Sabrina Orah Mark’s monthly column, Happily, focuses on fairy tales and motherhood.
When I was nineteen I lived with a wizard. Her hair was like dandelion seed, and she had a map crookedly taped to her bedroom wall. She smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes and her clothes were always wrinkled and she gave me Walter Benjamin and the poems of Paul Celan and she kept me secret. No one knew I lived with a wizard in an awful, cold apartment that cost $940 a month. She spoke many languages in an accent that seemed to originate from an ancient ruin. I thought she might give me a brain. I already had a dumb heart, and even dumber courage. She was the farthest place from home I could go. The first time we kissed I knew she would undo me.
In L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Great Oz appears as a head, a lady dressed in “green silk gauze,” a beast, and a ball of fire. The first time my wizard appeared to me, she was my literature professor. Her office had no window. I don’t remember her ever smiling, though she did laugh and so her laugh must have resided in a face slightly distant from her face. Like two cities over. I didn’t know then, as I know now, the difference between worship and love.
The Wizard in Baum is a humbug. He’s a sweetheart and a fake. My wizard was no sweetheart and she was no fake. She needed no curtain because I was the curtain. When I pulled myself all the way back there she was. The Wizard of Oz’s real name was nine men long: Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs. My wizard’s real name was a little girl’s name. It was the wrong name for her. Her name was the name of a drawing of a girl eating an ice cream cone in a soft pink dress. But I called her by her name anyway. And she called me by mine.
What even is a wizard? A master, a father, a mother, a lover, a god, a magician, a rabbi, a priest, a president, a beautiful, enraged professor? Like Godot, the wizard can be a holding place for what we emit but can’t yet claim or name or know. Our dust in the sunlight. The spell we have but don’t yet know how to cast. Each of us wants something different from the wizard. I wanted to be undone.
“On the fabrication of the Master,” writes Lucie Brock-Broido, “he began as a Fixed star.”
Unlike the Scarecrow’s brains, and the Tin Man’s heart, and the Lion’s courage, Dorothy Gale didn’t already have home inside her. She had a strong wind. It was already in her name. It was a twister. By lifting her up, and whirling her around, it saves her from “growing as gray as her other surroundings.” It gives her life. “She felt,” writes Baum, “as if she were being rocked gently, like a baby in a cradle.”
The wizard was my twister. But I didn’t touch down in Munchkin Land. I wasn’t welcomed as “a noble Sorceress.” I landed only a few miles from where I grew up. I landed in a cold apartment filled with German philosophy and cigarette ash, where my wizard would eventually—on a sunless day—call me a parasite. A horsehair worm. A barnacle. A sponge. My wizard meant she was my host. She meant I was eating her.
When I left the wizard I weighed eighty-eight pounds. I was as heavy as two infinities.
I left the wizard, and went to my mother.