Breaking the Curse

Alex DiFrancesco

Spell for Binding

Take something he has left behind.

Wrap it tightly with string, using all of your desire for healing and some of your anger.

Put it in a box.

Put it in your closet.

Try to put it out of your mind.



While I am in the mental health crisis center, the group I am in writes down areas we want to improve in our lives. I end up, after much thought, with “spirituality” and “relationships.” I read about southern Italian folk traditions. One of the key tenets of this tradition is to keep your kitchen immaculate. It is the job of generations of peasant women. There are no special tools or trinkets or amulets needed, nothing other than what you would have in your kitchen if you cared deeply about your kitchen.

While I am in the crisis center, unbeknownst to me, my next-door neighbor, Dani, cleans my kitchen as best she can. I know how much pain she is in regularly, and I know how she never cleans her own kitchen. It is a gift of friendship. When I leave the crisis center one night for the ER, leave the ER, and walk across the western suburbs of Cleveland to return to my home in the middle of the night, sure I am dying, I come home and find my knives laid out and gleaming on towels on the kitchen table. When I see this, the first thing I do is run to the closet I keep a magic spell in to make sure it is not gone.


My first act of magic was a binding spell. Someone who had hurt me left something behind in my home, and I bound it in acrylic cord, wrapped it in a bag, put it in a shoebox, and kept it in my closet for over a year.

I do not like that my first act of magic had a bit of darkness to it, and I cannot say how well it worked. I can say that my non-magical actions around this event likely prevented it from happening to someone else.


Spell for Ancestors

Take pictures of your ancestors and put them on your kitchen table.

Burn a dollar bill for each of them, so they have currency in the afterlife.

Wish them well in their journeys.


After I return home from the crisis center, I decide to spend some of my dwindling money on a genetics test. I spit into a tube, send it off, and wait. While I wait, I think of all the things I might learn. Maybe my family is not my family. This seems unlikely.

What I do find is that I’m exactly what I’ve always been told I am—split nearly down the middle between Polish and Italian ancestry. The Italian ancestry is a bit stronger, and where exactly it comes from is broken down regionally. I’m mostly Calabrian and Sicilian, no surprise with my olive skin, the nearly-black hair on my head, and my propensity for growing body hair. What this test tells me my ancestors are from Sicily—a region that the Italian folk traditions I’m studying were strong in.

One day, in the crisis center, when my new antidepressant is beginning to kick in, I call my best friend and say, “It feels like the curse is broken.”

I am in Cleveland. In Cleveland, “the curse” refers to their sports teams’ long-standing inability to win a championship.


Spell for Protection

Put garlic, rue, black peppercorns, sea salt, and a chili pepper in olive oil.

Seal the container and leave in a dark place.

Shake once a day for a month.

Use the oil to make the sign of a cross on each entrance to your house.


When I get home, even though Dani has cleaned my kitchen, I decide to clean it deeper, in the method of Italian folk traditions. I remove everything from my kitchen. I wipe down all the shelves, all the walls, I clean out the refrigerator, I scrub the floors. I wipe everything I took out and bring it back. I sprinkle sea salt in the corners, sweep it to the center and out the door. While I do all this, I boil a large pot of water with a lemon cut in half, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, and salt in it. When the kitchen is clean, you save the water from the pot as a purification liquid you can spray around to clear any air that needs it.

I buy a little dish for salt at a gift shop. It’s hand-thrown on a kiln. I go to a church rummage sale, and buy a heavy gold-leafed dish with a “Made in China” stamp on the bottom — it’s to keep fruit in, which, for me, symbolizes abundance. I go on Etsy and buy a print of the patron saint of bakers, Saint Honoré, which I hang above my stove. My neighbor Tesh gives me wooden kitchen witch spoons for my birthday, the most innocuous of which I hang above my sink.

Everything is gleaming.

A few weeks later, when I relapse on alcohol and benzos, I look around the disaster in my kitchen and wonder how I will ever clean it again.


