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Shuffling the Major Arcana
I had been carrying Dad's tarot cards for months. It was time to read them.
I don’t know why Dad’s tarot cards are so important. I wouldn’t have thought they were, except that I grabbed them off the shelf last December, when I only had a few minutes to take anything. I ignored all my books and the framed photos around them. At that moment, the tarot cards were all I wanted.
That was December 19th. Two local cops were downstairs in my living room, watching the door. My neighbor Terry was standing with them. She had the two carry-on sized suitcases I’d packed earlier in the day, when I hadn’t known I was going to be in that kind of hurry. Now I had my backpack and I went hurriedly through the house, throwing in the last things. My passport. My extra eyeglasses and my face lotion. The book I was in the middle of reading. My heartbeat was distractingly loud in my ears while I moved from room to room.
“Hey, Tonya,” Terry called up from the base of the steps. She walked up part way. “Hey,” she said again. “You can take another pass in the morning.” I was standing frozen in the middle of the bedroom, feeling so frantic inside that I couldn’t move. “The cops said they’ll come back again. If you forget anything, we can come back here before we drive to the airport.”
I took this in. Then I realized I should respond, so I nodded.
After a minute, I heard her steps retreating. Then I heard the murmur of voices again from the living room. I didn’t want to keep them all waiting. I just kept looking from one wall to another. I wasn’t breathing. I told myself to breathe.
The morning? I didn’t really believe the next morning existed. Time kept breaking. The past 48 hours had been a steadily increasing emergency. I couldn’t count on anything to remain constant from one moment to the next. I was leaving my home. I was leaving everything but those suitcases. For a few months, at least. Maybe forever. I couldn’t assume anything, so I didn’t let myself believe I would have the morning.
What was too important to leave? What couldn’t I lose?
One last look around the room. I saw my dad’s pack of tarot cards on the bookshelf.
Daddy, I thought. I nearly said it out loud.
I put the cards into my bag. Then I left.
I remember a phone call with my dad—this was when I was in college—when he had been reading his tarot cards.
“How do they look?” I asked. I would have been in my tiny apartment in Spearfish, sitting on the couch under the big window.
“Your cards always look good,” he said. “Every time I ask about you, the cards are always so positive.”
“What about yours?”
I’ll never forget his long, hard sigh.
I don’t like to think of him sitting on the floor in his office in California with those cards splayed out on the carpet, getting bad news after bad news. I wished later that I had asked him to explain. I should have asked him which cards they were. I should have learned the meanings back then, when it would have been something for us to share. I never took it seriously.
I laughed with him when he made a joke about it. Another glum reading. He could turn anything he was nervous about into laughter. He could make me laugh better than anyone else—especially when I was scared. Especially when I needed to feel okay. He could make me laugh until my stomach hurt. So, when he changed the topic, I forgot all about it. I let the conversation drift to something else.
It was only after he died that I started to wonder.
It wasn’t like he was a big woo-woo kind of guy. You wouldn’t have seen him and thought “tarot cards”. Dad was so practical. He drove Toyotas. He used IBM computers. He never bought an appliance without checking Consumer Reports. He wore nylon shirts and pants with lots of pockets. Inevitably, in one pocket he always had a multi-tool.
But then, yes, he started reading tarot cards. And he was into meditation and books about Taoism, and psychics too. For a while, when I was a teenager, he was reading up on the various scientific tests used to debunk famous psychics. Then he read all the books written by the ones who had stymied the tests. He was just a complicated guy, I guess. He was always thinking about something unexpected.
I remember one night during his ‘psychic’ period, we were driving home late in the car, and he told me the theory he had developed about the afterlife. It was just a hypothetical, of course, but isn’t that always the case? He said he had this idea that the universe was like a big university and that all the souls were like students. Between lives, we all roamed the Quad or just hung out with each other enjoying forever-ness. But when we wanted to learn something, we would choose another life to live. Each life was a course we had chosen to take, in order to teach ourselves something we needed to learn.
I always liked that idea. Who knows? It might be true. It makes as much sense to me as anything else.
Anyway, the tarot cards. I’ve been carrying them around with me for eight months. They’ve traveled all over the place, in the car, on airplanes. I kept thinking that I would take them out of the little box and finally learn how to read them.
I was thinking, well, I probably need a book to learn how to do it. (I am my father’s daughter. I believe in learning things from books.) And it couldn’t just be any Tarot book. No Amazon 2-day delivery bullshit. It should be a special one. Something I find by happenstance. Something old. But after eight months of checking in every dusty used bookstore along the road, you know, I just haven’t found a single Tarot book I like. Each time I’ve seen one, the cover looked silly to me. Or the title wasn’t right. Something about it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. It’s amazing how much time can pass that way when you’re too afraid to just sit down and face something.
That’s the thing. I’ve been afraid. I don’t want to start reading my dad’s Tarot cards only to find that he isn’t there. I don’t want to risk a big cosmic flop. And—okay, let’s just say there is some kind of substance to the hoopla—what if the cards tell me something bad? What if I get the same readings he got? That big, sad sigh of his over the phone. Tapping fingers with the universe can get spooky pretty fast. What if? I mean, really—what if? It’s terrifying, when you think about it.
Tonight, though, I stopped thinking about it. I just pulled myself together, and I went to the box and I pulled out the damn cards. I paged through the little informational booklet that came with them and thought, okay, I can start with this. I sat on the floor and lit a candle.
A simple 3-card reading. My past, present, and future. I shuffled the deck for a while, and then I shuffled some more. I took a breath in and a breath out.
The Past, I said to myself. Then I turned over a card.
Okay, Dad. That’s pretty funny.
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Tonya Morton is the publisher of Juke.