She tried to convince me that she’s not a figment of my imagination and I played along.

The young pale man sat upright in his chair. When I entered the room Dalton only glanced at me for a moment. His eyes seemed to be focused on the corridor.

When the door shut his eyes flicked around the room. Finally his pupils honed in on me.

“She’s not here, right?”

“We are alone,” I said.

“Okay. Okay. Sometimes I’m just worried that she comes in. She likes open doors.”

“You are talking about your girlfriend?”

“No. Well, yes, in a way. I imagined her as my girlfriend when I was a teenager.”

“And you are now 21?”

“Yes.”

“And you still see your imagined girlfriend?”

Dalton nodded.

“She just didn’t want to leave.”

“You don’t mean that metaphorically? You are really talking about an imagined girlfriend?”

“Yes. Her name is Arielle. You know, like Arielle the mermaid because I had a crush on her.”

“So this girlfriend is imaginary but she is bound by walls and doors?”

“Not really,” Dalton said. “I mean, she didn’t use to but now she pretends that she is.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’m not sure I can follow.”

Dalton sighed.

“I imagined Arielle when I was a teenager. And she never left, but now she pretends that she is real.”

“Your imaginary girlfriend pretends that she is real?”

“Exactly.”

“And you don’t like that? It bothers you?”

“Yes. A lot. She is driving me crazy. She ruins it everytime when I try to go on a date with a real girl. I know Arielle is not real but she is always around. I can’t be alone anymore. I know that she is imaginary but still I feel constantly watched.”

“So your imaginary girlfriend..”

“Arielle!”

“Okay. Arielle pretends that she is real. Did you ever have doubts whether or not Arielle is real?”

“I’m sure that she is just imagined, but she feels very real. I can hear her voice and feel her touch and everything. I mean, I made her up, she can’t be real – but she feels as if she’s made from real flesh and blood.”

“So you have doubts?”

“No!”

“But you can’t get rid of her and you can feel her touch you?”

“Yes. She tried to convince me that she’s not a figment of my imagination and I played along. I thought she would go away if I pretend it’s all true. And honestly, it was also somehow nice. When I moved to college I was not exactly popular and when I played along I felt less alone.”

“So before college she was not manifest? You could not feel her before college?”

“I’m not sure.”

“You’re not sure?”

“I think once or twice I felt her. But it was different before college. I always talked to her at night when I had a hard day at school. I think that’s why she stayed so long at all, I mean, imaginary friends are supposed to disappear, right? I read that usually you lose them during puberty. But I had a hard time and I think that’s why she got actually more real over the years.”

“That’s possible,” I said.

“But she was gone for a while. When I was 17 this new girl came to school and for a few weeks we were dating. When that happened Arielle just disappeared without warning. From one day to the next she was gone. But when the other girl broke up with me Arielle still stayed away for a while. I saw her a few times in the distance, like, at the mall or in the supermarket and I ran to her and talked to her, but she always acted strange, not like before. I think she was jealous because of the other girl and wanted to punish me. I tried to hug her two or three times, but she pushed me off and just ran away.”

“You wanted her back in your life?”

“I… I don’t know. I always thought it was odd to have her around, but I just wanted to be with someone. I thought it would be better to be with her than completely alone. I thought I would always stay alone if not with her.”

“So you actively wished Arielle back into your life?”

“I guess so.”

“Did you consciously try to imagine her?”

“I… I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

“It’s okay. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you sure?”

“Maybe one or two times. Or a few times. I don’t know, I really don’t.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I didn’t mean to. I don’t want to be the crazy guy with the imagined girlfriend.”

“Really, it’s okay.”

“I mean it. I didn’t want to be the crazy guy. It just felt good to be with her, you know? I just wanted to see her once or twice so that I would have someone to talk to. Just once or twice. But she didn’t even come then. She just stayed away. And I saw her in the supermarket but she ignored me. My own imaginary girlfriend ignored me, what does that say about me, doc? What does that say about me?”

“You were lonely,” I said.

“I’m a freak,” he said. “And now I’ll have to live with this. Now she will slowly take over my life.”

“That won’t happen,” I said.

“It has happened! She even makes me do things I don’t want. Like all the mess in my room. I was always tidy but I imagined her as messy because most girls I liked were messy. And I thought Arielle would be messy. And now my room is always a mess. I don’t remember doing that. I don’t remember leaving dirt around everywhere. And still, I mean, she is imaginary, you know? She can’t do that. She just can’t.”

“If she is part of your self…”

“She makes me do it, somehow. I know it. She is. I’m a freak and this thing is part of me and pretends to be real and completely ruins my life.”

