“I have stopped being the heroine of my bad dreams, the melodramas of betrayal and narrow escapes from which I wake up grateful…” –Leisel Mueller
It was two days before I was scheduled to move from my West Village apartment on Sullivan Street in New York. I was driving to Atlanta to store my stuff at my parents house before leaving for Amsterdam. I’d been living in the Village and wanted a more novel scene than West 4th street could offer. I’d spent the summer in Europe, taking trains from Paris to Zurich and Amsterdam. Amsterdam was the city that captured me, where every view was a scene painted by the old Dutch masters, where lights and canals and bridges illuminated the beauty of night. My plan was to store my stuff at my parent’s house so I could travel light in Holland and settle there, get a work visa, and learn the Dutch language. I was walking down Bleeker Street when an exotic-looking woman saw me. She was sitting on a stoop in front of an apartment building and rushed down the steps when I caught her eye. “Sweetheart, you are in danger,” she said. “Really?” I looked behind me and all around, but I didn’t see anything threatening. “Yes, sweetheart–you have an enemy and you don’t know that they want to harm you.” Oh, what a scam, I thought. Here’s a fortune teller who has to make her rent so she’s looking for a sucker to bilk. “Look, I’m in a hurry…” I said, walking fast. She kept up with my strides. “Sweetheart, you need this information. Come upstairs with me and I’ll give you a reading for free. You don’t have to pay me anything.” “Free?” I repeated. I’m someone who can’t turn down anything free. I had a few minutes to kill, and I’d never had a psychic reading before. I was a little curious, even though I didn’t believe in any of that stuff. “Well, okay. I’ve got a few minutes” I told her. She looked relieved, and walked up the steps with me following behind her. Her apartment was on the second floor, with no street window. Most people in the fortune telling business have a street window apartment with a neon sign that says, “Psychic Readings”. Her apartment wasn’t what I expected from a fortune teller. It was ordinary and colorless, lacking items like hanging beads, brass tables, or silk tapestries. A small black and white television buzzed in the corner and a cheap lamp stood atop a scratched bookshelf. We sat at a walnut table with her stack of tarot cards. “I don’t usually give free readings” she said, shuffling the cards, “but when I saw the black aura over your head, I thought–this girl’s in trouble.” “Really…” I said, still suspicious that her act was really all about parting me from my money. She grabbed my left palm and looked deeply for a minute. Then, she folded my hand shut and fanned out the tarot cards across the table. “Pick five cards” she said. I waved my right hand over the cards and randomly pulled out five. She turned them over and examined the hand I’d chosen. “Uh, huh. Uh, huh…” she was quiet as she moved the cards around. “Are you about to take a trip?” she asked. “Yes!” I said, surprised. “I’m moving from New York in a few days and going to Atlanta, to store my stuff at my parent’s house before I move to Holland.” She said nothing. She stood up, and came over to where I sat and put her hands on my head for a minute. She took her chair across the table and looked directly at me. “Sweetheart, someone is trying to hurt you and you are not aware of it. I’m worried about your safety–you need to know who this person is so you can protect yourself. I’ll meditate on this for another day and burn some candles for you. In two days, you return here and I’ll give you the name of this person.” “Really?” I said, astonished. “You’re able to tell me a name?” “Yes” she said. She rose from the table and handed me her card. “Come back day after tomorrow and I’ll tell you the name of this person.” “Wow. I’m really curious. Don’t worry, I’ll come back. How much will my next visit cost?” I asked. “When you come back and I tell you the name, you can pay me what you wish. It’s important that you come back. You must guard yourself against this person’s energy. They’re intent on destroying you.” “Okay” I said, rising from the table. “I’ll definitely be back. Day after tomorrow. That’s the day before I move.” When I left Madame Yvonne’s apartment, I felt strange and off-balance, like I’d just emerged from a dark closet into bright sunlight. Who is this woman? Why did she single me out? I really don’t believe in any of this psychic stuff…it’s all a scam, I thought. But still…maybe I’ll return. If I have time. But, I have a lot of packing to do and goodbyes to say. I did not return to Madame Yvonne’s apartment. By the time I packed up the rental car and said my goodbyes, I didn’t want to spend any more time in New York. I needed to leave. About 30 minutes after I merged onto the Long Island Expressway, the red engine light lit up. I moved onto the shoulder of the road just as the silver Mercedes engine