Her frame so meager, it seemed that the least gust of wind would whisk her away. In contrast, her hair fell heavily over her shoulders in rich auburn waves. Was the old wives’ tale true? Had the thick mane robbed her body of protein and left her frail limbs to starve?
“This is Marina, my wife-to-be,” Ryan said.
“Nice to meet you.” She stood against the doorframe, a New Age poster child, in a gold gauze skirt, lace tank top, and bare feet. When we shook hands, her long fingers clamped mine like a vise.
“Quite a grip you’ve got,” I said.
“Sorry, I sometimes forget my own strength.” She shrugged and smiled. “Massage therapist. Strong hands.”
I turned to Patrick and stretched my fingers. “Wow,” I mouthed.
“Please, have a seat.” Marina waved to cushions on the floor.
I chose an embroidered pillow and tucked my legs under Indian-style. Patrick eyed the sofa. I shook my head and he lowered himself onto the cushion next to me.
Ryan handed each of us a steaming mug. “This tea will relax you and get you in the right state of mind for healing.”
“Yum, it tastes like spring flowers,” I said.
“It’s my favorite.” Marina poked her nose into the steam and inhaled.
Ryan flipped on the stereo. A soft gong, tinkling bells, and voices chanting ohm filled the room. I settled into my cushion ready for a dose of instant enlightenment.
It was 1989 and the modern New Age movement seemed to be at its zenith. Despite our Catholic upbringing, Patrick and I were curious New Agers. We had researched past lives, Transcendental Meditation, Course in Miracles, the Eastern philosophies, and trance channeling. We meditated, chanted, had psychic readings, carried a pocket full of crystals, and became well acquainted with our inner child.
Earlier that year, while browsing a crystal shop, a set of cards labeled Mythic Tarot caught my eye. The striking illustrations and the idea of using mythological analogies convinced me to purchase them.
I spent hours with the book and cards until I felt comfortable with the analogies. A friend talked me into giving readings at a psychic fair for five bucks a pop. I had no idea whether any of it was real, but people seemed to like what I told them.
Patrick encountered Ryan running a booth at the fair. Ryan said he had developed a new method of healing through the power of love. Fascinated with Patrick’s talent as a hypnotist, Ryan convinced him to do a trade of services.
“We’ll work on each of you separately,” Ryan said. “Patrick, you come with me. Cynthia, you go with Marina.”
“I thought we were doing this together.” I turned to Patrick for support.
“Don’t worry, Marina will take good care of you.” Ryan wrapped his arm around her bony shoulders and squeezed.
I winced. Would she snap like a dry twig?
Marina led me down a short hallway and into a bedroom. “Take off all your clothes and lie under the sheet.” She pointed at a massage table in the center of the room. “On your back, head on this end, then close your eyes.”
“All my clothes?”
“Am I getting a massage?”
“Sort of. I’ll be right back.”
I removed my clothing and slipped under the cool sheet. Tiny glow-in-the-dark stars glistened above me. A flood of adrenaline pumped through me and churned my stomach. What was I doing lying naked in this tiny room? And what was a perfectly healthy twenty-nine-year-old doing at a healing session anyway? I didn’t even know these people.
The door opened and closed. Marina’s bare feet padded across the carpet. She struck a match and the scent of incense permeated the room. She laid crystals on the table, encircling my body. The sound of the gong and bells echoed around me. I focused on the calming tones, took a deep breath, and sighed. The apprehension and nausea began to pass.
“Good,” she said as her sturdy hands massaged my shoulders and neck.
Tense muscles released one by one. Soon my mind drifted. I stood on a beach one moment and wandered in a dense forest the next. Time evaporated. I floated in space and drifted on a cloud. I sat with my mother, her hand in mine.
A surge of love coursed through me. It was a rich, untainted love—the love of a mother—my mother. Joy and heartbreak mingled with a longing for something I couldn’t grasp. Years of obscure anguish over a mother too busy to play, cuddle, or give hugs faded like the last wisps of a fading dream. Something new and magnificent took its place. Had Mom loved me like this? Tears streamed down my cheeks. I gasped for air. “What’s happening to me?”
