by Jessica Kashiwabara
I had my first and only psychic reading at seventeen. It was June and my senior year of high school was ending. In a month, I’d celebrate my eighteenth birthday. And weeks after that, I’d be living in a college dorm in San Diego, two hours away from the suburbs of the San Gabriel Valley and the only home I knew.
I was eager to find my tribe, those that would enjoy my quirky combination of my mother’s sixties and seventies skirts with my collection of flannel shirts and worn-in combat boots. Those that wouldn’t call me white-washed for liking the Smiths and Depeche Mode.
On the night of my high school graduation some parents, including mine, organized a senior party on campus; an attempt to keep us kids under their watch with some wholesome fun and not out in the wilderness getting drunk or naked. Or both.
There was a hypnotist show, carnival games, dancing, and the psychic’s tent. I was not a believer in cosmic signs. I devoured the pages of Siddhartha and embraced the idea of self-reliance from classroom discussions of Thoreau and Whitman. I wanted to find my own path of self-discovery and live in the moment and be in touch with nature. All of this was revolutionary, groundbreaking, and hopeful to me as I prepared to leave home and attempt independence. The only references to the psychic world I had were from the movies Big and Ghost, and both involved body possession and love in ways that left me disturbed. I wanted control over my future, to speak through my own voice and body, to not have regrets or wishes for a different life.
Throughout the night I passed the tent wondering if I would learn anything new or valuable from my palms or tarot cards. I thought of the positives of this new experience: It was free. It was just for fun. I might not have an opportunity again. I imagined a woman with a turban, long painted nails, and a crystal ball, and that meeting with her would be mystical and profound.
When I walked into the tent, a woman with a neat blonde bob haircut in a T-shirt and khaki pants was waiting, seated at a card playing table. I was pretty sure she was someone’s mother whose hobby was tarot cards or that had studied up on palm reading the night before for the festivities. There was a cold, metal fold-out chair waiting for me across from her.
“Hi, what do you want to know about your future?” she asked.
That was a daunting and intrusive question. Everything and nothing was what I wanted to say, but instead I muttered something about my love life. I’d been out with boys, but had never had a boyfriend. I guess I was wondering if I ever would.
It’s hard for me to recall if she used cards or read my palms, but what she told me I wish I could’ve brushed off as nonsense and forgotten.
She said to me: “You will fall in love. You will get married. And then in the middle of your life, you’ll fall in love again.”
There were two things disturbing about this reading: According to everything I knew about love and marriage and commitment, you were supposed to be with one person until you both grew old, not switch up somewhere down the line. And she was basically telling me that I would have a failed first marriage. Secondly, when would the middle of my life be? If I fell in love twice by twenty, I’d only live until I was forty. Luckily I hadn’t fallen in love yet so there was still hope for my life span.
Even then, I didn’t think a responsible adult should tell a hopeful seventeen-year-old something that disrupted her tender, pure illusions of what love was. I hadn’t realized how long I’d been carrying this premonition with me until two summers ago.
My husband and I were living in an apartment in Brooklyn. I’d just celebrated my thirty-seventh birthday. I always loved celebrating my birthday because it was in the summer. The sultry season meant parties involving fireworks, barbeques, and beer gardens, even though I didn’t drink. Alcohol always made me sick so I just stopped drinking it. My husband drank enough for the both of us. That was our running joke.
This year I was hoping my husband would take me out to dinner, just the two of us. I missed him and was looking for any sign of a romantic gesture. I ended up asking him to take me out to dinner. He didn’t have a plan so we settled on an empty sushi restaurant down the street from our apartment. The lighting was dark, but not in a charming way, in a way that some of the light bulbs seemed like they needed to be changed. We hardly spoke. It was not a happy birthday. Something wasn’t right and we weren’t talking about it.
Two weeks later, on our sixth wedding anniversary, I finally confronted him.
The signs were all there: He was never home for dinner. When he was home he was either drunk or asleep or he’d leave to run errands. He was constantly on the phone texting someone.
“I don’t understand what’s going on with you. You’re like a ghost,” I said to my husband.
