Human beings unknowingly participate in this magic spell. You know it, even if you didn’t until now. The kind when eyes lock—pupils fixated on one another, and you both are convinced this gaze could command the tides. And each of you wants to excavate all the dead languages from inside the other, to give a home to all their dog pound thoughts. It’s the trance of a shared grin. Laughter melodically bonding your voices in this joyous symphony. I’m talking about vulnerable connection.
We’re all out here puffing and perfecting and hustling and trying to be the best. That’s not, at its core, what we crave as people. We want to be significant to people on our own. We want to be seen and heard in the starkest light of ourselves and have people stay. We want to know that we are special without the frills. The frills are how we protect ourselves, how we qualify ourselves. What are chasing isn’t wealth—it’s comfort. We aren’t chasing romantic love—we are chasing partnership and acceptance and intimacy. We aren’t chasing success but to be somebody special. Connection, another kind of closeness, does all of those things. It is not rooted in romance or consumerism or wealth or productivity. Connection demands authenticity and gentleness and a mutual abidance.
A brief history of magic spells in my life:
- My eighth grade English teacher guided me into the hallway after a bullying incident reduced my acned mass to tears. Her hands brushed away my tears and framed my face. “You are beautiful and you are smart and you are talented and you are strong and one day, none of this will mean a damn thing,” She said with her round brown eyes so entranced on mine that I could not move. Like Medusa, but she wouldn’t let me turn to stone. She kept me soft by seeing me.
- Elisabeth’s Facebook Profile picture featured her wearing a hat with the name “Genevieve” inscribed on it. I declared without ever meeting her that we would be friends. We met months later in a crowded flat in London, twenty of us piled into a sitting room to learn the rules of our housing. Two bodies away, she sat. Her hazel eyes caught mine, and that’s it. Friendship initiated. We rode to Edinburgh on a train a week later. My story is one I typically parcel out to those as I see fit. I do not gush all my traumas onto new friends. I don’t know how I knew that Elisabeth could hear all these things. I don’t know what made me so sure, but said by side on a train, my bandaged stories saw the light. She heard them with grace and kindness. Elisabeth is proof that you do not have to weather all the same traumas in order to extend empathy. Her magic is that she never tried to fix me or answer the question marks gnarled inside of me. It was abundantly enough for her to be my witness and friend.
- Spellbound by Natty lite and the desperation inherent to eighteen year olds, I found myself entranced by a boy who had too many Bob Marley posters. He said really basic things like he believed them to be profound, and we only met on his terms. My self-respect was a rug in this world—one I willingly allow him to mark with footprints. But, fuckboys are people, too, and even the most deplorable of them have redeeming qualities. We laid in the dark. He made an offhanded comment. I remained silent. He nudged me. Lips tight, I didn’t know how to say the words pounding on my teeth. I’d never told a boy I liked what I was about to say, but when words want to be spoken, a mouth is a lousy gate. “A man hit me once,” I muttered. His arms, already around me, wound tighter. “It’s fine,” I assured him over and over until the word lost all significance. His chin resting in the curve between my shoulder and my head, his stubble brushed against my skin as he shook his head saying no. “It’s not, though, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry that happened to you”. All the pent up breath inside me released. It was the first time my guard ever fell, and I didn’t scramble to catch it. That’s intimacy: being beheld by another person in delicate authenticity with no ulterior motive, just hoping to be seen in the most gentle and authentic of light.
- I crossed this boy along fifteenth avenue for two years never saying hello. Both in the involved kid orbit, this is how we made closeness on a monstrous campus. We lived as strangers two doors down until a leadership camp made us friends. There was this night in the middle of camp when we wandered away from the pack, just the pair of us, and we talked into the night. His voice unburdened my whole body. His presence felt like a hometown I never had and always hoped for. The right people make the hard things easier to say. We said all the things to each other—no guardrails or prefaces. Just brave words between new friends and the cosmos.
