Monday, October 5, 2009

The Wendy-bird

When I was in the third grade, my best friend was a witch.

Of course she kept a low profile, because if we’d learned anything from Samantha Stevens, it was that you didn’t reveal your special abilities to just anyone. Otherwise, before you knew it, you’d have the likes of Mrs. Kravitz or your mother-in-law peering into your windows and complaining of their sick headaches even more than they already did.

So Wendy and I limited our practice of the dark arts to her back yard and the top bunk in her room.

I was a witch, too. Oh, yes. Very powerful. Could wiggle my nose – or rather kind of purse my lips and twitch them back and forth – like no nine year-old you’d ever met. I’d sit in the car with my parents, waiting for the light to change, and when I decided it wasn’t happening fast enough, I’d wiggle or twitch or whatever and BINGO! Green light. Just like that.

But while I was an amateur, Wendy was a pro. I could move traffic along, but Wendy could transport us clear out of this world. We’d be sitting on her bed, and suddenly she would flail her arms and whip out an incantation (they never rhymed like Samantha’s spells, but I didn’t hold that against her) and the next thing I knew Wendy would announce that we were at the Witches’ Ball or someplace equally exotic.

“Look at the beautiful gowns!” Wendy would exclaim. “And all the colors! Did you know they made clouds like that?”

Naturally, I would share her enthusiasm, taking my cues from her, and declare with the same amazement that no, I had no idea clouds could be made of anything other than kind of chubby air, or that you could dance without your feet touching the ground so long as your partner was a warlock.

These warlocks, it should be noted, were cut from the ‘harmless homosexual’ cloth of an Uncle Arthur or a Doctor Bombay. They dressed impeccably, loved to dance, and always counted on us, the smarter, more magically talented witches, to bail them out when things got muddled.

Occasionally Wendy took it a little too far for comfort, like the time she tried to fly off the back stairs. I waited in her yard and watched nervously as she stood on the landing overlooking the sand box, decided that what she needed was more altitude, and climbed up on the railing.

“No way she’s going through with it,” I thought, “She has to know she’ll get hurt.”

But no, she showed every intention of leaping off that banister, and I was on the brink of shouting, “STOP!” when her sister poked her head out the window, calling her an idiot and threatening to tell their dad if she jumped.

Sometimes she really worried me, like when she insisted we both sample the potion to see if it needed more martinis. Neither of us knew what a martini was, but every time Darrin got worked up, Samantha would fix one for him and it seemed to do the trick. Like magic.

Wendy would hand me the “goblet” and ask for my opinion. When I hedged, assuring her that it certainly smelled all right and as such didn’t need actual tasting, she would snatch it back and chug the whole thing herself.

It was as though she honestly didn’t know it was a Dixie cup filled with cold cream and Tabasco sauce.

Hmmm…” she would murmur, smacking her lips professionally, “needs more bat wings.” And she’d dump in a spoonful of potting soil.

“Now try it.”

Wendy loved being a witch! Sometimes we’d play for hours, and I could tell that Wendy never, not once, saw things as they really were. Her eyes were always fixed on a place just above my head, and I knew those clouds and warlocks and ball gowns were all just a little more real to her than they were to me.

After a few months of this, I began to get bored with the game. I loved Bewitched as much as the next kid, but try as I might, I couldn’t fully convince myself that it was on the up and up. While Wendy treated the show as though it was a documentary or a correspondence course, I battled the niggling, growing awareness that I could see the wires.

I noticed that the smoke didn’t line up with where Dr. Bombay materialized. I was annoyed that objects wobbled when they were teleported across the room. It was obvious Cousin Serena was the same lady as Samantha, even though the credits called her “Pandora Spocks”.

And why couldn’t Mrs. Kravitz and Mrs. Stevens and all the other mortals know that Samantha was a witch? Where was the harm in letting them in on the excitement? I always felt a little sorry for them, and even began to fear that if Samantha didn’t come clean soon, those women were headed for the loony bin.

However, of all the elements in the story that bugged me, the one I found most irritating was Darrin’s attitude about Samantha’s gifts.

No matter how I looked at it, I couldn’t make sense of his obvious contempt for the one thing that made his wife unique. Heck, if I was married to someone filled with all that magic, I’d tell Larry Tate where he could stick his story boards and hop the first broom outta Dodge.

But instead, Darrin stormed and fussed and insisted his wife drudge around the house, finding fulfillment in scrubbing a toilet “like a normal housewife” when she could have magicked the whole place into the Taj Mahal if she’d wanted. Who does that?

And who puts up with such nonsense? Even in 1973, when television was haunted by the specters of June Cleaver and Aunt Bea, I still figured out that Samantha was being seriously shafted. The sanest person in the family, it turned out, was Samantha’s mother. At least Endora saw through all the insecurity and posturing that fueled Darrin’s tantrums, and called it like it was.

