late 14c., "art of influencing events and producing marvels using hidden natural forces,"from Old French magique "magic, magical," from Late Latin magice "sorcery, magic," from Greek magike(presumably with tekhne "art"), fem. of magikos "magical," from magos "one of the members of the learned and priestly class," from Old Persian magush, which is possibly from PIE root *magh- "to be able, have power."
When I was six, I had a secret passion. And that passion kept my spirit and soul alive through a very bad childhood. I had an ulcer at five so we’ll just skip right over any other details because this is not about how I was abused.
It’s about what kept me alive.
One autumn night, my parents, a flight of stairs above me, bellowed and cursed and threw furniture. My sister had already come to my room to terrify me for her nightly ritual.
I remember clutching my bear to my belly, curling up with him as tight as I could. I pulled the covers up over our heads. I waited before I opened my eyes when the noise got scarier, and looked up at the sky. Teddy’s eyes and ears were looking up, too.
Teddy and I peaked at the sky through a lace of the leaves from the trees outside my window. At first my eyes darted from shape to shape, from tree to tree. I couldn’t have said this then, but I felt like prey.
Then, without knowing what I was doing, I began to gaze softly. An unfocused gaze. At a moonlit sky etching through the lattice of leaves from the giants trees that grew in the woods right outside my window. The whole night looked like it was made of lace, the fine weaving of two distinct beings – trees leaves and the night sky. The moon was out, but not visible. The leaves had touches of shimmer from her light.
And suddenly, everything became one. As I gazed the leaves became the light, and the light became the leaves. All awash with different hues of silver light. They shifted light and form back and forth as if they were very good friends who were singing to each other in light language that I could see, but not hear. This was the first time in my life when I was mesmerized. And it changed me.
Magic. It was magic. And I was shown that skies are made of leaves and leaves were made of sky. And shimmer. And that somehow, I was able to be a part of it. And the noise became quieter, and the pillow softer, and I fell asleep with Teddy holding me.
After that night, I began secretly going to neighbors’ houses, and asking all the moms if they would save old perfume bottles for me. Some round, simple glass and others more elaborate with pink and gold foil labels.
I also hit up the neighborhood for slivers of soap, all with their own subtle aroma. I collected them in a small, scarred wooden box I found under our basement stairs.
And then came the harder work. I knew magic had a sparkle, a glow from what I had seen so I had to work to find it. I somehow knew it had to be earth born. In my life, I had seen a rock cracked open, and there were so many star silver flecks in it. Gigi, Teddy and I started collecting stones.
Day after day, I would sit on the patio pavement with my dog Gigi, and Teddy, and hit the rocks with a hammer I had “borrowed” from my father’s tool kit. Perhaps smashing rocks is something that many kids do, but I didn’t know that then.
My father, an angry ex-marine with OCD, used to clean his hammers with Ajax. He used to clean the anchors of SAILBOATS with Ajax. Probably, at some time, I was cleaned with Ajax. So I had to be careful to always clean the hammer correctly, and get it back in the toolbox before he came home from work.
My smashed rock pile grew, but it was determined and sweaty work. Actually, almost every rock had to be hit as hard as I could to break it. Some had specks of gold , some silver, and many had no shimmer at all.
At twilight, the time of day I have always loved best, I would check on the broken rocks to see if the magic sparkle was still there. In the ultraviolet light, the shimmer in the stones seemed brighter. In the beginning, I wondered if stars could have been made this way, from smashing rocks, and having the trapped stars in them float into the sky.
I had filled all the old perfume bottles with water and bits of soap, slivers in pastel hues, and then I buried them for a week. Teddy had told me to bury the bottles so the earth could add her magic, and I left them buried in the woods.
While the bottles were underground, it was time to figure out how to get the shimmer out of the stones. I figured scratching the shimmer out was the way. Great idea, but I completely trashed one of my grandmother’s sterling butter knives; it was no match for the stones. So then I did another forbidden thing: I stole (and later returned) a pair of good kitchen scissors. It was still very slow, and it was a minor miracle that I never wounded myself, but as a scraping device, they worked. I collected the stone glimmers in a tissue, put the tissue in a jar, and hid it outside in a tree hollow.
One day, Teddy said it was time. I gathered the bottles, and the biggest bowl I could carry from the kitchen into the woods, to my spot where moss grew in the center of a group of wild laurel. A small circle ringed by pink blossoms. I poured in all the waters from the perfume bottles, and added a laurel flower, all pale pink and sticky, a bit of earth, and the finally, the shimmer. I stirred and stirred with a friendly little stick that I was quite sure then was a wand.
And I sang as much of the Fairy Godmother’s song that I could remember from Cinderella as I stirred and stirred until told me I was done. Bibbity-bobbity-boo.
Decanting a bowl of magic back into little perfume bottles in the middle of the woods with hands meant the earth was well watered too. Little fingers, little hands, I did my best. And when my bottles were done, I left them in that sweet circle to rest.
This was not a potion that was meant to be swallowed, but sprinkled.
It was very serious to me, as I had set out to make a potion that changed anger and hate and fear to pure, floating hope and love.
I ended up sprinkling almost all of it in the rooms of our house. Where we ate our dinners, and plates were thrown across the room. In my sister’s room, hoping her hate and power over me would end. I sprinkled it over my parent’s bed so they would fall in love, and maybe learn to love me, too.
Did the potion work? Yes and no. It did nothing to change my family and its hostility, but it changed me forever. I asked Teddy why it didn’t work, and he said some things cannot be changed by small magic, and that he would teach me bigger magic someday, and always keep me safe. Always.
He saved my life.