Herewith, an incomplete list of psychics I have been to; partially because these are the important ones, partially because I can't remember all of the psychics I have been to.
August 2000, Weirs Beach, NH
When I was 14 and summer vacations were everything, my cousin Laurie agreed to take me to the palm reader who'd set up shop on the boardwalk. I wanted to go to a psychic more than anything (my parents had always rightfully insisted they were a crazy waste of money), but I still struck a hard teen skeptic's posture. I was extremely excited to pretend I didn't take the whole thing seriously. Fourteen years later, I still remember without trying that she told me I would marry a police officer or a lawyer. "A police officer or a lawyer" is my Damon Bradley.
May 2007, New York, NY
I could be wrong about the exact date, but I believe my foray back into the world of foretelling coincided with moving into my first real, non-dorm apartment in New York. Living in the West Village was a big deal (it was 2007 and I was 21), and there were a number of things I had seen wandering around the neighborhood but wanted to try as a real local. Things like now-closed Manatus diner and the psychic on the sharp corner of 7th and Bleecker, the one whose window read ~Clairvoyant~.
I was a little older than a skeptical teen but still young, and I openly wanted someone to tell me what was what. A few years in the city had taught me that I was free to leave the hard skepticism to other people and just believe whatever dumb junk I wanted. I was extremely superstitious then (also before that, and also after that, and also now). But this time I could see the psychic's wheels turning. I could see her sizing me and my friends up, deciding how we fit in with each other and in with the world we didn't really understand yet. I could see her deciding that we could be talked out of the cheaper palm reading and up to a pricier tarot reading. She was right.
The real art of psychics is reading people, in that quick, uncanny way of fictional crime-stopping men (see Sherlock, Psych, The Mentalist) and (predominantly female) sidewalk psychics. The idea of having an expert in human nature, however unaccredited, take a run at my life appeals to me. I don't remember the specifics of this reading (I think she told me my college boyfriend and I weren't built to last so I dismissed it out of hand, proving that I am no psychic), but I do remember gaining a new respect for what these encounters could be, when done well.
April 2009, New York, NY
As I was on any other night of my 23rd year, I was out at a boy-focused gay bar with my friends when this willowy, enchanting traveling palm reader approached us. And that I remember! The rest, eh, not so much. According to the caption of this Facebook photo, she told both me my friend Ian that our love lives were "revolving doors." Although this might have been one of the more accurate readings I've received before or since, it also seems like perhaps an easy assumption to make of a young gayman and his chubby, intoxicated female companion in a thumpingly loud bar on a weeknight. You could look at anyone in a mile radius of 23-year old me and say, "mistakes have been made" and we would wither in recognition.
Another picture from this evening shows a bloody knee with the caption "Meredith had a accident."
May 2012, Los Angeles, CA
Annie and I were visiting her hometown and my friends Matt and Sam, and this exciting confluence meant only one thing: group visit to a Sherman Oaks psychic superstore. We picked our various mediums from a board of laminated sell-sheets, and took turns sniffing wealth-creation incense and studying purchasable runes while we waited for each other.
I fought with this psychic, a little. Her sign had billed her as an "Angelic Messenger" but in person she resembled a biker's tired girlfriend. Rubbing a dirty penny across an alphabet hand-penciled on white printer paper, she told me that I should give an alcoholic former boyfriend another shot. I thought this was a bad idea, but she persisted. "Sometimes men need a little more understanding," she told, "it's up to women to give them a second chance."
After her reading, Annie told me that her psychic had been right about everything. "She knew about you! She said I had a close blonde friend."
"She saw me in the store with you," I pointed out.
Later I decided that my angelic messenger had meant another alcoholic (one I had a vested interest in) and that I had played my hand all wrong. In truth, I think she wasn't talking about me at all.
October 2013, Beacon, NY
Before leaving my second job and starting my third, I forced my friends to road trip to Beacon for the express purpose of seeing a psychic. "You have to go to 'Notions and Potions,'" my friend Lindsey had told me, after her own trip up the river, "They sell Harley Davidson merch, hemp bracelets and crystals. And you can get your tarot read." I was sold, right up the river. After what we in the business call "a really bad date," it had been a difficult, touchy summer, but with a new job, I was ready to put old shit behind me. And I wanted a psychic to tell me how.
From the car, we called the store to make sure they were open and ready to receive us. They seemed confused, but we made appointments. The store was everything Lindsey had promised, plus an impressive supply of "funny" t-shirts. I was in love.
I let my friends go ahead of me, not wanting to make them wait after I sold them all up the river too. Each one came out a little shocked, a little validated, a little indignant, a little seen. I listened to their readings and thought they sounded unusually insightful. In the moments before my reading, I got scared.
His name was Sacred Owl. He was a large man with a goatee/ponytail combo and bracelets, and it felt – like it was supposed to, I suppose – like he knew things. I don't remember what I expected – to be told I was a calm, laidback girl who was going to be just fine, no problem? He told me that I overthink things and that I was off my game. I agreed but said that the latter was for extenuating circumstances, and Sacred Owl cut me off. "I know," he said, "but we don't have time to get into that. You have to get your groove back in the next three weeks." He looked at his cards more closely, "By November 4th." I didn't even ask "or what?" I just knew.
For months after that reading, I thought about Sacred Owl every day. In an early November panic, I got my recently grown-out bangs recut into a solid fringe. I still think I missed my deadline, and part of me worries that my groove is still missing.
August 2014, Brooklyn, NY
After trying to counsel my friend and very recent former co-worker that she should stop trying to predict the future when it came to boys and jobs, I suggested that perhaps we should have someone else predict the future. (Ultimately, I'm going with "unemployment" to explain this.)
It took some maneuvering, and some embarrassed-giggle-filled phone calls, but eventually we ended up at a psychic right near my Park Slope apartment. She had a small window on 7th Ave, and her kids played on the other side of the door, occasionally poking their heads in during the reading and making a small commotion. The walls all around were unusually thin.
Because Beejoli had never been to a psychic before, I went first, to prove that the water was fine. When we sat down, the psychic started her expert talk-around, avoiding my questions about the price for anything and asking me probing questions. I hurriedly agreed to pay an exorbitant fee. I was already flooded with regret. "You're moving," she shuffled a pared-down tarot deck. "No," I told her. Despite the trip being my idea, I had apparently decided – without forethought or self-reflection – that I was not going to give her anything. I was a hard teen skeptic again, and I was not going to admit the cosmic similarity between moving and losing a job. I had recently paid my therapist to listen to me talk for an hour while she sat quietly, and now, for a small discount, I would let this stranger speak uninterrupted while I steadfastly said nothing. At the end of the spiel, she pressed a small crystal in my hand and told me she wanted me to have it. "At least I'll walk away with something," I thought. "Just $65," she said, closing my palm around it.
I wanted to tell Beejoli that we should leave, that she should save her money or at least angle for the cheaper readings, but I was not able to properly convey any of this with a desperate look. I could hear her reading a little through the door. She was being much more forthcoming with the psychic than I had been. She sounded like she was hearing real insights. It occurred to me right then that while this psychic wasn't psychic, I had prevented her from any chance of performing the cool, human magic trick I wanted. I had wanted her to read me, but I behaved like a totally different person: skeptical, closed-off, capable of being quiet. I needed to put something into it to get anything out of it. Psychic readings aren't unlike relationships that way – you might be getting duped, but if you don't try to enjoy it, then you're just out $45 with nothing to show for it.
Afterward, Beejoli and I used the Tarot app on my iPad and got almost devastatingly accurate readings. That thing is uncanny.
(Second photo: Ian Carlos Crawford)