The day I told my mom about my imaginary best friend I was four years old and being driven home from daycare. He was a 41-year-old, divorced Jewish man named Bibi Geggy. Our conversation went something like this:
“Mom, there’s a man who comes and talks to me, and only me, on the playground, and he brings his dog with him, too.”
“Oh? And what’s his name?” Sirens of maternal, protective instinct had just gone off in my mom’s head.
“Bibi Geggy. He comes by every day to talk to me, and we have great conversations.”
“I see. And does anyone else know him? Have your teachers said anything?” Her fingers gradually crept closer to her phone as she prepared herself for my answer.
“No, Mom. Just me. And he’s my best friend.”
And so began our discussion on Bibi, my imaginary childhood friend whose many divorces, relationships and pets would remain integral parts of my upbringing. He was a middle-aged man whose complex love life and loyal police dog, Walter Fleischman, allowed him to travel the globe as an undercover cop with his wife, Acalcia, posing as his sister for confidentiality purposes. I was a four-year-old kid whose concerns ranged from who would get to play with the red truck to what snack would be given during recess. But Bibi is whom I came up with, whom I fell back on when I needed someone.
However, in many ways, the specific details of his life were not what mattered; what was important was how he allowed me to forge my own life. When I felt limited by my own life, Bibi was the malleable reality to which I could escape; he reminded me of my ability to be a unique individual. In wholeheartedly believing in him and his life, I was able to navigate my own better as I began to understand my creative power. Bibi Geggy was the first clue that radical thinking and redefinition of reality were themes that would come to characterize much of my life.
Imaginary friends mark the first moment in which we dare to challenge our own perceptions of reality by creating a world entirely different and entirely our own. In imagining new people and new circumstances, we begin to distinguish between the details of our life we want to replicate and those we want to leave behind. Through our imagination, we turn the cacophony of the world around us into a harmony that is both universal and individual, foreign yet distinctly familiar.
Bibi taught me that overlap is possible, that the worlds I imagine can be present in the worlds I live and that this bridge between the two can be the place I call home. All it takes is being surrounded by a loving community that is invested in your reality as much as its own. Bibi quickly became friends with some of my parents’ friends, as phone calls to our family often began with, “So how is Grace doing? And how is Bibi?” Their acceptance helped me find the kind of peace and unconditional love unique to true solidarity. They believed in my world as much as I did, and the blurring of the boundaries between the two taught me that my truth mattered. Bibi taught me how to build communities, dreams and realities.
Years later and up until now, when the world in which I live has caused me strife, especially stemming from misrepresentation of identity, I always know that I have the ability to escape into this world I can create. This imagined place was once full of Bibi Geggy and his stories; now, it’s full of dreams in which my identities are not liabilities and my very existence is not resistance. My life’s work has been, and will continue to be, dedicated to connecting these worlds until there is no distinction between the two.
To this day, on my dad’s cell phone, we have a phone number for Bibi Geggy.
One day, I’ll have to call him and thank him.
Grace smith is a sophomore in the College. This is the final appearance of If A Tree Falls this semester.