“Can you imagine Simon as a kid? His imaginary friends probably never wanted to play with him“
– Paula Abdul
When I was a kid, I had a best friend named Jenna. Now, Jenna was a lot of things- it’s just that “real” didn’t happen to be one of them. Yep, girlfriend was about as imaginary as Brooke Mueller’s sobriety, but that didn’t stop me from loving the hell out of her anyway.
Growing up, we lived on the outskirts of town, and there weren’t a lot of other kids around to play with. Sure I had 4 older siblings, but they were way more into practicing the choreography to Kriss Kross and making out with their NKOTB posters than playing barbies with me. So I was sort of left to my own devices. Enter, Jenna.
Jenna was a slightly older, slightly cooler version of myself. She was 6, while I was 5, and had long, luxurious hair, rather than the stringy-ass front mullet I sported from grades 1 through 5. Her eye for fashion was enviable, and included such pieces as blossom Hats, slouchy socks, and overalls with one strap down. (I tried to copy this one. It usually resulted in said strap being dipped in the toilet).
By far the coolest thing about Jenna though, was that she was American.
As I child, I was obsessed with American culture. I blame this on the fact that we Canadian children of the early 90’s were inundated with American television. Almost every show on TV was set in a Santa-Monica high school or a midwestern suburb. Rather than feeling alienated though, I longed to be an American. I saw Americans as worthy of the biggest brass ring I knew: being on tv. I absorbed everything about the United States like it was my job- studied maps, learned the names of all 50 states, and begged my parents every year to take me there.
Jenna was effortlessly cool in a way that only Americans could be. She used terms like “freeway” instead of highway, and “soda” instead of pop. She went to “kindergarten and first grade” instead of “grade primary” and “grade one”, and had all of the coolest toys that you couldn’t get yet in Canada… She could enter contests that were only open to the residents of the 50 territorial states, shopped at JC Penney and Macy’s and (get this) had Thanksgiving in NOVEMBER.
I can’t quite remember when it started, but at some point, I made the attempt to cross Jenna over from the fictional to the real world, and started name-dropping her like she was a real person:
“Oh, you have Teen Talk Barbie?? Well, I have a friend who has SUPER Talk Barbie. She says 100,000 things (ed note: all of which equally a feminist’s nightmare). You can only get her in the states”
“Did you know they call Chicago the windy city? Yep.. Jenna lives there. She told me that”.
Jenna had taken on a whole new life of her own. It was like that quote from the Velveteen rabbit- where the rabbit asks the skin horse what it means to be “Real”, and the Skin Horse says:
“When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real”.
Well, if by “love” the skin horse meant “projects her delusions upon“, then that sounds about right. I used my many layers of crazy to transform Jenna into a walking, talking (and, arguably somewhat pretentious) real child. Eventually, however, my story began to wear thin. How did I know Jenna? And when was she coming to visit?? And wait- she lives in California?? I thought she lived in Illinois??
I still remember the day when, after barraging me with a number of questions, a particularly horrendous girl said, in front of all of my classmates:
“There’s no such person as Jenna. That’s just her imaginary friend!!”
Blinded by hot tears, I ran from the playground. The jig was up. It was time for Jenna to retire.
For a while, I found other ways to ween myself off American culture… I had a penpal from Pennsylvania for a while, but I think I overwhelmed her with my constant questions and multiple small tokens of affection, and one day the letters just stopped coming. I made my parents take me Christmas shopping in Maine every year, and stocked up on Baby Ruth bars and clothing from The Limited Too. I even tried a few American regional accents on for size. But it was no use. At the end of the day, I was still as Canadian as a maple leaf made out of beavertails, snowshoes, and coloured money.
Eventually I learned to embrace my Canadian culture. Around 1999, the Canadian government would wisen to the fact that it’s country’s children were being brainwashed and Americanized through television,and pass a Policy mandating specific levels of Canadian programming on tv. Then, when I was a teenager, Molson Canadian put out those “I am Canadian” ads, increasing patriotism and Canadian flag tattoos 10 fold nationwide (also potentially underage drinking. Not that I would know anything about that).
But despite all of this, to this day I think that Jenna lives on inside me. She’s there everytime I cross the border, and get a little surge of excitement from packages labelled in ounces rather than litres…. she consoles me when I realize that, despite all the progress we as Canadians have made- I STILL can’t audition for cycle 16 of ANTM due to my nationality…. and she gives me a silent little high-five and an approving nod whenever I proceed to the checkout at an American outlet mall and pay the shockingly low suggested retail prices. I imagine she’s saying in her head “well done breezyk……. well done”.