Sunday, December 2, 2007

Chapter 9 ~ Tarot

Photo by
Brendon Stuart

Sometimes I wonder if I brought these catastrophes upon me, lured them to me with a subliminal siren song while I worked or slept.

I remember one day before all the trouble started, when Greta came over to do a tarot reading. A fellow teacher at Santa Inez High School, I first realized she was interested in the mystical cards when she invited me to a tarot crafts party at her apartment. Greta had taken images from the Rider-Waite tarot deck and applied them to pendants, charms, glass votive candles, and small “spell boxes” which you could slide open to find magical tokens inside: herbs with special properties in a net bag; small, round stones; tiny tarot cards; and charms to represent each suit of the tarot deck—cups, pentacles, wands and swords.

On the day she came to my house to do the reading, I brought her for privacy into my bedroom which, thankfully, was not as messy as usual. As we entered the room, I felt grateful once again for the twice a month housekeeping service my mother-in-law had given us for Christmas that year. There were no giant dustballs on the floor, no used snotrags on my husband’s old Powerbook which he kept constantly plugged in on his bedside table, an old instrument tray on wheels I had salvaged from my father’s dental office when he died. The bed was made and the cover was not the worn, stained, handmade quilt I had bought at family camp five years before, but a new quilt I’d purchased at Ross Dress for Less, with bright blue and magenta stars on a cream background and matching pillow shams.

Greta is the kind of woman who always looks well put together. One of the younger members of our staff, she has lustrous black hair that hangs in perfect balance around her creamy white face. Her fingernails are always filed and polished with a clear lacquer. She often carries a decorative handbag and puts things into it or pulls them out with a slow deliberation. Her clothes are never wrinkled or flecked with cat hair, like mine. She has an assortment of artistic jewelry and tastefully chooses pieces which naturally complement whatever she is wearing. Despite the relative cleanliness of my room, I felt a twinge of trepidation as she stepped inside. I swept the bedspread with my hand a few times before asking her to sit down.

“I hope you don’t mind doing this on my bed,” I said sheepishly, trying not to notice the stacks of projects piled around the room. On one wall was Lawrence’s narrow workbench with a bright light, a stool, and makeshift wooden shelves holding tools, two old radios he was planning to repair, a dismantled movie projector, a spray can of WD-40, blue and brown masking tape, glue, scissors, a soldering gun, a box of miscellaneous electrical cords, and a spray bottle of liquid meant to eliminate cat odors.

Normally, when I wasn’t annoyed with Lawrence for being a homebody who never wanted to go out and have fun, I liked lying on my bed and watching him work on a project under the bright metal desk lamp, peering through the rectangle of magnifying glass on a flexible arm he was so pleased to have found at a garage sale. Seeing him at his bench fixing his glasses or an old kitchen appliance, I was reminded of Pinocchio’s kindly father Gepetto. It was comforting, somehow, to be married to a man who knew how to handle small tools and repair things, and the mess never disturbed me when left on my own. But whenever a newcomer entered my domain, I became aware of how slovenly it all appeared.

Near the door were several framed photos Lawrence had taken down before painting the dining room and never put back up; an old, round speaker with a tear in the fabric, a stack of books waiting to be shelved and a box of old tubes he had bought for $80 at the flea market and was planning to resell on Ebay as soon as he found the cord to the digital camera he needed to upload the pictures for the ad. Another wall held my dresser, surmounted by a three-foot high pile of clothes that I felt could be worn once again before being washed. Also along that wall was an enormous basket of yarn my mother-in-law had given me after teaching me how to knit; a hamper of dirty clothes; a mini-tower of shoeboxes full of photographs I planned to put into albums; my little-used gym bag; a handbag full of my latest knitting project (I had never progressed beyond scarves); a bedside table piled high with books and magazines I had every intention of reading; and just enough aisle space to walk along my side of the bed.

