When the tornado caused the house to fall on the witch and her broomstick,
it was Mother Nature, not Dorothy, who was responsible for her death.
Natural disasters are stronger than magic.
Every year around Easter, one of the major television networks airs The Wizard of Oz. I tune in religiously at my Dad’s house, or with my mom in my Aunt Janie’s sunken living room, the name of which reminds me of pirate’s treasure. It is a dark room with a L shaped couch and an oversized television screen plugged into Cablevision’s rainbow package with over thirty channels. I sing along to the soundtrack while following the yellow brick road and marveling at Dorothy’s ruby red slippers, blinded by their glitter and magic. I know that evil lurks in the land of Oz and use my hands as vertical blinds to peek at the green face with moles the size of quarters and the strange flying animals that kidnap Toto from his owner.
When Dorothy’s house falls on the Wicked Witch of the East, the witch’s black and white striped legs and powerful ruby slippers are trapped under its concrete foundation and splintered floorboards. Part of her body juts out from a side wall like a usb stick jammed into a laptop computer. Is she really dead? Is she absolutely positively undeniably dead? the munchkins ask, hopeful that her death is unambiguous. Munchkinland, the home of small people dressed in technicolor clothing with their roads paved in gold, cannot be sure of her passing until the mayor proclaims that she, categorically a bad person but not as awful as her sister from the West, was bifurcated by the midwestern farmhouse.
The witch’s character is all a matter of opinion, gossip, and folklore. There is no evidence that she was bad; we accept that she was evil because the dancing people wearing cute suspenders who offer candy to strangers, and a fairy donning a large glitter gown told us so. She had a green face, a crooked nose and wore a black cloak like a mean girls uniform, a goth, or her take on the LBD. Aside from her appearance, we don’t really know much about her.
There is a celebration of epic proportions when she is proclaimed officially dead, dosey-doeing, ballerinas pliéing in satin pointe shoes, and flowers thrown at the lost girl’s feet. Dorothy is an instant lottery winner, a young heroine for saving the munchkins from this bad bitch. But she didn’t technically kill her. The tornado and the house were the murderers, or the heroes, depending on how you look at it. She didn’t lift up the place she called home into the air, and toss it around like a salad spinner to land squarely on a living person. She sought refuge in a house that saved her, and took another’s life when it fell from the sky.
To me, Dorothy looks bewildered in Munchkinland. She is told to follow the yellow brick road to the Great Oz because there is no other way back to her star, at least not that anyone knows of. She can’t go back the way that she came in. Before she begins her journey to the Emerald City, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, stirs the pot by transferring that ruby red magic onto her feet. Looking for home in a pair of dead women’s shoes that her sister desperately wants seems mean-spirited to the living witch, and dangerous for Dorothy. Every female knows better than to mess with someone else’s favorite heels.
I think about Dorothy’s parents. Why did her Aunt and Uncle raise her? Did she live somewhere else prior to the flying home in Kansas? If so, why wasn’t it her wish to be transported back to her mother and father? Did a house fall on them too? I am asked to make so many assumptions, to judge people based on the surface of things. While some sources suggest that Dorothy is an orphan, I am still missing so much information.
At age ten, I was “asked” to tell my adoptive mother that I didn’t want to see her anymore. I had moved in with my father and stepmother and was told that her visits put a strain on the family. In a flash, she was no longer of use to anyone, and like my birth mother who I was taken away from by a baby broker, she too had lost a child. I will never know if she welcomed being childless, but the facts were that she was my mother and now she was not. By law, she was still one of my legal guardians, but in my life, she became a character killed off in season ten. Was this dead witch a good witch or a bad witch? It’s all so black and white striped stockings. She was shades of gray; loose and wild and smart and ferocious and simply unforgettable. She was also bipolar and abusive to me yet she was still my mom, and somehow I was supposed watch her melt and dance in the puddle she left behind.
My father told me that she moved to West Palm Beach and never had any other children. There may have been fertility issues, issues unrelated to her mental stability. My stepmother said that she “couldn’t carry a seed”. When my father remarried and my mother kidnapped me to Florida, was she trying to hold on to me, or was it a ploy to make my father chase after us, knowing that he would search every chlorine and urine tainted swimming pool with water guns blazing to bring me back home? Was it for sport, this olympic tug of war that was the fireworks that ignited their relationship? Was raising a child with love ever a consideration?
What I learned from questioning the yellow brick road is that my adoptive mother was neither good nor bad. As blemished as she could be, I loved her despite being taught that having feelings for her was wrong and that my instinct to feel those emotions was some faulty wiring inside me. I was assured by adults that my Dad and his black-eyed second wife would raise me right; that they were my “real” family. My stepmother fed me square meals instead of Apple Jacks, threw her arm across my chest at a stop sign, and wrapped me into the fold of a large Greek family. Sometimes she would change her mind and decide that I was not a part of her family. There’s no place like home wasn’t necessarily a place that I’d click my heels three times to travel back to. My stepmother too was neither good nor bad. She had demons in her walk-in closet that were as long as they were deep. You’re not the only who’s been harmed, she’d say, and although she often referred to those less fortunate than us, I knew she that was also talking about herself.
When friends asked where my adoptive mother disappeared to, as if I could bring her back with a wave of my glittered wand, or if I ever hear from her anymore, the answers are no. It feels like a jellyfish lying on my chest. Maybe she dumped me off on Ledge Brook Road and bid adieu to motherhood, but it wasn’t her choice. She didn’t leave me. She didn’t stop visiting me until they told her to, and I have to believe that she never stopped loving me. Being denied a child is intensely painful, humiliating and so difficult to explain. Lawyers were paid to resolve what my adoptive parents couldn’t. She eventually stopped fighting and bought herself a new life, a life I know nothing about.
I was an expensive child, bought and passed between houses and families. I’ve been left and recovered, but always at a price. Like Dorothy, I was just watching the china fall out of the kitchen cabinets when the tornado tore our yellow colonial house from its foundation and it landed onto top of my mother. She was pronounced dead in my childhood when she left for good. They won. No one talked about the scarring or considered that maybe my mom and I were bleeding on the inside. No one considered that we didn’t want it to go down like that. For five years she put up a good fight, and whether or not she loved fighting with my father, I was still the prize. In this battle, I never felt valued, but I certainly was something to be won. What happened afterwards was what mattered to me. Once you’ve bought me or won me, what do you do with me now? There are dangers in Kansas, and on the road to Oz.
Whether it was better for me or I was in less danger without my her in my life is a matter of opinion. Would my stepmother step up to the challenge of raising a child, and who could be sure that she could do it better than my mother? Maybe my mother’s loss was warranted. Her mental instability made it challenging for her to raise a child, but that does not speak to mother-daughter bond, or what was good for either of us in the long run. With every birthday, graduation, and holiday, I wondered if she would reappear. I wrestled with the notion that she was absolutely, positively, undeniably dead in my new house. I wanted to know if she gave up. I was told that she did, and that I was better off without her. I was safe now. None of this was entirely true. It is shades of gray. I am still conflicted and confused by what it is to love someone when love is something to be won in battle, while the losers bodies lie bloodied and bloated in an open field. It is a birthday wish realized for those who need to blame everything on someone, who tell half-truths and play telephone games. They rewrite their story, and for those who are colorblind, you can only be one or the other, a goddess or a monster.
What I’ve taught myself by drawing over the black and white with the colors maybe and possibly, is that my adoptive mother, an angel with dirty faces, has more in common with my birth mother than I ever realized. Neither can truly be taken away from them, as I am and will always be their daughter.