“You don’t sleep well. You have a darkness in you that was handed down from your mother’s generation. This prevents people from getting too close. I see that another psychic tried to help you cleanse this darkness. You did not let her. It is time to fix this.”
This was the third psychic I had visited in as many weeks. It is perhaps a fatal flaw of mine that I put complete and total faith in psychics. In fact, prior to moving to New York I had a yearly session — which gave me a feeling of maintenance, just like a physical — with a regular psychic. My psychic, sadly, had to move to Florida to care for her ailing mother (something she never saw coming, ironically), and I was left searching for her replacement.
Psychics in New York City are grittier. I was used to my psychic with the soft hands and the lilting voice. Their psychic spaces feel oily to the touch and the enlightening scent of incense is markedly absent. Each of these psychics had told me about the darkness in me that had been passed down — each with the same accent, and that same way of biting into r’s and t’s.
I had left the other two psychics with the feeling that they were not being entirely truthful. They had all used similar phrases and tried to make me pay for a spiritual cleansing. But this psychic had an air of urgency that the others did not. Her hand pounded the table with every sentence, making the crystals that were scattered there jump a little. She would close her eyes every once in a while, as if listening to the voice of the spirits around her. I also tried to listen, but all I could hear was Ace Ventura playing in the background.
“I see you have been hurt by a man. Hurt badly. I see also that your soul mate is waiting for you. You are meant to have a soul mate. You are meant to be married and have children. But this darkness…” She clasped her hands in prayer and looked up at the ceiling before pounding the table again, “this darkness will not let him near. You need to cleanse the darkness. Let me help you.”
I was on the hook. Squirming, like a sleep-deprived worm. I mean, how would she know I was sleep-deprived if she wasn’t a gifted psychic? And then she went in for the same sales pitch that the other psychics had given me:
“For 100 dollars I can clear this for you. It will take me nine days of hard work — praying, meditating, and working with my crystals. But it is worth it. After nine days, you will have a smile on your face and your soul mate will come to you.”
“Y’know,” I gave her my skeptical eyebrow raise, “you’re the third person who has said this to me. I can’t help but think that this all sounds like a scam.” She tried to convince me otherwise, and reminded me that I shouldn’t put money before my own spiritual well-being.
“100 dollars,” she said, pounding the table.
I sighed and peeked into my wallet. There was a crumpled twenty dollar bill. Apparently I had placed the Nine West sale ahead of my own spiritual well-being. “I’ll do it for twenty,” I said.
“Take it or leave it,” I said. I leaned back and crossed my legs, trying to look casual and cool. The rational part of my brain told me that this woman was full of crap and the twenty dollars would be better spent on a martini (or more shoes). However, the rational part of my brain was drowned out by the part that was saying, please take it please take it please take it. I needed things to change. Badly. At this point I was willing to try anything.
In the end, she took it. She pulled out a bottle filled with blue liquid and the words “cleansing solution” written on it with a Sharpie. It smelled like Windex. She poured it in both of my palms and stood over me. Her voice dropped theatrically while she said a blessing, and then looked into my eyes for longer than was comfortable.
“You will see,” she said, touching my chin. “In nine days you will have a smile on your lips. And then you will come back. You will come back and give me more money.”
I left the psychic’s surprisingly large apartment and wandered through the unfamiliar terrain of Washington Heights until I found the subway.
I stood on the platform waiting for a train that would never come. Literally. Apparently there was a signal problem. This seemed fitting.
I had gone to the psychic for the same reason that everyone else goes to a psychic: to find some peace of mind. A year and a half earlier I had been engaged to my Perfect Professor Love and planning my dream wedding. I had even found a wedding dress that was named “the Brooke”— a happy accident that I didn’t realize until after I had purchased it. My life was bound up in the business of being in love. And, oh, was I ever in love. He had a crooked smile and would exude a particular scent when he was sweaty that I loved. We had traveled the world together, and enjoyed our adventures as much as we did our nights on the futon. I even put up with his desire to keep a futon as our living room couch. We would curl up like spoons and watch movies late at night until I could no longer hold sleep at bay. And then I would turn towards him, throw my leg over his hip, and fall asleep. I drifted blissfully, ignorantly, through a world that was dominated by him.
Six months before what would have been our wedding he came home after a week away. We took up our usual spooning position on the futon. A few minutes later, I felt his stomach convulsing behind me. He was heaving huge, silent sobs. He climbed over me and pulled up a chair. I knew even before he took a breath to speak that things would never be the same again. I sort of blacked out, but part of my brain registered what he was saying. My Perfect Professor Love had cheated and lied, and not just once. And he couldn’t live with the lies any longer. I was pretty certain that he had been body snatched during his week away and replaced with an evil double. Here was this strange doppelganger of the man I so dearly loved confessing to things that my fiancé could not have possibly done. And yet, there we were.
I spent the next week on the futon — alone — wrapped around a bottle of chardonnay. The pain of the entire first month after that night now sits on the edge of my memory, never to become completely integrated. It is a strange ghost that hangs out in the corner of my skull. During the next six months, I had a to-do list that overrode the desire to have a complete and total nervous breakdown. Choose a new city. Check. Find a job. Check. Find an apartment. Check. Start life over as a single 33-year-old woman. Check and check.
“I see you have been hurt by a man. Hurt badly.” The psychic had said.
I was starting to think that the trauma of my break-up had done irreparable harm, and there was no way I could trust or love anyone else after what had happened to me. The weight of admitting this to myself had started to dismantle my emotional system. I had gone to the psychic to find out if love was in the cards for me, to find some hope to cling to. Apparently the cards showed only negativity. I didn’t need a psychic to tell me that.
So I found myself stuck on a platform with no train, no love, and Windex-scented hands. I eventually extracted myself from the underbelly of the subway station and took a cab home.
A strange thing happened that night. I slept all night, which was the first time in months. I woke up the next morning with a vaguely excited feeling in my belly. I had butterflies. There was no rational explanation for this feeling, and it was one I hadn’t felt in almost two years.
Medical researchers rely on the placebo effect to inform their work. Belief is a strong medicine, and it goes deeper than our rational minds. I knew that the psychic had been a scam, and that it would take a simple Google search to locate the stories of countless other single women who had been conned into forking over money to heal their broken hearts. And yet, the Windex had acted as a powerful placebo, and the psychic was much cheaper than a medical researcher.
Nine days after my visit to the psychic, I signed up for an online dating site. If I find love again, who knows? Maybe I actually will return to the psychic and give her more money. Here’s hoping.
Brooke Meadows lives in New York City.