She may have meddled too much in her daughter’s affairs, occasionally creating more problems than she solved, but she defined her own terms and didn’t take crap from anyone. My kinda gal.

Still, I couldn’t ignore the fact that it was her voice coming out of the goose’s mouth in “Charlotte’s Web”, the movie they showed in the school cafeteria whenever it rained.

She wasn’t a witch at all. She was just an actress. A faker. I bet she didn’t even wear all that groovy purple eye shadow in real life. How disappointing.

I don’t know when I became so literal, so dis-enchanted. It didn’t help that my Primary teacher outed Santa when I was eight. Evidently, magic was going to have to put up a fight if it wanted a place in my imagination.

I have a heckuva time suspending my disbelief. I nearly go blind rolling my eyes during the Harry Potter movies. I was determined to keep an open mind when I was guilted into watching Twilight, but if I hadn’t finally erupted with a howl of “oh, puh-LEEZE” I’m pretty sure my larynx would have escaped through my ear hole and done it for me.

I’m not willing simply to take whatever magic I can get. It’s all or nothing, baby. A plot has to be seamless in its fantasy vs. reality transitions, or I’ll be snorting with derision ten minutes in. Not my husband’s favorite way to celebrate having spent a hundred bucks on a family trip to the Cineplex.

Just before the start of fifth grade, Wendy’s family moved away. It was probably a good thing they did, because by that time I had decided Wendy was completely off her rocker. It seemed like the older we got, the deeper she went into that bizarre world of hers until her behavior made me uncomfortable, and I found I was embarrassed when my other friends saw me with her.

However, I did go across town once to visit, not too long after they moved, and I was surprised to learn her dad hadn’t come with them. She didn’t go into much detail – I half suspect she didn’t understand the whole story herself – but she hinted that things were “quieter” now that he lived somewhere else. He was a big man, huge, actually, and ornery, and I always knew that everyone in Wendy’s family was terrified of him.

We played dominoes for a while, listened to my Bay City Rollers record, talked about her new school and all of her new friends, even though she couldn’t remember their names at the moment. Witchcraft didn’t come up, and I realized that without it we no longer had anything in common.

After that one visit, I never went back, and as was too often the case in the days before Facebook, we lost touch.

I haven’t thought about Wendy in years. I’d like to believe she grew up normal, maybe even happy. Found a good guy to spend her life with. Raised a family that loved and appreciated her. Discovered and developed some real talents, real gifts that brought her real satisfaction.

And I hope that over time she felt less need to escape to a place where she could only pretend she was in control.

Looking back, I now understand that if anyone deserved a little magic in her life, it was Wendy.

And despite my cynical leanings, my tendency to scoff and sneer and insist that folks just buck up and face reality, there is a part of me still waiting at the bottom of the stairs, hoping Wendy has learned to fly.


KC Mom said...

You really took me back on this one. I think I had similar friendships with girls who really believed in "magic". Because of innocence on part it took years for me to realize make believe was a good thing. And knowing what I know now, it probably saved some girls' lives. It was escape for them. When I watched my girls grow up, it always made me smile to see them play make believe...and try to believe it. Thanks for sharing...

TheQueen@TerrorsInTiaras said...

Love it. Very well written and thought provoking. I, similarly, had a friend that was Jeannie (I Dream of Jeannie) and when I moved (in the 7th grade) I finally clued in on the fact that she was escaping for a reason. We're still friends, and I think she wishes she could still get away with playing Jeannie sometimes. Sad.

aunt dyanne said...

Wow DeNae. I so loved this post. First because of the whole Bewitched topic.. Loved that show - and was told countless times that when the same age - I was a dead ringer for "Tabitha" (too bad not as an adult...)

The twist at the end of your post brought a tear to my eye - as I read it aloud to my spousal component...moving, real and touching. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.
I am a believer in imagination...and the escape it creates. Like you - as I've grown out of the "magic" of make beleive/escape... as an adult, hindsight creates awareness. It's not such a bad thing to have "a happy place" to go to. In fact - sometimes... it is life saving. {{{{ <3 }}}}

Lara said...

I love how, as I get older, I start to see what was really happening around me as a child. I don't know if that makes me less likely to believe in the magical, but it sure helps me be more understanding and empathetic of people.

And, your primary teacher outed Santa when you were 8? What is UP with that?

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

As a child, I had a really hard time distinguishing my dreams from reality. If I could fly when I was asleep, I was SURE it was my little secret during the day.

And I would love to go watch a movie with you DeNae; I think the two of us could warrant enough eye-rolling and extremely witty critiques to get our own TV show.

The Garden of Egan said...

Are you telling me Samantha wasn't really a witch????

Kristina P. said...

Loved this. I hope that she just had a great imagination, and didn't have to escape to a happy place because of inappropriate things at home. It's not uncommon for that to happen with kids.

