I turned 40 last month. Some people might throw a massive party, flee the country for a tropical vacation or crawl into the fetal position and moan. I visited an intuitive in Brooklyn.
My prior experiences with psychics have been for entertainment purposes only, akin to hiring a bronzed-bodied male stripper for a bachelorette party. I visited a psychic with four cats who ate eggplant parmesan while telling me that I would have triplets. (I didn’t.) I visited a psychic who told my friend that she needed to see a doctor immediately because she was riddled with cancer and that her boyfriend was a “scoundrel.” (She wasn’t, and he isn’t.) And I visited a psychic who told my friend that she wasn’t dating her soul mate—within ear shot of her hapless beau. (It did not end well.)
Despite these forays, I’ve always been beguiled by the world’s mystical elements. I believe there are forces at work on this planet that we don’t fully grasp, and that some people are more attuned to them than others. I’ve always been stricken by premonitions, and I even record them in a notebook next to my bed—many have come to fruition. I’m not sure if this is simply finely honed common sense or if I should find a crystal ball on eBay and set up a tent outside the T. But it’s happened enough that I’m a believer.
Just the same, I’m not a professional. But my chosen psychic is. She comes from a long line of clairvoyants, and two friends had pilgrimaged to her for mind-blowing, uncannily accurate experiences with tales to tell. She doesn’t reveal the future, per se; she simply perceives unhealthy habits and patterns and challenges her clients to overcome them with airtight personality assessments better than any psychiatrist ever could. I tucked this knowledge away, believing that someday—when the time was right—I, too, would throw myself at her mercy for a full analysis and a clean karmic slate.
That time came last month. I was dreading turning 40. It felt like a referendum on my life. I barraged myself with internal questions daily in the weeks leading up to my birthday. Some of my questions were grandiose: Why hadn’t I written a novel yet? At 40, my time for being perceived as a “precocious young author” had come and gone. Why hadn’t I done more volunteer work—started a foundation, spearheaded a charity, changed the world? Others were existential: I didn’t want to die or come any closer to dying. I was scared. Would I get cancer? Would I have a stroke? Would I perish in middle age? And some were needling and petty: Did I have enough friends? Did I have too many friends? Who deserved to be in my life? Who had I lost touch with along the way, and why?
Turning 40 felt like a showy wedding staged only for myself—at midlife, who I was and all I had achieved would be revealed. By 40, my achievements and my failures were cemented. I was no longer in the building phase of my life—I’d made my bed, and now I needed to lie in it (with an angled mattress for heartburn and a body pillow for lower back pain). I’ve always hewed to this perfectionistic line of thinking: At 12, I made a summer checklist to become a better person before seventh grade. I was always making agendas, yardsticks, measuring myself—for a long time, against others, and after plenty of therapy in my 20s, only against myself. But I was still keeping score.
All this pressure was making me melancholy. I felt out of control and unmoored. I needed some spiritual guidance, some validation, some higher power to give me answers. If my life were a novel (missed that boat so far), there’s no question that I would flip all the way to the end to see how it turned out. I don’t like question marks. I want to know how I’m going to die, when, where. I want all the answers. I don’t need mystery. I need security and contingency plans.
As such, I needed God to speak directly to me. Absent that, I needed a clairvoyant.
I booked my appointment in a breezy (but not too breezy) email, referencing my admiration for her line of work and our mutual friends. She asked for my birthdate and location, which I dutifully sent. I made sure to underscore that our meeting would fall on my 40th birthday—at the very hour of my birth, in fact, just to emphasize the momentousness of the occasion. I needed to know that I still had time to achieve my goals and that I was on the right track. I needed hope, affirmation and a blueprint for the next 40 years. Nothing major for $200.
My husband was not impressed. He was supportive, the way someone is supportive upon hearing you’ve decided to do a Tough Mudder or take up yodeling. He drove me to the appointment on the outskirts of Williamsburg with grumbling promises to retrieve me in an hour. He even went to the ATM to get me cash—and handed it over with a look of constipation mixed with disgust, like a teenager’s dad doing drop-off at a bad movie. Then he zoomed away.
I rang the bell and awaited my fate. She was with another client and suggested that I wait in a coffee vestibule next door. I agreed deferentially—I didn’t want to appear diva-ish and skew my fate. It was 20 degrees outside, but time had become frozen and bloated, like a crystal balloon. I scurried into the unheated café, seeing my breath, shivering in limbo.
She finally ushered me upstairs to her third-floor lair. She was not witchy or intimidating. She was not God. She had a vaguely mystical aura (she had a cat, which I always associate with mystics), but really, she looked like someone I’d gone to high school with and could cackle with in the back of a bad comedy show.
I was careful to appear friendly but not too friendly—I wanted to give off the most authentic vibes possible, though of course I knew she could outfox me and see right through any attempts at charm. I was who I was. I was 40, after all.
What followed was the most intense 90 minutes of my life with the exception of a hot yoga class I took in 2004. She asked me to perch upon a deck of tarot cards—the better to fully absorb my energies, I assume—and then she just began to talk to me while I scribbled notes, teetering on the stack. (Recording wasn’t allowed, but note-taking was encouraged.)
She’d read my chart, of course. She knew I harbored a Cancer moon, which implied sensitivity and the predilection for cozy homebody accoutrements, coupled with a striving and ambitious Capricorn nature. But, really, that was only the beginning. She proceeded to unveil knowledge that could not have possibly been unearthed in a prior Google search. She made literary references to books I’d enjoyed as a kid, such as Anastasia Krupnik, the precocious and bespectacled middle-schooler who loved to parry with grown-ups—and told me how I needed to reconnect with that sassy, suffer-no-fools kid. She told me that I’d become soft in middle age, too nice, too pleasant. I’d left my sassy muscle, my barbed humor and my slightly saucy nature behind. She urged me to take my prior self to the movies, to dust it off, to spend the day with it. She fished out someone who had been alive 20 years or so ago and held her in front of my face. It was time to overcorrect the correction, she told me—to stop being overly conciliatory or driven by a need for security and harmony. It was time to take chances: to write my book, to maybe go on a writer’s retreat, to shed transactional relationships, to get off the treadmill of a cozy and safe life and take some risks.
Am I beginning to sound like a women’s yogurt commercial? Sorry. It’s just: She said what I needed to hear. She said what I knew to be true. She vocalized my own intuition, which made it valid. She did not tell me when I was going to die (though she did tell me that Capricorns “live forever,” which gave the hypochondriac in me a boost). She did not tell me about future events or pitfalls or scoundrels who might cross my path. Instead, she resuscitated a part of my personality that had been hibernating for too long, mired in the daily drudgery of life. Most of all, she reminded me that at 40, I still had a lot more to do. No, I would never end up on a BuzzFeed list of “20 Best Novelists Under 21.” But, hey, that didn’t make me dead.
I took four pages of frantic notes. She told me a lot of stuff. We talked for well over an hour. Finally, I could hear my phone begin to buzz— my husband was patiently waiting outside. I paid her my money and left, centered and calm, as if I’d just taken a hot karmic shower. I felt seen, actualized, energized.
I began reciting my scribblings to my husband and texting my friends who’d also seen her, affirming that her talents were indeed uncanny. My friends were delighted. My husband was relieved that I hadn’t parted with more than $200. Then we went to the Williamsburg food hall and ate pizza. Maybe I’m a sucker. Maybe there is a spiritual undercurrent at work in the world. Either way, I walked out of that apartment a year older, and I didn’t feel sad anymore.