A few months ago I went to see a medium.
And see, all of a very shocking sudden that sentence doesn’t sound insane coming from me – and maybe that’s the part that feels the most crazy.
Allow me if you will to sum up qualities and characteristics of what I tend to classify as my typical behavioral and psychological makeup: super-logical (almost to a fault sometimes – the world is a tough fucking place for those who rely upon logic when so many run on blind, ungoverned, raw emotion); self-aware; edgy; unrepentant if I’m right; conciliatory if I’m wrong; reformed procrastinator; and rather cynical by nature. I’m a great baker and an extraordinary present-giver. Seriously – I will surprise you with something you didn’t even know existed on the planet, but once you unwrap it you’ll question how you ever lived what you once considered a full life without it.
(Example? Give a guy the Hair Tingler, that strangely-pronged contraption clearly created by a benevolent God with a stressed-out scalp. The guy will love you forever. Or he should.)
Also, I was raised right, so I’d never show up someplace empty-handed. Once I brought a gift for my hostess’ dog. And for the humans? I’ll always bring cake pops or decorated brownie bites or something else in the icing family.
I did not bring the psychic medium cake pops.
I did seriously consider it.
This was my second experience with a medium, and I’m more embarrassed writing that particular statement than if I wrote that I sometimes like to have my hair pulled during sex, knowing that one of my current or former high school Film students would read what I wrote and tell everybody my sexual inclinations. (Hi, kids! Watch American Hustle! It’s the best Scorsese movie Scorsese didn’t make. And if you’re the student who borrowed my copy of the book Fast Times at Ridgemont High– the one I stayed up into the dead of a snowy winter’s night refreshing my eBay screen every seven seconds until I won – I want my fucking book back. Now.)
But back to the dead.
I have never once had a spiritual encounter. There have been no cold spots in corners of my bathroom. Soapy-looking orbs have never manifested in family photos. My father, long deceased, has never appeared in any ghostlike form to me, something I appreciated wildly during my teenage years when I was so terrified that I’d wake up during the dark night and find his apparition hovering above me, grazing my River Phoenix posters. Many years later, in a moment of total despair, I prayed hard and for real for the first time, essentially begging him to come visit me. It never happened. I consoled myself for being someone a dear departed spirit didn’t deign to visit by telling myself that I had moved so often that he must not know where to find me – or that maybe this whole spirit thing was total horseshit.
There’s actually nothing pressing on my mind that I need clarification about that my father’s potential spirit could provide. If his spirit exists and could verbalize certain things, I know he’d say that he is proud of me, he likes that I write, he applauds my sarcasm, and he wishes I would develop more of the arrogant nature he wrapped himself in like a well-worn hoodie.
And he wishes he were here.
I know all that. Our relationship was strong, and I took care immediately after his death to remember him as not just a father, but a person, one with incredibly colorful flaws. I did not want to place a modified halo on his deceased head; I wanted him to live on in memory as something honest, and I think that choice is one of the reasons that I was never psychologically stunted by his death.
And yet it’s Saturday, and the sun has started to descend over the water in the harbor town where I live, and I’m standing outside a small store, the wind blowing softly, and I gear myself up to be open-minded, telling myself that the woman inside probably didn’t Google me before I arrived.
Maybe I’ll get answers to questions I didn’t even know I should ask.
Maybe I’ll find a sense of comfort.
I’ve felt so little comfort lately.
The store is small and it smells of a lavender-infused patchouli. I arrive before the psychic, so the salesgirl behind the counter tells me to browse, that Lisa will be here shortly. I look around at candles that claim to be anointed with healing and restorative powers and at books that are filled with incantations, and it feels like I’m standing on the checkout line of the supermarket all of a sudden, and I start thinking, “Maybe I do need those karma rocks!” in the way I usually think,
“I definitely need those Tootsie Rolls.”
