The Friends You Can’t See

On falling in love with characters in novels.

  • Editors' Pick
  1. I’m one of those people—a malformed loner—who falls in love with the characters in novels. These make-believe people become my friends, not unlike the way a strange child has invisible companions.

    In fact, as a child, I had an invisible friend. His name was Ghostie, and he was kind of a spectral presence who would hover in the crack of yellow-gold light from my barely opened door and speak to me as I fell asleep at night. He would tell me the things that were really going on, the information that the adults were trying to hide from me.

    Then I would have a dream that my father was unconscious under a tree in our front yard. What’s odd is that we didn’t have a front yard in real life, just some scrubby bushes going up a small hill.

    But in the dream my father was on a square bit of lawn, prostrate by this thin, sickly tree, and it wasn’t dark but approaching dark. And I had to drag him inside because a monster, whose pounding footsteps could be heard, was always coming. But my father was too heavy; I could barely move him, and the monster was always coming, relentless and terrifying.

    So I could never save my father, but I also couldn’t abandon him, like a coward, and run inside to safety. Instead, I had to resign myself to dying, to both of us dying. Yet the monster never appeared, and I had this dream every night for years.

    It seems to me that as a child I took on my father’s fears—he was a traveling salesman, a Willy Loman type who was always on the verge of ruin. He was ...

Originally published in Playboy, December 2011