Greta didn’t seem to mind the disarray. “Don’t worry about it,” she said graciously, sitting down on the bed without hesitation. “This will be fine.” She sat back against one of the matching pillow shams and set her textured handbag on the bed. Slowly and carefully, with long, elegant fingers, she pulled out several items: a tarot deck, two books on interpretation of the cards, and a large blue binder with plastic-covered sheets of paper containing color printouts of every card followed by multiple interpretations.

“There are many different ways we can do this,” she said. “One way I’ve been interested in lately is we can spread all the cards out and you can select ones that call to you. Then you can tell me what draws you to the card, why you chose it, what it signifies to you. Afterwards, I can give you additional interpretations from my books.”

“That sounds good to me,” I said.

Greta nodded in pleased agreement while she opened the packet and spread the colorful cards over the bedspread. They were larger than regular playing cards, and thicker, and vastly more interesting. Each held a unique image, richly detailed. Some were funny, some mysterious, and some frightening. I ran my hand over the array of cards. I liked the feel of them between my fingers as I moved them in a clockwise motion around the bed, looking for the images that held the most meaning for me.

“I think I like this one,” I said cautiously, pulling out the seven of pentacles. It showed a young man leaning on a walking stick, looking at a bush adorned with seven big, yellow circles, each one containing a star.

“What draws you to it?” Greta asked.

“I guess it’s the abundance. It seems to indicate that he has plenty. He’s proud of how well his bush has grown, and all the fruit it has produced. He doesn’t have to worry about starving. I guess this could represent all the good things I have in my life right now: my home, my job, my family.”

“That’s a good interpretation,” Greta said, opening her binder to the corresponding page. “The seven of pentacles can represent wealth and good fortune in business, also innocence and ingenuity,” she read. “Notice how uncomplicated the scenery is, and the simple modesty of his dress. Although he’s wealthy, he doesn’t seem sophisticated or corrupt. He seems to genuinely appreciate what he has, like you do.” She smiled. “What else calls to you?”

The next card I pulled out was the eight of cups. It showed a figure walking out on rocks toward the ocean. Both the sun and moon were in the sky at the same time. He had a walking stick and a red cloak. His back was to the viewer. On the shore were stacked many golden cups, which he seemed to be leaving behind.

“And what do you like about this one?” Greta asked.

“There’s something about the solitude that appeals to me, and the ocean setting. I’ve always felt the ocean was a home to me. Sometimes I get the feeling that the ocean is my mother.” I stopped for a moment to smile with embarassment at this revelation. “It looks like he’s going on a journey, but a pretty safe one. He has all his wealth to return to, if he decides to come back. What does the book say?”

“Well, one interpretation is the figure is rejecting his riches—leaving them behind to seek new fortune. But it also can represent modesty, mildness or timidity. Another interpretation is a change in priorities. What you once thought was important becomes inconsequential.”

I nodded uncertainly, wondering how that interpretation might apply to me. I thought my priorities were in order, but at the same time, I felt a nagging dissatisfaction with my life. There were many things that bothered me. My husband, for example, had never been sufficiently romantic. Long ago, I’d made him go to marriage counseling with me because he wouldn’t tell me that he loved me. The counselor hadn’t ‘cured’ him; I’d just adapted to his ways. But now that we were both getting older, I found myself resenting the years I’d lived without adequate affection, and his overall lack of tenderness toward me. Lawrence often made jokes that seemed to belittle me, and I felt my connection to him growing sour. At the same time, Jason was paying me lots of attention and filling my head with exciting but confusing ideas about rejuvenation and change. At work, I also had disappointments. I thought I was improving, but after five years in the classroom, I still didn’t consider myself one of the best teachers in the school. I felt a humiliating sense of competition with the younger, more popular teachers. I wasn’t sure that I would ever be able to catch up. When it came to my family, my children were more or less satisfactory, but not the shining stars I wanted them to be. Rose had gotten into UC Berkeley. That was something. But Eddy was difficult and often in some kind of trouble. Henry was sullen and disenchanted with school. And my house, although worth a lot of money and located in a good neighborhood, was really just a giant container of unfinished projects. There was never enough money to finish them, and never enough time. Despite my constantly overbooked schedule, it often seemed that my life wasn’t moving forward at all, that I was just running in place. All these thoughts flitted through my mind as I swept my hand over the plasticized cards, spreading them apart to reveal the borders and moving them around to see how they compared to their neighbors. I hesitated before pulling the next card from the deck. I felt distinctly drawn to one card, but afraid of the attraction, not sure I wanted to give it significance by pulling it out from the rest. Finally, I stopped resisting and drew the number sixteen—The Tower.

