Making up a boyfriend is nothing new for me. I’ll come right out and admit that. Some people go window shopping for things they could never afford. Some look at online photos of resorts they’ll never visit. Some people imagine that they meet a really nice guy when, in fact, they don’t.
The first time it happened was in sixth grade. Recess. Heather B., Heather F. and Jessica A. were standing in their little circle of popularity. They wore lip gloss and eye shadow, had cute little pocketbooks and boyfriends. Back then, going out with a boy only meant that he might acknowledge you while passing in the hall, but still, it was a status symbol, and one which I lacked, right along with the eye shadow. Heather F. was watching her man, Joey Ames, as he put a frog down his pants for reasons clear only to sixth grade boys, and talking about how she was maybe going to break up with Joey and go out with Jason.
And suddenly, without a lot of forethought, I found myself saying that I, too, was dating someone…a boy from another town. The three popular girls turned to me with sharp and sudden interest, and I found myself talking about Tyler, who was really cute and smart and polite. An older man at fourteen. Also, his family owned a horse ranch and they wanted me to name the newest foal, and I was going to train it so that it came for my whistle and mine alone.
Surely we’ve all come up with a boy like that. Right? What was the harm in believing — almost — that somewhere out there, counterbalancing the frog-in-the-pants types was a boy like Tyler of the horses? It was almost like believing in God — you had to, because what was the alternative? The other girls bought it, peppered me with questions, looked at me with new respect. Heather B. even invited me to her upcoming birthday party, and I happily accepted. Of course, by then I was forced to share the sad news that Tyler’s ranch had burned down and the family moved to Oregon, taking my foal, Midnight Sun, with them. Maybe the Heathers and the rest of the kids in my class guessed the truth, but I found I didn’t really mind. Imagining Tyler had really felt…great, actually.
Later, when I was fifteen and we’d moved from our humble town of Mount Vernon, New York, to the much posher berg of Avon, Connecticut, where all the girls had smooth hair and very white teeth, I made up another boy. Jack, my Boyfriend Back Home. Oh, he was so handsome (as proved by the photo in my wallet, which had been carefully cut from a J. Crew catalogue). Jack’s father owned a really gorgeous restaurant named Le Cirque (hey, I was fifteen). Jack and I were taking things slow…yes, we’d kissed; actually, we’d gotten to second base, but he was so respectful that was as far as it went. We wanted to wait till we’re older. Maybe we’d get pre-engaged, and because his family loved me so much, they wanted Jack to y me a ring from Tiffany’s, not a diamond but maybe a sapphire, kind of like Princess Diana’s, but a little smaller.
Sorry to tell you, I broke up with Jack about four months into my sophomore year in order to be available to local boys. My strategy backfired…the local boys were not terribly interested. In my older sister, definitely…Margaret would pick me up once in a while when she was home from college, and boys would fall silent at the mere sight of her sharp, glamorous beauty. Even my younger sister, who was only in seventh grade at the time, already showed signs of becoming a great beauty. But I stayed unattached, wishing I’d never broken up with my fictional boyfriend, missing the warm curl of pleasure it gave me to imagine such a boy liking me.
Then came Jean-Philippe. Jean-Philippe was invented to counter an irritating, incredibly persistent boy in college. A chemistry major who, looking back, probably suffered from Asperger’s autism, making him immune to every social nuance I threw his way. Rather than just flat-out tell the boy that I didn’t like him (it seemed so cruel) I’d instruct my roommate scrawl messages and tack them to the door so all could see “Grace — J-P called again, wants you to spend break in Paris. Call him toute suite.” I loved Jean-Philippe, loved imagining that some well dressed Frenchman had a thing for me! That he was prowling the bridges of Paris, staring sullenly into the Seine, yearning for me and sighing morosely as he ate chocolate croissants and drank good wine. Oh, I had a crush on Jean-Philippe for ages, rivaling only my love for Rhett Butler, whom I’d discovered at age thirteen and never let go.
All through my twenties, even now at age thirty, faking a boyfriend was a survival skill. Florence, one of the little old ladies at Golden Meadows Senior Village, recently offered me her nephew during the ballroom dancing class, which I help teach. “Honey, you would just love Bertie!” she chirped as I tried to get her to turn right on her alamena. “Can I give him your number? He’s a doctor. A podiatrist. So he has one tiny problem. Girls today are too picky. In my day, if you were thirty and unmarried, you were as good as dead. Just because Bertie has bosoms, so what? His mother was buxom, too, oh, she was stacked…”
Out came the imaginary boyfriend. “Oh, he sounds so nice, Flo… but I just started dating someone. Drat.”
