I’m moving soon and there are dozens of items on my to-do list, from “defrost freezer” to “pack all worldly possessions,” but the only thing I’ve actually crossed off is “make to-do list.” I should be excited about this move, ready for a fresh start in a city where I don’t know anyone, but every time I look at my list, I feel this weight of dread and I want to ball it up and light it on fire. It’s not just the mountain of tasks that are making me avoid getting started; it’s the fact that I don’t want to move.
For the past three years, I’ve lived in a small city in the southern US that is more progressive than you might expect in a region primarily known for poverty and racism. My city — big enough to have strangers you’d like to meet, small enough that you eventually will — has a host of community activists and a large queer scene. Once known for tobacco mills and the civil rights struggle, it’s now known for food trucks and lesbians. Politically, my current home is about as liberal as a nudist colony, and it suits me. I have a good life here. My new city, however, is several steps to the right, known more for its professional football team than its gay scene, which is nonexistent. It’s a city of bankers, and I hate bankers. So why move? Why leave when I have a good, comfortable life in a place that’s cheap enough so I can live alone without working very hard? It’s because of a psychic.
I’ve worked in publishing for years, but my dream is to be a radio producer. Because the best way to learn radio is to make radio, I occasionally contact people I think might be interesting and ask them to sit for an interview. I don’t mention that nothing I’ve produced has actually been on the radio or that my only experience holding a mic until six months ago was karaoke; I just say that I’m a freelance producer and I’d like to interview them. I’ve found that people are remarkably willing to talk about themselves when they think they’re going to be on the radio, and hardly anyone questions your credentials if you have a professional-looking website. I feel a bit guilty about this subterfuge, but it’s not entirely a lie: I am available for freelance producing work, I just haven’t done any yet. Besides, people like talking about themselves, and so the experience is usually enjoyable for both of us — which brings me back to the psychic.
My friend’s father died last spring, and not long after, she went to a psychic who is a client at the salon she owns. My friend was starting a new business and had intended to ask for guidance on auspicious dates, but the session ended up being almost entirely about her dad. The psychic told my friend that her dad is always with her mom at night, lying on the left side of the bed while she sleeps. When my friend told me how shocked she was that the medium knew exactly which side of the bed her dad slept on before he died, I could see how emotional it was for her, but I pointed out that there was a 50-percent chance the psychic would have said left instead of right. “I know,” she said, “but it felt real.” I was glad my friend felt some solace, but I hoped she hadn’t paid much. It seemed like bullshit the way all magic is bullshit.
Several months later, I was thinking of people I might want to interview, and I remembered the psychic. I emailed her to request an interview, and she replied that, yes, she would love to talk but was in Mexico for several months and could we schedule it for when she got back? I put it on my calendar, forgot about it, and started looking for a mortician or a wet nurse who might want to talk to a freelance producer.
In the time between emailing the psychic and the day of our interview, some things in my life changed. My girlfriend and I broke up and, for a while, I was a mess, a real mess. Because there was nothing I could do to fix the situation, I decided to change the things I did have control over: I quit my job, interned at a public radio station, and then spent months sending resumés and cover letters around the country, hoping that someone, anyone, would give me a job. After endless copy-and-pasted rejection letters, I was about to start investing in lottery tickets when I was called for an interview at a radio station in a conservative banking town further south. The interview went well, and a few weeks later, the station manager called me with an offer. Despite how badly I wanted this job, I really did not want to leave my comfortable and progressive queer enclave to move to a place with both a Hooter’s and a mega-church downtown, and my first impulse was to say no. There would be other offers, right? No job is worth living in a city that voted 80 percent for Mitt Romney. I told him I needed to think about it and I’d have an answer by Friday. On Thursday, I met the psychic.
When I walked into the psychic’s office, I was surprised at how spare it was. There was no sage burning or tapestries hanging from the walls, and except for the volumes on astrology and numerology lining her bookshelves, it could have been an H&R Block. I began the interview by asking about how she started communicating with the dead, and she told me that she’d had the ability ever since she was a little girl but had always kept it a secret. She had been adopted as an infant, and after meeting her biological mother as an adult, she found out that she’s a fourth-generation clairvoyant. Now she flies around the country doing sessions with wealthy clients. She explained what it is like to communicate with the deceased: it’s more a feeling than a vision, she said, like someone is standing over your shoulder.
When you’re interviewing someone for radio, you can’t make any of the usual verbal signals that indicate you are listening. If you uh huh your way through an interview, you’ll have problems editing later, so what you have to do instead is sit very close to your subject, holding a microphone inches from her face, and make eye contact — deep, intentional, steady eye contact. Because of this, interviews, especially when you are talking about things like death and loss, can have an intensity you don’t normally share with strangers, and when the psychic told me that she knew her eldest son was going to die for a year and a half before he did, I was looking into her eyes — bright, blue, intelligent — and I found myself believing her entirely.
At one point during the interview, I asked the psychic to walk me through a session. She took a book of numerology down from her shelves and looked up my birth date. You’re a writer, the psychic said, and I nodded, although it seemed like she could have as easily discerned this from Google as from the chart. You have recently been disappointed, she told me. You will get past this, but to move on, first you have to move. I almost dropped the microphone. Fuck. What was happening? I don’t believe in this bullshit, but here was this woman looking at me like she could see into not just my heart, but also my future. I called the station manager that afternoon and accepted the job.
In the weeks since, I’ve regretted this many times. I regret it when I think about saying goodbye to my friends, when I walk around the little gay city that’s been my home for three years, when I look at this giant to-do list with nothing crossed off. But I’ve made my decision, and so I’m trusting the psychic with this, and the stars.