To The Powers That Be:
On this Hollow’s Eve, I, Hagatha Darkwood, hereby resign from my position of Scary-Ass Witch in the Spooky Woods where I have spent three hundred years lurking behind lichen-covered tree trunks in the shadowy forest, luring children and stray dogs alike into my primitive cabin.
Due to the recent allusions to my kind made by Donald Trump and Rudolf Giuliani, I have discovered I no longer wish to hold the title of “Witch” and hereby request to cease all connection to The Salem Witch Trials.
For centuries, evoking the name of a witch conjured images of women with spidery fingers and wart-covered faces, wiry grey hair and cackling laughs. Beautiful, if you ask me!
Alas, presently Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani have associated themselves with this most beloved word, turning a once-respected title into nothing more than a way to gain pity from musket-toting rapscallions. When people think of witches, they no longer think of independent women with a vast knowledge of herbal medicine and a fondness for black cats; now, in our place is the carroty face of a foul-mouthed swine and his bald little friend.
The innocents hanged at the Salem Witch Trials were just that: innocent. For decades after learning the this truth, when we thought of Salem and 1692 we envisioned a chaotic scene of false accusations and spectral delusions—bored teenagers and territorial adults spitefully lying about their dull neighbors. Now, when we think of the Salem Witch Trials we shall involuntarily envision two Beelzebub-possessed fools fumbling over their 50-word vocabulary, whining in their New York accents for mercy for which they do not deserve. Curses! They sully even the darkest moments of history!
I can no longer allow myself to exist in the same category as these imbeciles! Especially since I was no innocent at the Witch Trials, and truly am a badass, powerful sorceress who’s got more talent in her long, green fingernail than those two turds have combined.
Therefore, it is with a heavy, Satan-possessed heart that I offer my resignation for title of “Witch” as well as my association with the “Salem Witch Trials of 1692.”
Any company that Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani claim to be part of is no company of which I wish to be. And I’ve already spoken with Lucifer Himself. He says he doesn’t want them in any of the circles of Hell, either.
Signed in blood,
Gather round, children. Let me tell you a story.
There once was a young woman who hadn’t a care in the world. She was beautiful and smart, popular and wealthy. In her closet hung clothes of only designer labels, which fit her svelte-yet-curvaceous-in-all-the-right-places-body without needing a tailor to employ. Her home glimmered sparkling white, brand new and spacious, an open floor plan with all the latest Restoration Hardware furniture tinted the same dark wood. Nary a piece was handed down or used; hell would freeze over before a mismatched pillow or mug weaseled its way into her Country Living worthy home. Every item that lined the shelves and sat upon rustic benches fit her brand: all her pillows and blankets and dishes and candles were tinted the same faded blush. When it came to life goals, every goal she had she crushed without breaking a sweat. Every six months she was promoted without asking. Her megawatt smile earned her bonuses from bosses and adoration from colleagues. By thirty, all of her career dreams had come true, and she rose to the top of that blush-colored mountain with a proud smile. She climbed and she climbed, her path linear and absent of falling rocks and mudslides. Her positive attitude and penchant for platitudes inspired envy in the hearts of others. She never complained, just kept calm and carried on, sipping her coffee and stopping for Instagram-worthy photos on sunshiny days. Every few posts, a dark cloud emerged in the sky, which meant a perfect opportunity to wear her adorable new rain boots, her eager boyfriend snapping a photo of her splashing in the rain. #learntodanceintherain she’d caption for inspiration.
Her life was perfect. She was happy—blessed—grateful. And every day was like this until she died.
Now, children, wasn’t that the most boring fucking story you’ve ever heard?
It is seven o’clock in the morning on a Saturday and I am awake. The October sun bursts through the unveiled windows at an autumn angle. Its buttery light temporarily blinds me as I open my eyes. My bedroom is freezing. I have left the window open to counteract the blasting heat. I asked my incompetent roommate to turn the heat to sixty-eight degrees or lower at night; sometimes, I think she actually cranks up the heat, just to piss me off. That is the narrative I tell myself. I have often been told I make up stories in my head—that I project my own vengeance onto other people. No one is out to get you, Lucinda, my mother has often told me. But I think otherwise; I believe that at the core, everyone is out to get everyone else. We are selfish beings who are trying to survive. We all operate on one single objective: we want to get what we want. When things stand in our way of getting our way, we are angry and combative. Or, we become passive aggressive. And I am certain that she is passive aggressive. I am always certain of what people are thinking and feeling, because I am a witch.
A manicured hand slams a bag of colorful crystals onto a glass countertop, stirring the shadow behind the counter. A wrinkly face pokes through the curtain of smoke, writhing from incense sticks, staring back at the face that belongs to those intrusive hands.
“Hello. I’d like a refund,” says the young woman, her dirty blonde hair hanging limply to her shoulders, the last sparkle of light fading from her grey-blue eyes. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other, crossing her arms, hoping to be taken seriously. She’s tall and willowy, unlike the owner of the shop who stands opposite her, petite and round, like a soft pillow. They both wear chunky stone jewelry—the type you see anthropologists wearing as they hang out in trees, snooping on other cultures—and their outfits have that air of boho glam. Long tunics, a few sequins, neutral colors. As if any minute a primal drum will start beating and they’ll have to follow it into the wildflowers.
“And what seems to be the problem?” the middle-aged woman asks, running a hand through her long, wiry grey-black hair.
“They don’t work. That’s the problem.”
