Pretend Princesses: Royalty or Royal Flush?
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
I had imaginary friends when I was a young boy. Friends who would help me solve crimes, rescue people in danger, and other situations most four-year-old boys find themselves in, when said friends are Scooby Doo and his gang of meddling teenagers.
As a rough-and-tumble little boy, I was naturally their leader. Our adventures were harrowing and frightening, but were always solved from the comfort of the family couch, or the Mystery Machine, which doubled as my bed.
We saved family businesses from sabotaging ghosts, recovered valuable art from pirates, and rescued helpless damsels from monsters. It was a footloose, carefree existence.
Until I met her.
She was a princess of unknown origin and name. Her name was unpronounceable, so she was simply known as Princess. She was my light, my raison d'etre. At age four, I had found my imaginary soul mate.
We met while we were battling the Ghostly Diver from The Adventures of Scooby Doo. He had chained her to the railing of his ship, and we had to save her. I had Diver in a headlock, while the gang struggled to unlock her chains, when our eyes met.
I threw Diver over the edge and broke Princess' chains. We leapt off the ship, ran across my living room, jumped into the Mystery Machine ("Stop jumping on the bed!" shouted an ethereal voice that sounded a lot like my mom), and raced to safety.
For the next several months, we were inseparable. Princess joined us on our adventures, although she usually got captured. As the leader of the gang, it was up to me to rescue her. Yes, everything was great for us. But then we encountered the green-eyed monster that no teenage gang could defeat: Jealousy.
"She's constantly getting into trouble," whispered the gang in my ears. "Has there ever been a time she hasn't been captured?
But I would have none of it. Princess was one of us, as far as I was concerned, and we stuck together through thick and thin.
"She's such a klutz."
"Is she faking that helplessness, or is she really that much of a moron?"
I finally had enough. I told the group that I needed a rest. I was going to take a break from hero work for a while and just relax. Catch up on some reading, play with my toys, and do all the kid things I was missing. But it never happened that way.
Looking back, I suppose all the signs were there. The walks in dark forests, exploring haunted houses by herself. Imaginary doctors would later diagnose it as Damselitis Distressius, a sort of Munchausen's Disease that was often found in imaginary royalty. The patient purposely put themselves in dangerous situations to be rescued. They said Princess was a textbook case.
After I rescued her from a two-headed monster, the doctors took her to a safe palace where she could get the help she needed.
"Sorry, dude," said Shaggy, as they drove her away in their imaginary ambulance. "Like, we tried to warn you."
I eventually rejoined the gang, but I'd lost the taste for the chase. I didn't get the same thrill. I started hitting the apple juice pretty hard. I took dangerous risks and unnecessary chances. I was even a little rough on some of the perps.
Finally, after I purposely let one of the suspects get away, I retired from the hero business. At five-and-a-half, I'd had a long and distinguished career of pretend hero work.
But I never heard from Princess again. From time to time, I'd overhear whispered fragments of stories from my G.I. Joe action figures. She'd taken up with Batman. She'd been spotted nightclubbing with Hong Kong Phooey. But she was gone for good.
That is, until my son, age four, told me about his own adventures. He spent one afternoon last week fighting a dragon, and rescuing a princess from the dragon's clutches.
"What's her name, Buddy?"
"I don't know."
"Where is she from?"
"I don't know."
"Well, what do you call her?"
Uh-oh. I spent the next several days asking myself over and over, do I tell her, or do I let him find out on his own? A father's job is to protect his children, but at the same time, they need to learn from their own mistakes. Then I finally remembered the immortal words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
'Tis better to have pretend loved and lost, than never to have pretend loved at all.
Good luck, Buddy. I'll keep the apple juice on ice for you.