EVERY NIGHT IT went like this: The Wicked Witch and I—her spindly hands moving over my knees, my neck—airborne, talking. Sometimes we'd meet up in a plane—First Class; occasionally, a chopper. Surrounded by a booming blue sky, we'd make out with lots of tongue, drink some orange juice together, and inevitably, after my Witch would shroud me under her black drape of a dress, she'd push me out the aircraft door, waving goodbye.
My great-grandmother lived with me growing up. A Chinese woman with foam rollers in her hair, she believed in reincarnation; she believed that, no matter what you did, or where, a spirit would be watching. Every spider in my room was my grandfather. Every moth, a lost child. It is no surprise to me now that my earliest sexual and romantic fantasies—my dates with the Wicked Witch of the West—were cloaked in shame, in spells and cackles and admonishment and death. In the nefarious green skin of my beloved.
"Good little girl." "My fine lady." Most famously: "My Pretty." The Wicked Witch of the West uses all of these terms—terms of endearment—toward Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I always found Dorothy to be a bit of a feckless brat. She cries a lot, and she can't follow directions, and she stole a dead woman's shoes. Yet when Dorothy introduces herself as "small and meek," when she journeys through gloomy forests and poppy fields in search of what's "good" or "wicked," when she whines about home and Toto and her friends, something in me, still, breaks. A chasm in my heart where moxie should be. I hate Dorothy because I see my younger self in her helplessness. I hate her because when the Wicked Witch of the West flies across the sky, writing "Surrender Dorothy" with her broomstick, perhaps I felt a little jealous. Perhaps I still do.
People like to ask gay people when they first knew they were gay. My answer to this peculiar question: I have always known. It just took a while to understand that knowing. My early dates with The Wicked Witch of the West were sexy, and they were grotesque. Her face was often rotting, melting; she was always scolding me for something I'd done wrong. Still, there was always something so essentially womanly about our exchanges. The way her hair might fall, in slips, from her witchy hat. The warmth of her dress. That hot pink kissing.
"Only bad witches are ugly," Glinda the Good Witch says, as she descends from her luminous, iridescent bubble. She bloviates some about wickedness and goodness and munchkins and superficial things; it's all a bit much. "Old and ugly," says Dorothy. But perhaps the badness of my Witch and all the bad things we did in the sky, perhaps that very pith of evil was my first touch of grace, the first inoculation of something good and healthy and myself.
The Witch is all desire. Determination. A scorned woman who's not afraid to speak very closely to Dorothy's face and make a scene because she's going to get those shoes; she will get what she wants. There's a sensual grandiosity to The Wicked Witch of the West, still, watching her all these years later. The way she says "these things must be done delicately," burns out every socket of my body.
"Just then, the Witch, to satisfy an itch, went flying on her broomstick, thumbing for a hitch," sings Dorothy, in that first technicolor scene. It's the scene where all of Dorothy's fantasies and fears are finally allowed their moving parts. This is always my favorite turning point of a film. It's Matilda, telekinetically spinning poker chips and playing cards through the air. It's Janet and Brad when Dr. Frank-n-Furter bursts into the ballroom, corset laced tight. And for that younger version of me, it's Almira Gulch, nasty neighbor villain to Dorothy in Kansas, as she's spun up into the sky while riding her bicycle. The twister's got a grip on her. She's pedaling fast. She's wearing the first bowtie I've ever seen on a lady, before she transforms through the frame of Dorothy's window into the woman of my dreams, my Witch, her black dress whipping through the storm.
T. Kira Madden's debut memoir, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, is out now.