My Father Created an Imaginary Friend for Me

She turned into my imaginary enemy

Christine Schoenwald
Jul 29 · 5 min read
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Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Most of the time, kids conceive of their own imaginary friends, but my dad created mine. My father walked everywhere so he’d make up stories about a fictitious girl my age.

Over time, these stories because more like parables and set an example to show me what I could do if I made an effort.

My imaginary friend became my imaginary enemy and a rival for my father’s approval and affection.

As children, we use our invisible pals to help cope with loneliness and stress. No one can forget imaginary (and sometimes, terrifying) friends like Tony in “The Shining,” Captain Howdy in “The Exorcist” or Hobbes in “Calvin and Hobbes?”

Adults have imaginary friends too.

If an imaginary friend’s features are that you can’t see them, but you still believe that they’re there, then Jesus qualifies.

My imaginary friend’s name was Prunella Smith, and she was annoyingly perfect in every way. She got good grades, excelled at sports, did charity work in her limited spare time, and she never once failed to live up to expectation.

I didn’t do any of those things.

I thought not biting my nails was a considerable accomplishment.

If I had created this pretend frenemy, I would have come up with a much better name like Savannah Baudelaire-Longhouse or Harpsichord Jones. She’d have been sophisticated and cool like Kalinda Sharma on The Good Wife or fashionably evil like Villanelle in Killing Eve, not an ordinary schoolgirl.

If I were going to have an imaginary arch enemy, I would want them to be a bad-ass.

I was about eight when my father created Prunella and her family.

At first, I loved the alternative universe aspect to these yarns. My brother’s name was “Fritz,” and Prunella’s brother’s name was “Ritz.” What are the chances?

Prunella’s mother’s name was Carbara as opposed to my mother, Barbara, and even though Prunella’s mother was self-centered too, her mother never read under a tree rather than watch her daughter her master the breaststroke. However, my mother didn’t care about not measuring up to the bar which Carbara set.

Prunella’s dad worked for Kole Pineapple, not Dole Pineapple, and her dad drove. My father’s imagination was limited to letter change, not creating Sims-style strategic life simulations.

What would it be like to be part of the Smith family, I wondered? Was every day a mixture of rainbows and puppies? Did they poop Skittles? Besides the Smith family commitment to perfection, they were also devoutly Mormon. I think my dad added that small detail to give the Smiths a little flavor and because we lived down the street from a Mormon Temple.

In every way Prunella was flawless- I was flawed. When Prunella’s parents went to her parent/teacher conferences, her teachers fell over themselves, praising her. She never got called out for talking in class.

Prunella certainly never peed her pants in the first grade and had to stand in front of the radiator in the nurse’s office to dry them out. Prunella probably never had to pee at all.

I knew Prunella wasn’t real, but it didn’t stop me from hating her. She was the shining example of everything I should and could be, and everything that my father wanted me to be.

When I listened to the Prunella stories, I only heard the same message, which was my father was disappointed in me.

I still don’t know if my father’s motivation with the Prunella stories was to illustrate what an ideal child was like or if he was using wacky Brady Bunch style reverse psychology. Perhaps he thought if I got annoyed enough about Prunella’s achievements my competitive nature would take over, and I would out accomplish her?

Ha, ha -fooled you, Dad! Those Prunella stories defeated before I even began. You can blame her for making me the underachiever I am today!

Why bother doing anything when Prunella would always do it better, and with the smile of a self-satisfied sociopath? Sure, Prunella was invisible, but I just knew she smirked.

My jealousy increased with each story my father told me.

On almost every grade-school report card I received, the teacher would comment if a task didn’t come easily to me, I’d get frustrated, and quit. I had a no-can-do spirit that lasted throughout my schooling, culminating in college. Although I received three incompletes, which turned into Fs, I did nothing about them.

I wasn’t a bad kid, I just wasn’t as perfect as Prunella — I stole Tiger Beat magazines from the grocery store, cut tennis and swimming lessons, and would organize fake scavenger hunts for money, and snacks.

Sorry, Dad, I know having a daughter pull low-level cons is hardly brag-worthy at the office.

I hated Prunella, but there was no way to obliterate her out of my life without hurting my father. I couldn’t say to him if I heard one more Prunella Smith story, I would ride my blue Stingray bike off a cliff.

The stories continued for years, even after I was in college and living on my own.

Did you hear Prunella received a Nobel Peace Prize just for being herself, and Mother Teresa presented it to her?

Poor Idris Elba, Prunella turned down a third marriage-proposal from him.

Prunella is an entrepreneur and travels the world giving Ted Talks.

Prunella kept raising the bar to impossible heights, and I kept lowering it as if was more of a limbo stick rather than a measure of success.

How low can you go? Answer: Really effing low.

I get it, Dad, I’m a disappointment. I can’t type; I eat too quickly, and I continue to age.

I’m sure if my father was still alive, I’d be getting Prunella updates at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Unfortunately, he isn’t around anymore, so that leaves me to continue the oral tradition of the life Prunella. Sadly, for her, things haven’t gone quite as well as expected.

While at BYU, Prunella suffered a terrible break-up. Her boyfriend Lars Mackadoodle left her for a slug dancer. After Prunella lost an eye in a bar fight, she lost her taste for fashion. Luckily, she can dress how she likes at her job at Percy’s Pest Control — cockroaches don’t care if you’re fashion-forward or not.

In the end, I can’t destroy Prunella, but what I can do is forgive her, and in turn, forgive my father. He wasn’t trying to hurt me with these stories; he was only trying to make me laugh and show me another way to look at my life and my family.

Prunella is part of me, and every time I tell her story, I’m telling a story about myself and my father.

The Narrative

What’s your story?

Christine Schoenwald

Written by

Writer for The Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Startup, Tenderly, Fearless She Wrote, MuddyUm.

The Narrative

What’s your story?

Christine Schoenwald

Written by

Writer for The Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Startup, Tenderly, Fearless She Wrote, MuddyUm.

The Narrative

What’s your story?

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