Christine Schoenwald

Christine Schoenwald
Location
Glendale, California, United States
Birthday
September 29

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Salon.com
OCTOBER 25, 2011 4:17AM

My Imaginary Arch Rival

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Lots of kids have imaginary friends but I had something much more devastating. I had an imaginary arch rival. Her name was Prunella Smith and she was perfect. Everything about Prunella far exceeded expectations. She got good grades, excelled at sports and even won a junior beauty pageant or two. Impossibly, she never did anything wrong and didn’t even know how to fail. Oh how I loathed her.

Usually with imaginary friends or imaginary enemies for that matter, it’s the child who is the creator. Imaginary friends can be a beneficial coping device. But in my case, it was my father who made-up Prunella and she wasn’t helping me at all.

Clearly, if I had created this frenemy I would have come up with a much better name like Savannah Baudelaire -Longhouse or Harpsichord Jones. She would have been sophisticated and cool like Emma Peel, not an ordinary schoolgirl. If I was going to have an arch enemy, I wanted them to be a bad-ass.

I don’t know what my father’s motivation for creating Prunella was or for telling me stories about her. Perhaps he wanted to illustrate what an ideal child was like or maybe it was Brady Bunch style reverse psychology. Was he thinking that if I got irritated enough by hearing about Prunella that perhaps my competitive nature would take over and I would out achieve her? It unfortunately didn’t work that way. I usually just ended up feeling defeated before I even began. Why bother doing anything, when Prunella would always do it better, and with seemingly less effort? I couldn’t compete with Miss Perfect.

Since neither of my parents drove, we spent a lot of time walking. The time passed quickly as my father was a wonderful storyteller. Oddly my father rarely told tales about his own life. The only one I can recall was when at the age of 9, he became very ill with some kind of kidney ailment and was bedridden for almost a year. Not only wasn’t he allowed to move, he had  to stay on a very bland diet. When he finally got well he gorged himself on pickled herring- yes an odd choice of a pig-out item but he was Austrian after all. Pickled herring was probably the equivalent of Buffalo wings back then.

I was about eight when my father started telling me the Prunella stories. Prunella was a fictitious child about my age whose family closely resembled mine. At first, I loved the “alternative universe” aspect to these tales. Her family was like mine only not. While my brother was called “Fritz,” Prunella’s brother was called “Ritz.” Isn’t that funny? She had a somewhat eccentric  mother too but hers was much nicer. What were the chances? Her Dad worked for Kole Pineapple, not Dole Pineapple and her Dad drove. What would it be like to be part of the Smith family, I wondered? Another of the differences between my family and Prunella’s family was that they were Mormon. I guess my Dad thought that gave them color, made them seem more real and made it understandable that Prunella would be such an obedient child. Could Prunella be related to Joseph Smith and that’s why she was so driven to succeed?

In every way that Prunella was flawless- I was flawed. When Prunella’s parents went to her teacher conferences, her teachers fell over themselves praising her. She never got called out for talking in class and she certainly never wet her pants in first grade and had to go stand in front of the radiator in the nurse’s office to dry out. Prunella probably never even had to pee at all.

At first I had enjoyed hearing about Prunella but then I began to despise her. She was so freakin perfect, she never did anything wrong and was so sanctimonious about it. I could tell her attitude was one of “hey I can’t help it if I’m sublime.” Prunella made me want to be bad. If my Dad was using these stories as a teaching tool, it was backfiring. Prunella wasn’t a friend I wanted to emulate; she was an arch rival that I wanted to destroy.

I hated Prunella but had no way to obliterate her without hurting my father’s feelings. How do you put a hit out on an imaginary enemy? Perhaps I could get my fallen guardian angel to intimidate Prunella? He could stop her from popping up from time to time, and get her and her stupid family to move out of my father’s head.

The stories continued for years. Every now and then I’d hear how Prunella got a scholarship to Brigham Young University, how she had won awards in communications and track. Prunella kept raising the bar to impossible heights. I get it Dad, I’m a disappointment. I still can’t type, I still eat too quickly and I still haven’t won a Pulitzer.

I’m sure if my father was still alive, I’d be getting Prunella updates at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Unfortunately he isn’t around anymore, so that leaves me to continue the oral tradition of the life Prunella. Sadly for her, things haven’t gone as well as expected.

While in college, Prunella suffered a bad break-up. Her boyfriend Lars dumped her for a Ukrainian slug dancer. After she lost an eye in a bar fight, Prunella turned to crystal meth to help dull the pain. You’d think being a drug addict, she’d be able to stay slim but she now weighs close to 400 pounds and can only wear dresses made from terry cloth bath sheets. Luckily she can wear what she wants at her job at Percy’s Pest Control.

I hope one day Prunella can turn her life around. I would be happy to help her. I imagine that is what friends and former arch-rivals are for.

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Comments

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I laughed, I cried. I love how Prunella turned out. And it made me miss your dad, too.
Prunella, it's about time you learned about Karma.

Christine, if I could have taken you aside as a young girl, I would have let you know you were meant to be you and that your life would turn out wonderfully. "Flaws" are really character traits. They are what make us uniquely ourselves.
think about what you post
Sad and funny and well crafted.