I grew up thinking my mother was magic. She recited memorized poetry in the bath every night and when she was home (which was often), she was naked, if not in her long silk robe that always drooped lazily, untied, and exposing her all the same. She smelt of rum and frankincense and had hair so long and so thick that her braids looked like manilla ropes. She had never worked a day in her life, she never had to. She painted still life and they would hang in coffee shops until they’d sell for one-hundred bucks a piece. She’d spend her earnings on incense and lingerie and tubs of cookie dough ice cream, never on bills and never on us kids but that was fine. My father supported our family as a finance broker, though I think he resented her for this. He was a painter, too, but stopped pursuing the arts when my oldest brother was born.
My mother kept philosophical books around the house but I never saw her read them. She would buy exotic fruits from foreign markets and never eat them. She counted everything in fours, it was her lucky number and she swore by it, obsessively—that was why she had four kids.
She called herself a psychic. She swore she could look at anybody and see their past life and past death. This was her favorite, I think, because no one could ever prove her wrong. I had been a man living in South Africa, she’d tell me, looking me right in the eyes like he was in there somewhere. Two kids and a wife. I had drowned.
She claimed to have visions in her sleep but never proactively, only once they happened.
“I dreamt about this two nights ago…” she’d murmur with a sort of stunned fascination. I’d been equally fascinated for years. My mother, pure magic. Over time, though, I started finding it phony.
For years, my mother had me convinced that she knew and would always know every single time I tried to lie to her. It was a ruse to keep me honest and it worked, mostly. But when I was a teenager, I became a better liar or maybe her powers just weakened with age. Still, sometimes, under just the right circumstances, she’d catch me. She’d call it. She’d remind me:
“You don’t lie to your mama, do you understand? She knows. She always knows.”
In these instances, I’d think briefly that maybe she really did always know. It was luck, not magic.
Around that same time was when I stopped thinking my mother was magic. I stopped thinking anything was magic. Everything was luck. Good luck. Bad luck.
My mother still believed in magic. She left crystals to soak up sunlight and moonlight in the garden before placing them around the house in strange places (the bathtub, by the window in the kitchen, on the doorframe to her bedroom). She recited spells to me and my brothers before bed each night.
I still remember those spells.
When my father left us, she called it destiny—a well-known relative of magic—like it was somehow written in the stars for our family to crumble in the summer of 2003. We moved to a government-funded apartment complex in the city. She cried about leaving her garden. When my oldest brother Luke started getting into dope she forced him into a series of rituals to cleanse his chakras but that didn’t stop him from OD’ing in the bathroom three months later. Still, she trusted, or she tried to trust. She believed in it. Something bigger than us and a little bit mystic.
When I left for college, she gave me a collection of her favorite crystals—amazonite, rose quartz, amethyst, celestine. I felt silly at first but I’d leave them in the south-facing window of my dorm room and at the end of the day, they’d feel heavy and electric. I’d think of her, my mother, heavy and electric.
She died six months later from cancer that she convinced herself could be cured through meditation. I was too busy with school to talk sense into her and my brothers had their own excuses, valid as they may have been, to stay out of it. She wouldn’t have dealt with chemo very well anyway.
I was sure she’d seen her own death as destiny. At least, I hoped she did.
I saw four rainbows the week that she died and I know (trust me, I know) that rainbows are just light and water creating a refraction of color in the atmosphere. I know that rainbows aren’t magic. But for just a second, looking up at that fourth and final rainbow, I entertained the idea that maybe this time they were. For her.