Ashlyn Oakes

February is a strange time of year. Some burrow into bed, some get a new haircut and some drink themselves into a stupor, all in the name of staying warm. I began reading my horoscope. What started as a joke, a funny link sent my way by a friend, has become a part of my daily routine. Now, every morning, I wake up and proceed straight to (for the comprehensive, astrological mumbo-jumbo) or (for cut-and-dried tips on what to expect in school and in my love life), scrolling until I see my fate spelled out under the simple heading “Sagittarius.” Most of the time I can somehow convince myself the horoscopes are applicable. All the world was definitely supposed to be my stage last Tuesday, when the cosmic copilots Venus and Mars flowed into an auspicious 120-degree angle fire trine, and I got a job offer! Occasionally, though, they really miss the mark. There’s no way I got sentimental on the fifth and sixth of the month because everyone was talking about “the good old days” — I’m 19. I can’t say that getting in touch with my star sign has measurably improved my life. Still, I can’t get enough.

All of this does and does not explain how I ended up at the West Haven home of Miss Patty, psychic healer and adviser, on a Monday afternoon in early April. I found her online. I was looking to talk to a psychic, not to be read necessarily, but to get a sense of the work that they do and how they feel about doing it. I have always thought, selfishly, that a psychic would make a fantastic character study. The truth is that I had wanted to meet with Attila the Psychic Advisor on Edgewood (mostly because of his name), but he never answered my calls. Miss Patty did, and her voice was warm and milky, with a light accent I couldn’t quite place. She sounded like the product of another time, words clearly enunciated but softer around the edges, and with a slight hint of old-school Hollywood mob wife. She said it would be her pleasure to speak with me.

The house is nondescript, off-white and right near I-95, two cars parked in the driveway. It’s a family home. I am met at the door by Patty’s sister, who ushers me in over a pastel pink and blue “Live, Laugh, Love” doormat. Inside it is dark. The lights are off, the blinds are drawn halfway, and the room reeks of cigarette smoke. One wall is covered halfway in a very large mirror. I’m led to an armchair; it squeaks when I sit down. Patty’s sister tells me the psychic herself will be out shortly and goes back to her vacuuming. I can’t help but feel like I am intruding. I am also thrilled.

I want an encounter that is either meaningful, creepy or some combination of the two. I have an image in my head of what psychics are supposed to be like and I am confident that she will deliver. And true to type, Miss Patty looks just as I imagined. She’s middle-aged, and she has meticulously coiffed dark hair and smudged-around-the-edges eyeliner. She wears a long dress and a black fleece jacket (after all, it is a cold day), and the frames of her glasses are bright red. Her eyes are kind, but when she talks her eye contact is unwavering in a way that makes me feel nervous. I do what I can to not look away. The accent is still there too, but when I ask her where she’s from she tells me she has always lived in Connecticut. The voice, I assume, is all part of the act. After all, speaking to spirits is nothing if not a performance. (I think.)

Miss Patty is not your average conversationalist. She listens patiently to my questions, but is fantastic at deflecting them. Instead, she speaks in vaguenesses. “My gifts are not for myself,” she says again and again. “This is a job I was put on this earth to do.” She is not interested in telling anecdotes, even when I prod. I assumed that someone whose calling is revealing information would be prone to oversharing. But Miss Patty does not take any of my bait. She will not tell me about her family or about her clients. When I ask about the moment she first felt the spirit, she does not have an elaborate “first time” story, offering only that when she was five or six she played outside, “seeing people and seeing their whole lives.”  When I ask her what she does for fun, she scoffs: “readings, prayers, meditation — that’s it.”

I look at Miss Patty and I want to see someone committing to a character, adopting a persona. But I don’t think she is particularly interested. “My mother said I was born with a special veil,” she tells me. I get the sense that she prides herself on her detachment from the world. She tells me that some people who come to her for guidance keep coming back, just as friends, but this I do not quite believe. I can’t really imagine her chatting with a friend, much less that friend being me. Miss Patty lights up most when she speaks of the spirit. Say what you will about the existence of other worlds, she seems to be more engaged in those than in this one. I cannot decide if her act (if that’s what this is) is a nuanced and highly compelling performance, or every psychic cliché personified.

Either way, I find her captivating. Miss Patty says that the people who come to her are looking for something. “My people trust me,” she says plainly. One thing she is willing to speak about at length is the truth in her talents. Unlike others in her field, she doesn’t advertise herself; she isn’t a sideshow. “When my phone rings, the spirit tells me either I can help them or I cannot. If I can’t, I don’t let them come.” This is a sentiment I appreciate, but I don’t really believe it. Charging $60 for a full reading, Miss Patty is a businesswoman even if her business is dictated by the powers that be. And yet, I feel special when she says the spirits must have told her she could help. I can’t help but think that Miss Patty chose me.

My basic feeling is that many people like being told who or how to be. There is something nice about identifying with a horoscope, or a Myers-Briggs personality type, or even your results for a BuzzFeed quiz that tells you what kind of potato you are (for what it’s worth, I am sweet potato fries). It’s affirming to see or hear yourself in something else, to be able to say yes, this is me and this is what I am supposed to be doing. As I approach the end of my freshman year at Yale and my first year living away from home, I can see that much of my growing pains in the last few months have revolved around looking to new sources for affirmation and guidance. Even when I don’t really listen to them.

I don’t believe what Miss Patty says, but I do believe in the value of her work. I spend a lot of time feeling overworked, underslept and generally manic. It is comforting to think that in spite of all of this there is a pattern guiding my life and, better yet, that I have access to it. Part of me hopes this is true. Most of me thinks it isn’t.