Chronicle of a Divorce Foretold

by

08/18/2005

8th Ave & 3rd St, Brooklyn, NY 11215

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Park Slope

The F train hurtles through the tunnel and suddenly we’re above ground. Lower Manhattan twinkles in the distance. I gaze at the view and for a second my anxiety has disappeared. As the skyline recedes, my stomach muscles return to the knotted state they’ve been in since this afternoon, when I made the appointment to look at the sublet. Even though Park Slope is only three stops away from my house in Cobble Hill, it’s another world. It doesn’t have my deli. My dry cleaner isn’t here. There’s a homeless woman on the street, but she’s not the old lady on Bergen Street who asks me for a quarter every morning. It’s just not home.

The block I’m on is dark and I can barely make out the numbers of the houses. Where the hell is this building? Finally I see it and notice that the windows on the third floor are boarded up. No biggie, I tell myself, this part of Brooklyn is continually under renovation. I press the bell, am buzzed in, and proceed toward the back of the dimly-lit hallway, passing newspapers piled up against one wall and garbage cans lining the opposite wall. A faint aroma of waste mingles with the stronger odor of incense, bringing me back to my freshman year of college when my entire wardrobe reeked of the stuff because my roommate burned it day and night.

Just as I’m raising my knuckles to the door of the rear apartment, it swings open and a cloud of incense immediately traps me. A tiny woman in her late forties stands on the other side of the cloud, peering up at me through round wire glasses. “I’m Paw-la,” she says, in one of the thickest Brooklyn accents I’ve ever heard. I follow Paula into her home and take in the wiry, salt and pepper hair that falls midway down her back and the long, maroon corduroy skirt. You’d only be subletting from her, I remind myself. She wouldn’t be your roommate.

Then I turn my attention to the place that might be my home for the next six months, during a trial separation from my husband. A home that won’t have my books in it, or my cooking utensils, or my furniture. I’ll be sleeping alone in Paula’s bed, pensively sitting on her old sofa, trying to figure out if subletting a place has saved or ended my marriage. The space itself isn’t bad – the light is better here than in our co-op, and there’s a back garden that would be exclusively mine. But it stinks of incense in here, there are old tapestries hanging on every wall and crystals dangling from every window, and the bookshelves are crammed with volumes on every New Age topic under the sun. Still, if I’m really going to go through with this separation, I can’t waste time being picky. The longer it takes me to find a place, the less likely it is that I’ll ever actually do it, and we’ll just stay in the rut that has come to define our marriage.

Paula asks me if I’d like some tea, and I decline. We settle into hard wooden chairs on either side of the small table that’s lodged in between the tiny kitchen and the larger living room. I ask her about security – does she feel okay living on the ground floor? She’s lived here for 23 years, she answers, and everything was fine until the landlady died three months ago and her daughter moved into the dead woman’s apartment with her boyfriend.

“All day and night he’s got people coming and going, and the daughter’s never around. I’m talking two, three in the morning – God knows where they’re from – not the neighborhood, I’ll tell you that. Maybe from East New York or somewhere. No one’s on the third floor, so it’s just me, Henry next door, and the black boyfriend and his gang upstairs, doing God knows what.”

“How come no one lives on the third floor?” I ask.

“The old lady was gonna get it redone, but then she died. The daughter’s never gonna touch it. But don’t worry about the boyfriend. I’ll get him evicted before I go to Santa Cruz.”

“What’s in Santa Cruz?” I ask Paula.

“My mentor’s there, and I need to study with him. I’m a psychic,” she says. “So, you’ll take the place?” She twists a long strand of hair around her index finger.

“I think I’m going to keep looking for a while,” I say.

“Why?” she asks me. “I told you there won’t be any trouble with the boyfriend, and the neighborhood’s great. I’ll even lend you my membership card to the food co-op, if you want. You’d like working there.”

“No thanks. I’m just starting to look, and I don’t want to commit to anything now.” I stand up and grab my coat.

“Hey, you want me to do your chart before you go?” she asks.

*

I don’t believe in astrology, tarot cards, palm reading, or crystal balls, but I feel guilty about not taking the sublet, so I accept her offer. She collects the necessary details, punches them into her laptop computer, and, within a few seconds, a drawing appears on the screen that looks like it should be on the ceiling of a planetarium. Paula tells me that there’s a lot of upheaval going on in my life right now, that the next two years are going to be very hard and unsettled, but that I’ll be fine after it’s all over.

I’m weirded out: I haven’t mentioned a word to her about my shaky marriage. I say goodbye and hurry down the block to the train station. As I travel home, I ask myself once again if I’ve got the guts to go through with the separation.

Paula calls me at work a week later. She spent more time with my chart after I left, she says, and there are a lot of things she saw that she thought I should know about. Could I come over? I tell her I’m too busy. “You’re not safe in your house,” she persists. I want to sort out my future on my own, and not hear about it from this strange little woman, so I tell Paula I’ve got a meeting and hang up. I don’t hear from her again, but I think of her prediction often. Paula’s a good psychic: the separation was grueling, and the divorce that followed a year later was hell. But now, at year three, sitting on the stoop of the Carroll Gardens apartment in the neighborhood that has become my home and haven, I am at peace, just like she promised.

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