Mark the Psychic Confirms I’m a “Tough Guy”

I’ve imagined this moment before.
I’ve imagined it in fear of
having my pants ripped down
exposed
by a group psychic,
pulling my darkest secrets out of a hat
like some cheap party trick.
I imagined it to be both a nightmare and a relief.

Mark the Psychic,
otherwise known as Psychic Mark,
operates out of a studio he calls
BLUSH: Center for Healing.
His logo design with curvy blush pink font,
featuring a U in the shape a rather vaginal lotus flower,
is only made weirder by that fact that Mark shares a studio with a pole dancing school.

Mark is a pretty big deal.
Mark launches into his own Facebook biography,
boldly stating,
Mark,
a health guru to the elite…”
giving the reader an immediate impression that the twenty bucks they might dish out on a session is like a drop in the bucket.
I mean, Ladies,
this dude is a total steal.

So,
I’m hanging with two out- of- town buddies
when they suggest I come with them to see Mark
and I think,
Yes, I’ve heard of him
I must go as well.
So that’s now the plan,
to go see Psychic Mark.

On the car ride over,
we’re tittering about what Mark might tell us,
what sort of ghosts will he pull up from our pasts.
I say,
“He’s probably gonna give everyone a mindblowing reading
and then turn to me like.
‘Annnnd
you’re gay’
and mic drop out of the room.”
I’ve somewhat recently come out,
to no one’s great surprise.

My friends and I all laugh,
but secretly my stomach is wrenching.
I fear the worst.
I fear the visions that I’ve had before.
So instead I focus on what I want to hear,
on how I want a message from my friend James
who had recently passed,
a notorious bad ass in the City of Holyoke,
the only other freak in local government.
I need him now.

Immediately a pang of guilt hits me
when I realize I’ve thought of James first
when my young cousin
had overdosed on heroin
hardly months ago.
So I think,
Yes.
I’d like to hear from her too.

We enter BLUSH through a reception room,
lightly adorned in Pierre I style eastern appropriations
and pass the threshold of fleshy, parted curtains
into a mirrored studio,
stripper poles cutting through two columns of twenty plus chairs
each occupied with thirty to seventy year old white women,
all the type of women who have statues of
apathetic baby angels lounging about their homes.

Needless to say,
it becomes immediately apparent that we are the only queers in the room,
besides an acquaintance who apparently comes to see Psychic Mark almost every Thursday.
They seem stoked that we are here,
officially forming a gay bleachers section in the back of the room.

Oh boy.
All the women are having animated chats when Psychic Mark struts onto the floor.
He turns an air conditioner on and stares us down
while we continue talking
and he continues to stare.
Everyone is seemingly unaware of his presence.
All the hens clucking
as the fox bores into their souls.

“Hello,”
Mark says.
But everyone is still talking
so he raises his voice a little higher and says,
“Hello
I’d like to get started soon.”
Still more clucking.
“And just so you know!”
A little louder now.
“I’m hard of hearing, so I’m going to have to ask you to not talk while I’m conducting readings.”
Ok buddy.
I feel like I’ve heard more than one substitute teacher make this same excuse…

Mark suddenly turns the air conditioner off.
“Hello I’m Mark,
otherwise known as Mark the Psychic.
I want to start off by giving you a rundown of what you are about to experience.”

Mark launches into an explanation about
how he is a psychic,
a spiel I’ve heard before,
which invariably includes some T.M.I’s about divorce and recovery from heavy alcoholism,
and he explains the concept of “bleeding,”
how he might think he’s reading one person,
but really he’s tuning into the person next to them.
He tells us to pipe up if this happens.

He turns the air conditioner back on.
“Ok
Let’s begin.”

The women fall silent.
I can almost see their small feathers flutter through air
and softly settle
as they nestle into their seats,
their heads turning in symphony,
following Mark as he paces the room.

He turns the air conditioner back off
and swan dives at a young woman,
telling her her deceased mother misses her
clarifying that,
YES
In fact
your mother loves you,
effectively sending the young woman into a fit of tears.

And he carries forward in this manner,
delving into woman after woman,
extracting tales of very straight forward
normative deaths.

“I’m sensing a C
A C for Charles a Charlie perhaps
And a boat a boat on the waterrr….”
Followed by a weepy,
“Yes, my late husband’s name was Charlie.
And the yacht’s name was Charlie too.”

And then there are several,
“I’m sensing you lost a child.”
And, at first, the woman looks around
confused.
“He was several weeks old…
In utero when you lost him.”
Suddenly it dawns on her.
She clasps a hand over her mouth,
containing her mournful gasp.
“He forgives you for losing him
and he loves you.
He is with you now.”
And I notice all of these baby souls are very specifically miscarriages.
none of them the victims of abortion.
I squirm in my seat.
Flecks of dust are floating in my peripheral vision.
I swat them away,
as though they are the souls of my aborted children.
Like,
fuck off, Dudes.

For whatever reason,
my gay acquaintance who comes every week
starts maniacally laughing behind me.
I feel the breath from their laughter
thick with a moisture that I assume to be tears
and spit.

