The Imaginary Boyfriend

I love my new neighbor, silently, from afar. Not that far, actually, just across the driveway we share. We've only spoken once or twice since the night I noticed Someone Cute moving in. While walking my twin Wiener Dogs—one fat, one thin—I approached his open window to offer him use of my parking permit, only to discover him in the company of Some Fabulous Redhead stretched across his bed among the moving boxes. Though I haven't seen her hanging around since, it was enough to send me running home without even introducing myself.

A few weeks later, he warned me he'd discovered a junkie jerking off in the yard, though he is far too elegant to use that particular phrase. "You know, doing himself," he mouthed, discretely miming the gesture.

"Next time go get that guy," I advised, pointing to another neighbor's house. "He has a gun."

"I have a gun," replied my New Imaginary Boyfriend, with whom I fell in love at that very moment. I pictured him practicing on the range with the seering focus of an outlaw; wearing it slung around his hip, or in a harness under his jacket like Dirty Harry. Something very Hollywood about a guy with a gun. I wondered if he were a cop or a Private Dick, though I didn't dare ask. I still hadn't caught his name, after all, and was starting to like the mystery between us.

Our relationship only blossomed under the mute gaze we began to exchange, piecing together the details of one another's lives. I sleep late, work odd hours and don't get out much. He rises early, works late, and drives a very sensible car, A Dad Car is how I'd describe it, with four doors and a solid, boxy shape to it. Its driver side door sounds remarkably heavy when he gets in to go to work, shutting it behind him, fastening his seatbelt and checking his rearview mirror. When he comes home late at night, he turns off his headlights so as not to disturb the rest of us sharing the drive. My boyfriend is very considerate. Nurturing, too. He has a Mixed-Breed Lab Named Mitzi. A simple, unpretentious dog with a little age on her, the kind you rescue at the pound, or adopt from an old beer buddy who's leaving town to deal with a coke problem.

My man knew when I'd gone away and patiently awaited my safe return. I sensed this, you see, when he asked me for my dog sitter's number, having seen the neighbor kid and his mom walking The Wieners during my Down Home Christmas In Umatilla. We were finally reunited in the parking lot, separated only by the oil stain fanning out beneath my 12-year-old Toyota Paseo, where I shared that I'd be happy to watch Mitzi myself. As long as it wasn't for more than a couple of days, I added, so as not to sound desperate or cloying. I'm convinced he hasn't taken me up on my offer because he, too, enjoys the distance between us.

Either that or there's someone else. I've seen him with the occasional Petite Brunette and questioned if I was woman enough to satisfy a guy like him completely now that the initial spark was gone. I glumly wondered if I was ever his type to begin with, since petite is the last word I'd used to describe myself, though I do have unusually small feet and I would hope that still counts for something between us. Then I remember our early days. How he ditched his redhead for me, how he told me about his gun, and turned off his headlights so as not to wake me in the night. How he suffered through the holidays alone, dutifully watching over My Wieners as they sneered at Mitzi and crapped on his lawn.

Yes, love endures, if only you let it, growing ever stronger over the passage of time.

As long as the couple never formally meets, that is. Call me a cynic, but that's where it all goes south—happens every time. I mean, best case scenario, somebody dies. Why put yourself through that whole mess in between?

I wonder how it is I began to settle for This Imaginary Life, then realize it all comes down to one more thing they never tell you in film school. You'll inevitably come to a place where you're not so sure you can survive another professional rejection, so you don't volunteer for one in your free time. You're putting your heart out there every day, only to have another slice eaten for lunch with a nice mesclun salad, hold the dressing. That's okay, most of the time, because you signed up for all this, after all. That plus all your Big Deal Screenwriter Friends keep looking up from their Million Dollar Deals long enough to advise you to learn to Love The Process.

It'd sure take an awful lot for me to let a Real Guy craft our scenes and write his own dialogue, let alone offer Story And Structure Notes. It would have to be an unusually uplifting day for me to throw open that door. Maybe if I had a good piece of news to share—something, anything. If I landed a decent job, or sold a script—or beat every last odd they don't tell you about in film school to finally see my work come alive on the screen.

"Would you like to see a movie tonight?" I'd breathlessly ask my neighbor, racing across the lawn between us, pausing only to pull on a new pair of pumps. "By the way, I'm Julie."