I went into a kindergarten classroom and watched as the students all picked toys to play with.
One little boy sat alone in a corner, playing with some wooden blocks. I wanted to play with them, too. I wished that I could. I walked to the boy, and, even though I knew that it was futile, I spoke to him.
“Can I play with you?” I asked.
To my astonishment the boy looked up at me. I had never been looked at before. People always looked through me.
“I don’t want to play house,” he said.
Amused, I responded, “I don’t want to play house either. I like blocks.”
The boy smiled. Then, he pushed some blocks toward me.
I froze there, staring at the proffered blocks. The incomprehensible emotion in my chest made it impossible for me to breathe. Could he really see and hear me?
“It’s okay if I play with you?” I asked at last.
“Yeah, as long as I don’t have to play house, I don’t mind.”
The boy and I became good friends. His name was Samuel. I kept him company while he played with blocks, and while he ate his lunch. He shared with me, even though no one else could see me. He talked to me.
Other girls in the class wanted to play house with Samuel, but he never wanted to play with them. He had been surprised that a girl would like to play with blocks, like I did.
He told me that he had been afraid to say no to the girls before I came to play with him. They would bully him into playing house, and he hated it.
A little girl came up to him one day and tried to pull him to play house with her. I told him to stand up for himself, since he didn’t like to play house. I told him to tell her he would play blocks with her if she wanted to play with him. I didn’t mind sharing my blocks, too.
But the girl became upset and stormed to the teacher in tears.
“Samuel won’t play with me,” she said.
The teacher asked Samuel why he didn’t want to play with the other children. To my chagrin he said he was already playing with me.
The little girl sneered and said, “Yomi won’t let him play with me.”
“That’s not true!” I protested, but they heard nothing.
“That’s not true!” Samuel exclaimed. “We offered to share our blocks with her. She said no. She doesn’t want to play with me. She wants me to play her game of house!”
Then the teacher understood. She told the girl that it wasn’t right to try to force others to play what you wanted them to play. She said that if the girl really wanted to join Samuel in playing a game, she would join the game he was already playing. The girl stormed off again, stamping her feet loudly. The teacher left us alone.
I’ll admit that I was relieved when the girl left. She didn’t seem like a fun person to play with. Still, I knew deep down that Samuel would have to learn to play with real children. Kids always outgrew their imaginary friends.
So, one day, I sat down next to Samuel, and he pushed some blocks to me. I did not build with them. I shook my head and said something that shocked him.
“I want to play house.”
“Please, I don’t usually ask for this. I don’t usually want to play house, but I want to play in the kitchen with the fake food. If I leave you here alone, the other girls will ask you to play house anyway. I know you hate it, but do you trust me? I have a plan to help you so that you can play blocks at the same time you are playing house.”
He didn’t know what I meant, but he went with me anyway. I looked at the fake food with delight.
The same little girl from before came up to him and insisted that he be the daddy and she the mommy, since he’d come to play house of his own will.
I smiled and shook my head. That little girl was fast.
“No, you will be the uncle, and I will be the aunt. That way you won’t have to play daddy here to a dolly.”
“I will be the uncle,” he said.
Then another girl entered the play kitchen with another poor boy that had previously been playing with trucks and had been escorted forcibly to be a daddy instead.
The two girls began to fight over who’d be the mommy of the house, and who’d be the daddy.
“Quick! Now’s your chance, Samuel! Take this fireman hat from the dress up pile, and that policeman hat. You put one on and give the other to the other boy. Then say that you two are going off to work. As long as you wear those hats, you will be at work. The girls can’t bother you there, and your job can be playing blocks. His can be playing trucks. I’ll stay here and play with the fake food for a while.”
So he did what I told him, and he let the other boys in on the secret, too. Then, all the class could be satisfied. Well, mostly. The girls still wanted to have the daddies come home and spend more time with the babies. Good luck with that! But then, that would prepare them for real life, too.
I smiled at my accomplishment, but the joy was short-lived. I had successfully helped Samuel to assert himself, and to outsmart the other girls.
