bathroom and join me at the bar.
Of all times and of all places, I never expected to strike up a conversation with my imaginary friend.
I braved turning toward her, and she looked exactly as I had remembered her. Cheryl, with her bright red hair, olive green eyes and dangerous smirk.
She’d been my closest friend for many years – my muse, my voice of reason, and my fire to meet the confrontations I’d rather not engage.
I’d needed her so much in the past, and frankly, I admitted missing her shouting at me to get myself together, to take charge.
“There’s something different about you, but I can’t place it,” she said. I watched as she took a sip of her wine. Of course she would drink wine – red and bitter, the kind that made your lips twitch from the intensity. Cheryl was all about intensity.
“I don’t need an imaginary friend anymore,” I told her with a laugh, and after an awkward pause, she laughed with me.
“True, true, you don’t need me anymore. You do well enough on your own. You stand up for your beliefs. You embrace your passions. You can start a conversation with people without turning green,” she said. “I wonder how you managed to get this far.”
“Obviously, you’ll take the credit,” I said. I was crazy, wasn’t I? I was talking to a woman who was my imaginary friend. Maybe I was imagining this. Goodness, I hoped I was. It would probably look really psychotic to be sitting at a bar talking to thin air.
“Not all of it,” Cheryl said. “It’s not like I really left, you know. I’m always with you.”
“Yeah?” I asked her curiously.
“Of course. I’m a part of you, aren’t I?” she asked haughtily. She always seemed so powerful and confident when I was younger. I wanted to be more like her. I wanted to be her, to be a woman who was so fearless that I could do anything on my own without fear.
I rolled my eyes. “Part of my imagination, right?”
Cheryl huffed. “No dear. I’m not the part of you that you think I am. I’m the part of you that you found.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at her.
“Do you remember that time in your mother’s car. It was dark out – a clear sky full of stars and a full moon. You were staring at the moon. Even when the moon would move in the sky, your eyes would follow it on the entire drive home. You even craned your neck to see it, to make sure you did not lose the image. You heard something from the moon, didn’t you?”
I looked down at my drink at the melting ice cube. Light glinted on the ice, bright white. White like the moon. “I thought I did. But I wasn’t sure at the time. I was really young. I was lonely. I felt like the loneliest person in the world. I didn’t understand what my purpose was and why so many bad things happened to me, you know, with my dad’s abuse, and being bullied at school. I didn’t feel connected to God at church, not when people there were saying horrible things about my family. I felt really lost, like I had no faith.”
“Uh huh,” Cheryl said, sipping more of her Chianti. “That’s when you heard Her.”
“Yes, I realized later. It was Her,” I said, and I turned to Cheryl. “I didn’t realize the signs until later. Because then you came along. You whispered in my ear. You became my friend. You taught me how to be stronger, more confident. You taught me independence, that I could be a strong woman. That it was my purpose and so much more. I wanted to be you,” I blurted, and I turned away from her intense green gaze and felt my cheeks go hot. Then, I felt her hand on my arm. I looked down at her long nails painted black. The comfort was there, but the color reminded me of her intensity – Cheryl’s and Hers.
“Darling, you are me. You know the drill,” Cheryl said.
“Like a drop of rain in the ocean,” I sang quietly.
“Exactly,” she agreed. “Now, I’m sorry I didn’t come to you like I do for other people, but that’s not what you wanted. That wouldn’t have convinced you.”
“I needed a friend, a sister,” I said, feeling the tears building in my eyes.
“I am so much more than those things to you,” she said, patting my arm.
I sniffled, nodding my head. I laughed a little. “You are, and I still need you. I may have everything I need – love, family, independence and purpose, but I still need you. Some things are not always easy.”
“Nor should they be. You follow me, darling, and you’ll always have to fight for the things you deserve,” she said.
“I know,” I said, with clearer eyes now. “You won’t leave me?” I asked her, almost pleading. I looked into her eyes, and I wasn’t afraid to keep looking at her. She was usually so bright, so fearsome and bold, and she scared me sometimes, but I needed her and loved her so I kept looking. She smiled.
“I never will, as long as you need me. We’re in this together. Since you heard my voice, we’re in this together,” she said.
“They call you Lilith or Kali, and other names,” I said, and then looked around cautiously as my voice lowered to a whisper. I looked at Her apologetically, as if I’d spilled Her secret. She looked unfazed. She was proud of Her names.
“You always called me Cheryl. Why?” She asked, and She tapped her chin thoughtfully.
“It seemed to fit you when I saw you. I don’t know why exactly,” I said, chuckling a little and wiping away an errant tear.
“I like it, darling, but now that you know who I really am, I like my other names too,” She said, and I saw Her turn around, looking in the direction of my husband who was coming back from the restroom. “I have to go. He’s coming back.”
“I know. Thank you for coming,” I said, and I watched as She leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“I will always come when you need me. Even when you don’t, I’ll be here. I’m proud to watch you. You call and I will listen,” She said, and I felt Her kiss like a summer breeze against the shell of my ear. I closed my eyes, and when I blinked them open, I met my husband’s gaze. He smiled at me, and I felt my heart surge.
Like an echo in the wind, I heard Her laughter – strong, confident and sensual. “Go get him, darling. I know you have it in you.”
I smiled back. A wave of power resided inside me, instilling me with familiar warmth. I knew She had never left me. I had always known She was a part of me, as Cheryl my friend, and She had given me everything I had truly needed.
And when She had come to me that one moonlit night, I became more of my whole self – finding what I had lost, and gaining more than I will ever need.
© HK Rowe