I used to think of myself as, very generally, a very rational person. I had no reason to question that until I found myself at an ATM on a Saturday night, taking out $100 dollars to have a curse removed by a psychic.
A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting for a friend outside a bar on the Lower East Side. After standing around for a while I figured I could at least go in and check out the happy hour specials, but when I turned I noticed a woman sitting in a chair behind a glass door, banging on it to get my attention.
When I made eye contact with her, she waved at me and pulled the door open to reach out to me. I laughed and went over to her, mostly out of curiosity, but also because I was confused. I’d never seen a psychic call someone into her parlor before. I assumed I dropped something in front of her shop.
“You! You need my help, I can see it on you. For you, I’ll give you a reading for $5. I’ll tell you what’s wrong.” She moved aside and I noticed that all there was inside the door was a narrow staircase leading up to lord knows what, some kind of heating lamp, and a little folding chair, which she told me to sit on while she sat on the stairs. Not creepy at all.
When I sat down, she introduced herself as “Sister Sylvia” -- a psychic favorite? -- and she asked me to show her my right palm. After looking at it for a moment, she tut-tutted about how there was a lot of misfortune there (sure), which was especially unfortunate because I’m a good person (arguable) who goes out of my way to do good things for other people (sometimes true). I smiled benignly at her, glad I only had to give her five bucks.
“You try and you try, but you can’t make good happen for yourself. You’ve been especially stuck lately. You are stuck in work, stuck in love, and you can’t move forward. You found love with the man you wanted, but it won’t work out,” and so on. At this point, she hadn’t really said all that much specific to me, although all this was generally true, but the next thing she said kind of freaked me out.
“You want to know why it’s like this? I know you know, because you’ve been told this before: You have a curse on you. Someone close to you doesn’t want you to be happy. This curse is taking all the joy from your life.”
I actually have been told this before. Several times.
I’ve only been to psychics a handful of times before Sylvia, and usually it was with a bunch of ladyfriends after eating at a restaurant or on our way to get draaannnx, but I’ve almost always been told that I clearly have a curse on me. The last time I’d been told about this awful, awful curse, the psychic made all of my friends leave the room while she told me some freaky shit about my grandma. Hearing that I have a horrible curse on me -- yet again, from a totally different person -- honestly scared me.
And, really, 2013 hasn’t been my year so far. That particular week was so awful in pretty much every respect and I found myself crying at work, lonely, stressed, and exhausted from not being able to sleep more than a couple of hours most nights. I was feeling more despondent than usual and I guess I wanted to believe that maybe I haven’t failed at life. Maybe there really was something to this curse thing.
At this point in the reading, I still hadn’t said much beyond an occasional “uh huh” or “OK…,” but Sylvia must have seen something in my face because she leaned forward, looked me in the eyes and said, “You are so unhappy, but you don’t deserve it because you are a good person. I can see that and I want to help you.”
At this point, regrettably, I nodded at her, glassy-eyed and probably doing my frown of misery that collapses the lower half of my face like a shitty paper bag while I try not to cry.
She stared at me a few seconds longer and what she said next seemed genuinely crazy: “This curse was put on you in childhood. Someone close to you took something of yours -- maybe your hair or a fingernail -- and used it against you. You used to live in a house and this person was able to put cursed dirt in front of your door. You stepped in it, not knowing what it was. Whatever was taken from you -- hair, a fingernail, or a piece of clothing -- was buried with a dead man and the curse has been with you since then.”
Thing is, I used to hear about curses from my grandma when I was a kid. She practiced the Yoruba religion for a while, so when I was growing up, it wasn’t unusual for me to see staffs decorated with feathers or things that looked like cement pears with cowrie shells for eyes sitting in a bowl of candy behind the bathroom door. While I can’t entirely say I believed in them and I never could remember which Orisha was which, I knew better than to fuck around with anything like that. As Sylvia explained the nature of curses, it made some sense that someone could have done this to me, as RUDE AS HELL as it would have been.
