My siblings and I had a box of costumes, often castoffs from Halloweens past, which we would raid on soggy afternoons when playing outside wasn’t an option. Armed with accents picked up from evenings listening to my father read to us, we constructed a world far beyond that of the lilac-splashed living room, though its furniture would often play an important role in the settings we chose. On any given afternoon I would be a fairy, a Renaissance woman, maybe even a 1950s girl. Sometimes I was a high-powered CEO who signed memos in perfect cursive and had a desk the size of the dining room table; once in awhile I would be trapped behind the spokes of the banister that ran the length of the stairs to the second floor.
By the end of the afternoon, clothes and props (often stuffed animals) would be strewn across the house. The cleaning up was always the hardest; suddenly the teddy bear that had been so very villainous only moments ago would passively shift back to its previous identity. The lace curtain that had appeared so becoming as a veil worn at the ball lost its luster.
I haven’t lost my active imagination. I still find myself wrapped up in playing pretend.
But I am better at hiding it these days.
Yesterday I spent most of my time with the one person whose future with me exists in a realm of fantasy that I have done little to squash. It was a little like playing house, our game of readying a holiday party in a room untouched since the 1940s. He poured drinks and arranged the furniture while the radio crackled with Christmas music. I set up and then helped serve the food, my heels clacking methodically on the tiled floor of the pantry.
Sometimes we found ourselves in the kitchen alone. There is a dance to occupying a confined kitchen space with someone. We have memorized the steps; we can anticipate each other’s moves.
But that’s the thing about playing pretend. When all the toys are put away and you exit the space, it vanishes. Only the memory lives on, buoyed by a very distant hope that perhaps one day the fantasy will solidify itself into some sort of shimmering reality.
Or perhaps it will simply fade.
I cannot tell which would be more painful – to continue clawing at solid ground from my perch on that hopeful cliff where I am currently suspended, or simply to let go.
Because if I were to be quite honest with myself, the real game of pretend is one I play every time we find ourselves in the same room. The game where my role is someone far less emotionally involved.
And that one – that one requires the most imagination of all.