The Friends You Can’t See

On falling in love with characters in novels.

  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 ...

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