I haven’t seen my psychic in over a year. Her name is Kim, and she has long locks of white hair and sparkling eyes that wink at me through her social media profile. She reminds me of a pixie or forest sprite. At the risk of typecasting, she’s extremely otherworldly.
I don’t know much about her, but I know she recently earned her college degree at the age of seventy. Now she’s in graduate school, and her computers are usually on the fritz, which also feels on-brand. We haven’t met in person, though our states adjoin glancingly. Kim often forgets what time zone she lives in.
“I can tell you where you’ve been and where you’re going,” she tells me. “But I can’t tell you which time zone Michigan is in.”
“There are two time zones in Michigan,” I say, mystified.
She names her city and says, “Just call me at 6 p.m., whenever that occurs in this town.”
Space and time feel like accessories for her; to be donned at her convenience. We have our talks, as she calls them, over the phone, but I imagine what it would be like to visit Kim in her home. Would she have a wide wraparound porch? A cat that wraps itself silkily around my ankles? Maybe she’d serve me tea in a handmade ceramic cup, or maybe she would carry around one of those ombre-tinted VSCO girl Hydroflasks. She’d gesticulate with her elegant hands, willing things into being that didn’t exist before. I believe anything of Kim.
I’m wildly fascinated by those who are connected to forces beyond the median range of senses; people who hear music at high decibels or see color differences in the spectrum; those who’ve encountered ghosts and UFOs. In a way, I think psychics are simply attuned to something the rest of us aren’t. Energy, emotion, stardust—or maybe it’s intuition so finely honed that it passes for foresight.
My grandmother, Bà Ngoai, professes a link to the wide unknown. Where some see mundane dates and objects, she sees omens. Clouds swirl meaningfully for her. Tea leaves gather with purpose. There is something terribly still and lonely about her sometimes, as if she were standing on a cliff, watching the churn of the world’s events below her.
“You were born under a lucky star,” she’d say to me as a kid, as she yanked the tangles out of my hair before bed. Psychic she may be, but tender she is not. “Just like I knew you would be.”
Her favorite thing to say to the Universe is: I told you so.
To her, this inner knowledge was god-given, a reward for having lived a pious life. She takes her responsibilities very seriously, and has a hand in most large family decisions. When my husband bought our first home, she demanded that we go through an elaborate series of rituals to cleanse the home, starting with positioning a lamp in a specific corner, and then waiting to move in until a specific date. Our furniture hadn’t arrived, but we blew up a mattress and camped in the house, because Bà Ngoai said so. Her blend of mysticism is part superstition and part self-claimed psychic ability, and the result is something rather uncanny. I never had a choice to believe or not believe: her clairvoyance was just a fact of the world, like wet oceans or dry deserts.
She picked my wedding date as an auspicious one, but it took her a very long time to pinpoint exactly when it would be. For months after our engagement, my husband and I dropped strong hints about catering deposits and save-the-dates, but she was swayed by little aside from her own internal clock. I’m not sure she’s been indisputably correct about any of her predictions, but she’s just so sure of herself that it overrides any question of accuracy. And, I’m still married, so there’s that.
She used to tell me that I was psychic too, but with a slightly aggrieved air, as if she were annoyed to not be the only clairvoyant in the family.
“When you were a baby, you talked to people who weren’t there,” she said. “It was creepy.”
I didn’t want to be a psychic; I wanted to be a kid sitting in front of the TV watching "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," where the supernatural was accompanied by a bawdy laugh track. Once, a man visited our home, a friend-of-a-friend who had some ability with the mystic arts. He read our palms.
“Your fate line is firm,” he told me. “That means you’re married to your destiny.”
“Is she psychic, though?” my grandma asked.
He leveled us with a look. “Hard to say. She’s very young.”
I don’t know: Maybe I could feel energies that some couldn’t. I used to think I saw ghosts. Most of my life was clouded by a sense of déjà vu, as if I was acting out memories everyone else had forgotten. But I wasn’t certain about anything. For a time, any brush with the unknown was incidental, until it wasn’t. Until I sought it out.
On one of my first dates with my husband, we found ourselves wandering the streets of Old Town in Chicago, full from guacamole and margaritas with floating jalapeño slices. We swayed with the strands of outdoor lights hanging from trellises, as light and buoyant as the breeze. A man sat at a card table, behind a folded sign offering fortune telling for $15. We were playful and a little drunk, and I pulled my husband down next to me.
The psychic was solemn and unshowy. He didn’t shuffle cards or really do anything much. He glanced at my palm.
“You’re torn between two men,” he said. It was an awkward thing to hear when standing next to a new lover, but at that moment, it was true. “Your future husband will work in your industry. You’ll have one child and publish a book at forty. Here, let me write this down for you.”
