In the span of a conversation so short it could’ve been texted, I got dumped by the man I’d been dating for nearly a year. In just four staccato words spoken at my doorstop—“Our relationship isn’t developing!”—and the three to five seconds it took me to utter, “I’m not indulging this conversation, and I’m taking the cab across the street,” I was reduced to a mess of smeared mascara.
I recognize that there’s an opportunity for emotional poise in the midst of this particular brand of misery, a quiet grace in enduring the dull ache of Sunday nights alone. But even so, I didn’t embrace it: Instead, my heartbreak manifested in the form of a geriatric Jewish woman. I want a pastrami Reuben and a shvitz, I’d hear myself think, over the static of classic sitcoms I’d never fully appreciated for their artistic brilliance. I want to eat kreplach with Jerry Stiller in a velour tracksuit. I considered adopting an old cat with an endearing disability and taking up knitting, except I had neither the strength to drag myself to the Humane Society, nor to buy yarn.
Instead, I desperately sought a quick fix; a way to jolt myself back to the emotional stasis I’d enjoyed before. Had I been able to procure the technology, I would’ve gladly Eternal Sunshine’d my memory or Back to the Future’d my past. But there were no memory-erasers or used Deloreans on the market, so instead I turned to mysticism.
“I have to burn this dick-shaped candle before tomorrow’s full moon” was never a phrase I could have imagined myself saying. I read my horoscope with the sort of feigned amusement with which one might view a child’s drawing. I have no idea what planet my ninth house is in, nor do I have any pointers in the way of practical feng shui. What I do know is this: When you’ve been dropped like the forgotten bridge to a sitcom theme song, it’s a far sexier prospect to meet with a clairvoyant for fifty minutes than to sift through a year’s worth of all your broken-hearted mind-junk in therapy.
In a fit of what I now recognize as maternal panic, my mother invited me to join her and my father at an Arizona spa and “wellness retreat” I’d once deemed “fat camp for hippies.” In retrospect, it’s probably more akin to rehab for hippies; just replace group therapy with group fitness. In other words, neither are places where people specifically sit in a circle and sing “Kumbayah,” but they might if you asked them to. Although under normal circumstances, it was a place I might’ve deemed “too Eckhart Tolle-era Oprah” for me, these were not normal circumstances; I was a woman who’d spent the better part of that spring in a stained bathrobe, feeling alternately empowered and enraged by Beyoncé songs, and I was in no position to decline the invitation.
Two weeks later, beneath the shade of two-story cactuses lush with yellow blooms, we were put on strict no-salt, no-sugar diets and shuffled around to trendy wellness-based activities. Along winding brick paths where baby javalinas roamed like buffalo, I followed my parents to yoga—and pilates, and cardiolates, and freeform mandala drawing, and crack-of-dawn desert hikes. To a degree, it helped—the endorphins and the fresh air, the regulated schedule punctuated by precise three-ounce servings of antibiotic-free chicken. I treasured being able to put my head on my mother’s shoulder and hold my father’s hand, but chided myself for being the most cloyingly out-of-touch millennial this side of the Mississippi: Here I was in the midst of this magical, all-expenses-paid, gluten-free desert oasis and all I could think of was this man—this one man—and how badly I wanted to either punch him or kiss him. What was wrong with me? No wonder I was dumped.
Several days into the retreat, during one of my solitary afternoon walks where I pretended I wasn’t crying and swearing off romance, I stumbled upon a sign for the one aspect of healthy living to which I yet hadn’t yet been exposed: METAPHYSICS, it read in large print, beside an arrow pointing toward huts dotting the edge of the property.
Upon returning to my room that evening, I flopped onto my southwestern-print comforter, rang the front desk, and asked to be transferred to the metaphysics department. A woman introduced herself as the spa’s resident clairvoyant. She had the gravelly phone voice of a cartoon witch, which I took to mean she was wise and probably very spiritual. That’s how a spiritual person sounded in my mind, anyway: Exactly like Elaine Stritch. I pictured a wrinkled desert woman with frizzy grey hair folding a handful of crystals into my closed palm and readjusting my chi—or chakra, or aura, or whatever was maligned. Maybe she’d chant with me. She listed off a menu of services: astrology, numerology, astrocartography, angel card readings, crystal alchemy, handwriting analyses. Unsure of where to start, I chose a forty-five-minute psychic reading.
The following day, I retraced my steps back to the Metaphysics huts. “You’re Chloe,” Elaine Stritch called out from the distance, her assuredness a relief. So far: one for one. She waited at the lip of a grim stone enclosure on a slight incline, and ushered me into a room that barely accommodated two rigid chairs and a desk. I decided that this was probably a makeshift space used purely for energy-channeling purposes, and that pictures of her granddaughter in a field hockey uniform were hung in an office elsewhere. There were none of the fringed velvet curtains or crystal accoutrements I’d imagined of a clairvoyant’s space, but in truth I had no idea what a clairvoyant actually did or how. A clairvoyant, by definition, is simply a person able to gain insight through extrasensory perception; the means by which such insight is obtained don’t specifically require crystal balls or tarot cards or palm readings.
