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The Magic Room

I live in a lovely but relatively unremarkable ranch home. A three bedroom, two bath house of unexpected magic that we bought in 1999 for way above our price range. When my mother toured it shortly after we closed escrow, she was unimpressed. It had rust-brown shag carpet, creepy dollhouse-calibre wallpaper and no pantry, so I can see why. “For this much money you could live next to the Country Club in a doctor’s neighborhood in North Carolina,” she said, as we walked down to the LA River, which was blue on the map but merely a trickle of brown sludge in the middle of concrete in reality.

We’ve since raised some ceilings and two pretty cool kids, expanded the family room, filled the yard with palms and plumeria, and the house has magically blossomed into a home that held the hopes of two dozen Christmas trees, and where we made a million memories, sharing laughter, tales and tears. And if the unsolicited solicitations from numerous realtors are to be believed, we could be millionaires. But that there isn’t the magic of which I speak. The magic has occurred in our guest bathroom.

In two instances that I know of, a person, namely my brother, went into that bathroom with its sea foam green original tile and octagonal sink and came out with a clarity that changed his life.

The first time was a dozen years ago after my brother’s first marriage had ended and he was heading back to Maryland after a year of teaching in China. We were talking over breakfast on the last day of his extended layover, and he just seemed down. He confided that he felt quite certain that he was destined to a life alone and that he’d never find love again. He sat stiffly under the wrap of my hug. There were no words that would mend his melancholy.

I had a meeting not far from my house that morning, so I offered him my car. “I might just stay here and read,” he said.

“But its your last day in L.A.,” I reminded him as he excused himself to got to the bathroom, “You should do something fun!” I called after him as the door clicked closed.

A few minutes later, he came out of the bathroom and said, “I think I WILL take you up on the car. I want to go to LACMA.”

Great! But that’s a quick turn of events?”

“I don’t know, it just came to me that would be a good thing to do.”

Later that afternoon, my brother came home smiling. He’d been gone far longer than I expected. I was trying not to imagine the worst, but worry kept creeping in. His smile dispelled any fears. “You seem really happy.” I said.

“Well, I met someone.”

What? Who? How? Where? Didn’t you just say you were destined for loneliness?”

“Well, I don’t know about that. I walked into a room at LACMA and there, in front of one of my favorite paintings, stood a beautiful Chinese woman, and when I spoke to her in Mandarin, I think I stunned her.” His voice trailed off, but his face lit up, “And her smile? Well, she was pretty amazing. We spent the day together.”

It probably was surprising for her to see a six-foot-four Caucasian man, six-five if you account for the curls atop his head, speaking Chinese. On the basketball courts in Suzhou, people jokingly called him the white Yao Ming.

And so, the man from Maryland who, in one moment was sure he’d forever be alone, began a long distance romance with a Chinese immersion elementary school teacher living in Los Angeles.

Two years later, my brother was visiting again, and once again, he seemed a little out of sorts. “What’s going on little brother?” I asked.

Well here’s the thing,” he said, “I love this woman, but she wants to have a baby, and you know I have never wanted children.”

I did know. His first wife was eleven years older than my brother and they made it pretty clear that there was no biological clock influencing their marriage.

“What are you going to do?”

“I either need to commit to being a father or I need to let her go so she can find a partner who wants what she wants.”

My brother got up, excused himself and closed the door of the sea foam guest bathroom.

Five or six minutes later he came out. “I’ve decided I am going to ask her to marry me.”

“What?! What happened in there?” I asked, looking at the door to the magic portal masquerading as our guest bath.

“I don’t know, it just became clear to me that I can’t see my life without her and maybe a baby would be a good thing.”


The following year they were married. We hosted their wedding reception in our backyard filled with ferns and flowers. A year later we welcomed Victoria Weiya into our family. And for nearly a decade, my brother has been one of the best fathers I’ve ever known, patient, attentive, lovingly present. And his daughter is the world’s second biggest baseball fan, joining that roster just below my brother.

But whenever he visits and I see him enter the guest bathroom, I watch to see if there is a change or revelation as my brother comes out the door, because I am 100% certain there is something magical about that place, though in my own trips to the toilet I’ve yet to have an epiphany.

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As shared at Story Salon on August 9, 2023.


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