Now, Samuel didn’t fear them. He knew that they couldn’t make him do anything he didn’t agree to do. He knew that some girls liked to play the same game he liked to play. He knew how to compromise for a friend, and he had made a new friend with the boy who liked trucks.
He didn’t need me anymore.
I sat with him and played blocks, but he never again looked at me.
I stopped existing.
I spent my youth this way, wandering into the lives of children my age who really needed a friend.
One little girl in another kindergarten class had been picked on by the other girls in her class because she was very big for her age. She had long, curly red hair and stood a good foot taller than me or anyone else in that class. Heck, she was taller than most third-graders. All she wanted was to be friends with the other students, but those girls were malicious.
They would tease her about her height and say that she was a freak.
When I saw this, I became so angry that I started yelling at them to leave her alone.
Even though they didn’t hear me, they seemed to sense my hostility near them - shivering slightly, they walked away from us.
The little girl was so happy to be defended and find someone who wanted to be her friend.
“Thank you!” she exclaimed and ran over to me.
I was also happy because someone could see me again.
“Hello, I’m Yomi. What’s your name?”
“My name is Margaret. Thank you so much for helping me. Can you be my best friend?”
However, this meant that anytime she would see me, she would immediately rush over and hug me, saying, “Yomi!”
It had been bad enough before, but now the teasing became even worse. This couldn’t continue. For her own good, I had to accomplish my mission as quickly as possible. Otherwise, Margaret might run the risk of becoming dependent on me alone for friendship, and her self-esteem would continue to suffer. I couldn’t let that happen. She would have to outgrow me.
So, the next time the girls started up again with their insults, and I saw Margaret crying, I rushed over to her and said, “Margaret! Don’t let them talk to you like that. They have no right to judge you and treat you that way! You are a wonderful person, and excellent friend, and if they can’t see that they don’t deserve to be your friends. You are bigger and stronger than they are. If they insist on being mean to you, then they are your enemies. Tell them if they don’t leave you alone, you’ll beat them up!”
Margaret had a sudden look of understanding on her face.
“That’s right. I’m bigger and stronger than all of them. . . .”
She stood, exuding strength and determination, the tears no longer streaming down her face. She walked over to the girls and threatened them soundly, “Look here, you mean girls, I am bigger and stronger than you are. If you don’t want to be my friends, fine. Then, you are my enemies, and if you dare to make fun of me again, I’ll beat you up!”
The girls were shocked and terrified at the same time. They started shaking and begging for Margaret’s forgiveness. In the end, they ended up really being sorry about how they treated her because she actually gave them a second chance when they said they would rather be her friends than her enemies. They discovered just what a caring and kind friend she really was.
My mission complete, I again entered the state of complete transparency.
Even in the moments of my non-existence, I didn’t really disappear altogether. I technically did still exist, just not for anyone in the world except God. He would comfort me through the lonely times, and reassure me that my purpose was very special and great.
Still, being so young, it was hard for me to understand. However, I did comprehend one thing, and that was that there were a lot of children who needed friends in the world. I was one of them, and I treasured each friendship no matter how brief.
Even though I wasn’t real, I still attended school, since that’s where I met most of the children I helped. Also, I had nothing better to do between missions, so I would sit in the classrooms and learn. Had I been a real student, I could have been a scholar. I loved to learn.
As I continued to grow older, I would befriend and help kids in junior high and high school. Loneliness was usually the reason I was sent to assist them, but that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes they had an obstacle that they needed guidance to overcome.
This one girl, I helped to figure out how to learn the steps for math so that she wouldn’t fail and lose her ability to be with her friends.
Another boy, I helped to believe in himself without having to constantly seek attention and approval from his classmates, so that he’d realize that all he had to do was pay attention in class to be successful and earn the grades he really wanted. Up until then, he had thought he was stupid and that the only way people would like him and be friends with him was if he acted silly for them.
Still another girl I met had developed an eating disorder because someone had told her she was fat. I had to work hard to help her to realize that she was beautiful and worthy of respect no matter what anyone else said.
My teen years were very busy. Surprisingly, even though I was imaginary, I managed to keep my friends from realizing it because I would only talk to them when they were in school, sitting alone. So many people in high school were self-involved to the point where they didn’t even see or notice the real people around them. It was no problem for me to interact with my friends without drawing undo attention to them.
