My Imagination’s Co-Pilot

I have a confession. I played pretend well beyond what would’ve been considered appropriate. And I was never alone. My brother, whose memory bank held the lines of every movie ever created, was and would always be my number one playmate. We spent hours in our backyard wilderness–or the quarter acre of wooded bliss–crafting and creating elaborate playscapes in which we could get lost. Summer break was a treat because the trees were dense and the days were long, those magical, unending moments of youth that seem so distant, and still so close.

We had a treasure trove of detailed stories, including mythical settings and multiple characters with names only children born in the 1980s would choose, like Jessica and Amanda and Nick. Though I once played a rugged seafarer named Sven. Even as I write this I can’t help but have a good laugh at that one. Our backyard treehouse was a ship tossed in the gales of a raging sea. The tree that had fallen across the creek was a tightrope for an acrobatics troupe led by Esmeralda, of course. We operated a swanky hotel at Grandma’s house, the Platters playing softly in the “lobby.” Our characters had story arcs that lasted for months. We drew their faces with crayons, gave them backstories, threw in a plot twist and created chaos. But our most crowning achievement was by far our spy agency of brilliant minds working together to thwart an enemy and protect the country.

We called our organization the Center of Minnesota Conference. Not sure why we chose Minnesota as our imaginary locale. Maybe it was due to our rampant obsession with all three Mighty Ducks movies, which I still watch, and love, and I’m not even sorry for that. As I reflect on it now, we often solved our cases with what probably was, in our minds, very cool rollerblading montages, and not just us skating in circles in the basement with Spice Girls blaring in the background.

At the Center of Minnesota Conference, or COMC (because acronyms are also very cool), we solved complex international espionage cases. Every state had a center conference, but ours was far superior, a legend among the leagues. I would say, conservatively, that he and I juggled approximately five main characters at a time. The only names I can remember for mine were Miriam and Alex, and I wonder if he still recalls his. They had ages and birthdays and relationships and intrigue. Two of my main characters were in love, and I believe they eventually got married at some point.

As we sought to defeat our enemies, we played the Mission Impossible theme song on an old tape deck, just to get hyped. Our soundtracks consisted of songs that had been taped from the radio, and we could never quite avoid the DJ’s commentary interrupting either end. Our spy gadgets were borrowed from books and movies and improvised with whatever toys and tools we had available.

The villains worked overtime to outsmart us. We wrote up ransom letters on our boxy Windows 95 computer with varying Microsoft Word fonts, then printed them out and sent them to our heroes’ doorstep. Our first antagonists were a set of brothers, Moe and Bo Bobo, and don’t ask me to explain how we came up with such compelling names. When we got bored with them, or eliminated them, there were new threats that arose, influenced by what we were watching at the time. Superpowers and magic created a new challenge for our heroes, as shows we watched every day after school, like Sailor Moon, filtered into our mindset.

Our spying heroes and heroines would collect intel on the enemy and deliver a strike. They weren’t infallible, though. Sometimes their injuries would land them in the hospital, adding another layer to our imaginary world. These themes would last for weeks and months, and though my memory condenses all of these experiences together, it seems as though there were endless hours of play.

Life does move quickly, and we all, unfortunately, grow up. But I will always treasure that time my brother and I had together, when we dove in to our imaginations and stayed there, never questioning why it was weird that we could never see the objects of our creation, or that we were sometimes talking to ourselves. It was so real then, and it still seems real now.

Today is my brother’s birthday and I want nothing more than to thank him for being the coolest partner this big sister could ever ask for. Because of you, I laid the foundation that I draw on to write stories today. Through your wide and beautiful imagination, I found the soul of my craft. Now, before I write anything, I act out the scenes, give my characters voices, and rehearse their dialogue, seeing everything only in my mind. And for a moment, I’m a kid again.

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