The reconciliation spell required I save my bathwater for several days. This was a problem.
Since my fiancé had unilaterally called off our engagement six weeks ago, I’d moved across town to a one-bedroom on the Upper East Side (the only one-bedroom in all of Manhattan I could afford on my own), and the bathtub in the new place was questionable. I’d managed to catch a couple cupfuls of water from a shower and hoped that would be enough.
I also needed an artifact from the person whose love I aimed to reinspire, so I’d cut out a chunk of fiancé’s decade-old high school baseball T-shirt, even though the worn cotton made it the perfect nightshirt.
I set it on my desk next to the little marked packets of items that had come in the spell kit — Balm of Gilead buds, magnetic sand, lodestones, bride-and-groom candle, various oils — and referred back to the directions on my laptop. With a stabilizing, let’s-do-this breath, I lit the candle.
I’m not a person who believes easily in things. Politicians are always lying, miracles are just a rational explanation yet to be uncovered, and even as a kid I knew the Tooth Fairy was bunk. But since the breakup, I’d been wandering through the city in a fog of pain and pessimism, where nothing was funny and all food tasted like grade-school paste.
Every night I’d watch TV until the sun cracked the sky and then fall asleep on the couch. I needed to believe the spell could fix that. I needed to believe in something.
Meeting my fiancé two years earlier had felt magical, even to me. A mutual friend invited me to rooftop party for a culture website that my partner had cofounded. While getting ready, I’d given the site a cursory glance, so I recognized him from the caricature that ran next to his column, but he seemed to know me, too. For hours he caught my eye across the crowd of people illegally grilling hot dogs and tossing back cheap beer on top of someone’s downtown apartment building.
“I wanted to introduce myself,” he began when he finally made his way over.
“I’m a huge fan,” I said. The half a column I’d read had amused me.
And then someone was pulling on his arm, shouting he was needed to do another shot/toast/song. I left soon after, but wasn’t surprised when he tracked me down through social media the next day.
“It was like you cast a spell on me,” he said over drinks on our first date. I repeated that line again and again as I recounted our charmed meeting to friends.
Our relationship moved forward at roughly the speed of sound. His actions were such over-the-top romantic gestures that I stopped recounting them to single friends out of guilt. He wrote romantic notes on rose petals, and told me he loved me at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve as fireworks burst open like streamers. We got a place together after mere months, and a year later he proposed at a sushi restaurant as fellow diners cheered.
Though we might have been a couple people applauded, in some sticky rotting brain canal, I suspected he might be more in love with the idea of being in love me than with actual me.
Case in point: that NYE profession of love was grand and sweeping, but I’d actually slipped and said the “L” word a month earlier while he helped me out of a cab. He didn’t respond then, so I’d told myself — rather unconvincingly — that he hadn’t heard. But after his “I love you,” he mentioned he had.
“Why didn’t you say something then?” I asked, remembering how exposed and embarrassed I’d felt, half in and half out of the backseat.
“I wanted the first time I told you to be really magical.”
Conveniently I forgot all of that when, 18 months later, he downed a bottle of Pinot Noir and said he was “having a few doubts” about our upcoming wedding. All I felt then was the tectonic shift of loss.
A few doubts blossomed into his staying with friends in Brooklyn.
I drank a lot; I ate very little. I tucked my princess-cut ring back in its velvet box and watched so many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and House I could probably have performed minor surgery. When the television docs weren’t enough company, I reconnected with all the friends I hadn’t seen much of since my fiancé claimed I’d enchanted him.
“I’m sure you’ll get back together,” one pal assured me over dirty martinis and barely touched artichoke dip. “I’ll say a prayer for you.”
We’d been friends five years and I knew some Sundays she went to church, but it wasn’t something we ever discussed and her offer unsettled me. As a noncommittal atheist, I wasn’t sure there was a God, but if there was, shouldn’t he be hammering out peace in the Middle East or feeding starving kids in Africa? Alleviating rush-hour traffic in Midtown?
“No, I’m good,” I said. “I’ll figure this out on my own.”
But my own efforts weren’t proving particularly fecund, and my fiancé had limited our correspondence to practical emails about how to unjoin our things and get back deposits from our wedding vendors.
Stumbling back into my new apartment — hangover already tickling my temples — I took my post on the couch and turned on the TV. The Craft, a mid-'90s movie about teen witches, was halfway through. On screen there was a lot of carnage and lightning and snakes; clearly the moral of the story was not to meddle in the dark arts and that brown lipstick was a fashion statement best left in the past.
I had another take: If I’d unintentionally cast a spell over my fiancé when we met, maybe I could do it again?
A Google search led to some silly sites, some scary sites, and one official-ish looking page warning that while reconciliation spells were frequently requested, they were often misguided. It advised potential casters to dig deep and ask if the lost lover’s return would truly be a good thing. That sticky rotting brain canal tried to raise its hand, but majority stakeholder me pushed it aside and followed the links to a store that sold pre-packaged spell kits and offered detailed instructions online.
An actual human woman answered the phone, which seemed promising. When I told her what I wanted, she asked how long ago we’d split.
“Six weeks,” I said.
“That’s good, you’ve got a shot,” said the woman. I couldn't help but picture Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched. “Sometimes customers call about relationships that ended two, three years ago, where the guy is remarried and living across the country. It can be a lot harder then.”
The idea that people could feel the way I did — 10 stories below rock bottom — for years was truly horrifying; I quickly offered my credit card information and mailing address.
Waiting for the package to arrive was heart-in-the-throat excitement; finally there was something proactive I was doing! But my hands trembled when I finally opened the padded envelope and set out all the little packets of items on my desk.
Yes, I was banged up and mopey, but I was still the girl who would rather keep her dimes than waste them on a wishing well, wasn’t I?
Remembering Bewitched Saleswoman’s words, I was determined to act now, before my fiancé had three kids and an accounting position in Omaha.
So I saved the shower water for the cleansing ritual, and (though I felt absolutely absurd) I dutifully went to an intersection at dawn and threw it over my shoulder. I gathered the required artifacts and wrote his name ten times on a piece of paper, as per the instructions. I lit the bride and groom candle and mixed the oils and incense.
The heady smell made me cough and flail. With the back of my hand, I knocked over the candle.
Wax splashed onto my open laptop, seeping through the keyboard.
Future use of the D and F keys seemed doubtful.
I swore and burned my hands as I scooped up the mess.
And then I was laughing.
Legitimate, things-were-funny-again laughing, like I hadn’t done since the beginning of the end of my fiancé and I.
The spell had been broken, at least for a little while.