However, I kept growing.
Eventually, the people my age were graduating from high school.
I had officially reached adulthood.
“Dear God, what do I do now?” I prayed, confused.
Would I follow my peers to college? How could I possibly expect an adult to talk to an imaginary friend and not be locked away for being crazy?
People tended to grow out of self-absorption and notice what was happening in their surroundings. A grown person talking to himself or herself would send up red flags in the mind of any adult. Heck, if the people I was helping knew I was imaginary that would cause problems, too. After about first grade, even kids were expected not to have imaginary friends anymore. No one knew we were actually real.
God’s answer surprised me.
“You go to college,” He said.
I go to college. . . . Okay. I thought.
It was a completely different experience than any I had ever had. The school was enormous. By that I mean that it could have qualified as a small town. In fact, I believe it had its own mailing address, just for the school. It took 25 minutes to walk from one end of campus to the other. Each subject studied by students had its own building.
Despite spending a lot of time out of service, I didn’t feel as sad as I had in the past because there was so much to learn! It was amazing. I went to classes that taught about animals. I went to classes that taught about religion, happiness, learning, child development, and personalities. I discovered how people learn to communicate and how there are different cultures. I had had such a limited understanding of the world!
However, even though the school was wonderful, I felt like I really wasn’t doing anything important. Sure I was learning a lot about people, but I wasn’t actually interacting with them anymore. My existence began to feel like a cruel joke of some kind.
I could never really be a part of this world I was learning so much about.
The loneliness accompanying that realization surrounded me and suffocated my being. I began to fade into a shadow.
“What are you doing?” God asked, concerned.
“I don’t know why I’m here.”
“You are here to help.”
“Those who need you.”
“Nobody needs me.”
I had no sooner spoken the words than I found myself in a dark room filled with fifty strange men.
Oh my God. Where am I?
God did not respond, but some part of me could sense that He was smiling somewhere.
As if in parody of my inner question, an animated character projected onto a large screen began to shout, “Where on Earth am I now!”
The last word was dragged out for emphasis.
Everyone in the room began to laugh. They didn’t notice when a ray of light slowly creeped into the room as the door cracked open.
A young woman peered into the room tentatively. It must have taken her eyes a few moments to adjust to the darkness. Then, a look of alarm appeared on her face. She looked around the room almost desperately. When she saw me, the consternation evaporated instantly, replaced with noticeable relief. She nodded in my direction, and I smiled at her. This must have made her feel safe enough to brave the testosterone-filled room. However, she didn’t have the courage to cross past all the men sitting between where she stood by the door and where I stood, at the other end of the room by the window. She did not see any open seats near her and sat on the floor close to the door.
I imagined that the room full of men would intimidate any woman all alone, but now she believed that she was not the lone woman in the room. It was night time, too, about 10 PM. This was fairly late, and the first time I was seen by a person at this hour. All of my experiences in high school had been during the school day. Now, in college, it seemed that I could be needed at any time during the day. People lived in this school.
Part of me was excited. I would finally get to experience what it must be like to have a real life. I could see what it was like to be in places outside of the classrooms and academic hours.
However, my excitement was short-lived. After the episode of the show they were watching ended, the lights were turned on. The woman was discovered on the floor and instantly surrounded by friendly men.
“Hey! There’s a girl in here!”
“Hi! Welcome! This is the first time a girl has come to Anime Club.”
“Um . . . I’m sorry. I just wanted to watch. . . .” she sputtered awkwardly.
“Don’t be sorry. We’re glad to have you here. Why are you sitting on the floor? There are plenty of seats.”
“Uh . . . I didn’t see any open seats, and I didn’t want to interrupt.”
“Hey, would you like to be our Secretary?”
“It’s an office of the club. I’m President. My name is Roy. This here is Ralphy, the Vice President. We need a Secretary and a Treasurer. What’s your name?”
“Oh. . . . but wouldn’t that require an election? My name’s Mary.”
“Nice to meet you, Mary,” said Ralphy.
