I can’t remember why I called him Bert, but I can remember the first time I saw him.
A helicopter flew over our garden, my eyes squinted in the summer sun and my neck craned backward to get a better look. I raised a finger to point at the aircraft and said to my mother ‘that’s Bert.’
Bert wasn’t just your regular helicopter pilot, he built houses too. I understand him being a builder, our neighbour was a builder so that part makes sense.
I wore a pork pie hat and dungarees to go and help Bert build things. We would while away the hours building imaginary places, driving fast cars and of course flying.
My mother wrote a story about him, at least I think she made the story up, sometimes my memory plays tricks and I can’t help but believe it really happened, I don’t remember the whole story but the gist of it was that my family would tease me over dinner about Bert and told me they could not believe he actually existed without proof so one night I arranged for him to tap on the bedroom window and to everyone’s surprise he did.
To me Bert was very real, to my family he was just another thing to tease me about. My brother and sister liked to tell me I was really a boy, a boy without a willy and the only person in the world with a belly button. They’d leave me by bushes and tell me the snakes would get me if I moved, as much as I hate snakes I gave up believing them and went home unimpressed. This makes them sound very mean but quite honestly I have always been grateful for all the teasing I endured in my childhood years because it never really hurt me, I knew they were just having fun and at one time I’d have been quite happy to be a boy, even without a willy. I liked doing what the boys did, I badly wanted to be a Cowboy, but preferred my bow and arrows to guns, I wanted boxing gloves and I loved playing football. So having builder Bert as my imaginary friend seemed very normal to me and I didn’t care if anyone believed in him or not.
My mother encouraged my imaginings. Sometimes I’ve come across parents who refuse to let their children believe in mythical creatures or fun characters as they believe everything must be ‘truth’ but I don’t believe that at all. Anyway Bert was my ‘truth.’ Our imaginations are an important part of who we are and how we grow up, they help us develop.
I don’t remember much about Bert now but I vividly remember the day he died. Maybe I was beginning to leave my tomboy phase behind. The clue could be in that the moment he died I was playing with a couple of dolls, a more feminine pursuit (or considered so in those days) or maybe I simply didn’t need him in my life anymore. Maybe a psychologist could work it all out. Suddenly I saw a mountain road, Bert was speeding around a bend in his red open top sports car, he misjudged the bend and flew off the mountainside crashing the car as he went. I clearly remember thinking, ‘Bert is dead,’ and feeling sad but I didn’t cry, I simply accepted it.
The thing is I didn’t consciously decide Bert had to die, it simply happened, almost out of the blue, much like when I create characters now. The weird thing is, I can’t tell you what he looked like, only what he did, apparently that’s not uncommon with imaginary friends.
When I make characters up for my stories, they become like my imaginary friends. I feel what they feel, see what they see, live through their experiences vividly, in my head. If my mother had quashed my imagination as a child and not encouraged it, maybe I would never have started writing. I don’t write much physical description as I like to leave that up to your imagination…
If you had an imaginary friend, human or animal, please tell me about him/her. I’ve not known many people who had one. I enjoyed the film Drop Dead Fred, it was the first time I found out other people had imaginary friends too.
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