My friends and I talk about how I lack whimsy, i.e. hate anything fanciful. I'm also unAmerican because I don't like parades. Kill me now.

Melanie J said...

Wow, DeNae.

I guess in hindsight, my most fanciful imaginings dried up when my dad finally got better when I was a little kid.

I wish we could have it both ways.

wonder woman said...

It's funny -- I can watch a movie like "King Arthur" and totally "believe" in Arthur and Camelot and Merlin, but when Kiera Knightly runs into a snow-covered battlefield clad only in strips of leather, I say, "No way would that happen!"

It's all gotta be seamless for me, too.

AS Amber said...

I loved this post. Loved it so much! It's like the beginnings of a great novel. Finish it! This would make such a great book!

Maybe your version of "magic" is right here in Blog Land. I know I've said this before, but you're an amazing writer, sister. Really.

Love you so much!

charrette said...

Such a great essay! I too grew up wishing I were Samantha Stevens or I Dream of Jeannie. But, like you, it was fanciful and fun...and I always knew where the line was. We were fortunate not to desperately NEED that escape the way some girls do....

Oh, and (as you know) I AM married to a guy with that kind of magic, REAL magic...but it doesn't do any good to tell Mr. Tate where to put those storyboards! Some people will NEVER recognize real magic, even when it's staring them in the face.

Jami said...

Darren was a dip, wasn't he? Sam may have been the most patient TV-land housewife of them all.

I hope things turned out well for your Wendy-bird. Magic is a beautiful thing if we just squint hard enough--blurs out what we can't bear to see as well.

L.T. Elliot said...

This is a beautiful post. I hope Wendy found her wings too.

Homer and Queen said...

Wait...what do you mean Samantha wasn't a real witch!?? Way to ruin it for me!!!

M-Cat said...

Great writing as usual. Loved the post, and I kept waiting for some major thing about Wendy, only to find that she had a childhood similar to most of us. And when painful things happen, we find ways to "escape"

On a side note? My sister is a practicing witch. Wiccan is the correct term I believe. Very interesting religion.......

Tricia said...

Great post. And, yes, sometimes imagination is much better than reality.

That Girl said...

I liked your rant.

I'm very forgiving of the fantasy world (wonder what that says about me?), but I like your point of view. I must think about this.

Lynne's Somewhat Invented Life said...

What a lovely post. You really have a gift, girl. I hope you are writing a book. You ought to come to the Writer's for Young Reader's symposium next year. Do you have any desire to write a YA novel? Do you belong to the Utah Children's Writer's Yahoo group. You are a natural.

Kazzy said...

Man, Darrin was a whiner.

Qait said...

Yeah... Sometimes I wish I were magic. I could do some pretty awesome stuff. ;)
But I have always been literal enough that I never believed in Santa (never!). I even tried to one year because I thought it sounded kind of fun!
I believe some amount of "escape" is wholly appropriate. I definitely have moments I want to slink away from Mom-Duties and pretend those responsibilities don't exist.
But it's still sad to me that some people delve into escape so much that they can't really resurface. That's a sorrowful thought.
I, too, hope Wendy is happy.

InkMom said...

Me? I WAS WonderWoman -- younger siblings corralled in magic lasso, bullet-proof wristbands and all. I sooo wanted to make them tell the truth. I think this says something about me, too.

You know, I kept this post in my reader for two days before commenting because I just couldn't stop thinking about Wendy.

Excellent post, my friend. Really, truly, exceptional writing.

Becca said...

Beautiful. I want to be one who helps the dreamers figure out how to fly (even if I'm not much of a dreamer myself).

wendy said...

Well me too --- I hope she learned to fly.
I want to fly too

Hel said...

I think I may have stopped believing everything when my brother fed me mud under the guise of "chocolate milk". We had a whole chocolate milk factory and everything.

It took me all week to comment on your post just because I wanted to mull over it. I think in our family we are just a more practical people, so imagination only took us so far.

I really appreciate this post, DeNae. You are not only an amazing writer you are also thought provoking. love it. xx

R Max said...

I did similar stuff with my best friend (minus the almost committing hari kari off the roof) and I still enjoy watching Samantha although Endora was the real star.

I wish I could write like you!

Hilary said...

Just a reminder that you can't judge a book by its cover, but that you need to protect people if they're gonna jump off railings.
Love your blog, btw.

The Crash Test Dummy said...

That was be-U-tiful. I hope all that same reality for wendy, but I also hope she hasn't totally given up the magic. Magic is what Gad gave us so we could swallow the reality.

I LUBBED Bewitched too! You're so right about Darren. I always wanted to Kung FU Panda kick him right where it counts. High Five.

Greeeeat post! I can see you writing a children's book.

not wendy said...

I don't know if you'll see this, or read this, or if you're still writing this blog at all, but I have to say, this essay affected me so deeply, you'll never even know.