Television interviewers often ask their celebrity guest, “What advice would you give yourself as a child?”

I remember myself as an insecure twelve year old with a bad stutter and an equally bad complexion making my way, on weekends and holidays, down to the beach with my trusty Boxer dog.

As we walked, half ran, both getting excited, through the foreshore and over the sand dunes, I would unclip him and let him bound into the waves while I stood on the edge and let the sea breezes blow away my frustrations. I would shout my anger at the world into the roaring surf, or drop down at the water’s edge smelling the salty air, watching the sea gulls and the lapping waves softly wash away the sand, while the natural rhythms of the seashore washed away the turmoil within my soul.

The words that would stick in my throat during class found easy expression in solitude. I would imagine a buddy, much like myself, same age, sitting beside me, the two of us going over the things I should’ve said, could’ve said, would’ve said. I called him “Jack”!

Jack and I would wander up and down the beach, dog bounding happily alongside, discussing the intricacies of life. We must’ve looked a pair. I’m sure people must’ve thought, “Who is he talking to?”

But I could tell Jack anything! How I felt about that girl at school. How I would knot up inside when asked a question by a teacher. How I knew the answer, probably better than anyone else, but as I struggled to push the words out, they became entangled and disjointed, and made me look incapable of answering the question. I became the butt of the class jokes. And then, to be accepted, I would act the part: Joker of the class. Ad libs would sometimes flow unhindered, but pin me down and my repartee would get clogged around my tongue. Needless to say, I was never taken seriously.

But with Jack, down at the beach, I could talk about anything! And as mundane matters became boring we began to wander into the existence, or not, of God and truth and why are we here and what is real and what is not (I only realise the irony of that now) and, suddenly, my life took on a whole different direction.

I started to read again!

Much younger I had devoured The Faraway Tree, The Famous Five and only the year before, while still at Primary School, Biggles.

But with High School, a whole new set of criteria demanded to be met. No longer could I float along on the perimeter barely being noticed by the teacher. I now had to account for myself periodically in front of the class; a question to answer, a monologue to be marked, a debate that required an opinion. And I failed miserably. Even the teacher could be seen to cringe. So those moments began to disappear as I crawled into my shell and became the equivalent of a persona non grata. 

My only solace was down at the beach with my dog and my buddy, Jack. So, as we started to take an interest in spiritual things, I started scrounging around for books on religion and self improvement. 

The old guy at the second hand bookshop didn’t seem to mind my stutter. He would stand there patiently waiting for me to finish or discretely pass across a notepad and pen. We had a deal if I brought back a book in reasonable condition, I could swap it for nothing for another one. I don’t think anyone else got that deal. He said to me once he didn’t mind my stutter. He said it made me different, interesting. It’s really only now, in my retirement, that I appreciate that kindly old man.

So, I borrowed a book on Yoga and Jack and I, learned to meditate. Crudely at first, I’m sure, but with practice, sitting along side each other, feet only inches from the waves, we seemed to achieve a modicum of success. Watching the breath! Listening to the sounds of the sea, the gulls, that motor boat over there! Relaxing and feeling an inner calm slowly overtaking the tensions and concerns that had almost completely overtaken my life!

As the weeks went on, with Jack’s prompting, I would also practice meditating and relaxation at home. I would sit up late at night reading and then, when the weekend came practically running all the way to the beach ( it was about a mile), dog panting by my side, eagerly waiting to share my thoughts with Jack. And it really helped to have a sounding board! The fuzziness in my brain was starting to disappear and lessons at school were beginning to make sense.

My stutter didn’t disappear as I hoped it would but I seemed to worry about it less. As I took a more active part in class, my stumbling became more acceptable and the teachers were less impatient with me. I found myself moving out of the back row and closer to the front as I took a new interest in what was being said. And it showed in my marks. Instead of barely passing I started getting a few C’s and, even once, a B! 

And suddenly I had a group of friends, who didn’t seem to care that I stuttered, as long as I didn’t care either and could occasionally joke about it and not get uptight at the idiots that made fun of me. And they’d stand up for me and tell them to piss off and, I started to stick up for them, too. And we started hanging out at weekends and because of the music program at school, we formed our own Little Rock band, practicing in the garage, with friends and neighbours dropping in to listen. 

I could sing, which was amazing, and as my confidence grew and the band started to play around, the girls that I had noticed earlier, started to notice me. And another dimension was added to my life.

My interest in yoga had induced an interest in keeping fit and eating healthy. I was getting up earlier, now, and going for a run before school. All of a sudden, I was running in school competitions and not doing too bad.

And I forgot all about Jack!

As Year 7 morphed into Year 10, friends coming and going, the band disbanding and reforming and disbanding and reforming, I found myself in a predicament. I’d been offered to apply for a job through a friend of dads. My marks at school were still only average, and I was more interested in playing guitar than going to school. What should I do?

The dog had passed away that very year, something I was still not dealing with, as I stumbled along heading towards the beach. I needed Jack! I needed to run these things passed him. I needed to say sorry for forgetting about him. I needed his advice so badly that it ached in my stomach.

But he was gone! And it was starting to feel a little childish. I wandered up and down the beach and in and out of the foreshore and around the bathing sheds and up and down the beach again, till it was almost dark. Coming home, I tried to conjure up what he would have said to help me. I figured he would say, “God has opened a door for you mate! Take the job and don’t look back. You were never that good at school anyway!”

So I did. And some years later, with Speech therapy, wife and kids, you wouldn’t be able to tell me apart from any other Joe Blow!

Now, in my retirement, I will often think back on those earlier years. Still very much interested in spiritual matters I will try to recall those intimate discussions I had with Jack.

And then a smile will cross my lips and I will have to remind myself, he wasn’t real. I had made it all up!

October 16, 2019 13:22

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Raegan Burkett
14:35 Oct 28, 2019

It's cool seeing you dive into a topic of loneliness and acceptance in the form of an imaginary friend. I think that shows why some people have them and rely on them. I liked it!


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Vince Calma
01:12 Oct 24, 2019

This is a nice story. I've always been fascinated with the nature of imaginary friends, and while you didn't really delve deeper into what they mean to us, I appreciate how you wrote the beauty of having one. Also, that's an excellent imagery you wrote there. My emotions are in shambles.


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