Twenty years ago, in a storefront on Avenue D in New York’s Alphabet City, I visited my first psychic. She was sturdy, middle-aged and wore a silk turban. I was tipsy off of the millennium drink du jour – a “cosmo.” Tarot cards with worn edges flipped into neat clusters and rows in front of me.
“There is a dark cloud over your head in New York City. You must go to California. You will find happiness there. Creativity and love, too—” She looked me in the eyes with such intensity, her pupils vibrated.
“But what will happen if I stay here?” At the time, the mere thought of abandoning New York reeked of personal failure.
“You will die alone in a studio apartment in Manhattan. In poverty.”
Her words jolted me sober. Nothing could’ve been more frightening at the time. A recent college grad, I was broke and had recently come out as gay. And while the act had been liberating, I was miserable in New York, constantly overwhelmed by the city’s teeming streets and the subway cars that screeched so loudly, my ears rang for hours afterwards.
The following day, I called my big sister in Berkeley and asked to crash for a few weeks. I stayed four years, in a closet-sized bungalow my friends lovingly called the “Shack in the Back.” Throughout my time there, I was unsure if I was happy, though I knew I was definitely not unhappy. Love didn’t find me, either. I was just grateful not be dead in a studio apartment.
I’m not your typical psychic follower. I believe climate change is real and vaccines are safe. I hold a graduate degree in epidemiology. Yet, one year ago, despite this deep belief in science and an adherence to logic and fact in every other facet of my life, I found myself shopping for crystals at an LA store called, “Spellbound Sky.” Young hipster women packed the shop, preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse. And though I scoffed at them, I plucked a white quartz from a black, velvet-lined basket and plopped my credit card down on the counter. The night before the eclipse, I set the crystal in the northwest corner of a different older sister’s guest bedroom. I had just turned 40 and was deep in debt. No longer afraid of dying alone in a studio apartment, I was now dying to live on my own. The day after I purchased the crystal, I PayPaled a few hundred bucks to my psychic, after which he texted me to let me know it was done: Crystal remotely charged from Brooklyn, abundance to follow in LA.
It’s been more than a year since the eclipse. I’m happy to report living in my own one-bedroom apartment, all debts paid. I credit my psychic and his otherworldly powers for my success. My sister in LA says it’s ‘cause I got a job.
Hugh and I met in 2011 through a third sister, who raved about a reading she’d observed at a “mommy-wine” party. He’d read a guest’s cards and said her husband was cheating and using drugs. Afterwards, the woman purportedly confronted her husband, verifying Hugh’s insights. The woman divorced. I was sold.
We talk often, sometimes weekly. Over the years, Hugh has gotten so many unknowable details right. He knew when a beloved former boss would email asking me to come work for her in Atlanta. I declined, not wanting to abandon California. He also predicted a petty crime or similar inconvenience on a vacation to Mexico. I spent the entire trip not wanting to walk alone, gripped with anxiety that I’d be mugged. My friends were annoyed because I forced them to take taxis even if our destination was only a few blocks away. When I arrived at the airport for my return flight, I chastised both him for his inaccurate reading and myself for allowing it to spoil my vacation. Then at the ticket counter, the agent asked for my temporary visa. After combing my bags in front of her for an hour, I gave up and paid a small fine.
It should be noted that Hugh has also been way off. For example, I was supposed to have a best-selling book by now. However, he had told me to write a memoir, while I insisted on a novel. And two years ago, when one of my sisters reported a lump in her breast, he said it was only a scare and she would be fine. The cancer was Stage IV, requiring two major surgeries. Not without a fight she recovered. I forgave him.
Recently, I decided I should see a licensed professional, a therapist instead of a psychic. At my first appointment, he was running behind and kept me waiting for thirty minutes. After I shared my life story, he said smugly, “Sounds like you’re in a holding pattern. Not a lot has changed for you over the past twenty years.” He then listed my red flags: too many moves and job changes, too few long-term relationships. At the end of our session, he wouldn’t even accept PayPal, so I forked over all the cash in my wallet, twice the amount Hugh charged for a phone session.
On the drive home, I felt hollowed out. Ashamed. I took to my bed and cried. The shrink had proven my hypothesis: I was a failure.
The following week, Hugh called me promptly at the time of our scheduled appointment. “This is going to be a good money year,” he said right away. “Health is good, too. Keep working with that mentor on your book, he’s giving you the input you need to make it a success.” His last words were, “Remember to hydrate.”
It was 104 degrees in LA that day.
I PayPaled him. Then I filled my water bottle.
Tom Pyun is an essayist and novelist living in Los Angeles. He was a fellow with Vermont Studio Center, Gemini Ink, Tin House, and VONA. His work has appeared in the Rumpus, Blue Mesa Review, Eleven Eleven, and Reed and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net award. He holds degrees from Vassar and Columbia and is an MFA candidate at Antioch.