It started when I was a newborn.
I was sick when I was born, sick enough that they had to keep me for almost six months in the ICU. There were a number of things wrong with me; heart problems, lung problems, mucus problems. My parents thought I was going to die before I'd even reached the age of one. And I did.
One night everything went wrong. One night I stopped breathing right. One night I was physically dead for almost a minute. And that one minute changed the rest of my entire life.
A few weeks after the incident I was home, with my parents. Everything went fine throughout the rest of my toddlerhood, or so I'm told because I don't have the clearest memory of it. But the earliest days I can remember all involve a friend named Daniel.
I grew up in a constant state of hell. My parents were always fighting with me caught dead centre in the middle. When I was ten they divorced and I finally got some order into my life living with just my dad while my mother resided in Cali without me. Throughout the hardest times, the times when I would lock myself in my closet, hands over my ears while I cried, Daniel was always there. The times when I would walk home as slowly as possible, delaying the moment I opened the door, he was there with me, chatting away happily and making me laugh. And when I'd walk through the back streets after piano lessons, he would warn me if the bullies I'd tried so hard to avoid were ahead. He would direct me where to go to get away from them.
Daniel was older than I was when I was younger. But I as I grew he didn't age. It didn't faze me in the least; in fact, I hardly noticed that his body never changed from the same teenage boy's it had always been. His brown hair stayed the same length, his tanned skin never changed colour. The only thing that did change in his appearance was his eyes. Over the years they grew to a fathomless depth into which I was almost afraid to look.
But over the years people became suspicious of our relationship. When I'd passed the age of 8, my mother came into my room one night and gave me a long talk about how I was supposed to "let go" of imaginary friends and she plainly stated that Daniel wasn't real. I cried for weeks afterwards, asking him over and over why he would lie to me. But he never differed in his answer and he never faltered in his love for me.
"I am real," he'd always insist, his eyes holding the shadows of tears. "I'm not imaginary."
By the time I was 8, I'd learned to keep my adventures with Daniel to myself.
We were constantly around each other. We would play pranks on my neighbours and hide under the deck. We would chase frogs around the pond together, trying to grasp them in our fingertips but failing miserably. We would talk late into the night about the adventures we would have later in life together. There isn't a moment of my childhood that I recall being without him. The only time we were isolated was when I slept, and often I even dreamt of him.
But as I grew up, I realized more and more how strange I was from the other kids in my school. Why didn't they have imaginary friends? Each time thoughts like this came to me, I would shrug them off at the sight of my best friend Daniel standing beside me. As I grew, however, I couldn't shrug off the questions and they became rephrased into: "Why do I have an imaginary friend?"
No longer did I think that the adults and other kids were wrong, now I started to question my own sanity. It wasn't until I took a course in psychology that I diagnosed myself.
I was a schizophrenic.
It confused me beyond belief that I could be one, but it was the only thing that fit under my description, according to my minimal amount of knowledge. I fit only one of the symptoms: severe hallucinations. I wasn't paranoid. I wasn't delusional. I didn't find myself becoming more and more disorganized. I could still speak with perfect ease. I wanted to talk to my dad about it but between the new job, the new girlfriend, and the new golf set, he didn't seem to have much time for me anymore.
I said nothing to Daniel. I was terrified that he'd be angry with me, and although I was in a state of constant questioning, I still loved him with all my heart. I couldn't tell him why he was there. I was actually afraid of him disappearing and never coming back. What if I told someone and Daniel went away forever? Did I really want that?
Instead, I acted as I normally did. Talking my many problems over with him, such as getting picked on by almost everyone in my grade. I was a quiet kid. I wore black more often than I probably should have. My eyes were always coated in eyeliner. It made for an easy target. Daniel was the only one to accept me for who I was. How could I betray him by talking to someone about it?