“Employees only” the door said. She opened it and ushered me down a set of narrow, rickety wooden steps into the basement of the bar her and her husband own. “It’s kinda chilly down here. Sorry about that,” she offered, as she sipped soda through a coffee stirrer. I was led into her office and she motioned for me to sit. She settled into another chair opposite me. White Christmas lights hung from the ceiling and flickering light danced along the walls from the candles between us.
“Have you ever had your cards read before?” she asked. I shook my head no.
“Do you have any questions?” Again, I shook my head no.
“Nothing at all?” she asked, incredulous.
“I don’t really believe in all this,” I admitted. I paused before adding, “I don’t really disbelieve, either. I wouldn’t say I’m a skeptic, exactly. I mean…I want to believe. But I want you to tell me something that will make me believe.”
She had me shuffle her deck of tarot cards and then spread them out, face down, between us. She told me to pick out six cards and keep them face down in front of me. I did as instructed. And it began.
The first thing she did after flipping over my cards, one by one, was scribble a letter on her notepad. And then she told me things about myself. “You tend to be the sensible one in your relationships.” How could she know that? Is it because of the purse I carry? It WAS a sensible purchase… “It’s up to you to sort of rein things in when they’re getting out of hand. You have that wild side in you, too, but realize there’s a time and a place.” Is it written in the way I dress? Damn this Dress Barn top. “You see things that others often don’t. Your intuition is stronger than most people’s.” I’ve always (arrogantly) thought that but lots of people probably think that about themselves. “You’re a super emotional person but you don’t let people see your vulnerable side often. You internalize things that bother you rather than show it.” True. But again, that probably applies to 50% of the world.
She then began talking about “a male in my life who is going through some shit” (her words, not mine). She told me what’s happened so far (which was correct) and warned me that “it’s not over yet.” She told me how I feel about the situation (which was spot on) and advised me how to handle what’s to come. “Does this make sense to you?” She asked. I nodded and motioned to the letter on her notepad as I admitted, “Yes. I think that letter you wrote over there is him.” Lucky guess. Has to be.
She told me that a father or grandfather figure was coming through for me. “Dad has passed, yes?” Nope. “Then it’s a grandfather figure. He’s showing me you as a little girl. He just thought you were the cutest thing.” I meant more to him that I realized, she said. She asked me if his birthday or anniversary was in the month of May. I shook my head and said, “Not that I know of. He was born in November and died in January.” Still, she insisted, “I feel a strong May connection with you.” I told her that my daughter was born in May. Her eyes lit up and she said, “Your grandfather had a hand in that somehow.” This is all a sweet sentiment, but how can I ever know that what she’s saying is true? I can’t very well go ask PopPop, now can I? I was smiling inwardly about my grandfather when she added, “And this is connected to mom, right?” Nope. PopPop was dad’s dad. [Several days later, I realized that she could very well have been talking about my mom's dad. I met him exactly once in my life. My mom, who hadn't had contact with him in years, heard that he was hospitalized and dying. She knew I'd always wanted to meet him and, knowing that it could be my last chance, she took me. I stood awkwardly at the foot of his bed. I was about 12 years old at the most. And I could only think of two things: "So this is who I get my blue eyes from" and "Holy crap, this dude looks like Santa Claus!" He died a short time after that visit. He was alone, after a life riddled with addictions that meant more to him than his family. And that visit probably did mean more to him than my 12-year-old self knew.]
She piled the cards up into one pile and paused. “Mom is in here,” she said, tapping the pile. “But she’s not saying anything to me.” She spread the deck of unused cards in front of me and told me to pick four more. She’d piqued my interest.
For the next five or so minutes, she began to lose me. “Your husband is waiting for a decision that’s going to end in his favor….a promotion or a new job. It’s going to mean more money for the family. Probably around summer time.” August is when Chris’ annual review (and raise) happens at work. But that’s not what I’d call a promotion… “And there’s an opportunity on the horizon for you. It’s not related to work or money. It’s a great change, though. You’ll be leaving something behind and it’s really pretty cool.” Wouldn’t we all like to believe that great things are about to happen to us?
We continued this song-and-dance some more. I chose some cards. She pulled some cards from the unused deck and piled others up after discussing them. She told me about two relationships: an old romantic relationship and a longtime friend relationship. And there was infidelity involved. Considering that I’m happily married to my high school sweetheart and have ZERO reason to believe that he’s been unfaithful, I can’t begin to guess what she could mean by this….I guess this whole tarot thing is a hoax after all.
And that’s when she said something about jewelry of my mom’s. I don’t remember exactly what she said but I remember unfolding my hands and pointing to her wedding band, which I wear on the middle finger of my right hand. Whatever she said had to have hit home because it was then that I began to cry.
“Your mom was sick before she died.” I agreed. I’m fairly young to have a mother who died of natural causes. So she had a 50/50 chance of getting this right….it would’ve either been a sickness or an accident. “She had a hard time in the end. She was depressed because she felt like a burden and because she wasn’t ready for her journey to end. But she accepts it now. She realizes that her journey had to end.” She probably DID feel like that in the end. But then again, I’m sure everyone who dies of cancer at 48 has a hard time coming to terms with it. “She had a sibling who died very young, yes?” I nodded, thinking about her brother Christopher who died of SIDS. “She wants you to know that she’s with her brother.”
