I open my eyes and immediately wish I could glue them shut.
“Where am I?” I ask in a confident, but drowsy voice. My ass is seated in a chair five sizes too small with a plastic tea cup set in front of me.
“Where do you think you are?” My eyes direct me to a kid, with large brown eyes sitting across me in a similar sized chair. Did I just get sassed by a six year old?
“Did I not just die? Is this heaven?” My eyes are wide open in dismay.
“You’re silly,” the little girl says through her giggles. “For an imaginary friend I like that you’re silly.”
“What. The. Fuck.” I whisper under my breath. I’m sober enough to know not to swear in front of a child, but then again, I’m probably dreaming. I’m supposed to be dead, not… whatever this is. “Pinch me,” I plead.
“Can I call you Lulu?”
“How about Milly?” I’m contemplating if I should tell this kid her imaginary friend has mental issues and isn’t so “imaginary”. At least in a past life.
“No. No, my name’s Cameron.”
“Listen kid, I’m not the kind of person you would really want to be your friend,” she orders me. She seems bossy, mean, and stupid. I love her!
“Well that’s why you’re my imaginary friend. I just need you until I get real ones,” I tell her.
“Hey, I’m real enough. I- ” she stops talking. I think she’s broken.
“My mom says imaginary friends come from your head. You get to choose them. If you’re saying you’re bad, then my head is bad,” I say.
“No. No, that’s not what I meant kid.”
Nobody speaks for the next few minutes. This is pointless.
Finally breaking the silence, I ask, “Did you really die?” She stares at her feet and twirls her hair. That’s going to create some tangles.
“Yeah.” I kick my feet back and forth, hoping there’s more to her response.
“How do you know?”
“I just do kid. I remember how it happened, where it happened, I didn’t imagine it.” She pulls back at that last sentence.
“Can I know how?”
“Uh…You see, it’s more complicated than that.” change the topic, Cameron. “Did you paint those yourself?” I ask, pointing to the scribbles on canvases pinned onto her wall. Her face lights up with excitement, running to her bedside to show me.
I tune out of our conversation, thinking of nothing but the painful moments leading up to my death.
Three Months Ago.
I wonder how many minutes it would take for him to bleed to death if I smashed this beer bottle on the side of his head.
“Cameron!” I’m brought back to reality from the rough repulsive rasp of his voice. Why did I ever find that attractive?
“We’re done. Good luck with your sad excuse of a life. Can’t always find a way to abandon your mistakes.”
That last sentence cuts deeper than a knife. How dare he use my past against me like that?
“Fuck you,” I snarl, pointing an accusing finger at him.
“Oh, well you already did that!”
I was seriously going to smash that beer bottle against his head.
“Cameron?” She’s doing the thing again where she stares at nothing. “Cameron!”
“Huh? Oh, sorry I’m listening.” I jump onto my bed and fall back, staring at the ceiling.
“Did it hurt to die?”
“Holy shit, you ask a lot of questions.” Bad word.
“No. Well, it went by quick. I think I hurt more people when I died.”
“Like my mom, maybe my dad. I miss her.” At this point she’s lying beside me staring at the ceiling like we’re watching the stars. I miss my mom too. I never met her, but sometimes I would imagine she’s the type of mom to cut my pancakes into cute hearts, or dress me up so that my bow matches my dress.
As I was starting to feel better again Cameron and I are spooked by a loud bang that comes from the kitchen.
Oh no. Not again. I can’t handle it again today.
The hallways fill with echoes of glass hitting the floors and doors slamming to the beat of malicious footsteps. I find myself wanting to hug Robin, tell her it was going to be okay. I can’t begin to imagine a kid going through this. I mean, I can. I was that kid. But Robin is different, she doesn’t deserve it.
“Go to hell you piece of shit!” yells a voice coming from the kitchen. Even with the door shut, even when I’m under the covers, I can hear everything. I look at Robin to see her pulling the hair on her teddy bear apart.
“Hey, hey kid. It’s alright.” I hope my voice is convincing enough to a six year old because it’s not convincing me in any way.
“They fight like this a lot. I think it’s because of me.” Something sharp and wounded in her voice cuts me, making it hard to think of a response.
“Yeah, if we didn’t adopt the fucking kid in the first place I wouldn’t have to deal with you!” another voice yells back in response. Did I just hear the right? Adopted? Robin looks me dead in the eyes. She’s squinting to hold back tears, trying to assure herself that this is normal.
I hate it here. I grab my teddy bear and squeeze the life out of it. There’s only one other thing in this room that I find more comfort in than Mr. Cuddly Bear. I run to the dresser, kneel down to the lowest drawer and dig through my shirts. At the bottom is an envelope that I’ve hidden, addressed to me. I pull it out and read the first line. Dear Robin.
I go through the letter, reading phrases like “I’m sorry,” and “I’ll see you one day.” It only then hits me that I’ve never been able to read the whole thing. I have to find her. She clearly wants me to.
I get up from the floor and lift my hand into the air, the letter still tight in my hand. “I’m going to go find her. You can either come or stay here,” I tell Cameron. I drop my hand and the letter falls to the floor. I’m coming, mom.
The noises don’t stop coming from the hallway and Robin leaves her room, heading straight to it. What the fuck does this kid think she’s doing? I pick up the folded letter and carefully open it. I read it once, then again, and again.
“Love, mommy.” My voice is breaking apart reading that last sentence, in my handwriting. My nose stings and my eyes start to burn.
I run out of the room looking for Robin.
“Robin!” There’s a strain in my voice I don’t want to accept.
I step out onto the porch looking around for her. My eye catches the pink headband in her untamable hair. Her eyes are glued to the ground, but on the other side of the road I notice a car approaching with some speed. No.
“Robin!” I yell after her, trying to reach her attention. “Robin, move!” The car doesn’t seem to notice her and slow down.
I’m going to lose her. Again.
I run towards her, my feet carrying me as fast as I could, my heart pounding out of my chest. I yell out for her again, “Robin look out!” At that moment she turns around and I slam my body into her, pushing her out of the way. When she pulls herself back up and registers what just happened, her eyes flood with tears.
“I’m right here,” I repeat over and over again into her ear, bringing the space between us closer. “I’m so sorry, I’m right here kid. I never wanted to leave you, but I’m right here.”
Robin seems to get what I’m trying to say here. She pulls in closer and we both sink to the floor refusing to let go of each other.
Cameron – Twelve Years Later.
When I ended my life twelve years ago, I did it so I could start a new one. I’ve made terrible mistakes, which led to terrible choices. It felt selfish to do, but my mind couldn’t escape the idea of controlling my last breath. Even though I couldn’t be Robin’s mom in her life, I was there for her in some way, I saved her life in some way, and now I could finally feel my old self forgive and love for once.
Robin is 18 now. Even though imaginary friends come and go, I was lucky enough to be my daughter’s one growing up.
Photo: cottonbro on Pexels.com