It’s 2 AM in Buffalo, I am 26, and there’s a cat messing up my tarot cards. “They’re drawn to psychic energy,” my best friend says, and I can hardly shuffle the deck with the way her cat is doting upon me. She’s been aloof since I’ve gotten here for this weekend long trip, but now she’s all over me – jumping up on the table, rubbing her face against my hands.
The boy is upstairs. Dana wanted me here for this. It’s not the first time she’s invited over an Internet friend, and they are, she assures me with a fervor I don’t understand, strictly friends. The way he looks at me makes me feel unnerved. I’m not used to men looking at me that way and I’m not sure I like it.
He didn’t want any part of this. Fair. Tarot’s a silly little hobby, anyway, and I barely know what I’m doing with it. I got my first deck in a bookshop in Alexandria when I was 12, a Rider Waite, and I fell into the traditional artwork, trying to unravel the mysteries of the deck. It came with a little paper booklet that I thought would help me unravel the secrets of the universe, but anytime I tried, I just came away with more questions.
A Celtic Cross. It was the first spread I ever learned. You draw the first card, that’s the center of the cross, the heart. The limbs of the cross spread out around it, and then you draw more cards to build up the staff beside the cross. Each card is imbued with meaning, and each placement has a purpose. A myriad of possibilities spread out in front of me as I place the cards on the table, the cat purring loud by my feet.
He didn’t want any part of this. Claims to be a skeptic. “But you girls have fun,” he said, and I wonder what Dana sees in him. Surely she must see something; surely there must be some redeeming factor to this man she has invited into her space, or else why invite him at all?
I wonder if he sees this as women’s work. “Men don’t often understand,” Dana’s landlady says; she is old, and, I assume, wise. I read the cards for her; I tell her fortune.
Tomorrow morning, the four of us – the boy, Dana, her landlady and me – will stand by the open window. It is my second time in Buffalo and it’s sunny this time, and I will feel as though I am a part of something. The boy will look at my face too long and laugh, and Dana will nudge my shoulder and I will feel at a loss for words. I will not know how to tell her.
“You have a gift,” the landlady tells me. Women’s work. I am good at women’s work.
Halloween in high school, and I am crushing on a boy, or, at least, I think I am. I have to be, right, because I see him kissing my best friend and I feel jealousy – the jealousy must be centered on the boy; QED, I want the boy. There is no other explanation for this.
To be fair, she asked me first. “Do you want him?” I shake my head no, because what else can I say? I don’t. I really don’t. But I don’t want her to want him, either. It’s a bullshit high school party, and I’m dressed up like a pirate queen, like Keira Knightly in those movies – a movie I will quote heavily when I am older as a sign that I should have realized my gayness sooner. She is dressed up as an angel, complete with wings.
None of us knows what we’re doing. Is there anything quite so magical as awkward teenage flirting? Sex is just barely beyond our grasp, and we are playing pretend in more ways than one – dressed up in costumes in someone’s backyard, pretending to be older than we are.
Selena says she can see auras. I don’t know whether or not to believe her. I am 15 and deep into what I will later call my “asshole atheist” phase; Christianity is dumb and mysticism is dumb and if there was a God, he would have ensured a better world for us, right? But I brought my tarot deck to this Halloween party, and later, when the boys have gone home, Selena and I sit in her bedroom and I take them out.
She gets excited and she says she can read auras. She says there’s a process to it. She lays me back on the bed and she tells me to close my eyes. I don’t know whether to believe her or not, but I’m pretty willing to do whatever she says. She’s prettier than I am, with long locks of dark hair, and she knows things I don’t. Like kissing boys.
“We all have wings,” she says. “I can see yours.” I roll over onto my stomach, and she trails a finger down my spine. “It’s like peeling an egg,” she says. “You’re hatching.”
I wait for her to tell her what color my aura is, but she doesn’t. She is focused on her task, a thrill in my heart, a heavy, weighty feeling in my stomach as she touches me. Someday, when I’m asked if I ever engaged in “experimentation” as a kid, I will think about this night.
“There is so much inside of you,” she says.
Lesbianism is, for me, linked with witchcraft. I have only ever dabbled in occultism, but I come away thrilled; I have only ever dipped my toes into what I know, for sure, is a deep dark lake, but the things I’ve found there have amazed me. Sacred oils. Candle magic. Tarot cards. I touch the edges of something sacred, afraid to try more.
So of course, of course, at my first Pride, at age 28, in between a booth advertising CBD-infused lube and a sign that urges us to try putting on rainbow pasties, I see a sign for tarot readings. The booth is carefully decorated, incense burning in the corner. I circle the whole festival once before coming back to that booth. “You want a tarot reading, don’t you,” my friend says wryly. I nod my head.
The reader takes me behind a beaded curtain, lights a candle in my name. She asks which deck I wish to use, and I tell her to go with what’s calling her – I like to say I am unfamiliar with these arts, but I know a little; I know what it’s like to feel that spiritual tug.
She asks me what I want to know, and I think, always, first, about love. Is there someone out there for me? That’s the question, always, on everybody’s mind: does somebody love me? That’s not what I tell her. “Should I move to the city?” I ask.
“You’re asking the wrong questions,” she said, and I nod, chastised. The Eight of Cups. The Ace of Cups. The Queen of Cups. I could be a queen someday. The answers are within myself, she tells me. I already have everything I need to know, so what I need to do is ask myself – what will serve me?
“That wasn’t worth $20,” I say, when my friends come to collect me. They laugh and we walk away and we don’t talk about it further. But I remember that woman, doing women’s work, and I remember those feelings, being touched in the night, and I feel it again – that moment on the edge, that moment that I might reach out and take more.