“Nah. No one wants the job. So we just appoint people. If someone wanted to run against you, we would have an election, but there isn’t anyone. So, what do you say? We could use a girl’s advice because no girls seem to want to come to Anime Club. I know there are girls out there that like anime, so I don’t know what we’re doing wrong. Maybe you could recommend some animes girls would like better?” Roy continued.
Well, the young woman ended up agreeing. She stood and looked around for me, but could no longer see me.
Disappointed, I hung around and watched the animated movie they put on next before wandering away again.
Finally, I addressed God about the feelings I was having.
“So . . . what exactly did I just do?”
“You helped a young woman to overcome her fear and join a club she really wanted to join.”
“I didn’t even interact with her at all!” I exclaimed agitatedly. “I basically tricked her into thinking there was another girl in the room. That’s all I did. I tricked her!”
“No. You were in the room with her.”
“I’m not real!”
“You are to me.”
“God, what if she had a reason to feel uncomfortable in a room alone with fifty men?”
“I would never put my children in danger. She just needed to feel like she wasn’t alone.”
“But she is alone! Isn’t she still going to feel uncomfortable since she can’t even see me anymore?”
“No. Her roommate will join her next time and become the Treasurer. Before you know it, half the club will be girls.”
Again, I felt the sensation of God smiling down at me from wherever He was, from everywhere, really.
I wasn’t amused, though, or proud of doing my job well. I was just disappointed. As I’d grown older, the interaction with other people had gradually lessened to become this. A glimpse of me, and then I was forgotten forever?
I sighed heavily.
Unfortunately, the dissatisfaction I felt now would lead me to experience a far worse feeling than the all-consuming loneliness I had been struggling with lately.
“Why am I here?”
“For now, I want you to learn about human beings.”
There wasn’t any point in asking why. The answer was obvious enough. If I was to be effective at helping adults, I needed to know more about people. Adults were infinitely more complicated than children. Many were cynical or had deeper issues that interfered with their ability to connect with each other, problems that had been with them long enough to become engrained in their psyche.
The subject of Psychology was very interesting, but it was filled with numerous terms I didn’t understand. Why did people have to name everything? Then, being imaginary, I couldn’t access the text books. I was relegated to peeking over students’ shoulders and skimming quickly to see if I could find the definitions for some of the strange words they used.
I wandered through classrooms, lecture halls, and the library accumulating as much knowledge as I could about human beings. Beside Psychology, I also found Anatomy and Biology to be very interesting.
Since I didn’t really have a body, it was fascinating to learn about how they functioned. I wondered what having physical senses must be like.
The closest I had come to feeling something physical was when I came across a person that was suffering in some way. Since I had a very strong sense of empathy, I could somewhat feel their pain. However, their suffering was generally caused by emotional distress. So, I guess it wouldn’t be characterized as physical even though it had physical manifestations.
Too much Psychology. What did it matter if it was the body or the spirit that hurt? Pain was pain, right?
In any case, I learned a lot in a relatively short amount of time. Unlike my peers—if you could call people my age that—I didn’t need to rest or do anything else other than attend classes every day, all day.
Almost a full year passed like this. I found myself beginning to feel a sense of desperation.
It’s true that I had spent the majority of my life so far alone, but the missions I had completed to help others during that time had made it worthwhile in the end. Despite the sadness and loneliness that accompanied my position, there had also been a strong sense of purpose and deeply rewarding feelings of accomplishment every time I helped someone. And I had helped so many people up until now.
Now, I felt miserable and directionless.
“Please, God. Please, can I help someone now?”
“Not yet,” God replied.
It was one of my least favorite responses He’d give. Everything had to be done in God’s time.
People often prayed only to receive this response, and inevitably, they would struggle with it and end up trying to make it happen anyway. Though, this often ended up having the opposite result of what they had hoped because in the end, God knows what He’s doing.
Not being a real person, I couldn’t disobey God. So, I waited and studied.
Then, one day, I wandered into a computer lab.
The person in charge of the computer lab shut down the computers and closed for the night.
I sat at a computer in the corner of the room, not visible from the glass door and booted up one of the computers.
I wanted to see what it was like to use one of these things.