So Sylvia hadn’t really lost me here. In a strange way, I almost felt a little closer to her now that she was telling me this completely wack thing; somehow it didn’t make me believe her, but it made me want to try.
She told me that she wanted to pray for me and that she needed to buy special candles to do so. By burning the candles, she would be able to find out what kind of curse was on me, who did it, and how it could be removed.
While I didn’t see how this would work, there was something about the concern she seemed to be showing for me that made me actually want her to pray for me. That couldn’t hurt, right? I was just giving someone $30 dollars to pray for me. After I gave her the money, she told me that I should come back the following evening at around the same time for a free follow-up reading and to start the process of lifting the curse.
In the meantime, she asked me not to tell anyone about either the curse or that I was seeing her as it would interfere with the spiritual work we needed to do. The part of me that was embarrassed about this whole situation was fine with not telling anyone ever, so I went and had a drink with my friend, now burdened with this totally weird secret.
The next evening, I went back and was led upstairs to a small area where there were a few chairs, a table, a couple of gigantic white candles, and a little boy who looked about seven or eight years old. She explained that the candles were the kind she burned to find out what she needed to do to lift the curse. To begin, I needed to go to the corner store to pick up a dozen eggs and a roll of paper towels (what are you, my MOM?).
When I got back, she shooed the boy into a room and sat me down. She told me that we were going to pray together in a ritual that would remove the curse from me and transfer it to the egg. If we saw anything in the yolk, then the curse was transferred successfully.
She touched the egg to my forehead, shoulders, and heart and had me repeat a prayer after her. She tapped the egg to my forehead a few times, asked me to breathe on it, and rolled it in a paper towel. She then smashed it on the table and slowly uncovered the egg to reveal a gross mess of yolk and what appeared to be a lot of jelly-like black seeds. I was horrified.
Sylvia explained that what I was seeing was the physical manifestation of the curse and that in order to get rid of it permanently, it needed to be buried. This required special supplies and she would have to go to a cemetery to carry out the ritual, something that I would have to pay for.
“It normally costs thousands of dollars, but I know that you don’t have a lot of money. I will do what I have to -- borrow from friends, go without some things for my son -- to pay for this because I want to help you. I’ve helped many, many people like you before and one day, you’ll come back to thank me for changing your life. You’ll want to take me shopping or out for dinner because you’re so happy!”
I didn’t know what to say. I explained to her that I really didn’t want her to put herself out trying to help me and that I wouldn’t be able to pay for whatever it was she needed to do. Rent week is kind of the worst week to fork over a large amount of money for lifting a curse. Lift the curse of having to pay rent, Sylvia.
“You don’t have to pay all at once,” she said. “You can pay me back in little bits whenever you can. I just want to help you find happiness. How much do you think you can contribute tonight? $200?”
TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS! Inexplicably, I felt guilty. I couldn’t pay her that much that night, if ever. I shook my head no.
“$150? You need to let me get rid of this because if we don’t, I’m at risk and my son is at risk. Even worse, the curse may come back to you.”
I felt even guiltier and felt my eyes stung. I shook my head again.
“Think about it,” she told me. “Can you go downstairs to the ATM and get just $100 to give me now so that I can start this process? You have to decide now because there isn’t much time before this curse will start affecting other people. You need to decide tonight.”
Sylvia reached onto a little shelf and took out a baggy filled with crystals. She picked out two and wrapped them in a corner ripped from a paper towel.
“Put this in your bra and keep it there until ten o’clock tonight. At ten, take it out and put it in your purse. This will help protect you. Now please decide -- can you give $100 tonight? It will be hard, but I know that you can do this.”
Again, completely against my better judgment, I felt like this was something I had to do. With crystals nestled against my left boob and feeling a strange combination of guilt, shame, anger, and a little bit of fear, I went downstairs to the ATM, took out exactly $100, and came back.
Walking back up the stairs, I thought to myself, maybe I can still leave, maybe I don’t have to do this completely ridiculous thing; it’s not too late. But every time I turned the thought over in my head, I felt guilty about wanting to leave. Guilty for getting myself involved with this woman and somehow guilty for wanting to abandon her.
