I went to a party once shortly after I got married. People gathered in groups in the various rooms, speaking of things, sharing stories and small talk. I gravitated to the den where I encountered a middle-aged woman surrounded by a number of people. She was a guest of the couple throwing the party, but I did not know her, and had not been introduced.
“So what you are telling me, Doreen, is that you can predict the future,” one guest was saying. “You’re a psychic.”
“Not exactly,” Doreen calmly asserted, “I see things.”
“Can you talk to the dead?” another woman asked.
“I sometimes get feelings about the dead.”
“Can you predict next week’s lottery numbers?” an obvious skeptic asked.
Doreen looked a bit exasperated. “Look, it is not that simple. I can’t control it.”
“So is that your business? Do you make a lot of money at it.” More people were entering the room and edging closer to her.
“I cannot make money from it,” she insisted. “And as I have said, I cannot control it. Sometimes I get clear messages, and sometimes I get nothing.”
“I went to a medium once,” a woman said. “She told me my mother was trying to tell me where she hid some money in her house before she died.”
“Did you find it?” a man asked.
“No, we had already sold the house and given all her stuff to Goodwill.”
“I don’t want to put someone down,” Doreen said, “but most of the people who advertise themselves as mediums or psychics are frauds. The people I have met who have this ability are not comfortable with it.”
“Why?” a man asked. “Seems to me it would give someone a lot of advantages. You’d know what everyone was thinking. You’d know when the stock market was going up, when a company was going bankrupt. You could make a lot of money.”
Doreen did not get flustered, but she clearly was trying to school her audience.
“Knowing things about people who are living or dead is not something to take advantage of,” she said. “In my case, being unable to control what I receive means that I don’t have all the pieces, and if I could act on what I know, this could cause the whole situation to change. For instance, I know something about each of you simply by looking at you.”
“You mean you get messages from beyond when you look at us?”
“No,” Doreen replied. “I see things around you. It’s an aura, like a shimmering band of color that surrounds you. When you are troubled by something, your aura shifts into certain colors. When I meet a joyful person, someone who has a great disposition all the time, that person’s aura also reflects the mood in colors.”
“Have you ever been wrong about someone’s aura?”
“No. It is the one aspect of this ability that stays consistent. The downside is that whatever a person is troubled about may be a secret. When I first realized I had this ability, I was in high school, and deeply in love with a boy in my class. We spent a lot of time together talking, and I simply knew he was troubled about a secret. I could tell this from his aura. You can probably guess his trouble. I waited and waited, but the relationship would not move forward. I finally confronted him and told him he was gay. He exploded at me and refused to even be my friend from then on. So now if I get a hit off of someone that is negative or dark, I keep it to myself.”
A younger woman moved closer to Doreen. “Is there anything positive you can tell us right now.”
“Yeah, what do you get from the people in this room?” a man asked.
Doreen turned to the woman. “You will find someone to share your life with, but finding someone may not bring you the total happiness you want.”
The woman stiffened.
“You wish someone would return your affection,” she said to the man. “He can’t, but it is not your fault. He is not capable of it.”
“Yeah, you’re talking about my dad,” the man chuckled. “He’s a difficult guy.”
“What about me?” another woman asked.
Doreen stared at her for a beat. “I’m sorry, but I do not get anything.” The woman looked disappointed. “It happens,” she continued. “That is why this is not something reliable. I get things, and then I don’t.”
I started thinking about what I was seeing. I had recently moved into an apartment with my wife where some strange things occurred. In addition, my security job at the local mall was beginning to scare me. Most days, I was bored out of my mind. But once in a while, something would go down that made me very afraid. For instance, I once found myself confronting a man who was following a woman and threatening her. I needed to keep him calm and contained until the police arrived. When two officers showed up, the man went ballistic and knocked one out cold. He broke the second officer’s arm while they were locked in a struggle for the cop’s gun. I had the dispatcher call the police to summon help, and within seconds, more than twenty-five officers flooded the scene and every one was needed to subdue the guy. He was on PCP. I realized after he had been hauled away that my handcuffs, plastic badge, and lack of fighting skills would have been no match for him had he managed to get away from the injured officers. I was afraid, mainly because I knew what was happening in the city from the police officers I worked with, and this made me wary every time I went out. Sometimes, I awoke at night with nightmares about acts of violence. So, I thought that Doreen might offer an opportunity to clarify a few things. I edged forward and waited for a break in the questioning.
