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.