One summer in the 4th grade, at a sleepover at our grandmother’s house, my cousin Erica said she’d been hiding a deep, dark secret from me.

“If you don’t tell me right now, I’m going to drown myself in grandma’s (above-ground) pool,” I threatened.

After hours of dramatic pleading, my cousin finally whispered behind cupped hands, “I’m a witch.”

It took almost no convincing for me to believe in her gift. Of course my cool, older cousin had supernatural powers. I was a mere muggle, but I was desperate to learn her craft and be the Salem to her Sabrina. I know what you’re thinking: sure, everyone was into witches in the 90s. It was the age of “Practical Magic and “Charmed,” who didn’t get sucked in? But we weren’t amateurs. This was serious. I mean, we had a crest. We were witches—an inseparable bond we hid from witch hunters (who could be our parents, for all we knew).

Our protection spell involved a vinegar-based potion we dribbled in doorways—no one ever knew why our house smelled like sour farts but me.

We checked out dozens of magic books from the library and wrote spells in a Lisa Frank notebook. I was going through a serious Shel Silverstein phase at the time, so I handled all the rhyming and linguistics, while Erica brewed the potions. My aunt’s spices were a staple in every spell (sorry for depelting your basil supply, Aunt Cathy), and we foraged in the backyard for ingredients like mushrooms and animal carcasses. We even cut off locks of our own hair. For a while, Erica and I were stealing so many lighters that my uncle thought we took up smoking, when really we were burning gel candles to ward off warlocks. Our protection spell involved a vinegar-based potion we dribbled in doorways—no one ever knew why our house smelled like sour farts but me.

Our crest was made out of an ‘S’ for Staniszewski, my aunt’s maiden name. There were 12 lines surrounding it that stood for each letter. A real work of brilliance, I know.

In 5th grade, something truly tragic happened: Erica’s obese pet hamster Nummy died. After three years, the poor fat furball keeled over, probably from a tiny coronary blockage. Unlike me, who tore through hamsters like they were buckets of Cheez Balls (I averaged one gerbil every two months), Erica was devastated by her first loss.

But we were witches, and the best part about being witches was the ability to reincarnate. We crouched behind our grandma’s shed and dug up Nummy’s coffin (read: Sketchers shoe box), as we softly chanted phrases like “rebirth” and “beloved Num Nums.” Fully expecting a very alive Nummy would greet us, we ripped open the plastic Ziploc and peeled back the cover excitedly. Instead, we were met with hollowed-out eye sockets, a lifeless gerbil corpse cradled in our hands. We stared at death for what felt like an eternity—our first time coming face-to-face with mortality—then Erica ran into the house bawling. I stood behind the shed for awhile longer, contemplating hamster heaven.

If Nummy taught me about death, Ryan taught me about the dangers of getting what you wish for—and of wasting time on a douchebag.

We hadn’t been able to bring a gerbil back to life, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t get a boy to fall for me. Whenever I wasn’t thinking about witching, I was thinking about Ryan Tarradega and his dreamy frosted tips. I straight up Hegla Patacky-ed this kid—I once grabbed his empty Dr. Pibb from the trash and kept it in my locker for the rest of the year. I know, yikes.

So Erica and I cast a love spell and waited for Ryan to love me back. We waited. And waited. And then when I turned 13, Ryan Tarradega asked me to be his girlfriend. It only took three years and 14 days, but our spell finally worked! The powerful magic lasted through high school. He took my virginity, cheated on me with my best friend and told me my boobs were ugly.

If Nummy taught me about death, Ryan taught me about the dangers of getting what you wish for—and of wasting time on a douchebag.

Around 8th grade, Erica grew boobs, started wearing a real bra and made friends outside of her needy witchy cousin. We stopped sleeping over grandma’s house and eventually stopped talking altogether. Growing up also meant leaving our secret magic world behind, a sad byproduct of adulthood I still think about today.

Just last summer, after 10 years of growing apart, Erica asked me to help with her wedding and it was like playing magic all over again. I like to think all my aunt’s basil, my uncle’s lighters and those hours spent studying witches built a foundation for us to come back to one another. Sure, we’re cousins, but we’re sisters in witchcraft, and that’s a bond that’s thicker than blood.