“Are you sure it’s the crystals that don’t work…”
“Prebiotics? Wait a second,” she says as she flips the carton around, squinting to read ingredients. “I thought it was supposed to be probiotics?” She turns to see if anyone heard her talking to herself in the dairy aisle of Whole Foods. Just the thirty-something man with long hair and those trendy sweatpants. He’s her age, and handsome, she notices, but then she thinks twice about whether she’d ever want to date a man who even knows what probiotics are. She’s not even sure she knows what probiotics are. Wait, prebiotics. Yes, that’s right. Prebiotics.
She returns the carton back to the fridge, closing the door. After pulling her hair up into a messy bun, she crosses to the vitamin section, holding up her handwritten list. “Glutathione,” she says, mispronouncing the word. Finding the bottle, her eyes widen. She gasps. “Ninety-four dollars!” Again, she looks around. Did anyone just hear her?
“It’s all bull, honey,” a voice says. Her eyes flicker to the elderly woman next to her. Long, silvery-black hair, watery green eyes, age spots over porcelain skin. “Don’t do it, Deirdre.”
Eyes wide, she brings her hand to her heart, astonished. “How do you know my name?” she asks the old woman, who looks freakishly familiar. Is she a distant relative? Looking at her is like looking into a mirror.
“I’m you. Fifty years from now.”
This is the first page of a new young adult novel I'm writing. A romance between an unlikely pair.
Somewhere outside Salem, 1690.
Past the golden fields of wheat that shine like honey, through the thicket of pines and labyrinth of oaks, over the babbling brook that sparkles against smooth stones, until you reach the moss-covered clearing under the tallest tree, that’s where you’ll find her: The Wild Woman of the Wood.
That’s where she’ll be doing what she does best—stirring and pouring, never measuring or calculating, relying on memories, not recipes—alone in her humble cabin, sitting beside the fireplace. Here she steeps stinging nettle leaf, red raspberry, and clover in tall glass jars. She makes potions from bees’ honey and pine needles. She sinks her feet deep into the cold, damp dirt, letting it spring her back into this world. When the moon is full, she places jars of water onto a mossy bed, their openings facing upward, letting the silver moon cast beams of magic into the liquid. Yet this is not her source of strength. She gains her power from within, from the knowledge that she is tune with her Mother Earth. She syncs with her Magic Moon.
Though others call her the Wild Woman of the Wood, she knows that she is really a simple Wise Woman—one who listens to the songs the wind carries on its back, adjusting her potions accordingly. She hears her voice within, never letting thunderstorms outside drown it out. She is content to cook and bake, steep and ferment, from dawn until dusk, nourishing her body with the Earth’s generous offerings. But she does so because it pleases her, not because she’s beholden to anyone’s expectations. She does so because it’s what she’s always known, what she’s ever known, handed down to her from the Wise Women before her. For she is last in a long line of women who had been outcast, banished from their society, for knowing too much. For doing too much. For being too much.
Because that’s what history has shown us. True power comes from knowing yourself, and teaching others to know themselves. Our Wise Woman of the Wood has been keeping others’ secrets for too long, but it won’t be much longer now.
At the next full moon, the winds will turn. For now, before Harvest has begun, while the last of the cicadas sing their dying ballads, Our Wise Woman has no idea that her whole life will change. She doesn’t know that it will transform because of a young man, just a few years older than she, lost in the wood, seeking help. Because that’s always how it happens, isn’t it? A woman’s life always changes when she meets a man.
And that’s where our story begins.
My husband is dead. Will Gibbons is dead. I repeated those sentences over and over in my head. I thought about all I had left behind: a house, my belongings, a career, and a husband. And now, I imagined, that husband was dead. Lying on the floor. Lifeless. Breathless.
I had no plans.
I could start over—start fresh. That was something that always appealed to me my whole life. Maybe it was the artist inside of me, but I loved to create and then destroy. I loved to produce art from start to finish, either sell it or get rid of it—sometimes actually smash it to bits—and then start over with something new, something fresh. A new idea. A new, perfect idea.
I liked the idea of perfect. I wanted everything to be perfect.
I planted you in April, underneath a nourishing bed.
For months, while green stalks sprouted up around you, I stared at your empty patch of dirt wondering what I'd done wrong.
Hopeless. That’s what I thought you were.
But at least I’d tried.
In your place, I noticed green leaves--what I thought were weeds--pushing through your space in the dirt.
Frustrated. I must have a black thumb, I thought.
I gave up thinking your bulbs I planted in spring would ever bloom.
But then, just a week ago, those leaves grew taller, spiraling toward the sky, like nothing I’d seen before.
And at the top, a bright burst of flames.
A stunning flower I’d never dreamed you’d become.
You were worth the wait.
Sunrise. Mist dances upon still waters.
The world still slumbers, except me and the loon. He calls across the lake, an ode to the rising sun.
This is my magic hour--when time stands still and quiet soothes my brain.
Except soon that sun will break the horizon line, rousing crows in trees and humans in beds as it shines through bedroom windows.
But this moment is still mine.
I drink it in.
Let the water baptize me, make my soul as clear as the lake.
At the end of June, my husband and I set out for a 3 week road trip that covered 7,300 miles, 15 states, and 9 national parks across the American west and southwest. We traveled from Chicago to Portland, Portland to L.A., L.A. back to Chicago, witnessing the beauty of Redwood National Forest, Sequoia National Forest, The Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and the Badlands—to name a few!
Along the way, we learned many things about each other, America, Americans, and life itself.