The Tarot Deck Life: A Love Story

This story appears in the Pre-Spring 2014 issue of Eidé Magazine. Read it here, or click to read it in the issue below. 

Story by Joanna Berliner 

THE LOVERS: VI We met late night at a bar back in college. Instant connection, in that hazy three-vodka-sodas kind of way, where suddenly it feels like the stars of Romeo and Juliet align.I was “between boyfriends,” as my friends often called it. And he talked Faulkner (Absalom! Absalom!), gesturing with his Sam Adams Summer Ale in a way that made me homesick for New England. This, I told myself, is what it feels like when you meet your soulmate.

Then he mentioned his motorcycle.

I left and never saw him again.

THE MAGICIAN: I I blame the psychic.It all started when I was 10. My grandmother passed, and my mother, hoping to heal, reached out to the psychic community to reconnect.

To be honest, I didn’t care about reconnecting. I just liked sitting next to my mother, holed up in our psychic’s little Provincetown bungalow, waiting to get glimpses into my soul.

What I did in a past life (ride horses in England). What I’d do in the future (write and one day get married — but not until I’d gone through my fair share of boyfriends). It was every child’s dream, to be able to accurately answer that very adult question: What are you going to be when you grow up? And I knew all the answers.

So when the psychic told me, with great to-do, that I should never go on a motorcycle or something bad would certainly happen, I didn’t think twice. I listened.

Two decades later, I still haven’t mounted that motorcycle. Or even sat on its seat in the parking lot.

I would love to say there is a concrete and scientifically backed reason behind this. But there isn’t. I simply cannot fathom the idea that maybe, just maybe, that psychic was right.

WHEEL OF FORTUNE: X The psychic game continued.

During a middle-school birthday party that took place in the attic, where we hired a woman to read tarot cards – The Fool, The Tower, The Hermit – and recorded the reading on cassette tapes. Then during one blowout costume party for the adults. “Upstairs you go,” my mother ordered, and we scurried to the top of the stairwell and watched as the guests paraded in, dressed as what they thought they were in a past life: A figure from a drugstore Harlequin romance. A certain Mr. Darcy. A man dressed in a trench who walked through the door, opened his coat and flashed the entire party.

Our Provincetown psychic sat like some ancient seer by the fireplace and dished out the night’s gossip: predictions of what guests actually were in a past life. I, riding hat snapped around my chin, stayed up the night and listened to every last word.

THE WORLD: XXI It wasn’t always such an odd thing. Psychics have had a firm place in history since before Christianity, when they advised ancient Greek and Egyptian royalty — even deciding the fates of criminals.

When monotheistic religion came into play, they became the criminals themselves. So-called worshipers of Satan. But that didn’t stop 16th-century French physician Nostradamus from publishing over 1,000 psychic predictions.

At least half of these predictions have proven true — including an eerie callout to three “Antichrists” who would one day terrorize society. Napoleon. Hitler. Saddam Hussein. Nostradamus described them, in succinct quatrains, with remarkable accuracy.

The emperor “born near Italy” who “shall be found less a prince than a butcher.”

“The great enemy of the human race,” born “out of the deepest part of the west of Europe.”

The “strong master of Mohammad ... the terror of mankind.”

Of course, I knew none of this history until quite recently. Literally, none of it. My mother and I never discussed the larger world of psychics. We didn’t care that there was a man named Nostradamus spouting miraculous predictions 500 years ago. Nor did we make rash, ridiculous choices based on our Sunday afternoon takes to the Ouija board — although we did take to it.

Our relationship with that in-between world was casual, uncomplicated and (best of all) fun. At least, for a time.

JUDGEMENT: XX After college, faced finally with real-world problems, I once again craved answers — the kind that our Provincetown psychic used to be able to provide with such ease.

I joined a start-up, then lost my job when the entire company went under. I landed a job at another start-up that went under, again, less than a year later. Ironically, both were for daily deal sites that sold vouchers for a small, psychic tearoom. After each layoff, I’d buy a voucher, pop in and wait for the answers to come.

But they never did. One psychic urged me to quit my job and work in retail. “An old-lady store, like Talbots,” she suggested. “To work on your intuition.” (Intuit this, please: I had no job.)

Another — just several months after I landed my dream position — pulled a card from the deck and paused. “Are you looking to move? Because your current job will come to a finite end in October.”

Perhaps to his chagrin, I’m still happily employed. Most recently, the final straw — the last card pulled with flourish: the thirteenth trump. A skeleton, crouched, sickle in hand. The Death card.

“Your mother,” the psychic said. Then looked at his watch, gave me his card and ushered me out of the room.

It took me three days to Google the Death card and another three weeks to reach out to a friend. Call it paranoia, denial, whatever. I was afraid that if I spoke it out loud (Death card, Death card, Death card), my mother would somehow vanish into thin air. Contact a freakish disease. Fall out of my life.

But all sources pointed in the same direction: The Death card did not mean death. At least not typically. Instead, it meant transformation — deep-rooted and trying. In fact, predicting physical death is deeply frowned upon in the psychic community.

What he should have explained to me, after he pulled the card, is that my mother wasn’t about to ride off with that sickle-armed skeleton. She wouldn’t be swooped up by some sort of Dickinsonian personification or paraded across the river Styx, or even, more realistically, sequestered in a hospital bed.

She would simply be tested. And I could live with that.

THE FOOL: 0 It was the first time I thought hard about the truth.

I discovered Nostradamus. I read of a pair of psychic twins who allegedly predicted the Oklahoma City bombing. I scanned article after article on clairvoyant fraud, even watched “Long Island Medium.” (Yes, but never again.)

And after weeks glued to the flicker of the LCD screen, I emerged, no better off than I started. Because, you see, it wasn’t like it was back in middle school — not that anything truly is. But this was a whole new psychic realm. The readers I frequented after college had access to my real name. My email address. The giant world of Internet search engines and social media. Google my name and you instantly know I work as a fashion editor. Take one step deeper, and I’m New England-born. Two more clicks and you have my family tree.

I’m not saying it’s fake. Like God, you can point to all the signs, but never prove them. I’m just saying that I can no longer relax into a reading. I no longer find them therapeutic — or even, like they used to be, simply fun.

The magic is gone.

But I know this: no matter where I land, there is still nothing you can do to convince me to get on that motorcycle.