- My roommates senior year of college: a gentle
fortress in a tempest year.
- January of Senior Year, I took an upsetting phone call—the kind you don’t want to be on either end of. Finger to phone screen, the call ended. Exhaustive and devastating silence overtook me, and its might forced me to the ground. Two of my roommates, Alexis and Elisabeth (yes, same one) burst out of each bathroom and held me as I wept into the carpet—their arms like glue around all the broken parts of me.
- Jillian—my childhood best friend—the one who knows all the inside jokes and characters, who can trace the plotline of my life with no cues. There’s comfort in how some people’s presence overrides time. With Jill, I can’t tell if we are eleven or twenty-six because I am always myself with her.
- Every survivor who has seen my TEDx Talk. We don’t know each other, but we know something big about each other. The way we look without saying it, “I’m sorry somebody broke into your body. It matters. It’s not your fault”. It never doesn’t give me goosebumps.
- My big brother, my first best friend, the part of my heart that beats outside of my body: I hid things from the way you hide the truth about Santa from kids. Because I didn’t want to taint his perception. Because I would rather be broken than let him hurt. I would rather be broken then let him know. Until he demanded it, and I told him. Words wobbling out, my entire body unable to stabilize. Some truths cannot be spoke without tears. This was one of them, but as I was crying, I looked at him. He was crying, too. We largely silence our pain for fear it won’t be acknowledged. I convinced myself telling Tom could only result in blame. Instead, he responded with empathy, and that response changed everything for me.
- I was with a guy who only existed when I was bored and he was too. My head rested on his chest, calmed by the steady thud of his heartbeat. The white walled room devoid of color and sound. Eyes avoiding his, I mentioned, “I feel really comfortable around you” . I didn’t mean “I like you” or “I love you” or anything other than what I said. I allowed it to hang in the air without some anxious epilogue. He knew what I meant, responding, “That means a lot. I know you’ve been through some heavy stuff”. To feel seen, respected, that another person can see me in my entirety and not separately or reduced from my traumas, is important. It is something I didn’t know I needed until I got it.
The only spell-breaker is betraying the person confiding in you. Weaponizing other peoples’ vulnerabilities robs you of your own magic. Strategizing upon those moments, allowing ulterior motives to slither in, those evaporate the wizardry afoot. Someone’s truth is not my gossip. We need to honor each other in the weakest of moments if we have any shot at being a solid species.
The soft and strident truth is that there is no sacrament holier than holding space for one another. Close for close’s sake is a divine thing. Close not as a prelude, close without context is everything. The dangerous and riveting vulnerability we exchange is the best thing we get to do out here. I’m writing this because while I carnivorously pursue excellence, none of these cherished things befell me when I was perfect. They found me when I was open. They did not discover me as a reward for an achievement. I’m writing this because romantic and parental loves are prized as paramount. They are important. So important. But there’s so much glorious intimacy and some of it is not attached to a greater reason. The common thread is that magic hums in the details. Some of those instances were teachers. Others were fuckboys who couldn’t text me back but could be good people (side bar: being a scrub does not mean you’re a bad person. It means you probably do not deserve the person you are scrubbing). This is not how I glorify mere mortals. I also think it is healthy to have expectations for how we treat each other. Rather, I am saying that ordinary people are capable of incredible connection.
Take emotional sustenance where you can get it without canonizing the person giving it to you. And I have been that person—the one who twisted kindness into interest because I’d starved so long for it that I did not recognize it. That is ok. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I would rather misinterpret kindness, knowing I was open to it, rather than close myself off for fear of embarrassment or rejection. Kindness, closeness, and intimacy can exist without a motive, just because we are people and long to be close. Have expectations while relishing all the kinds of intimacy and closeness and magic out there. Because, my reader, you are spellbinding as you are. You, yourself, are the wand, the caldron, the incantation, the elixir. All you have to do is stay open.