I start going to an outpatient rehab. A group of us sit in a room and talk with a therapist present. When the talk comes and stays on spirituality one day, a few weeks in, I listen to everyone talk about how into it they are, and use general terms, or other people’s traditions they’ve heard about. There is a “spark of energy,” there is “the universe,” there is “God as I know Him.” At first I join the conversation enthusiastically. Eventually, when I realize we are talking generalized bullshit we pretend to be experts on, I get quiet.

We move onto a section of rehab about sex, relationships, and addiction. During this section, somewhere, I start talking about the person who hurt me, who left the item I did a binding spell on in my apartment. I don’t say his name, even though it comes up in my head a lot. I don’t say much of what he did to hurt me, referring to it as “the assault.” What I do say is that I found a way to release this trauma, which is true. And that it was super-personal, but it had great meaning to me. I am talking about ritual in the most general terms I can.

The woman who runs the group stops and looks at me and says, “That sounds beautiful. I’m glad you had that. I wish that for everyone.”

Group ends early.


Spell for Cleansing Your Bed

Throw sea salt of every piece of him that is left from sleeping there.

Sweep it onto the floor.

Sweep it through the kitchen.

Sweep it through the front door.


I decide I don’t care if kitchen magic is magic, because if I follow the Italian folk traditions, I have a really clean kitchen more often than not. This is something I’ve struggled with throughout life—cleaning up my own messes.


In Italian folk tradition, you don’t judge people who put the evil eye on others intentionally. You don’t judge these women, because, according to them, you never know what someone has done.


I started seeing a trauma therapist two years ago when a dog mauled me as I was walking down the street. The name of the street I got mauled by a dog on was also the name of the man who assaulted me. Maybe that’s a coincidence. My doctor recommends a therapist, and I go.

I see him for a while, then feel better. So I stop going.

Two years later, when I have health insurance again, I start seeing this same therapist again. He calls my trauma a “CVS receipt,” and also tells me that I have to look at what I’m gaining by holding onto it. This doesn’t make any sense at all, to me. Of course I don’t want to hold onto it. I also have no idea how to let it go.


Ritual Bath for Ridding Yourself of Negative Energy

Draw yourself a bath and fill it with sea salt, lemon peel, rue, rose petals, and Florida water.

Light candles on the edge of the tub.

Wash yourself from head to foot with the intention of ridding yourself of the energy.

Put out the candles with water from the tub.

Dry your body from head to foot.


Rehab, after the crisis center, works like magic — and by that I do not mean that I snap my fingers and everything is okay. I mean that I keep practicing doing the right thing for myself, and what I work for happens.


By the time I go to the crisis center, I have been trying to get help for two years. Two years of failed attempts at therapy. Two years of being told I’m doing the therapist’s job better than them. Two years of being told I sound like I have everything processed and am really together. I don’t know why people believe this. I am a convincing talker, I suppose.

In the crisis center, I smoke cigarettes on a porch with a butterfly bush planted in front of it. Hummingbirds dart through the air. The pillows are plastic. There is a stack of outsider art by the spent markers in the craft corner. I take some markers and draw something like the evil eye in bright colors. It looks radioactive. I write “sá benedica” above it. Outside, on the streets of Cleveland, a car accident happens and a man with a gun chases the person driving the car who caused it away. Drug altercations happen: strung out women beg while dealers laugh. Sex workers wait at the bus stop to step into someone’s car.

One night, I wake up and imagine someone is ready to shoot me from the outside my window. I throw myself into the hallway, bruising my toe, my knees. I have a panic attack and end up in the hospital.

One afternoon, when someone asks me about the problems in my life, I say, among other things, my writing career is blossoming. The person writing my words down says, “That’s a problem?”


