True confessions: I’m a psychic junkie. I use psychics like other people use therapists. Seriously, why spend years yapping on about your issues when you can spend an hour with a clairvoyant who can tell you all you need to know? Most people—first and foremost my husband—find this strange, so I try to keep it on the down-low. But this time of year, as we rollover to a new digit on the calendar, I get the itch to make an appointment with a seer.
In my defense, I blame my parents. They started me early—my father booked appointments for each of us with a renowned local psychic when I was just 14. Not that my dad is some kind of hippie; at first glance you'd assume he was very conservative. He held a job with a large corporation and went to mass most Sundays, but he’s always had a healthy fascination with the dark side. He grew up going to Catholic school so naturally he was in to anything macabre. The shelves of his study were crammed with books on crime families, the supernatural and medical anomalies. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the subject of hermaphrodites came up at least once a week in our house. While other kids were reading their Golden Books, my sister and I were looking at grainy pictures of elephantiasis.
So the psychic thing was not such a stretch. In fact, it was probably inevitable.
We arrived at the psychic’s home, a normal-looking house in a newer subdivision, in our Oldsmobile sedan. Only when the door opened did things start to get weird. We were greeted by a man in a wheelchair who introduced himself as the psychic’s brother. He was ferrying three small white dogs with yellowed beards on his lap, and although he was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, he was also wearing rouge and a woman’s wig. This was not a long, luxurious Cher-style wig but rather a short, curly gray and white wig that a woman in her 80s might wear—what my grandmother would call a “wash and set.” At first, I thought the hair was his own until I caught a glimpse of the flesh-colored mesh cap that anchored the wig hair.
He welcomed us in and asked us to sit on the couch where we would wait for our individual appointments. The smell of dog pee permeated the house and I followed Mom’s cue of sitting while having the least amount of contact with the couch. I wondered if my parents were having second thoughts about toting their young daughters to a psychic who lived in such slipshod conditions and may or may not have some unseemly relationship with the rolling dog ferry who calls himself “the brother.”
As the youngest, I was allowed to go first. On my way in, Dad slipped me a dollar and instructed me to walk up to the ice cream shop when I was finished; they would all join me one by one. As I prepared to enter, I tried to recount all of the ice cream flavors I could remember so he could not read my mind and hear the voices in my head that said Run! The guy’s a fraud! A slob! Quite possibly a pervert!
I walked into his office and was greeted with the wet, toothless grin of an elderly man sitting behind a small white desk that was so short his belly could rest on the edge of it. He wore a tight plaid shirt, kind of cowboy style with pearl snaps and curly stitching on the pockets, and he twiddled his thumbs. I had never seen someone actually twiddle their thumbs before—I’d only seen it used as physical punctuation after a joke about being bored. His hands were large and rough so the twiddling made a sound like nylon-clad thighs rubbing together. I said hello while chanting Butter Pecan, Heavenly Hash, Strawberry Cheesecake over and over in my mind until he said, “Why did you stop playing the violin?”
His question stunned me. Two things ran through my head: Oh my God, he can read my mind, I had better not think bad thoughts, and Oh my God, he can read my mind, maybe now someone can understand me. All of a sudden the need to be understood, the yearning for someone to really know who I was eclipsed the fear of having someone read my mind. “Can’t you see how awful I was?" I responded.
I had played the violin for three years but my playing was remarkably unremarkable. I used my mother’s childhood violin so I thought my playing was extra important to her. One day I mustered up the courage to tell my parents that I was going to stop playing the violin and would be taking an extra science class instead of orchestra. They just shrugged and complemented me on my practicality. It became clear to me that my playing was as painful to my family as it was to me.
“Is it important that I play? Are messages coming from my music?” I asked, thinking that angels might be speaking through my strained rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, one of the few songs I could play by heart.
“No, I can see that wasn’t the creative outlet for you. But you must remember that what you produce is not as important as the creative effort behind it. Remember that. Now I see beautiful writing. Lots and lots of beautiful writing.”
This delighted me. My new passion in art class had been calligraphy, and I was prolific. Nearly every day I pumped out a new poster-sized calligraphic rendering of Pink Floyd’s lyrics and I was extremely proud of the gold-leafed illuminated letters I had done on Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven.
“Wow! Will I become a famous calligrapher?” I asked eagerly. He laughed so hard I was able to see that he did indeed have a few teeth back in the grotto of his mouth and he said no, that’s not really what I mean sweetheart, you’re quite a literal girl aren’t you?
With much lisping and smacking, he mumbled on for nearly an hour about my future, which was surprisingly uninteresting to me—at fourteen hearing about your future seems as irrelevant as listening to someone’s dream. I simply could not reconcile what he was saying with my own life. In fact, as soon as he told me I would not be a famous calligrapher he lost me.
Afterward, I met my sister and parents at the ice cream parlor and listened to them excitedly tell each other their predictions, which was even more boring than hearing my own. I was much more interested in the Rocky Road milkshake I was drinking than anyone’s future. So I tuned out and started to calligraphy the words to Comfortably Numb on my napkin, itching to get home to see if my dusty violin had a secret message for me.
Only later, after the dog hair had been long washed from my clothes and the stale smell of the house had faded from memory, I realized I was hooked. Still am. But let's keep it on the down-low, okay?
3 weeks ago