sputtered and died. Cars whizzed past as I got out and pulled up the hood. Black smoke poured from the engine. I looked as far as I could see and the closest gas station appeared to be at least a half mile away. I locked the car and started walking, cursing my luck. The ad in the Village Voice that offered a free car to drive anywhere sounded so good. I could have chosen the Ford Pinto instead. Now, someone’s new 1985 silver Mercedes was broken down on the Long Island expressway with all my stuff locked inside. As I walked along the shoulder of the expressway, I reflected on the fortune teller’s prophesy. Why didn’t I go back like she instructed? Perhaps I could have avoided this whole situation. Now it’s too late. I must be on guard for anyone who might try to harm me. The mechanic at the gas station said he’d have to order a part for the car. $500 at least, was the estimate. I didn’t have $500. I called the drive-away company but they told me they weren’t responsible for repairs. They told me to call the owner of the car–a Hawks player–and ask him to wire the money for the repair. I called and told him about his car and the charges for repairs, but he was suspicious and angry–turns out, he didn’t know the drive-away service transported cars by loaning them to drivers like me. I told him that everything I owned was in the car but I would walk away and leave everything in it if he didn’t send the check for the repairs. He said he’d send the money. I used what little money I had for a roadside motel for the evening. I hoped I had enough money for gas and tolls to get home. I made it to Atlanta with $1.65 to spare and a quarter tank of gas. I barely had enough gas to get the car to the Hawks player. I needed money fast, and spared no time finding a temporary job for a couple of weeks to pay my airfare to Holland. I found a two week assignment at IBM, starting immediately. I borrowed my brother’s old black Z-28 as transportation to work, stored the few possessions I had in the closet of my old bedroom, and tried to settle my nerves about staying with my parents for a couple of weeks. It was my third day at my parent’s house that I entered my bedroom after work to find that my suitcases had disappeared. I asked Mother where my stuff was. “Oh, the bedroom was so cluttered with stuff I couldn’t stand it. I put everything up in the attic” she answered. “In the attic?” I yelled. “I need my clothes and hairdryer! I need my stuff! I can’t believe that you put my stuff in the attic!” “Well, you are a guest in my house and I don’t like your clutter” she hissed. “Okay then–I’ll leave,” I said, and pulled down the ladder to the attic. I got my suitcases and threw them into the hallway while Mother was yelling at me. I didn’t know where I was going to go. I had to get to work by 8:30 in the morning and all I had was my brother’s car to make my exit. I walked back and forth from the house, loading the car with my stuff. Finally, everything I owned was in it. I went back inside for my purse and keys and saw Daddy standing with Mother in the kitchen, trying to calm her down. “You ungrateful little whore!” Mother screamed. “Get out of my house!” “Gladly!” I screamed back at her. “Living in a car is better than living here!” I told Daddy goodbye, and as I walked to the door, I heard the sound of Mother unsheathing a butcher knife from the counter. I turned around. She charged at me, holding the knife above my shoulder. I moved away quickly and Daddy grabbed her arm with the knife. “Go, Lynn!” Daddy yelled as they struggled with the knife. I ran out of the house and got into the car and locked the car doors. I was shaking and knew I was in no shape to drive. I sat at the wheel of the black Z-28 for a few minutes, staring at Mother’s BMW parked in the driveway. From that position, I could ram the side of her car and cause a lot of damage. I backed my car up and felt the urge surging up my spine, visualizing the impact. I took a few deep breaths and paused. If I smash her car, Daddy is the one who will have to pay for the damage. She doesn’t work or earn her own money so what did she care? I drove away with my stuff piled in the Z-28 and promised myself I’d never go back there again. I pulled over when I saw a pay phone and called Diane, a woman I’d just met at IBM. We’d eaten lunch together and had become friendly. “Diane?” I said when I heard her hello on the other end. “Is it okay with you if I sleep on your couch for a couple of days? Something came up.” “Sure, Lynn! Come on over” Diane said. “Wait, let me find a pen so I can write down your apartment number,” I said, fumbling in my purse. I found a pen but nothing to write on. I reached into my coat pocket to see if I had a receipt or a scrap of paper and pulled out a business card. It was the fortune teller’s card. “Lynn? Are you still there?” Diane asked. I remembered Madame Yvonne’s warning, that someone would try to harm me. Then I knew what name she was going to say. “Mother”.