When I got back to the parlor, I noticed that a couple had come in for palm readings. I grabbed my things and she led me into another room. It looked like a lounge area, but had a kitchenette on the side. She’d gathered up the accursed egg, the regular ol’ eggs, and the paper towels and put them in a black plastic bag.
When I handed over the cash to her, she slipped the money into the bag without counting it and tied the bag shut. “I won’t touch this until I start making my plans for the burial. You come back tomorrow afternoon and we’ll do another reading so I can tell you for sure who did this to you. Don’t tell anyone what we talked about.”
I grabbed my purse and ran out the door.
That night I’d gone out for a friend’s birthday and felt more and more torn up about what I’d done. I knew it was a mistake and I knew that I needed it to not go any further. I also knew I’d taken it far enough that I couldn’t tell any of my friends about it -- it was just too embarrassing and I should have known better. Yet at ten o’clock on the dot, I found myself taking the crystals out of my bra and slipping them in my purse. I didn’t even look at them.
That night, I barely slept. I kept having dreams about the black seeds, only in my dreams they squirmed. I couldn’t stop thinking about the curse. The next day, I stayed in for hours anxious about what would happen if I didn’t go back.
In the end, I decided not to. So what if there was a curse on me? I made it this far. And what if messing around with Sylvia and her rituals just got me into even more spiritual trouble? I’d never heard any stories about anything remotely similar happening to anyone else, so I decided to look online. I didn’t even know where to start. Google “psychic egg,” “common psychic scams,” “how to get rid of evil curse”?
After looking around for a little while, I came across a few websites -- most with totally lame, Altavista–era layouts -- that had a few posts about people who’d lost hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of dollars on psychics. Most of them were people who bought dozens of readings or spent a lot of time on psychic hotlines, but then I found a story that mentioned a curse, but referenced another website.
There I found a story that mentioned an egg being used in a ritual that involved a burial in a graveyard. I was crushed. Granted, I hadn’t lost a huge amount of money at that point, but going from not having heard of anything like this before to finding dozens of stories that were similar to mine was devastating. I was angry and scared, but I decided that I needed to confront Sylvia to get rid of my anxiety about what she convinced me to do.
After I got off work the next day, I went back to the psychic parlor. I went alone (although in retrospect, I realize this was a less than stellar idea) armed with the voice recorder on my iPhone. I figured if anyone gave me a hard time, I could record the conversation and do what with it, I don’t know, but people do hate being recorded.
I had a whole speech in my head about how shameful it is to prey on vulnerable people and how horrible she made me feel, but when I got there and she came to the top of the stairs, I immediately forgot everything I wanted to say. I ended up just telling her, “I know what you’re doing now and I don’t want any trouble. I don’t care about what you told me would happen if I don’t do this, I just want my money back now.”
I didn’t even want the $30 dollars I’d give her a few days before; I really just wanted the $100 I’d given her on my second visit. That seemed right somehow. She made an attempt to explain again that she “works with God” and that she only wanted to help me, but I told her that I wasn’t interested.
She went back inside—I refused to come up the stairs because I was afraid of who might be up there—while I waited. I heard her speaking to someone and she returned a few minutes later with a hand full of ten dollar bills. She counted off $100, double counting to show that she wasn’t trying to cheat me. She told me that she didn’t know who I talked to, but that she hoped I knew she wasn’t like those people. I just shook my head and left.
In the end, I realized I wasn’t angry with her anywhere near as much as I was -- and still am -- angry with myself for letting someone convince me of something that I knew to be totally illogical.
I can’t even explain how it happened. In a weird way, I do feel better after this whole bullshit adventure. I surprised myself by going back to Sylvia to stand up for myself -- something I never do because I hate confrontation more than anything. I surprised myself again by telling my friends about what was for me a thoroughly humiliating experience. And I’m surprising myself yet again by sharing this story. I’d like to think I’m a stronger person for it.