Elaine Stritch closed the door, sat in a chair opposite me, and positioned a recording device between us, her eyes snapping shut the moment she pressed “record.” “It sounds a little funny,” she said. “But I want you to plant both feet on the ground, close your eyes and focus on bringing air through your entire body down to the floor. Breathe through your feet.” I closed my eyes and did as she asked. Breathing through my feet was a surprisingly effective metaphor. “Now picture an orb of light,” she instructed. I pictured the earth from space, smears of marbled land and ocean.
“Was it blue and green?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered, and as she opened her eyes, I was startled by the way the slits of her pupils seemed to flicker back and forth, as if scanning passing cars on the freeway.
“Good. We’re on the same page,” she said, gazing into the distance and scribbling on a piece of paper without looking at it. It was a practice, she explained, called automatic writing, wherein a clairvoyant manifests written information without conscious effort. After a moment, she stopped writing and returned my gaze hesitantly. “Okay, I’ll just say it because your spiritual guides are reassuring me you can handle it: People don’t always ‘get’ you, and right now, you don’t get you.”
“Okay,” I said, as neutrally as I could muster. And it was true: I’ve never been a simple nut to crack.
“And now that you’re no longer with the man you were with last year, you’re kind of at a crossroads,” she said, though I hadn’t told her about the break-up beforehand.
“Okay…” I said, wanting to neither acknowledge the information’s accuracy nor impart any further nonverbal clues. She maintained her focus on the wall behind me, tracing lines of penciled text in delicate script.
“Now, remind me of how recently he ended things again?” she asked, still gazing ahead and scribbling. I struggled to remember in silence. “Oh, that’s right, thanks,” she replied, as if I’d answered.
What if she can hear my thoughts? I wondered in silence as I attempted to thought-police myself. If Elaine picked up on any of it, though, she didn’t tell me as much. Instead, she looked me square in the eye and said, “He was right: It wasn’t developing. Even if you’d stayed together, he had a life trajectory totally incompatible to yours.” The corners of my eyes teared up, and she paused, probably to listen in as I recalled the shininess of his hair each morning as he kissed me goodbye on the way to the office, leaving me to the five-minute morning routine I would execute hours later when I felt like waking up to write.
“This is resonating with you?” she asked. I nodded, suddenly aware of my hands, one pinned to the arm of my chair and the other pulling at an unruly lock of hair.
“Is there anything you’d like to ask me about specifically? You can give me anything that might register an emotional response: an address, a name, a combination of numbers…”
I gave her the first thing that came to mind, a street name, stripped from its city and state: She correctly described my childhood home, its brick facade and manicured gardens, the white columns in the entranceway. I gave her the one-word name of my newly launched magazine venture: She gave me hyper-specific business advice on current and future collaborators, how I needed to continue delegating, how it “had legs.” I gave her my best friend’s first name: She described, with eerie accuracy, a fight we’d had the month before. I gave her the first name of a man I’d dated briefly during my early twenties: She detailed every personality trait that made us incompatible. And then I gave her another ex. And another.
“The thing is, none of these men were right for you,” she said, cutting me off.
“Then who is?” I asked feverishly. “When’s the right one coming along?”
“You’ll meet someone in October of next year,” she said, handing back the thin stack of papers, now covered in barely legible clusters of scribbles. Romance seemed an impossibility given that I’d already grown out all my body hair and sworn off the opposite sex, but she remained adamant, nodding her head resolutely. “Yes, you’ll meet in October. He’s ten years older than you, an intellectual peer, and you’ll travel the world together.”
At the end of our forty-five minute session, I wasn’t entirely sure what happened; only that my nerves had diminished by nearly 100 percent and my spa credits by $120. Ungluing myself from the chair, I imagined clogs of anxiety I’d been carrying in my chest diluted by optimism. It wasn’t that her predictions needed to be accurate, necessarily; it’s that I’d been adamantly shown the contours of a future to which I could look forward.
That’s not to suggest I wholeheartedly endorse clairvoyants now—there are more than enough charlatans on Yelp who’d happily exchange your cash for the generic suggestion that you might take a trip in the future. But I will say this: The following October, almost year and a half after my first psychic reading, I indeed met a man ten years older than me, though I’d long since forgotten about Elaine Stritch’s prophecy. Only when he and I left for our first shared trip outside of the country did I realize that she’d been correct in her predictions. Tomorrow, almost a year after our meeting to the day, he and I leave for our sixth trip.