One night at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, a bride and groom transformed into my ex and the woman he left me for, right before my very eyes.
Michael, my second husband, and I knew a wedding had taken place downstairs. Hard not to notice the wealth of flowers and confetti filling the space.
“You just missed it,” a night manager said, picking up a fallen streamer.
Well, darn. I would’ve liked to see another couple find happiness in this enchanted place. Indeed, Michael and I had met there only a few years prior. He, an actual magician. Me, an actual magic fan, intrigued by this handsome stranger sharing facts about the Castle while following me and my college friends around in a charming, non-stalker-ish way. Halfway through the evening, he bade our group to gather around and treated us to an impromptu show. He fanned the deck and asked me to pick a card, any card. “Now place it where I can’t see it,” he said. “Like under your throbbing thigh of ecstasy.”
My friends laughed. Me, too. And did as I was told.
He appeared again while I was waiting for my car at the valet and invited me back to the Castle, just the two of us. A few weeks later he came over to my apartment for the first time with a kitty toy up his sleeve for my cat, an opening gesture I loved. By the time we nearly stumbled upon my first husband and the woman whose company he preferred during our last year of marriage, I’d been divorced for five years and married to Magic Michael for three.
Of course, I hadn’t known who the newlyweds were first. After seeing the wedding remnants downstairs, we went back up to stand in line for that evening’s stage magic show. I heard a small commotion across the way but all I could see were the backs of the bride and groom rushing by. Another tux soon followed in their wake. The Best Man? I leaned forward to get a closer look, and then my heart … stopped. There was no mistaking that was my ex-husband’s best friend.
By the time we nearly stumbled upon my first husband and the woman whose company he preferred during our last year of marriage, I’d been divorced for five years and married to Magic Michael for three.
I flashed back to the glimpse I’d just seen of the bride and groom. White veil over brown, shoulder-length hair … the groom’s familiar stride … Oh my God.
“What’s wrong?” Michael asked.
Nothing. Everything. Do I tell him the bride and groom gliding by was my first love and the woman he left me for? Actually, what had I told him about my previous marriage?
Certainly the first part, about how my ex and I had started out as high school sweethearts, eager to get engaged despite my parents saying I was too young and not thinking straight. Right after graduation, he’d joined the Navy, coming home after boot camp to pop the question, and again after basic training to tie the knot.
Those first few years he was often out to sea. Not until he finished his service did we really get to know each other. Not until we settled into a mortgage and gainful employment did the fairytale start to fade.
He decided he wanted to go back to college to finish his degree and, in the process, became pals with a female classmate. No, he said, he didn’t think he was spending too much time with her. Yes, they were just studying — Jesus, why didn’t I trust him?
I tried. I really did. But all I could see was how he and his new study partner would sit so cozy close whenever I’d join in for drinks after class. He’d start out next to me only to gravitate towards her, their heads eventually bent in quiet conversation, looking so intimate that in some ways it was worse than if someone had slipped me a grainy black-and-white photo of them getting sweaty under the covers.
Michael stroked my arm. “Honey?”
“Sorry. I got distracted by the wedding party flying through.” Little laugh. “Can’t believe we missed it again.”
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I made an excuse — “ladies room” — and snuck downstairs while Michael went to check on our dinner reservations.
I saw him even before I got to the bottom of the stairs. Not my ex but the Best Man again. He’d been my friend, too, back in the Navy days. I tapped him on the shoulder.
“It’s you,” he said, a touch of slurred wonder in his voice, no doubt from the half-empty drink in his hand.
Nervous laugh. “It’s me,” I said, scanning the room.
He pointed with his glass toward the exit. “They’re gone. ‘Bout an hour ago.”
My turn to stare. He’s gone. Vanished. Just like the night he’d left me and I’d collapsed, broken, on the floor. He’s gone. And that, I finally understood, was a good thing. We’d both moved on.
A few weeks later he came over to my apartment for the first time with a kitty toy up his sleeve for my cat.
I smiled. “Hey, I got married again, too — to a magician. Would you like to meet him?”
My old friend steadied himself and nodded.
“Wait here,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”
I hurried back upstairs to find Michael. “Remember that wedding downstairs?” No use sugarcoating it. “That was my ex-husband.”
That raised an eyebrow. “It was?”
“Yes, and the bride was the girl he always insisted was just a friend.”
Surprised changed to understanding on my new beloved’s face. He nodded. “Are you OK?”
“Yeah.” I managed a wry smile. “And they didn’t even invite us.”
I explained how I’d recognized the Best Man. “He was one of our Navy buddies.” I hesitated, measuring my next question. “I don’t suppose you’d like to meet him?”
Michael smiled, perhaps relieved I wasn’t asking him to shake hands with my ex. “Sure,” he said and followed me downstairs.
And so my new husband met my old friend who was also the Best Man at my ex-husband’s wedding, which we almost crashed.
Later, as Michael drove us home, I said, “Remember the night we met? Did you rig the cards so that I’d pick the queen of hearts?”
As usual, he told me nothing about the mechanics of magic — magicians code — and simply reached over to cover my hand with his. “You’re my queen of hearts.”
And just like that, my magic man made any lingering jealousy, any regret, disappear.
personal essays about love