The weekend I relapse, after I start outpatient rehab, is my friend’s 30th birthday weekend. I decide to make pastries. I have been snorting benzos for two days. I make a tart with a chocolate sablé crust, goat cheese mousse with chocolate chips in it, topped with strawberries and pomegranate; I make a key lime pie that says “Dirty 30” in toasted meringue; I make cake-cookies with lemon curd between the layers and raspberries on top.

Before I start to make them, before I black out for the night and forget most of it, I call on my Nonna Assunta, who I have never met in real life, to make sure they all come out well.

And they do. The pastries are great and everyone enjoys them.

I am a mess.

A few days later, at rehab, I break down, saying, “No one thinks I have problems, but I’m a trainwreck, I’m a trashfire.”

Within a few weeks, I don’t call myself words like this anymore.


Spell for Blessing Tarot Cards

Get to know the figures in your deck.

Look for them in the world around you.

When you have seen some of them, sit down with your cards and light a cigarette.

Pull a few cards at random.

Blow smoke on each card, and in greeting, say, “I remember you.”


I have nightmares for a long time after being assaulted. They wake me up into panic attacks often.

Some nights I have dreams about the person who hurt me healing, and me giving the item he left behind back.


I tell my best friend, who has known me since childhood, who knew my family, about my genetics test. I am exactly who I have always been told I am, I say, somewhat disappointed. No family secrets, no surprises. The crazy people who raised me are my people, no doubt.

“You’re the perfect combination of your mother and father,” she says. “You’re a stunning artist, like your mom, and you are charming as hell, like your dad. You’re a once-in-a-lifetime product of generations of people who loved you, even if they weren’t perfect.”

I think of all these generations of people, doing their best. I think of the ship record I once found on an ancestry site that marked my Nonna Assunta’s passage to the New World. I think of my Gram, Helen, who helped raise me, how fiercely loving she was to the people who mattered to her, how casually cruel she could be to the people who did not. I think of my mother’s neurosis, which I have inherited, but also how she drew and painted wonderfully as a child, a talent that was subverted into making clothes and Halloween costumes for her family once she was married. I think of my dad, his dark hair, olive skin, and eyes the same shade of pastel green as mine; how everyone loved him for his humor and easy nature, and how bad his temper was, too—both things I can see in myself.

I am exactly who all these people wanted me to be. I am all of them, and also myself. I make a promise to be the best version I can of that self, to honor all of them.

And the curse is broken.


Spell for Growth and Healing

On the vernal equinox, get a flower pot, potting soil, seeds, a piece of paper, and a pen.

On the paper, write all the good things you wish to draw into your life, and place them at the bottom of the flower pot.

Plant the seeds.

Every time you water the seeds, you water your intentions.

As the plants grow, as you tend and care for them, so you tend and care for the goodness that you are drawing into your life.


About the item the man who assaulted me left behind:

It was a handkerchief, monogrammed, cotton. I wrapped it up in acrylic yarn with all my anger, with all my desire to keep him from hurting others. I put it in a bag. I put it in a box. I put it in my closet. There it stayed for over a year.

One day, when I am in rehab, I take it out of the closet. Before I know what I am doing, I unwind it. There are knots and tangles in the yarn, and I can feel my anger in them as I undo them.

I take the handkerchief out to my backyard. I also take a pewter dish a powerful witch has given me, my lighter, a eucalyptus smudging stick.

In the pewter dish, I light the handkerchief on fire. The air feeds it while I burn the eucalyptus stick and circle its smoke around me. Fire purifies. Smoke cleanses.

When the handkerchief has burned nearly all the way out, I put out the embers with wet leaves and earth. I take the dish inside and wash the remaining burned areas with water.

I walk back into my kitchen and begin to do my dishes.


Alex DiFrancesco is the author of PSYCHOPOMPS, ALL CITY, and TRANSMUTATION. They are a 2022 recipient of the Ohio Arts Council’s Individual Excellence Award, as well as the first transgender award finalist in over 80 years of the Ohioana Book Awards.