Earlier this year, I was staying at a cabin in the desert. I had gone there to be alone, but as soon as I arrived, a black cat with piercing green eyes decided to follow me around the property. Having grown up with two golden retrievers, I am not naturally a cat person. Despite my reluctance, this cat was determined to accompany me throughout my stay. Eventually, I surrendered. Something about her persistence was endearing, even comforting.
She reminded me of another black cat that crossed my path one night several years ago. At the time, I was living in Seattle, working for a large tech company. I was in a committed relationship, had some friends outside of work, and got to spend my weekends exploring the nearby mountains. While on paper things seemed to be going well, I often found myself deeply unhappy and didn’t really know why.
The beautiful sun-soaked Seattle summer had rapidly turned to fall, and I was already beginning to steel myself for another dark winter. I had made it through the last one, but mostly by throwing myself into a new relationship, which had now become familiar. I needed something new to help me endure the months ahead, so I started going for long runs after work, veering left and right whenever I felt the impulse, searching for unfamiliar streets, trying to get lost. My routes became increasingly eerie as the days rapidly grew shorter.
One night I decided to run up Queen Anne Hill. Massive black crows lined the tangled telephone wires above, cawing and scanning the ground below. Even with Dua Lipa ringing in my ears, I could hear the carpet of golden maple leaves that covered the sidewalk, scratch and whisper underfoot.
I reached the top and began to dart through different side streets. With each turn, I ran harder, as if to escape my own skin. Then suddenly, I was at the edge of a graveyard.
Now illuminated by the orange evening sky, it was beautiful. Massive trees, mostly evergreens, lined the property. Eclectic gravestones covered several rolling hills. I paused and removed my headphones. But for a few crows cawing, it was very quiet. For the first time in months, I actually felt a semblance of peace.
When I turned to leave, there was a black cat about 20 yards away, sitting in the middle of the street, staring at me. The crows, the graveyard, and now this cat. I felt like I had just stepped onto the set of Hocus Pocus. The cat sat there, unmoved, emerald eyes fixated on me as I passed.
Later that night, I started watching Netflix’s Sabrina. I had been a huge fan of the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and it seemed like a timely selection after my spooky cat encounter. After a few episodes, I was hooked. The next few nights, I went straight home from work to reimmerse myself in Sabrina’s world. A little campy, full of teen angst and intrigue, it was the perfect pre-Halloween escape after a long workday.
But there was also something more that kept me watching. As Sabrina discovered her new magical powers, she grappled with whether or not to tell her mortal boyfriend Harvey that she was a witch. Harvey was a generally kind and understanding guy, but she was unsure of how much to reveal given the potential consequences for their relationship.
Watching Sabrina wrestle with what to tell Harvey, whether to tell him at all, I felt an icy wave of recognition wash over me. Sometimes I felt like I was secretly a witch dating a mortal, hiding who I was in my relationship.
It was subtle, maybe even subconscious, at first. When we first met, I wanted him to like me. I didn’t want to be too weird or too much, so I downplayed certain aspects of myself. Getting to know someone new, a little self-curation seemed natural. But over the course of our relationship, small acts of self-editing accumulated. I stopped wearing bold colors and unusual sweaters. I even quieted my laugh and spoke at a lower volume when I was around him.
There were also more profound parts of myself that I avoided sharing. From my curiosity about human consciousness to my wonderings about the universe and our place in it, I never exposed my full depth, never talked about things that might be too strange or out there.
I was beginning to see that I had ceded a lot of myself, of my expression. He had never asked me to do this, not once. But I had toned myself down, simplified myself, trading in who I was for a sense of security in my relationship. I had made myself into the girlfriend I thought he wanted. Not too weird. Not too witchy.
I was Sabrina, a witch who had not yet told her mortal boyfriend who she was. At some point, for my own sake, I was going to have to share these other dimensions of myself. I didn’t know how he would respond or what it would spell for our relationship. But over the last few months, I had been unhappy enough often enough that I was willing to give anything a try. I could no longer pretend to be content with playing a smaller version of myself.
And so I started to share more. It was often met with silence or confusion. Sometimes it was met with a half-hearted nicety in an attempt to just end the conversation. At first, his responses almost seemed like proof that I should have stayed quiet. We had been stable before. It had been easy before. Why was I challenging that?
Because I had to. For my own sake, I could no longer keep who I was contained. A few weeks after Halloween, I met a good friend from college for dinner. She and I had known each other for six years, since the start of our first year at Pomona College. We had watched each other grow up on that campus. She had seen me at the dining hall in my pajamas. I couldn’t hide from her.
She asked about my relationship and innocently teased that my boyfriend and I were going to end up moving to West Seattle, having a bunch of kids, and living happily ever after. I flinched and felt the blood drain from my face. I almost couldn’t meet her eyes. They were warm, compassionate, and knowing. Without saying anything, I had told her everything.
A month later, my relationship ended. Several months after that, I moved to the east side of Los Angeles, where I began to recover and rediscover my sense of self.
Eventually October came again. So did the crows. Perched on the bows of the eucalyptus trees in the park near my house, they chatted fervently as I ran. I stopped to take in the scene.
Wind rustled the leaves of a nearby palm tree. The downtown skyline glittered in the distance. Beyond it, smog and haze turned the sky to an unnerving, iridescent pink as the sun descended. I took out my headphones to listen to the crows.
For a moment, they went silent, but then resumed their cawing. This time, they were even louder than before, almost as if to say, “You’re a witch! You’re a witch! You’re a witch!”
I smiled and thought, Yes. Whatever a witch is, I just might be one.