My husband laughed, gamely handing over a twenty dollar bill, telling the psychic to keep the tip. He went on his way and probably never thought about it again. On the other hand, I kept the psychic’s note in a jewelry box until it fell apart a decade later, like a talisman or a wish.
For a time, my husband and I did both work in marketing. My Wonder Girl is our only child, and the light of our lives. I haven’t published a book, but I’m edging forty, so we have a sliver of time left.
What mattered to me wasn’t that all of the psychic’s predictions came true—or close enough—it was that I wanted them to. I saw what a future could be, so firmly articulated, and I grabbed at it. I shaped it into existence. If that isn’t a kind of magic, I don’t know what is.
Seeing the psychics likely started as a novelty: something to do when I was bored and had some expendable income. Despite my grandmother’s keen sense of foresight, and her insistence on mine, I don’t think I truly believed anyone had psychic ability, though I also didn’t go into the exchange with a sense of malice, hoping to catch anyone in a fabrication. I wanted to believe in things that were unknown, and I was open to it.
What I found in my psychics is harder to narrow down than mere accuracies in prediction. In their readings, I saw that my reactions would often rise strong and true. I quickly shot down that which I didn’t want, and embraced possibilities that feel truest and most joyful. So in that sense, there is an act of creation happening within a conversation with a psychic. There is a sort of chemistry: an exchange of energy that leaves me with a knowledge I didn’t have before. In my psychics, I have seen flashes of lives I’ve wanted, and shadows of those I don’t. It’s not literal fact, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t truth to be found.
In San Francisco, my friend N and I left our husbands at a bar so that we could get matching tattoos. We were having a bit of a quarter-life crisis, and permanent ink seemed the best solution. But then we got turned around and changed course midway to the tattoo parlor.
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” N said, stating the very obvious.
“You’re right. Let’s just get our fortunes read instead,” I suggested.
I looked up the number of a psychic. N was skeptical, but I cajoled them into agreeing.
We made an appointment with a sleepy-sounding woman named Marina, who lived two blocks away from the intersection we happened to be indecisively camped at. Soon, we were waiting in the hallway outside her apartment door. The rugs were a dark indigo, plush yet battered with cigarette fumes. Marina, our psychic, said she would see us one at a time. I waited forty-five minutes for my turn, nodding at the young men and women bopping up and down the stairs, on their way to and home from the heady promise of the city.
When N came out, their expression was odd, a mixture of disdain and something more unreadable. “It’s your turn. I don’t think she’s real.”
Marina waved me in with beautiful, pearl-colored nails. “Don’t look over there. There’s a man sleeping on my couch.” She indicated a heave of a body under a dark quilt.
For years, I was haunted by that statement. Did she not know the man? Was she unwilling to tell me who he was? Marina spoke as if strangers happened in her home at all hours, which I guess was true, since I was there. I placed the money on her kitchen table and tried not to nose around her space too much, though I did mark a bold painting of sunflowers in the corner of the room. I breathed the pleasant scent of dinner just-whisked off the table, and felt sorry that I had interrupted her night.
She took my palm. “Here’s the deal: you cannot reveal to anyone what we talk about until midnight.”
“Time seals your fortune.”
“What if I don’t want my fortune sealed?” I asked.
She was annoyed. “You don’t get to decide that. Just wait until midnight.”
Marina gave me her thoughts about my life and my middling career. She talked about places I could visit and live. It felt pretty generic, but not unbelievable. I gave it an average rating, as far as psychics went. I absentmindedly wondered if there was a Yelp for psychics. When I got up to leave, she cleared her throat.
“Do you want to know more?” she asked.
I prepared myself for an additional fee, but she just gestured for me to sit.
She said, “I mean, really. I don’t want to tell you, but I would want to know if I were you.”
Marina went on, “You have a very dark male energy around you. You used to see a man in your dreams, no?”
I nodded again. For a long time, I dreamed of my absent father nearly every night. I tried not to think of those dreams anymore.
“And then you didn’t, because you pushed him away. You turned the lights on. When you did that, your third eye closed.”
I twitched uncomfortably.
“But it’s not closed forever, not if you want it back. I don’t know if you do.”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“Okay. Maybe that’s for the best. But if you change your mind, be careful. Know that when you open that eye, the dark man will come back. And you may not be able to turn him away. Put a bowl of clean water under your bed to keep your dreams fresh.”
Later that night, after midnight, my friend and I shared what Marina told us with our husbands. N scoffed as they recounted their fortune. I tried to laugh too. It was a weird experience in a weird place. Tall, dark, and handsome man—wasn’t that textbook psychic script? I told my friends about everything except the part about the third eye. It felt too strange, and too close.
