What do you do when, at the age of 25, you find out you are destined to die alone? My palms were sweating under her scrutinizing eyes as she read the verdict: "I am sorry to say it, but your love lines aren't strong."
Nosta looked up at me empathetically. My life was laid out in cards across her coffee table, their archaic-looking pictures and ambiguous order relaying meaning that was beyond my comprehension. She relied on them minimally, as if they were index cards to a mostly-memorized speech. Throughout most of our session her large penetrating eyes gazed directly into mine.
Mere moments before this I parked my car outside the beige suburban house. A rusting metal sign on the lawn read, "Believe in Psychic Visions" and creaked quietly as it moved in the wind. It was late August but Christmas lights were still hung. I approached with trepidation, unsure of what I had gotten myself into. I took a deep breath, clutched my Yelp voucher and rang the doorbell -- at least her reviews had been high.
The screen swung open. "You must be Gabrielle," she said as I awkwardly shuffled past her into the darkened living room. Nosta asked no questions and started immediately. As she laid out the cards I retraced the steps that had landed me on her couch.
My friend and I had planned to go together, unsure of our faith in the outcome but intrigued about the experience. When it came time to book an appointment, my friend backed out. I figured, what the hell. There was a coupon after all. On Yelp her former patrons had gushed. They had been amazed and surprised. I didn't really believe in all that but I told myself to have an open mind. I could use some advice.
She started with career, mentioning that I am fulfilled by putting words and emotions down on paper. She said I would be successful, but I was not yet on the best path. She accurately announced my personality traits, offering detailed advice on what I could do to find my way.
"You are having some disruption in your home life." My roommate's boyfriend was moving in. "You are considering a move." I had just talked to my parents about it that morning. "Seattle. Your path is in Seattle." Shivers went down my spine. She was good. "Finish out the year and move in January." With confidence and precision she echoed the idea that I had been developing over the previous week.
She had my attention and then she dropped the bomb. "In your past lives you have always died alone," she announced. "It looks like this pattern will continue." She explained this could be caused by several factors. Sometimes it's just a bad habit the soul has developed over several lifetimes. The worst-case scenario was that this was a form of cosmic retribution: my punishment for previous bad behavior. Bad Karma. "If that's the case, there is nothing we can do." She said the rest was cloudy and that it would be best for me to continue to focus on my career.
Sitting in Nosta's hot living room I felt my chest tighten and my face flush. It had been a year since the man I loved left for good. I suggested the break. He pulled the plug. Twin rivers of black mascara cascaded down my face and with a sentence he called the time of death on our floundering relationship. "I don't love you anymore," he said coldly from the bed we had shared for almost two years.
My friends called it an intimacy issue. In the last months he had grown mean. He worked late. He lied. I searched for reasons and tried harder. When it didn't work, my frustrated responses only pushed him further away.
Towards the end, a string of friends got engaged. "You guys are next!" We heard it a lot. It always terrified me. No one could have known we were struggling. Our Facebook pages were littered with pictures of our smiling faces, fun outings, and contented closeness.
Even after we each digitally "canceled" our relationship, our Facebook personas remained. Like Pompeii victims the online shrines we built were frozen in time, haplessly smiling, embracing, posing, laughing. We seem so happy, and why wouldn't we be? Perfect was something we could always achieve. Real was another story. So, we pushed our problems under the rug. We shared interests, inside jokes, bowls of yellow curry, and a dog. We pretended we had it all. We just didn't have what it takes.
The pain from the phantom limb that remains after someone rips his life away from yours lingers. Then it subsides into a nagging itch -- a reminder of failed romance that breeds mistrust. I retreated into work, enlisting in a 9-month intensive Masters program that, along with two jobs and steady freelance writing provided a comfortable cocoon.
When "perfect-on-paper" guys came around, I buried myself in work. I didn't return calls. I repeated excuses and let them down easy. Rather than admitting it was fear, I called it independence. Each time my parents asked when I might try again I reminded them I was young. Each time a friend tried to set me up I told them I wasn't interested.
Nosta had finished her reading and was looking at me. She ended by telling me my next "soul mate" had just entered my life. "Do not pursue this," she advised. "His energy is elsewhere. He will break your heart."
I had heard enough. I left her home and stepped out into the breeze. Was I doomed to self-sabotage or choose incorrectly? Maybe my career would be enough to fulfill me. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad?
I started the car and pulled away from the house. On the radio love songs played on every station. I realized that love is everywhere -- it is unavoidable. As children we love freely and openly but we slowly start striving for love as a standard. As we grow up, the perceived absence of love causes us to censure and punish ourselves. We go on diets. We buy new clothes. We learn how to cook or memorize interesting anecdotes to share at parties. With every overly-crafted facebook post we are screaming, praying, begging, and hoping that these gestures will amount to something more. Love me we silently demand.
But, these are not the ingredients to love. Love lives in uncrafted moments. It's in the delicate removal of a stray eyelash from someone's cheek. It is in small, sweet kisses on naked shoulders. It is wayward hair erupting from a pillow, an extra hand to dry the dishes, impromptu sing-alongs in the car, or earnest apologies after shared shouting matches. Love does not get embarrassed. Love smells good all the time (even when it doesn't). Love snorts when it laughs. Love is not perfect.
These are the moments that manifest meaning in life. These are the moments I do not want to miss. I love loving and I still have a lot of love to give.
Nostra was right about some things -- I was hurt by someone who, as she said, had just entered my life. But she was wrong to tell me not to try and I was wrong to give her advice any weight. I was glad I jumped in even if it meant hitting rock bottom. I decided then I would not let her be right about any other grim predictions. I did not move to Seattle in January -- instead I chose San Francisco. I left my cocoon back in LA.
Nosta's cautioning reminded me I must take charge and face my fears. If I am truly fated to be forsaken, I will take my punishment on the chin. I choose to relish in the fleeting passionate moments shared with other cursed souls, rather than be relinquished by fears of failure. But mostly I found the strength to trust myself again. When faced with someone else's interpretation of my destiny I realized it is up to me to choose my path and that I am strong enough to get back up when I fall. No matter what consequences I may have in store -- I choose love.