It’s not just around other people, I have to admit. I use the emergency boyfriend as…well, let’s say as a coping mechanism, too.
For example, a few weeks ago, I was driving home on a dark and lonely section of Connecticut’s Route 9, thinking about my ex-fiancé and his new lady love, when my tire blew out. As is typical with brushes with death, a thousand thoughts were clear in my mind, even as I wrestled with the steering wheel, trying to keep the car from flipping, even as I distantly realized that voice shrieking “OhGodohGod!” was mine. First, I had nothing to wear to my funeral (easy, easy, don’t want to flip the car). Second, if open casket was an option, I hoped my hair wouldn’t be frizzing in death as it did in life (pull harder, pull harder, you’re losing it). My sisters would be devastated, my parents struck dumb with sorrow, their endless sniping silenced, at least for the day (hit the gas, just a little, it will straighten out the car). And God’s nightgown, wouldn’t Andrew be riddled with guilt! For the rest of his life, he’d always regret dumping me (slow down gradually now, on with the flashers, good, good, we’re still alive). When the car was safe on the shoulder, I sat, shaking like a leaf, my heart clattering against my ribs like a loose shutter in a hurricane.
“JesusJesusthankyouJesus,” I chanted, fumbling for my cell phone.
Alas, I was out of range for cell service (of course). I waited a few moments, then, resigned, did what I had to do. Got out of the car into the cold March downpour, examined my shredded tire. Opened the trunk, pulled out the jack and the spare tire. Though I’d never done this particular task before, I figured it out as other cars flew past me occasionally, further drenching me with spray. I pinched my hand badly enough for a blood blister, broke a nail, ruined my shoes, became filthy from the mud and axle grease.
No one stopped to help. Not one dang person. No one even tapped their brakes, for that matter. Cursing, quite irritable with the cruelty of the world and vaguely proud that I’d gotten the tire back on, I climbed back into the car, teeth chattering, lips blue with cold, drenched and dirty. On the drive back, all I could think of was a bath, a hot toddy, Project Runway and flannel pajamas. Instead, I found disaster waiting for me.
Judging from the evidence, Angus, my West Highland terrier, had chewed through the child safety latch on the newly-painted cabinet door, dragged out the garbage can, tipped it over and ate the iffy chicken I’d thrown out that morning. There was no if about it, apparently. The chicken was bad. My poor dog had then regurgitated with such force that the yellow walls of my kitchen walls were splattered with doggy vomit so high that a streak of yellow-green bile smeared the face of my Fritz the Cat clock. A trail of wet excrement led to the living room, where I found Angus stretched out on the pastel-shaded Oriental rug I’d just had cleaned. My dog belched foully, barked once and wagged his tail with guilty love amid the steaming puddles of barf and doggy diarrhea.
No hot toddy. No bath. No Tim Gunn and Project Runway. No hot toddy.
So what does this have to do with another imaginary boyfriend? Well, as I scrubbed the carpet with bleach and water and tried to emotionally prepare Angus for the suppository the vet instructed me to give, I found myself imagining the following instead.
I was driving home when my tire blew out. I stopped, reached for my cell phone, yadda yadda ding dong, blah blah blah. But what was this? A car slowed and pulled in behind me. It was, let’s see, an environmentally gentle hybrid, and ah, it had M.D. plates. A Good Samaritan in the form of a tall, rangy male in his mid to late thirties approached my car. He bent down. Hello! There it was…that moment when you look at someone and just…kablammy. You Just Know He’s The One.
In my fantasy, I accepted the kind Samaritan’s offer of help. Ten minutes later, he had secured the spare on the axle, heaved the blown tire in the trunk and handed me his business card. Wyatt Something, M.D., Department of Pediatric Surgery. Ah.
“Call me when you get home, just so I know you made it, okay?” he asked, smiling. Kablammy! He scrawled his home number on the card as I drank in the sight of his appealing dimples and long lashes.
It made cleaning up the puke a lot nicer.
Obviously, I was quite aware that my tire was not changed by the kindly and handsome doctor. I didn’t tell anyone he had. Just a little healthy escapism, right? No, there was no Wyatt (I always liked the name, so authoritative and noble). Unfortunately, a guy like that was just too good to be true, in my experience, anyway. I didn’t go around talking about the kindly pediatric surgeon changed my tire, of course not. No. This was kept firmly private, just a little coping mechanism, as I said. Jean-Philippe was the last imaginary man I publicly touted as real.
Until recently, that is.