When I was small, I had an imaginary playmate. His name was Bill. Bill accompanied me everywhere I went. If I forgot Bill in someone else’s house, I made arrangements for his safety (since I instructed once that he be kept in a dresser drawer, I’m not so sure about his comfort, but he was imaginary after all). If Bill was in someone else’s house, I didn’t play with him until we revisited and I reclaimed my playmate.

I was somewhere around three and a half years old when Bill left me. I remember clearly sitting on the front porch watching him walk up the narrow road. When he reached the state route, he turned right and without so much as a wave, disappeared from sight. I’ve not seen him since, which is probably the standard for imaginary playmates and three and a half year old people.

Interestingly enough, my baby brother was born only a few weeks after Bill left me. He was a tiny thing with a button nose and a bow of a mouth. I don’t remember his coming home. I do remember my mother waving at me from her hospital window since at the time children were not allowed inside hospitals. We carried bad diseases nobody wanted, it was believed. My first memory of him was watching my mother and step-father walk the floors with the little guy in the middle of the night while he screamed as if someone had a knife in his kidneys.

He grew out of the colic, finally, and continued to grow until he was a cherub whose presence delighted all the adults in my life. I suffered the usual twinges of jealousy. I had been until his birth not only the only child in the family, but because WWII was in progress when I was born, I was pretty much the only child in Nashville. I was sought after, petted, loved and treated like a small queen.

But even though he took my place in the sun, so to speak, this child was mine. I wasn’t suffering from identity confusion. I was neither his mother nor his father, but sitting in the center of my heart like a beautiful rainbow was the perfect belief that he’d been sent to me. His parents were handy to do change his diapers and feed him, but he was mine.

His name was William Russell Wittenmeier, Jr. They called him Bill.

(He’s the guy in the striped red shirt and hat in the picture above. The lady with him is the love of his life, Bettye.)

We grew together. He was always behind me by 3.5 years, but he didn’t walk in my shadow. I don’t think he knew I had a shadow. Although he remained mine in my mind and heart, he was his own kid, had his own interests, had his own way of doing things. He called the wheel-barrow the barwheewul, a name I still use today. I shivered and shook beneath the usual childhood diseases. He sat at the table shoveling in spaghetti while chicken pox erupted on his body.

I was emotional. He was rock steady and soon became the person I could share my thoughts with. We lay side-by-side on the warm summer grass, watched the stars and plotted futures that sometimes included interstellar travel.

I married, had children, listened to him spin an incredible story about Goldie Locks who was bopping through the woods one day in her Jag XKE when a valve spring broke and she was left alone. My babies were mesmerized.

He died in 2007, a freaky thing the result of a post op blood clot. Yesterday was his birthday. He was a wonderful son and brother, husband and father to his three children. He is mourned and missed by all who loved him.

When he died, so did the rainbow in my heart.