by Collyn Warner
The Death Card sits wedged in the pocket of her denim jeans as she fumbles with the corner of it, trying to make herself feel a little more certain while wearing the card down a bit further. Inevitably when you sit in a coffeeshop and see random pieces of paper stashed in pockets, bookbags, wallets, you wonder what they are. A crumpled receipt, a Post-It note of a forgotten grocery list, a to-do list ignored for the sake of presence of mind. These are throwaway items, as easily tucked away in reality as they are in someone’s mind. The constant fidgeting with the corner of the card, contrasting with the steadiness of her upper torso and gaze out the window into the rainy street, signaled that this tucked-away supposed throwaway item was hardly a throwaway item at all.
Anne, or at least that is how it was spelled on the disposable coffee cup holding her small cappuccino, had started pulling a card from the Rider-Waite tarot deck as the start to each day. She was new to tarot and was raised in a small, conservative town where such things were looked down upon. It’s one of the only rituals that made sense to her now, though. Major arcana. Chalices. Uprights. Reversals. It required a literacy of a completely different world than she grew up in, a world in which rituals were dogmatic and predicated from a pulpit. She came to tarot through a happenstance internet search of “what should I do with my life?” which had been the repetitive question like a song stuck in her head. Having already figured out the color of her parachute and having been every alphabet soup result from the MBTI test, when a blog post regarding tarot was buried on page seven of search results, she purchased a deck.
While Anne purchased the deck because the “why not” philosophy seemed like one to embrace, she found herself drawn to the cards each morning as a place of grounding before her day started. It was a safe ritual. She did not, though, feel safe enough to pull her cards out in a public place where people-watching reigned supreme, such as a coffeeshop. Pulling out her journal, her steadiness broken, she would grant herself permission to write about the card, thinking a little bit of reflection on the card couldn’t hurt.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail. Volunteering at a fundraiser for an environmental organization. Doing a cross-country road trip. Writing and performing songs on her guitar at a local open mic night. Tiny movie scenes danced across Anne’s head as if a movie projector had been turned on at full-speed. Her pen flashed across the formerly-blank page. Line after line. Mixtures of cursive and print. She knew writing didn’t have to be perfect, and she knew about the power of a shitty first draft from Anne Lamott. She didn’t anticipate the physical writing of words to feel like such an act of emotional labor, though. It felt like the card in her pocket was burning through the denim.
Turning the journal page while removing the Death card from her pocket, she inhaled so loudly that the people on either side of her glanced at her, looking irritated at the slightest noise. The skeleton on the card gave her no anxiety, even with people’s eyes potentially seeing, as she knew this card meant rebirth, life, and change. The card wanted to breathe and be exposed, not hidden and shamed or forgotten like a crumpled receipt that would inevitably get washed and dried in the next laundry cycle as soon as she had enough quarters saved. She had let go of so many pieces of who she once was, forever noting that she didn’t have time to cycle, hike, or play the guitar. Gathering her journal into her bag, she clutched the card and quickly left the quiet coffeeshop. As she ran into the next commuter train’s car, she kept the card out, exposed, and upright. She knew where her sneakers were at home, and she knew the longest walking trail she could get to in the city. She noted where her hiking boots were in the closet, beginning to research how she could find her way to the closest National Park in a few months. She was not ashamed of her ritual or of being reminded who she was. Looking at the skeleton and scythe one more time, she placed the card back into her denim pocket. After all, pockets have a duality of purpose to them, both holding the potential for an item to be forgotten or an item to be kept safe.