“It’s the healing. Just go with it.”
Did I have a choice?
Sometime later, I woke. A dense fog clogged my brain.
“Welcome back,” Marina’s gentle voice whispered as her firm hands massaged my bare feet.
“Am I okay?”
“Better than okay,” she said.
I sat up, hugging the sheet to my bare body. Something profound had happened. But what?
After dressing, I walked into the living room. Marina sat on a cushion, a steaming mug in her hands. I scanned the room for Patrick and Ryan.
“They’re still going,” she said, as if reading my mind.
Was Patrick having the same experience I had?
“The experience is different for everyone.” She winked and sipped her tea.
Maybe she was reading my mind. “What happened in there?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “It was whatever you needed to heal . . . I do know it makes big changes in people’s lives. You’ll see.” She smiled.
Still basking in the cocoon of motherly love, I smiled back.
“How’d you get into the New Age?” she asked.
“I’m not sure I am into it, but I’ve been researching for a couple of years.”
“What are you studying now?”
“The Mythic Tarot,” I said. “I’m hoping to develop my clairvoyance. It’s fascinating.”
“Awesome, would you give me a reading?”
The deck rested in my purse. “Oh, I don’t know.”
“Come on, please? I won’t hold you to anything.”
“Well, okay.” What could it hurt? I pulled out the cards and handed them to her. “Shuffle while thinking about whatever questions you have. Then pick ten and hand them to me.”
I laid out the cards face down in the pattern shown in the book. I flipped over the first card. The Nine of Pentacles. “Wow,” I said, “You’ve really found your career path. I see great satisfaction and pleasure here.”
“Yeah,” she smiled, face flushing. “I love what I do.”
I turned over the next card. Ten of cups. “Looks like your love life is pretty well set, too. You’ve achieved it to the fullest, haven’t you?”
“It’s pretty amazing.” She blushed.
I flipped the third card. The World. “My goodness, another completion card.”
She smiled and shrugged.
Next came Strength, the mastery of life. My neck tingled and gooseflesh rose over my body. “It looks like you’ve made it . . . in everything,” I said.
“Hmm.” She gazed at the cards. “Nothing I need to work on?”
“No, I don’t see anything. It’s the most beautiful reading I’ve ever done.” I choked back a sob and sipped my now cold tea.
Ryan walked into the room. “Patrick’s getting around.” He went to the window and drew the curtain aside. It was dark outside. “I’m starved.” He turned to me. “Have you ever had macrobiotic food? It’s the healthiest way to eat.”
“I’m hungry, too,” Marina said, scooping up the cards. She stuffed them in the deck, shuffled once, and handed the cards to me. “Thanks . . . so much.” She laid her head on Ryan’s chest for a moment then walked to the kitchen.
Six months later Patrick and I sat together in our small apartment. The telephone rang and Patrick answered it.
“Hello?” Patrick listened and his jaw went slack. He walked to the corner of the kitchen. “I’m so sorry.”
“What?” I asked.
He held his finger to his lips. “And the treatment? . . . Uh, huh . . . I see.”
My heart skipped. “Who is that? . . . What’s going on?” He waved and turned away.
When Patrick at last hung up, he turned to me. “That was Ryan,” he said. “Marina is paralyzed. There’s a massive tumor on her spine. The doctor says she has a couple of weeks at best.”
“What? That’s impossible. She’s so . . . strong. And she eats that macro-whatever food. It doesn’t make sense.”
Or did it? Had Marina accomplished all she had come to earth to do? Was her Tarot reading purely a tribute to a life fulfilled?
“You know, Marina said our session together would change my life. Now I think she was right,” I said. “It healed a hurt I didn’t even know I had.” I wiped a tear from my cheek. “She helped me experience a kind of love I never knew existed.”
Three weeks later Ryan called to tell us Marina had passed. “She was so peaceful,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. And, Cynthia, she asked me to thank you. She said you’d understand.”
“Yeah, Ryan, I do.”
My brief encounter with Marina was like a gust of wind; it changed the landscape of our lives—hers in dying, and mine in living.