That year, life at home was as unpredictable as the dust storms on the playa as I navigated the treachery of a divorce. I had fallen in love with Burning Man three years before, while falling out of love with my husband. I looked forward to coming back to the playa especially that year. My friends and I set up a camp of our own with a fancy mailbox to mark our spot. Our neighbors became family as we shared our costumes, laughter and assorted sundries.
Around a night fire on the playa, we shared stories of the exquisite landscape discovered that day and details of work or heartbreak in our “real lives”. We huddled together close for warmth, sharing secrets even though we were strangers only days before. In a quiet moment, I was given a red velvet box tied with wooden ju-ju beads by one of my new friends. His sweatshirt’s pointed hood framed his face, and backlit against the fire he took on the ominous silhouette of a ancient priest.
The little box was handed to me without ceremony and in total earnest I was told it came from New Orleans and that it contained a most powerful potion of love. The bottle inside was cushioned on faded red satin, its label worn, almost completely erased. Only “Eau de Parfume” remained legible in the firelight. I removed the bottle and was quickly cautioned that I should deploy the powers of this potion with great care, if ever; that to whomever I should apply it would be forever enslaved to me and that I must be willing to accept the consequences of using such power. I laughed and asked if he had ever used it on anyone, and he shook his head to say no but I could see a mischievous sparkle in his eye, even in the flickering fire light (and the bottle was indeed not quite full).
On the playa, magic is tangible; the fantastic is quite probable in this place. When my personal life held no magic and I had no sense of control, it was a wondrous gift to hold a thing of power – real or imagined (or real because it was imagined!). I still have that box and the mysterious potion within, the red velvet on its corners all but worn away now after many years of considering it between my nervous fingers; it still holds the possibility of magic.