Over the years, I’ve gone to many psychics. Some favored tarot cards; others, palms or energy reading. Once, I sat in an airstream trailer in Austin for two and a half hours with a woman named Serafina who offered me water from an intricate cocktail glass, the surface of which was dotted with tiny fruit flies. Serafina was gorgeous, with curly hair and startling green eyes that felt drawn on, unreal. Her maroon scarf draped against the round pedestal table where she laid out her tarot cards. She talked so gently to me about friendships and all the many undulations of my past relationships that I cried with her in that dark trailer. She gifted me comfort and wisdom. It was pitch-black when I emerged, feeling as if I’d aged enormously. I never went to see her again, but I checked on her website often, to make sure she hadn’t disappeared.
Some psychics felt real, or at least authentic, in their promises. Others, like the woman at a medieval fair who ate a beet salad while reading my tarot cards, were just very entertaining actors who didn’t pretend to be anything more. I didn’t begrudge them their business.
In my twenties, I worked with two women who were as enamored of the (tame) occult as I was. We were bored, and snuck away at lunchtime to see a psychic named Gary. From his website, he seemed to be a professional public speaker in addition to his psychic work. For years afterwards, we’d get emails advertising his speaking events. Just recently, he sent us a Youtube video of his first recorded audio single.
Gary lived in a ranch home in a well-to-do area, with a small garden in the front and a fenced-in backyard. The interior was bright and airy, and perfectly ordinary. We waited on the couch in the living room as he read our fortunes individually in his office. While one of my coworkers sat with me, a woman walked out of Gary’s bedroom, assiduously ignoring us. She made scrambled eggs in a robe, and ate them while looking silently out the kitchen window. When she was done, she went back into the bedroom, as if she’d never been.
Gary liked a mixture of dice, cards, and crystals. He was a buffet of clairvoyance. His office reminded me of my stepfather’s: overflowing with paperwork and figurines, replete with a leather desk chair that swiveled. From the beginning, I didn’t like Gary. He was brisk and practical, unlike the warm and meandering (and frankly, odd) experiences I’d had previously. I felt he was condescending.
“Are you thinking about kids? I see three in your future,” he said. He fidgeted with a titanium ring. Maybe scrambled egg lady was his wife.
“I’m not thinking about any kids,” I said.
“Okay. Then you must be considering a big move? Maybe out of country?”
I didn’t know why I was being such an asshole to Gary. Our energies didn’t work together; they coiled and battled like messy mud wrestlers. He was as annoyed with me as I was with him. Gary eventually gave up and asked me what I wanted to know from him. It was a fair question.
I watched the turning blades of his white table fan, the way they rippled the edges of the paper around the room. The dice were flipped up to the numbers one and six, but I had no idea what that meant.
“What should I be careful about this year?” I asked.
Without missing a beat, he said, “Overconfidence.”
Later, as my coworkers and I were driving back to the office after that exceptionally long lunch, my friend turned to me from the front seat and smirked.
“You know, Gary told me that I was supposed to guide you,” she said.
“Yeah. He said you were a nonbeliever.”
When I think about disbelief, I feel unentitled to it, so defined am I by my own spiritual uncertainty. I’m not trusting, exactly, but I’m a textbook agnostic. I just don’t know what I don’t know. I’m okay with that lack of knowing, since it’s brought me closer to perspectives I would not have necessarily sought out on my own.
I try not to talk about my psychics in mixed company. I know the world doesn’t look kindly on the enterprise of clairvoyance. My own husband is a pretty firm skeptic, but tries hard not to comment when I announce my intentions to call Kim.
A friend’s husband once said, with no small amount of bravado, “I’d go see a psychic, just once, so I could reveal how fraudulent they are.” He seemed to take pleasure in the prospect of that grand reveal, thinking it a kind of justice. I saw it as a sort of violence.
That desire to unveil feels anathematic to me. I may not be a full believer, as Gary will attest, but I’m fascinated by the possibilities of the supernatural. I continue to seek the unknown, to feed a desire for something bigger and more fully ordained than my flimsy attempt at self-determination. I wouldn’t want to live in a world without a veil.
I eventually schedule a time to talk to Kim, in her time zone, which also happens to be mine. She misses the call at first, which feels like both a very characteristic thing to do for a psychic to do, and a very uncharacteristic one.
Kim is self-deprecating when she calls back. “I tell all my clients: I can’t catch time, only energy.”
I’m captivated by the way she speaks. Catching energy. Who else, but a psychic, could utter a phrase so whimsical and oblique?
Kim tells me that this is a year of surprise for me. “Oh, more like delight. I see you standing on a hill and all these gorgeous things are swooping at you, waiting for you to claim them. You just have to reach. Do you feel it? Do you feel the delight?”
I do, I’m enveloped in delight.
And there it is, the thing that psychics loan me, what I would seek with that third eye if it ever opens. For the briefest of moments, I’m grazed by pure magic, that mixture of possibility, joy, and something more elusive. I’m certain in my longing for the delight Kim conjures for me, and I stretch for it, that something irresistible waiting just beyond my grasp.