“It doesn’t feel like you even want to be around me anymore. Do you want me to stay somewhere else for a while?” It was a desperate question. I didn’t know what else to do.
“No, ” he said. He didn’t want me to leave.
“Are you seeing someone else?” I asked.
“No,” he answered.
“Do you even want to be married anymore?” I asked, my voice starting to break, my eyes welling up.
“Yes. I mean, I don’t know.” He looked away from me, done with the conversation.
“I don’t know” was not a good answer but that was all the confronting I could muster and it was all he was able to say.
I didn’t want to cry anymore and he didn’t want to see me cry anymore. And I had an anniversary dinner to prepare. Scallops had been bought. Fresh pasta, zucchini, and mushrooms were waiting in the fridge. A cake for the special occasion.
I stood by the stove, chopping and boiling, trying to concentrate on the task at hand and not on the conversation we just had. But I couldn’t. I overcooked everything into a rubbery, mushy mess. We sat on the couch in front of the TV, our two plates squished onto one folding tray table, the way we always ate together. He never liked the formality of a dining table.
“This is really good,” he said, scooping up the pasta as it broke apart on his fork.
“No, it’s not,” I said, biting into a piece of garlic, the bitter burnt left lingering in my mouth.
Since February, five months earlier, it felt like we hadn’t been spending any time together. I remember this because he kept floating the idea around that we should get matching tattoos for Valentine’s Day.
He hated celebrating holidays, he didn’t like doing things that felt like an obligation. Suddenly he was making appointments with a tattoo artist and drawing out drafts of designs for me. This wouldn’t be our first tattoos, but our first collaboration of one. It felt momentous. It felt shared.
As I laid down on the table and the first buzz of the needle started up, he said, “Wow, I can’t believe you’re really doing this.” His face was full of glee, wide-eyed with delight. I didn’t know if he meant he was surprised I was getting a tattoo for him or that we were really doing this together. I’d gotten my first two tattoos without much thought. The first one was free from a novice tattoo artist an old roommate knew on a trip to Miami, and the second was to help cover up the first.
But this one meant something. I had always admired my husband’s drawings and paintings. I wanted a piece of what he made beautiful. Now it was fixed on the inside of my right hip bone.
We floated home together, walking out of the tattoo shop to the subway station a little dizzy and high on adrenaline, our tattoos still bleeding underneath our clothes.
“Let’s take a picture,” I said when we got home.
He put his forearm next to my hip, aligning our tattoos. We laughed fumbling with the phone realizing one of us would need to take the photo with a left hand, a challenge since both of us were right-handed.
Over the next few months, he continued to get seemingly commemorative tattoos, one on his calf of a caricature of me being held by King Kong, a reference to the fact that I was named after Jessica Lange. He seemed to be grasping, finding ways to convince himself or prove to me that our love was permanent. Or maybe it was just the intensity of the needles and the blood that he thrived on. A thrill that was momentary and seductive, like that of a new love.
A week after our sixth anniversary, I found proof that he was having an affair. He’d left his phone behind to do some laundry. I wished he would tell me himself, but in the end his words to his lover told me everything.
I scrolled through, fingers trembling, wanting to know more but not wanting to see more: their first kiss, drunk on a rooftop. Longing to hold her face again. The word “love” shared between them.
I feel for that destroyed, helpless me. I’m so sad for her. Feeling discarded, abandoned, unwanted. That this was too much pain. That jumping in front of the B9 bus would make it go away. I want to tell her we’re gonna make it, just like we always do. We’ll feel whole again. We’ll fall in love.
Sometimes it’s lonely. I get sad. Lovers are disappointing. They want a certain version of me that I’m not willing to give. But if my psychic reading is accurate, the longer the wait, the longer I live.
Jessica Kashiwabara is the associate web editor at Poets & Writers and cofounder of the Jasper Collective. She has read poems for the Unpublished reading series and essays for the Lost Lit reading series. She is currently at work on a collection of personal essays. Follow her on Twitter @JessKashiwabara.