“I know this is crazy, and probably terrible bad judgement, but for some reason this card is really interesting to me,” I told Greta, holding it towards her above the pile so we both could see the image clearly. She didn’t draw back, as I had feared, or seem startled by my selection.

“Don’t worry. I understand the attraction,” she said.

The card we both were considering was mostly black. From craggy rocks on the bottom rose a tower—phallic, straight and unadorned, like Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. But the rounded top of the tarot tower was missing. Instead, flames shot out of the roof of the building and from three black windows. A lightening bolt zigzagged from the heavens and pointed an arrow directly to the heart of the fire. Two figures could be seen diving head-first from the burning edifice. On the right, a blue-cloaked man in a crown seemed to be floating on his back, his hands outstretched to break his fall. On the left, another man hurtled headlong toward the ground, his mouth frozen open in a scream, his hair streaming behind him.

“I can see why you’d be frightened to pick this card, but it can be read on a number of levels,” Greta said. “But before I read from the book, why don’t you tell me why you picked it. What does this image mean to you?”

“I’m not sure,” I stumbled. “I don’t know why I like it. I guess it has something to do with the drama, the complete seriousness of the card. The figures could be falling—or leaping—into a new place, a new phase, a new type of existence. It looks like a total shake up—a destruction of the status quo.”

“It’s true the card represents a destructive force, but it can also stand for the creativity that is born as a result of that destruction,” Greta explained. “It can be a card of new beginnings, or you could think of the destruction as applying to something negative in your life, something you want to get rid of.”

We talked for awhile longer until Greta said she had to go to another appointment. Before she gathered up her things and replaced them in her bag, she offered to make me a tarot gift—a pendant containing one of the cards which I could wear as a necklace or hang from the rearview mirror in my car, as she did with The Fool. I was pleased with the idea and readily accepted. I passed my hand once again over the deck and considered which of the 78 cards had the most meaning for me, which I might want to wear around my neck. At the same time, I saw an image of myself in a swamp, up to my thighs in mud and fetid water, trying unsuccessfully to slog forward through reeds and spindly grass.

The metaphor wasn’t quite fair, I knew. I had a good life, and should be nothing but grateful. In every category I could consider, I had enough. More than enough. I had enough money in the bank and clothes in my closet and food in my belly. I had enough books to read and stories to write. I had enough cobwebs to sweep off the front porch. I had enough students to teach and papers to correct and colleagues to impress. I had enough rampaging raspberry bushes in the backyard, so boisterous and buxom they were pulling down the rotting back fence. I had enough debris in the driveway to take to the dump. I had enough faith in my husband’s hidden love that I could ignore the cynicism and intuit the romance contained in the roast chicken dinner he cooked. I had enough moody 14-year-old boys who never wanted to go to school, enough feisty 18-year-old boys who passionately rejected my world view, enough lovely 19-year-old girls who expected me to be wise and wonderful in every and all situations. I had enough age spots and fat rolls and gray hair dyed ginger. I had enough canceled piano lessons and buried poetry. Enough unfinished projects. Enough stuff. Enough.

“I want this one,” I told Greta suddenly, drawing out The Tower once again from the arrayed deck. “I’m not sure exactly why I want it, and I’m afraid it might be terrible bad luck, but it really is having the strongest pull on me.” I looked at Greta for reassurance. “What do you think? Should I change my mind?”

“Not at all,” she said, taking the card from me gently and turning it around so she could review the burning building, the falling figures. “You know what you need now. It’s a powerful card.”

Read the next chapter HERE, or buy a paperback copy of Count All This HERE.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home