Before I knew it, I heard noise at the door. The sun had come up and shone in from a small window on the other side of the room.
I had spent the entire night researching on the internet. What a wealth of information!
Still, I had to be sure to check several places and look for reputable websites to ensure that I hadn’t learned something false.
Anyway, I had been so entertained that the entire night had flown by. Soon, I would attend the first class of the day.
However, I found my mind wandering during the classes that day because I had come across a website where people had gathered to talk to each other. The people there claimed to be “psychic,” which apparently meant that they could perceive things outside of normal human awareness. This possibility excited me. Might someone be able to perceive me?
That night, I signed into the chatroom on the website and began talking to one of the people there. My username was Imgnry1111.
His username was Reckser23. His profile said he liked to read, write, and help others.
I messaged him privately.
Imgnry1111: Hey! I like to read and help people, too.
Reckser23: Hello. What’s your name?
Imgnry1111: My name is Yomi. What’s yours?
It seemed innocent enough.
All I wanted was to have someone to talk to again. It amazed me how easy it was to talk to people over the internet. No one could tell I wasn’t a real person. Soon, all my off hours were spent online.
I tried talking to some of the other people on the site to see if they could “read” me, but they couldn’t, of course. Maybe they couldn’t really read real people, either.
It didn’t really matter. The answer had been so obvious all along. The internet itself was my way to communicate with real people again. They never had to see me, and I could help them without having to wait for a face to face assignment.
I smiled to myself, thinking of how great this discovery was for me.
However, it wasn’t as simple as I thought it would be.
First, I ended up talking to Tom more and more often. Soon, he alone consumed most of my free time. There were nights where we talked the entire night away.
I felt strange feelings I had never experienced before. When I would see his name pop up on the computer, I would feel excited and happy. If I signed on, and he wasn’t there, I’d feel disappointed and sad.
I wondered if this was what true friendship felt like. When you were close to a person, did that mean that they could affect your mood?
The more we talked to each other, the closer we seemed to get. The closer we got, the more anxious I would feel. Yet, I avoided facing the cause of that anxiety.
Until, one day, my fears came smashing to the surface of my consciousness.
Reckser23: Hey. When can we meet?
I stared at the screen, dumbfounded.
Never. . . I thought hopelessly.
I had allowed myself to focus so much on what I’d been living online, that I had neglected to think about the truth of the situation I had now involved myself in.
I wasn’t real.
My mind swirled with images of me standing in front of Tom, what I imagined he looked like anyway, based on his self-description.
Somehow, even though he believed himself to be psychic, I just didn’t think he would perceive me.
In my imagination, he stared through me, neither hearing nor seeing me. He could not sense my presence.
I sighed, unsure of how to respond. All I could do for now was delay the inevitable end to our beautiful friendship.
I couldn’t bear to face him or the reality right now, so I told him that we would meet some day and that I had to go.
I avoided signing on for a few days, and instead wandered to the Student Union, where the clubs were meeting each night in different rooms.
I watched the people interact, and even sat and watched some anime.
It was very entertaining.
However, the building closed at midnight. Then, I found myself drawn to the computer lab despite my best efforts to avoid it.
I watched videos and read articles, not visiting the sites I knew Tom frequented. Maybe, it would be best to just disappear now, like I did in reality.
The thought made me feel anxious and uneasy.
Then, suddenly, I found myself in front of a man. He was laying on his bed with his eyes closed.
I looked around the small bedroom. He had a television, a radio, a nightstand, a closet, a computer desk, and his bed. Several posters decorated the walls, but the only light in the dark room came from the computer’s screensaver.
“Yomi,” he whispered.
My eyes widened in shock as I suddenly recognized the person in front of me.
While technically accurate, his description of himself had not prepared me for the man I now beheld.
Indeed, he did have long, brown hair. He seemed to have described his height accurately at 5’ 10”. He was thin, very, very thin.
When he opened his eyes and gazed at me, my breath caught in my throat and almost choked me.
His eyes were in fact blue.
If I had a real corporeal body, it would have been shuddering. Actually, I felt myself shudder.