Before I can fully clean the place out and wind up with a living room filled with Reiki-charged candles, Lisa arrives. She’s small, this psychic, and she’s holding a Starbucks cup, and there’s a little rose-colored lipstick on the top of it. She’s in jeans and a heavy sweater and she looks just like anyone else, and I wonder if any of this can possibly be real.
I follow Lisa up a tight, winding staircase to the room where the readings take place. It’s comfortably cluttered with books and a few weirdly shaped crystals, but there’s nothing like what I’d throw into that room if I were the production designer and this was a film set. I’m sort of expecting draped lace everywhere and a doorway with beads hanging from it that maybe make a jangling sound as the spirits pop in and out, but no; it’s just a room, and there’s a large window I can see out of, and we’re on the second floor so I watch the winter sun tumble down in a rush over the grey water in the frigid distance.
We sit down. I try to keep my legs uncrossed because I remember that in Don’t Look Now, the character Julie Christie played was instructed to open her legs during the séance so the spirits could pass through more easily. And I momentarily marvel at how completely movie moments have informed my life and how some of the most frightening and the most poignant and the most hilarious events of my actual life are stored in my head like they’re on a 16 mm print, and I act sometimes like some of them are really constructed out of fragile film stock instead of housed by a strong psyche, and those I try to handle with reverence and with care.
I’m asked to shuffle tarot cards, and this is how the other session started too. I’m a shitty shuffler, and I ask if that will impede the process.
Lisa just laughs and shakes her head.
I’m asked to spread the cards, fanlike, across the table and then to pick out eight just by pointing at them. I try to vary where in the deck I’m picking; I feel momentarily smug when I choose the one at the very outer edge, like that means I’m such an individual or something.
I wonder if how I feel is similar to how those who voted for Ross Perot felt in ’92.
Lisa flips over the cards – and to someone who has never researched what the images mean, let me tell you this: they all look vaguely terrifying. There’s one that shows a person who has been shot up with arrows, and it doesn’t look like it was cute little Cupid who was the shooter. There are all kinds of mystical-looking beings in vivid colors and things that look like hybrid creatures, which scare the hell out of me. But I’m here and I want to know what all this might mean since self-reflection and scribbling in journals have not been helping me like they normally do.
“Just had a break-up?” Lisa asks.
She points at one of the cards, the shot-with-arrows guy.
“I’m sorry you recently experienced so much pain. But what you felt for him was real. And stop telling yourself that he didn’t care about you. He did; he still does. But he’s afraid of commitment. This was not about you.”
Now here’s the thing: she’s probably right. Maybe not about the part that he ever really cared – that’s up for debate – but that I did go through a parting with someone who had a hard time letting himself connect. I wasn’t sure how much of that had to do with his fear and how much of it was simply that I just wasn’t enough for him. But, though she started with what was obviously on my mind, wasn’t that just too easy of an understanding to settle on? Weren’t most people who showed up breathlessly to see a psychic reeling from some kind of loss?
Yes, out came my doubt, and look, I’m allowed to be doubtful. That said, it was me who arranged this session and it was me who was paying the equivalent of what the most gorgeous peep-toe, platform, cognac-brown leather sandals I had been coveting cost. If I couldn’t let myself even try to believe, what was I doing here?
“What do you really want to know?” Lisa asked me.
“I guess I want to know if I’m going to find real love,” I responded to a woman I’d met five minutes earlier. “I want something true and something beautiful, and I’ve been in love before, but I can honestly say, while the endings of some of those past relationships were painful, I don’t think I should have ended up with any of those guys. This last one, though? I really thought this one might have been right.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
She said that sentence to me so many times that I wondered if she had it embroidered on tees available for sale downstairs so you could wear it while lighting the wick of a prosperity candle. And let me tell you, if there had been a tee down there that said that and was made from a soft jersey cotton and came in the navy or the charcoal family, I would’ve bought it on the spot.
“Are there people who have passed over who you want to contact? I mean, your parents are alive, right?”
