surprise me

I read Alexander Chee’s fine, moving essay, “The Querent,” about his relationship to Tarot cards and what it means when we say we want to know something about the future. 

It is a beautifully-wrought, nuanced and personal piece. It made me think about many moments in my own life when I, like Chee, turned away from my life as I was living it, and toward some promised knowledge of how it would all turn out. 

When I was engaged to B., we stumbled into a reader’s booth on vacation one afternoon. I want to say it was in Provincetown. An overcast day, not beach weather. We had set the date for the wedding, as I recall, but we were also uncertain about the timing. It seemed there was so much to do. We asked a question. Exactly what it was, I can no longer recall, but it was about the wedding, perhaps even about the marriage, although that would certainly be a bold thing to ask. 

Now, twelve years after our divorce, it would be easy to tell the future for that moment. To say that we saw a shadow pass over the reader’s eyes as she turned the card over. That it was the death card, or the hanged man - some ominous symbol. The truth of it is that I can’t recall the question, or the card, but what I do remember is its color. The card, in whatever deck it was, whatever symbol it was, was almost entirely blue - cold, icy blue. And if I may be permitted the indulgence of the flourishes that memory wants, I would like to say also that the image itself was of ice - mountains of ice. 

There is another moment of fortune telling that has taken on weight over the years. This is a story my aunt told me about a reading that my mother had when my sister and I were teenagers. She had asked not about herself, but about our futures, how we would turn out. 

(It should be noted that my aunt tells me this several years after my mother’s death, and while I am in the process of my divorce from B. Which is to say that there are many factors - time, grief, wishful thinking - that could influence not only a teller’s memory of such an event but a listener’s acceptance of it as well.)

What she told me was this, this report of the fortune teller’s reading:

Your oldest daughter will have a baby. She will be very young when she has this child, and she won’t stay with the baby’s father. But later, she will meet a man and they will fall in love, and it will be a brilliant match. 

A brilliant match. 

I will not say that I carried this bit of information, if one can call it that, as a totem through my divorce and early courtship with M. But I will say that you can’t un-hear a thing, and if I am truthful, I would have to admit that I did take some solace, some comfort in retrieving those words from time to time, from the tiny pocket in my brain where they became lodged that day.

What does the future hold? 

If I am reminded of anything these days, it is of my own impatience. My own resistance to living in the present moment, to understanding each present moment as its own gift, its own lesson. I rush ahead, planning for some future thing which may or may not come to pass: Here I am, showing you around the rooms of a future house I have not yet built.  

The ice-blue card did not make us postpone the wedding: our own anxieties and fears, and our difficulty making decisions did. 

The phrase “a brilliant match” did not send me into the arms of M. It was the heart my own heart recognized - something about our childhoods and our families that resembled each other in the meaningful ways. It was his writing, his music. His kindness. The fierceness of his devotion to this other man’s child, the child I had so young. 

Even when we seek out knowledge of the future, can we really know what we are looking at before we get there? We assemble these expectations - elaborate and detailed - but does what comes to pass ever really resemble the house of cards that we have built? 

Perhaps today, I will try not to dwell on what comes next. Perhaps today, I can be open to not knowing. Perhaps the future will surprise me.