“Dalton, there are ways to handle this. You don’t necessarily have to live with this your whole life.”

“Don’t necessarily? That’s all you can give me? Not necessarily? So I might never get rid of her?”

“It depends,” I said. “Cases like yours are not exactly common.”

“A freak,” Dalton said. “I’m a freak.”

“You’re not a freak,” I said. “These things happen. Two thirds of the population deal with mental issues at some point in their lives. It’s not always like yours, but you are not so unusual.”

“Oh, great. Other people have mood disorders and I have an imaginary girlfriend that takes over my life. Deal with it, right? Get over it, Dalton, you’re normal because you are just the worst of all freaks!”

“Dalton, I need you to calm down.”

“And for what? So that my ‘mental issue’ can come back to me? Let’s see when she gets violent too and starts to hurt me. Oh, no problem, deal with it! Just calm down.”

“Please,” I said. “We can try to help you.”

“Sure you can,” he said. “Lock me up and keep me away from normal people.”

“Dalton, this is really not productive. Can we try to get back to the past?”

“Not productive!” Dalton blew air through his teeth. “Not productive!”

“When did she come back?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“You said she came back at college?”

He sighed.

“Yes,” Dalton said. “She did.”

“How did she come back?”

“I saw her around campus,” Dalton said. “At first I tried to talk to her but she still blew me off and so I gave up. I thought it would be better to at least get rid of her if she wasn’t even making me feel better anymore. I joined a few clubs. And then I saw her more frequently and at some point she just showed up at one of the debate club meetings when I was on stage. She sat in the last row and afterwards she came down and we talked.”

“And from that day on she stayed in your life?”

“Somewhat. I mean, we had this weird sort of date. I cooked something and she pretended to come over. As said, I played along because I thought it was nice to have her back and I didn’t want to alienate her again. I thought she would go if I ever found another girl. But then it just went too far.”

“In what way?”

“Well, it just felt more and more realistic. Every time I saw her she felt more real. I could feel her skin on mine. And the heat of her body when we were sitting and watching movies. And then her kiss on my lips and even in bed. It just felt so realistic.”

“You had sex with your imaginary girlfriend?”

“Yes. At first I didn’t see it as strange. But the fifth or sixth time I realized how insane that was. I mean it felt really real.”

“But you are sure it was the same girl? The Arielle you imagined when you were a teenager?”

“Definitely. I mean, she tried to change her name. But she is absolutely just my imagination. She still has the same red hair and the pale skin and everything. Sometimes, in bed, she even pretends to be a mermaid again, especially when I say her name. She wanted me to call her Allison rather than Arielle, I think that was her ploy to seem more real, but I kept calling her Arielle because that’s her name.”

“And you couldn’t get her to leave anymore? Did you try dating other girls to see whether it has the same effect as when you were 17?”

“As said, I tried. But she sabotaged all my dates. A few days ago, when I sat in the restaurant with a real girl, she even ran in and screamed at me. I mean, of course nobody else could see her, but I couldn’t stop myself from fighting back. The people in the restaurant all stared at me for screaming at nothing. And then Arielle even pulled me off my chair – and the other girl just left. I tried to stop her, but Arielle tripped me. The girl must think I’m insane. All the people in the restaurant must think I’m insane!”

Dalton laughed.

“You know, that’s why we fought at night. We had this big fight where she said that I was cheating on her. But, I mean, you can’t cheat on an imaginary girlfriend. She felt so real, but in that moment I could feel how ridiculous it all was. I mean, I know she is technically me, but I felt just so angry at her for trying to ruin my life. I didn’t even feel remorse for hitting her. I just kept hitting her until she stopped speaking.”

“You hit Arielle? You managed to actually hit her?”

“Of course. It was just like the sex. It felt absolutely real even as I knew that it wasn’t. That’s why I came here, you know? Because I realized that it’s all crazy and that I need to be fixed somehow. You need to somehow take her out of my life. I know that tomorrow or the day after she will be back on her feet and will keep pestering me and will keep trying to ruin my dating attempts and my private life.”

Dalton shook his head.

“You know, I’m sure she will be back on her feet because my brain is already punishing me again. It wants to remind me never to hurt her again. That’s why for the last few days she’s just been lying there on my bedroom floor. She still moves, of course she does because damn imaginations don’t die, but she just lies there on the floor whimpering and moaning. I kicked her a few more times, but it all just keeps feeling real. It’s just a matter of time until my brain resets her and throws her back into my life. I think my brain is preparing that right now. I think that’s why today she hasn’t moved much.”

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