The question stopped me cold. My father was dead – and the psychic medium hadn’t known that. At that moment, I crossed my legs and sat the way I always did.
“My father passed away,” I responded.
“Hmm,” said the woman who might very well have been lying to my face and planned to charge me for it. And immediately, I began to wonder if what had gone wrong with that guy maybe had been my fault.
If I had been wearing the imaginary tee, I would have torn it to shreds.
“Was someone who has passed on addicted in some way? Was someone struggling with alcoholism?”
Very strange question to get and here’s why. First: no. There’s nobody I cared about who has died who had an addiction issue. My family has been plagued by strokes and heart attacks, not alcoholism. But the psychic I saw that one other time asked me the same question.
“I’m just going to tell him to move along then,” said Lisa, and she almost sounded cheerful. She looked like she was concentrating hard. Her eyes were flitting around the room, looking at things in the distance behind me. I was too afraid to turn around and take a peek.
She pursed her lips and shook her head.
“He’s a tough one to reach, your dad.”
She looked frustrated.
“I’m wearing his picture in my locket,” I said. “Would it help you to see his face?”
She shook her head again, almost waving my suggestion away with an impatient hand gesture, and she reached out to the small table near the window and took hold of that weirdly-shaped purple crystal. She began to almost fondle it, tracing its bumpy ridges with her finger.
Then she smiled.
“Your dad was sarcastic, yes?”
“And he was not a religious man?”
“No. Let me put it this way. I’m Jewish, and the man had me believing in Santa until I was about eight years old. I believed for longer than some of my Catholic friends.”
She laughed, but it was weird. It didn’t look like she was laughing at what it was that I had said.
“Your dad says he was never sure he believed in God – and he’s still not sure. Guess he hasn’t met God yet.”
“That sounds about right,” I responded with a small smile, hoping that maybe he had been too busy to meet God because he had been spending his Heavenly Days dining with his afterlife heroes. I saw an image of him drinking a Rolling Rock while playing pool with Buddy Holly, Mickey Mantle, and Ernest Hemingway.
Lisa looked me directly in the eye.
“What would you like to ask him?”
“Is he proud of me?” And, though I knew the answer, just asking the question made me feel vulnerable.
“Yes,” she answered instantly. She was quiet for a moment then.
“Are you a writer?”
“I am. I wrote a book and I’m going to start writing a blog soon.”
“Your dad read your book. He loved it.”
And that’s when I started to weep.
I cried those soft tears, the ones that kind of leak out the corners of your eyes – both corners – without any kind of frequency or rhythm you can follow, the kind that instantly destroys your eye makeup and somehow also makes you feel about four pounds lighter because it’s pure, genuine emotion that is leaving your body, and that shit can weigh a ton.
She said more things: I asked about the health of my family and the relationships between us, and I got responses, and soon the hour ended and the sky outside of the window was now a molten-looking shade of black and I could not see the boats that I knew were still bobbing in the harbor. And I stood up and I hugged Lisa, because hugging her felt right.
I made my way down the winding staircase that was harder to walk down than up and the same salesgirl was still standing behind the register in the small store.
“How was it?” she asked.
“Helpful,” I responded, and then turned over a small fortune in cash.
I thanked the girl and then I fastened the buttons of my coat and arranged my scarf around my neck and walked out into the frost-tinged air. I felt better than when I had arrived.
Not for one second could I really convince myself that my father’s spirit had read my book. I wish I could have let go of the doubt, of the logic – of who I guess I really am. But still, I felt settled. I felt close to him again, and I think that came simply from talking about him.
I arrived home comforted and conflicted, soothed and skeptical. I didn’t call anyone to tell them what Lisa the Psychic had said, or that my father had potentially swung by to play literary critic, but I did pull on the softest sweatpants that I own, and I held my dog in my arms and looked out onto my terrace as the snow once again started to fall, and I felt a moment of pure peace.