Susan Ballaster was much like a high-performance vessel. She never grew tired, and instead, thrived on a disciplined time management formula which enabled her to efficiently carry her daily load. But that was before the line attached to the anchor which held everything in place—snapped.
It happened on a day in summer which began in a manner strikingly similar to many other days in summer. Susan was busy in her home office tending to her time-consuming, yet flourishing online business. On this particular morning she had written a promotional newsletter, prepared for the day’s scheduled conference calls, and submitted five articles as a guest blogger. All of this had occurred before the beeping of her electronic calendar at precisely 8:00 a.m., which indicated it was time for breakfast.
In the kitchen, the Ballaster family gathered around the dining table for high-quality togetherness. Susan took a moment to quietly pat her own back for never failing to reserve enough energy to provide for both her loving husband and her exceptionally independent daughter.
“Work is crazy,” said Chris the husband and father figure, who couldn’t stay long. “I won’t bore you with all the details, but I really need to get in to the office.” He scooped some bacon and eggs onto a piece of buttered toast creating a sort of taco, and he left.
“I met a pretend friend yesterday,” declared seven year old Allison.
“Really,” said Susan, delighted. She’d read an article on a website by a Dr. McCharlatan, who was convinced that the invention of an imaginary friend was a sign of creative genius. It exhibited the child’s advanced ability to adapt to the world and should always be encouraged—and never questioned.
“My new pretend friend said we should meet again today, to play,” said Allison.
“Fantastic,” replied Susan.
Then Allison unloaded an excess of details regarding the happenings from Allison’s Fantasy World, while Susan unloaded and then re-loaded the dishwasher. When the forty-five minutes allotted for breakfast had expired, Susan went back to work.
At 2:00 p.m. Chris called from his cell phone, “Uh honey, things are you know, really crazy here at work. I’m sure you don’t want to hear the details. You’ll be able to manage without me tonight, won’t you?”
“No problem honey,” said Susan, who enjoyed being flexible and supportive.
As the day unfolded, Susan listened to the sounds of her daughter’s imaginary world—something to do with baby dolls and teddy bears—and it was a pleasant backdrop against an intensive work load.
At 4:00 p.m. Allison stepped into the office, “Mom,” she said, “it’s time for me to meet my new pretend friend. We’re going to play out front. Okay?”
“Sure honey,” said Susan. “Have fun.”
At 4:15 p.m. the electronic calendar beeped again, indicating it was time for a daily dose of vitamins. Susan decided to splurge and take an extra five minutes to check on Allison and her imaginary friend. But when the hard-working mother stepped outside, her daughter was not there.
Susan ran to the curb and peered up the street. Turning the corner was a girl who looked a lot like Allison holding the hand of an unknown man.
Susan grabbed her chest to keep her heart from falling out. “Allison!” she roared, and she ran, and she continued running and shouting—getting faster and louder with each passing second.
The stranger fled.
Susan reached her daughter and gathered her up, and then struggled to catch her own breath.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” asked Allison. “Mom, you’re squeezing me too tight.”
During interviews with the police, Susan collapsed into a chair, and for awhile she was unable to speak.
I missed the target, she thought, while she buried her face into the palms of her hands and rocked herself in a gentle back-and-forth motion. I always listened—always! But I never heard what my daughter was saying. Why was Allison drawn to this man, this stranger who told her to call him her ‘pretend friend.’? How could my daughter’s loneliness have gone unnoticed, despite her audible clues?
Susan had no idea what time it was when she called her husband, but he did not answer his cell phone. She sent him a text message, which went unanswered.
Impatient for a response, Susan called Chris’ office number.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Ballaster,” replied the secretary. “Mr. Ballaster left the office at noon today since work has been, you know, so slow lately.”
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