And then she began to get eerily specific about things that have concerned me since my mom passed…
She squinted a bit and said, “Cooking…something about cooking.” I laughed and said, “I mean, she cooked but she was terrible at it.” She nodded and said, “This may sound strange but I’m just going to say it. She’s showing me a McDonald’s meal and saying ‘I may have been the fast food queen but at least I fed them.’” I laughed again. That was my mom. [Since we started trying to conceive, I've acknowledged that my mother never placed much importance on nutrition when I was growing up. I have even said that I'm downright resentful over the fact that mom didn't teach us about eating healthy and vowed that I'd do better for my daughter. I can absolutely hear my mother saying this and truly feel that this was her retort to my recent statements.]
“There were decisions that had to be made in the end, one of which was somewhat rushed. And she wants you to know that she is happy with them. You made the right decisions.” [We had a family meeting a couple of weeks before the end. She was in ICU at the time and apparently the doctors didn't think she was capable of making her own medical decisions. I remember telling her that I'd be right back, that I had to step across the hall to attend a meeting. And I remember that her face fell. My ordinarily headstrong, independent mother realized that the meeting was about her. "Oh. I don't go to the meeting?" I knew that she knew it was about her. And in that meeting, we---my sister, my father, and me---informed the doctors that it's always been my mother's wish to not be sustained by life support. It was at that meeting that we agreed that when the time came, she would not be resuscitated. On the afternoon that she died, she'd been fighting off pneumonia and having a hard time breathing. I nervously called for the doctor when I noticed her face flashing blue between unsteady, spaced apart breaths. I remember several people rushing in with equipment and one nurse yelling over the chaos, "She's a DNR!" The personnel who were about to intubate her stopped. And within about a half hour, she was gone. I hoped that we'd made the right choice by sticking to what she'd always said were her wishes.]
“Spirits can’t show themselves, just so you know. But she says she sits on your bed and watches you sleeping sometimes. And she sends you signs all the time.” [I remember telling Chris when she first died that I hoped she came to me. And I specifically told him that I don't want to see her because I didn't want to be afraid. I just wanted to know she's there. If she sends me signs, I'm not paying enough attention. But I do seem to dream about her whenever I really need her.]
“You and your sister have placed blame on dad. And she doesn’t want that. She keeps saying ‘he’s just a guy’ and ‘I took such good care of him he’ll never forget me.’ The relationship between the three of you is nothing more than a power struggle and it’s just not worth it. Accept it for what it is and don’t blame him.” [My mom wouldn't have said "guy"..."boy" or "man" maybe, but not "guy." But the sentiment is her to a tee.]
“Did your mom enjoy a cocktail from time to time?” she asked. I shook my head because she didn’t. Ever. “She’s showing me a drink…almost like she wants you to take a drink for her. She wants you to remember her but to laugh and be happy. Your mom is awesome! She is so funny! She can come visit me anytime!” [The whole "laugh and be happy" sentiment is spot on. Following her wake, we had a celebration of her life in lieu of a funeral. There were no flowers. Just balloons. And music. And a memory book in which guests were asked to write a short note about a good time they remember about her.]
“She made it a point to get something for you…something she wanted you to have to pass down…? It’s for your daughter. She wants your daughter to have it. And she wants you to know that she’s so proud of you girls because you’re both moms. She’s stressing that ‘you’re not just mothers…you’re MOMS.’” [True. I was engaged to Chris at the time she was in the hospital. And she insisted that I needed to have a hope chest as my wedding gift. She purchased it while in the hospital and told me she'd fill it will all sorts of things when she got home. She never had the chance to fill it but the hope chest currently holds my wedding dress and Chris' grandmother's china.]
“There is something of your mom’s that was intended for you but you never got it. She wants you to know that your dad may have thrown it out and she doesn’t want you to be mad at him for it.” [My sister and I found a handwritten journal of my mother's at some point just before or just after she died. It was tucked in the drawer of her nightstand. I remember my sister reading snippets of it to me, including one that said something to the effect that she hoped that someday I (specifically) would read it. When we went through her belongings after she passed, it was gone. My father admitted to my sister once long ago that he had it. But neither she nor I have seen it since.]
“She wants me to say thank you for the pizza. She says it meant a lot to her and she remembers it as a happy memory. Does that make sense to you?” I nodded. [One day when my mom was sick, she was having a "good day." It was before she lost the muscle strength in her legs that would eventually render her unable to walk. And it happened to be a day between chemo treatments when she had an appetite. All she wanted was pizza from a particular pizza shop in our hometown. Not only did I deliver the pizza to her hospital room, but I also brought her dog (Bobby McGee, who happens to currently be curled up at my feet). The four of us---me, her, my dad, and Bobby McGee---took a stroll outside the hospital and found a gazebo. We sat there while she at her pizza and pet Bob. It was one of only a handful of truly happy memories I have of her final months.]
I daubed my eyes with a tissue—probably my third or fourth one I pulled from the box on the table during our session—and whispered, “I’m a believer.”