“Finally, your good days are coming. Let love come into your life, which will amaze even you. Take advantage of meeting the best person who is quite compatible with you. So do all you can to keep a happy balance.”
That is the fortune bestowed upon me by Sister Clara Clairvoyant: the Psychic Cat.
It was the beginning of my sophomore year of college in Los Angeles. I was experiencing an existential crisis (indulgent, I know), so I called up two classmates whom I barely knew but already felt connected to.
“Hey, let’s get out of here. Let’s go to — I dunno — Johnny Rockets at the Promenade and grab dinner. I’ll drive.”
We sat around the table outside. It was warm autumn day in Southern California. This was back in 2004, before the big box stores arrived on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, sweeping the panhandlers and unlicensed street performers under the rug to transform it into a tourist destination.
My friends and I pretended to be adults as we lamented our troubles. We were all going through bizarre roommate drama. Macy’s roommate situation had devolved into random messages from strange men, Stacy’s roommate situation involved a visit from the paramedics, and my own roommate situation found me requesting a new place to live within university housing.
Finishing our milkshakes and fries, we noticed a street vendor with a cardboard sign and a cat on his shoulder. The cat was dressed in a shiny silk vest because she was a psychic cat — she was Sister Clara Clairvoyant. For five dollars she would tell you your fortune.
This seemed a small price to pay for such important information, and I was feeling a little desperate for an answer, so I sat down on the stool in front of the man and his cat and handed over my money.
Sister Clara was, of course, no actual oracle, rather just a cute, well-trained cat with no fear of crowds, who didn’t seem to mind her harness, leash, and vest … but let’s suspend our disbelief and pretend that she was, indeed, a psychic cat, and that her human in tow was, in fact, the priest serving her temple of vision.
The man instructed me to roll up my five dollar bill, so I did, and Sister Clara gingerly plucked it from my fingers between her paws. Then the man mumbled an incantation, looked briefly at my palm, and whispered something to the cat, offering her a basket of neatly rolled up tiny scrolls. Sister Clara meowed, her green eyes focused, and after a moment of hesitation, selected my fortune, handing it to me the same way she took my money. The reading was done.
“What does it say?” Macy asked as I unrolled the paper. I showed it to her. “That’s really vague,” she said.
Allow me to repeat the fortune: “Finally, your good days are coming. Let love come into your life, which will amaze even you. Take advantage of meeting the best person who is quite compatible with you. So do all you can to keep a happy balance.”
That year I fell in love with a boy who introduced me to My Bloody Valentine and the Oakland A’s and the art of drinking beer slowly on a Tuesday night. It wasn’t really love, but for years I thought he was the “best person who is quite compatible” with me. We dated throughout college with the reckless passion of two young, stupid, aimless people. I thought my “good days” had come. We broke up after trying to live together. Sister Clara had been wrong.
But while my romantic relationship had ended, my friendship with Macy and Stacy persevered. Years after our first trip to the Promenade, we went to see a friend’s art show at a gallery in Santa Monica. Gone were the street vendors — the man who would dance on roller skates to a retro stereo blasting music, the kids who would do backflips down the corridor and then offer their upturned caps for change, the transient population taking advantage of the weather, and, sadly, the feline oracle and her human priest. In their places loomed a Gap, an American Apparel, and an Urban Outfitters, along with tourists who tripped as they stared at the dazzling displays.
It was then that it occurred to me that Sister Clara had not been referring to romantic love, but the love of eternal friendship — specifically with Macy and Stacy, who had been present the night of my fortune-telling. Indeed, the steadfastness of our friendship “amazed even myself.” We had remained friends while my romances came and went.
Until, that is, I moved to San Francisco and our friendship dissolved in the universal solvent of time, distance, and actual adulthood. People’s priorities and practices change, and I admit I stretched the patience of my friends with my emotional needs, as I navigated my rocky uprooting to a new city.
Now I consider the fortune of Sister Clara, recalling that night, balmy still with the leftovers of summer, when my now-former friends and I sat huddled around a table at a faux-’50s chain restaurant pretending to be grown-ups. I’d been so naive — I thought I was going through the worst time of my life when, really, it was the best time of my life, and I had wasted it worrying about a future I couldn’t control. Sister Clara didn’t actually know anything.
Or maybe she knew everything. This is no revelation, of course, but the fortune she bestowed upon me is that the future is unpredictable. Just now I searched through old photos, trying to find the one Macy (or was it Stacy?) took of me receiving my feline fortune. I am sure the photo exists, but I can’t find it. I wasted a lot of time looking through snapshots, digging in vain for some proof that night actually happened.
And in doing so I fell down a shaft of regret — I wish I had not said some of those mean things I said to my college boyfriend, I wish I had found a therapist in San Francisco sooner so I would not have burdened my friends … I wish, I wish, I wish. But just as I wasted my youth worrying about my future, I realize now I am wasting my wisdom worrying about the past.
As Sister Clara said, “Do all you can to keep a happy balance.” I suppose that balance is to remain present.
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