His ears were big. His nose, while shaped nicely was also too big for his face, and his eyes were too small. He had effeminate eyebrows, and an enormous mouth.
The man had barely any chin and a wide forehead.
If I focused solely on one aspect of his features at a time, that particular thing would not be at all unpleasant. His nose by itself, or his eyes in isolation, were not offensive. However, the combination of all of them together made for a rather frightening amalgamation.
I stood, what seemed like several moments, paralyzed by his gaze.
He did not seem to be looking through me, but focused his stare intently on my eyes.
“You’re here,” he said breathlessly.
Before I knew it, he was standing directly in front of me. He placed his hands on my arms at either side of me.
I could not respond.
“Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick. Were you offline because you wanted to come here and surprise me?”
“Um . . .”
He hugged me, chasing away any breath I had left to answer.
I felt myself flinch.
“I’m so glad to finally meet you. There’s something I have been meaning to tell you, but since you were so hesitant when I mentioned meeting up, I was afraid how you’d take it.”
“Oh . . .”
It was all I could manage.
What was happening right now? I was so confused. How could he hug me? He shouldn’t even be able to see me. I had never been assigned to him.
Still, as much as I wanted to know the answers to these questions, I didn’t dare ask God. As far as I knew, He still wanted me to focus on studying people. I didn’t want a definitive answer if it meant that I would not be able to continue doing what I had been doing.
Maybe I was supposed to be here, and if that was the case, He’d tell me soon enough.
“I love you,” Tom whispered into my ear.
All other thoughts flooded out of my head instantly, washed away by a flood of sudden and intense emotions. Were these his feelings I was picking up empathically, or . . .
Could it be that I loved him, too?
We had spent so much time talking to one another. I felt like we knew each other well, and we got along. I had been anticipating our nightly chats for over a month now.
Yes, I did love him.
“I love you, too,” I said and returned his hug.
He immediately pulled back and stared into my eyes again.
I could not understand the incongruity between my emotional and physical responses. I felt elated, and my heart felt as if it were overflowing with warm love that poured out and encompassed me completely. Yet, my body tensed whenever his hands would move even a little, or when he would look directly at me.
Then, he kissed me.
My heart leapt in my chest, and my body shuddered in horror.
In the end, though, my heart overcame my physical response. I returned his kiss.
Maybe I am reacting this way physically because I have never been touched before really, at least not like this, I thought to myself.
My thoughts continued in this vein, and despite the discomfort, I convinced myself that my physical response was inappropriate for the feelings I was having.
That night did not stop with my first kiss.
I’m ashamed to say, I let him do what he wanted, thinking that that was what lovers were supposed to do. By the time he had me on his bed with him, I had convinced myself that that’s what we were, that somehow a miracle had happened and he could see, hear, and feel me. He must be meant to be with me.
When it was over, he’d put his arm around me and gone to sleep. I had felt safe and warm for an instant before I found myself suddenly back at the computer lab. I was wearing the same outfit I had been wearing before the experience.
Unlike people, I did not have to dress myself. Instead, I would simply imagine what clothes I would like to wear and appear in them.
I looked at the computer screen and saw that it was a little after three in the morning. My hand shook as I took hold of the mouse and clicked on the bookmark to the website. I signed in.
He was not online.
What had happened? What did this mean?
Unfortunately, I didn’t learn the answer to those questions right away.
When I finally signed on the following night and messaged him, he asked me why I hadn’t been around for so many days without even letting him know I was okay.
I apologized and told him that I had been swamped with school.
He seemed to understand, but he changed the subject back to wanting to meet me in person.
Reckser23: So when can we meet?
Imgnry1111: I don’t understand. We did meet.
I blushed while typing the response. Certainly he didn’t forget.
Reckser23: What are you talking about?
Imgnry1111: Last night. . . .
I was unprepared for his response to that message.
Reckser23: You said you weren’t psychic. Get out of my head, right now!
Reckser23: How dare you read me without permission!
Imgnry1111: I don’t understand why you are upset.
Reckser23: You said we met last night. How did you know I was thinking about that dream?
A dream! He’d called me into his dream. He knew my name. He knew what I looked like because I’d described myself to him.