Friday, November 6, 2009

Bathtub Families

Last night I met--live and in person--an imaginary friend, ReadersGuide, who was in town to visit the local college with her younger daughter. And aside from the initial nervousness about meeting someone I knew only virtually (all of our kids said "mom, you're not supposed to meet people you know from the internet!"), it was delightful. Because we did already know each other. And unlike real-life friends, where there's usually some element of catching up, we could take the conversation up where we'd left off, only in a little more depth and with me racing around saying "see? here's this thing I talk about, right here!"

Meeting someone I knew previously only through the written word made me think of this poem by Billy Collins:

Bathtub Families

is not just a phrase I made up
though it would have given me pleasure
to have written those words in a notebook
then looked up at the sky wondering what they meant.

No, I saw Bathtub Families in a pharmacy
on the label of a clear plastic package
containing one cow and four calves,
a little family of animals meant to float in your tub.

I hesitated to buy it because I knew
I would then want the entire series of Bathtub Families,
which would leave no room in the tub
for the turtles, the pigs, the seals, the giraffes, and me.

It's enough just to have the words,
which alone make me even more grateful
that I was born in America
and English is my mother tongue.

I was lucky, too, that I waited
for the pharmacist to fill my prescription,
otherwise I might not have wandered
down the aisle with the Bathtub Families.

I think what I am really saying is that language
is better than reality, so it doesn't have
to be bath time for you to enjoy
all the Bathtub Families as they float in the air around your head.

Now I can add a mental image of ReadersGuide when I think about her, but meeting her didn't change my picture of her otherwise. Especially for those of us who love language, it can be "better than reality" because you don't have to bother with airline tickets and driving down deer-strewn highways on windy nights and children who get sick when someone is visiting (as Walker did last night). Eating pizza and drinking wine with someone in real life beats the heck out of doing it virtually. But I enjoy all of you imaginary readers who float in the air around my head and into the comments here!


kittiesx3 said...

I have a couple of dear friends I met in the virtual world of Everquest 10 years ago. And then in 2003, my husband and I stayed in the home of one of them as we traveled to Lake Louise, Canada for our honeymoon. A few weeks later, we went to the wedding of the other one. To your point, I didn't need to catch up plus the face to face meeting didn't feel like a first time meeting at all. Well it wasn't :-)

Anonymous said...

I've met several of my imaginary friends and all of those meetings were very much as you described here...I like the idea swirling elsewhere of a sort of Imaginary Friend meetup.

Florinda said...

Was this your first time meeting an "imaginary" friend? I've met quite a few of them now - sometimes in small groups, sometimes in larger ones, but not yet one-on-one - and you've described exactly what it's like. It can be great meeting people you know from the internet :-).

Jeanne said...

Elizabeth and Lass, it's evidently an increasingly common experience to meet up in real life!
Florinda, This was my first time. I actually knocked on her hotel room door and announced "internet predator" and then she trustingly got in my car and I drove her to my house. Where I meant to be nice to her but unknowingly exposed her to H1N1 (that's what Walker was coming down with).

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I would need the whole series of bathtub families, too. (Hope you're feeling okay.)

Jeanne said...

Readersguide, I had the opportunity to look around the pharmacy while I waited for Walker's prescription on Friday, but didn't see anything like bathtub families. Honestly, I think this is because moms see stuff like that all the time. Because we're at the pharmacy all the time.

Luckily my pharmacy has Tamiflu and my doctor called it in without dragging me in to her office.

But it's going to take several more days for me to get to feeling okay.

Care said...