by Sharon Van Epps
My fascination with psychics and fortune-tellers began when I was a teenager. I was a child of divorce growing up in the Arizona desert, but I spent summers in New Jersey with my dad. Our trips to the shore at Seaside Heights were always a highlight of my visits. I'd beg my stepmother to give me $5 for the boardwalk palm reader, and though she disapproved, after a long day at the beach she always gave in. The boardwalk psychic never told me anything accurate, yet the thrill of possibility kept me hooked year after year. I'd walk away every time thinking, "Maybe next year she'll tell me I'm destined to marry Bruce Springsteen."
Later, in college at Arizona State, I paid a few visits to Mrs. Rita, the psychic made famous in The Gin Blossoms hit song of the '90s, but I gave up after she tried to sell me some magic prayer candles for $100. I'd lost confidence in Mrs. Rita, but I still felt that if I just found the right psychic, my seemingly mysterious future could perhaps be knowable. More than anything, I wanted salve for my simmering anxiety, reassurance that I, and the people I cared about, would all be OK. And I wanted someone to tell me that I'd find love someday (possibly with Bruce.)
In my 20s, I moved to a small New England town where I discovered a New Age shop with delicious-smelling candles, soothing music from Enya, and in-store psychic readings. My descent into the paranormal deepened when my boyfriend's mother referred me to her psychic, a bubbly woman named Betty who did frequent guest spots on local radio. Betty suggested that my boyfriend might be cheating and gave me a mantra to help me cope. I broke up with the guy, used the mantra, but never went back to Betty again. I didn't want any more accurate-but-bad news.
Next, a friend urged me to call a reader he'd heard of in Pennsylvania with the unlikely name of Carol Maracle. (As in miracle — get it?) By now, reeling from more than a few break-ups and the assorted tragedies that inevitably accrue as years pass, I was well on my way to a full-blown Psychic Friends Hotline-level addiction as a coping mechanism. (In fact, I think I did call the Psychic Friends once, then tried to block out my stupidity after I got the credit card bill.) Carol Maracle proved to be my savior. She encouraged me to trust in my own intuition, and suggested I learn to read the tarot for myself. And so I bought a deck at the New Age shop, and started throwing the cards.
Almost immediately, I began reading the tarot for friends. Even when my pals didn't want a reading, I'd coax them into letting me practice my skills. It didn't take long for my volunteer and conscripted guinea pigs start freaking out over my accuracy. I'll never forget how a friend of friend jumped from her chair and fled the room when the cards prompted me to ask if she'd gotten involved with a married man. An older woman who'd been a personal mentor of mine cried when I gently suggested that the Death card indicated she needed to move on from a job she'd held for more than a decade — and then she got fired. Even though my subjects sometimes got emotional, most of them found the experience worthwhile, even if they didn't want to take the cards seriously. I often felt like I was helping my friends with these readings, so when the New Age shop invited me to start reading professionally at the store, I agreed.
My psychic career launched on a rainy spring Saturday. Unlike Mrs. Rita, who'd dressed the part in a long skirt, flowing scarves, and heavy jewelry, I showed up for work in jeans and a sweater. I spent most of the day bored, waiting for customers to join me at my little table covered in purple satin.
Late in the afternoon, a couple of teenage girls finally appeared with cash in hand. I read for each of the girls in turn, but the cards emerged as a jumbled mess for both.
"Like most people your age, you've got tons of friends around you," I explained. "Sometimes it's hard to tell from the cards what energy belongs to you and what belongs to your friends."
In other words, I couldn't read a damn thing from their cards. My heart was pounding and I'd broken out in a sweat. I wanted to help people with my readings, not steal their money and offer nothing in return. I can't remember much more of what I said during those consultations, but I'll never forget how stunned I felt when the shop owner said the girls had loved their readings and left satisfied customers.
The store offered me an ongoing gig on the spot, but I declined. In fact, I felt kind of sick. Introducing money into the equation changed everything for me. I felt dirty. Once I'd been the wide-eyed teenager with starry visions of the future; now I was the boardwalk fraud. Even though I'd told my customers exactly what Carol Maracle had always told me — This reading is just a snapshot. Nothing is set in stone, and you always have free will to make choices about your future — the girls had appeared perfectly willing to surrender their judgment to mine, a prospect I found terrifying. And so my career as a professional psychic ended the same day it began.
These days I rarely tell anyone that I read cards. Few would suspect that this frazzled soccer mom hides such a woo woo past. I haven't consulted a psychic or read the tarot for anyone else in years (though I'd probably still be calling Carol Maracle now and then if she hadn't passed away.) I have indeed learned to trust myself, and paradoxically, I've learned to accept that life will often surprise the hell out of you and all you can do is hold on. Only my husband (whose name is not Bruce) knows that I still throw the cards for myself sometimes. If I'm wrestling with a problem or trying to gain insight into a situation, the tarot serves as a private meditative tool rather than a means of divining the future. When friends or family need support, I avoid offering answers, psychic or otherwise. I'm just happy to listen.