“You’re emotionally damaged,” Cher tells me. I nod, and a nervous smile runs across my face. Cher is a psychic. She’s not vetted by anyone I know, but I’ve passed her storefront, just a few blocks from my apartment, hundreds of times. I went in blind, looking for a way to write this essay. I had been thinking a lot about spiritualism — specifically the kind that I’d seen on reality TV — and I thought that once I left her tiny shop, I would know exactly what to say about why we seek answers from clairvoyants.
Cher’s tarot reading rips me apart. My root chakra is blocked, she says. I have no emotions, no way to let people in. My love chakra is split in two. I have no luck in love (she says this a few times). I had a troubled childhood.
“Right or wrong?” she asks me over and over again.
“I’m not sure,” I tell her each time, wanting to find some meaning in the brutal statements she’s throwing at me. Despite my reluctance and my feeling that most of her reading is generic, Cher finds plenty of reasons why I should enlist her help.
About a year before my visit with Cher, I lost a relationship.
“He’s dead to me,” I told my friend and repeated to myself probably every day for at least a month.
My boyfriend had broken up with me. I wasn’t sad. I was actually kind of relieved. I had been thinking a lot about what it means to be in a relationship when you’re 25, and then 26. One that you feel reluctant to label as “serious.” One that you can’t really see that far into the future. Despite knowing this and feeling this, I had settled into him.
I didn’t miss him, but I missed having company. I was angry because I recognized a certain kind of loneliness that feels impossible to remedy on your own. It was late June, and I saw the whole summer in front of me — endless, empty, restless days.
I began filling my nights with the show Hollywood Medium, in which clairvoyant Tyler Henry visits celebrities to give them messages from their dead loved ones.
In one of the first episodes I watch, he visits Bobby Brown. Tyler doesn’t recognize him. (The whole premise of the show is that he doesn’t know who he’s reading until he arrives at their door — “I didn’t even have a clue,” Tyler says about Bobby, which makes it all the more fun when Whitney Houston comes through just like any other soul.) He brings through Bobby’s father, who wants to acknowledge that he wishes he’d done things differently in life.
“Your dad’s way of showing his love was working,” Tyler explains, relaying Bobby’s father’s message. “I need my son to know how much I loved him because I wish I would have said that more in life.”
Tyler’s readings often go this way — someone who has passed offers a resolution to something they regret or sends a message of approval of the life you are living now. In the same episode, Eva Longoria’s Aunt Elsa comes through, showing appreciation that the family is still using her recipes (even though Elsa knows they lost the tamale recipe because nobody wrote it down). “For her, it represents that she’s still remembered,” Tyler says.
Watching these celebrities feel connected to their loved ones numbed my breakup rage. The feelings and experiences they had with those who have passed were powerful. I’d lost someone, too, but I went about my days as if he’d never existed at all.