“Doreen,” I started.
She turned and stared into my eyes. “No, Paul, you will not die violently.”
I was stunned. I also became a believer.
Later that evening, I asked Doreen for her number. I called her a few days later and asked if she would like to come over for dinner. She said yes.
“I want you to check out my apartment,” I said.”
“Don’t tell me anymore,” she replied. “It is better if we just get together and talk and see what happens.”
On the appointed evening, Doreen arrived with her husband. My wife and I greeted them at the door, and as they entered our small apartment, she complimented us on the decor. We stood back expectantly as she moved into the living room.
“It’s all so nice,” she murmured. “I see someone has put a lot of thought into the decoration.”
My wife smiled and thanked her.
Doreen moved into the hallway and grimaced in pain. “Ahh.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It’s okay. I am getting a lot of energy here, like a buzzing in my brain.”
“Is it a ghost or something?”
Doreen laughed, even as her eyes teared up. “No, it’s electrical energy. Thank God I don’t live near those high powered lines. I’d be dead by now.” She pulled back the hallway door to reveal the apartment’s electrical panel. “There it is. That’s the problem.”
She continued into the bedroom, glanced into the bathroom, and grimaced again as she moved through the hallway back into the living room.
“I get a lot of artistic energy here. Someone who lived here was a painter. I see canvases. I can even smell the paint and turpentine.”
“So far, everything is positive?” I asked.
“Yes, very much so,” she replied. She moved toward the living room wall where we had our television and stereo. “Except,” she stumbled.
“What is it?” my wife asked.
“Right here,” she said, gently touching the wall. “Right here. Immense sadness. Desperation.”
“The wall?” I asked.
“Not the whole wall. Just right here.” She pointed to a spot directly behind and over our television. She turned back to us. “But don’t worry. The energy does not radiate to you or the rest of the apartment. Just that one spot.”
What followed next was a fairly unremarkable dinner. Doreen had nothing further to add, and did not seem to glean any more information from the beyond. She did describe her ability as like trying to get a radio station signal from far away. Sometimes, the signal moves in and out of range, causing static and interruption. Other times, the signal simply goes dead, especially after a period of intense communication. I thanked her for coming over, and told her I wanted to keep in touch.
“That will not happen,” she said.
“What?” I was a bit taken aback by her bluntness.
“We will not see each other again,” she said. “It’s not your fault, or mine.”
A few weeks later, I went to see the manager of the building to pay my rent. John had lived in two separate apartments in the building for over twenty-five years. I asked him who had lived in our apartment before us.
“It was another young couple,” John said. He was somewhat distracted by the game show on his television. We stood at the counter in his kitchen.
“Really,” I said. “What did they do?”
“She was a student, and he worked for a finance company.”
“Did either of them paint?”
“No,” John replied. “That was the tenant before them. He painted. Never liked his stuff though. All squares and lines of color. I evicted him because he couldn’t pay his rent.”
Score a point for Doreen.
“Anything bad ever happen in our apartment?”
Now John gave me his full attention. “What do you mean, bad? I had the place fumigated before you took over.”
“No, I mean, like did someone die there, or have something tragic happen?”
John looked relieved. “No, no, no. Nothing like that. In fact, the painter guy was the only one I ever had to evict from there. As long as I can remember, that apartment has been trouble free. Why are you asking?”
I reassured him that things were fine, and I thanked him for putting up with my questions. I handed him the rent check and made my way to the door. He followed me. “Now the apartment next door to you, that one has problems,” he said as I stepped out into the hall.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the guy there killed himself. Blew his brains out sitting on the couch. He sat there for almost a month before I smelled him and called the cops. Took me weeks to clean up the mess.”
“That would have been the living room wall, right?” I gulped.
“You betcha,” John said. “Have a good evening.”
A few weeks later, one other piece of information from Doreen turned out to be true. I dialed her number only to hear the phone had been disconnected without a forwarding number. When I asked the hostess of the party what happened to her, she told me Doreen had relocated to the Pacific northwest. I never heard from her again.