Air conditioner on full blast,
my brain is filled with noise,
the crashing hums of fear.
What the fuck is going to happen when he gets to the gay bleacher section?!

And then suddenly,
Psychic Mark hits a snag.

A stony woman wrapped in a draping black duster
is scowling in Mark’s direction
as he pulls out a series of random images:
A fish tank,
A blue orb,
The letters B, C and A.
But the woman calmly shakes her head at each attempt,
her eyes hinting a glitter of cruel bemusement.
To be frank, and I’m sorry, but
this woman is coming off like a smug bitch
and I couldn’t be more relieved.

The other women in the room grow visibly uncomfortable
as Mark fumbles then goes quiet.
Take him DOWN, Bitch.
I think,
but then immediately obscure the thought
in case Mark catches me.

Then suddenly Mark asks,
with confidence and derision,
“Which one is it?”
A crack of uncertainty splits across her face.
“Which one is it?”
Mark repeats.
“Your mother or your grandmother.
Which one was the mystic.”
A dramatic pause,
all the woman glaring,
accusatory stares in her direction.

“Both.”
She exhales.

Aha!
So the bitch was actually just a witch
and now she’s been outed.
A sigh of relief washes over the room.

Now that the witch has been outed,
I feel Mark’s eyes wash over the gays.
I fear for my visiting friend who is somewhat of a notorious and politically active witch themselves.
But he skips over this friend and
launches into their partner.

And now,
for the sake of confidentiality,
I’m not going to share what Mark says to this friend,
but I am going to share a couple of relevant points.

The first of which being that Mark misgenders them
and is politely corrected,
which should have been the end of it, but
Mark acts as though the air conditioner,
which is either off or on at this point,
is obstructing his hearing.
He asks them to repeat themselves several times
and it occurs to me that Mark has perhaps never encountered the gender neutral pronoun.

Alright so,
this dude not only works in a social field,
sometimes referred to as “social work”,
but he operates out of a studio that happens to be located in what is known to be the “Lesbian Capital of the United States of America”,
also known as “Lesbianville USA”…
And he’s somehow never encountered a human that uses they/them pronouns.
Amazing.

Yet, he’s quick to convince us he’s a good guy.
“I’m sorry it’s just that
all that is new to me.
It’s not that I have any problem with your personal beliefs.”

And I like how he says “personal beliefs.”
I like thinking of myself as religiously gay.

So,
nobody from the gay bleachers section
is looking particularly pleased with Mark.
But it seems his recent triumph over the witch
is emboldening him to plow through this new form of devilry.
So confident is he
that he even goes so far as to refer to my friend as “The They,”
effectively reducing them to an object of warped curiosity for all the angelic women in the room.
What a fun party this is turning out to be.

My second key point about my friend’s reading is that
for the first time Mark is not talking about some vague normative deceased person,
but rather is boring into personal matters,
as in living, breathing traumas.
And it hits me
that this is indeed an option
for what Mark could do to me.
And I remember my visions.
I remember the fears I’ve had before
when suddenly Mark is staring straight through me.

“Your brother.
You talk to him much?”

Here we go.

Mark launches into a series of attacks.
Talk to your brother
about childhood,
about anger and violence,
about alcohol and abuse.
He asks,
“Did you grow up in a tough neighborhood?”
I think,
Does the Jewish side of a Catholic town count?
I shake my head no.
“But a lot of boys in the neighborhood beat you up.
They hurt you.”
I shake my head yes.

“I see that you’re good at running.”
I shrug.
I’ve received this compliment before…
from every other cat caller on the block.
“Rrrr-unnning
You’re good at running away.”
Huh.
This is taking a different direction.
Ok.
He seems like he’s struggling so I try helping him out.
“Rrrr-” I begin mouthing,
but he cuts me off.
“Running away from things.
Rrrr-….”
I butt in.
“Rrr- repression?”
He nods his head yes.
Oh cool, cool.

Mark gives me a sly look.
“You’re a tough guy, huh?”
And this catches me off guard,
a question I’ve struggled with my whole life.
I worry that if I say yes,
he’ll proceed more harshly,
he’ll dig deeper into traumas I don’t need help finding.
“Yeah, you’re a tough one.”
He says,
“On the outside, at least.”
And at this point his eyes start tearing up.
“On the inside
you’re so soft,
my friend.
You have an amazingly beautiful soul.”

Oh.
Dear me.
Now I’m tearing up.
This whole psychic thing isn’t so bad,
I think.
No.
This is great news that I’m tough
but also soft.
Great news.

A calm before the storm.
Mark suddenly launches into more specifics,
things I’d rather not share in any great detail.
He crashes into me,
throwing out references to traumatic histories,
deeper inferences of abuse.
He says something along the lines of:
“Have you ever considered you’ve been molested more deeply than you thought?”
And I’m like,
Doesn’t everyone consider that on a lazy Sunday morning?

He even throws in some practical advice, saying
it’s definitely a good idea to hit up some of my abusers.
Give ‘em a ring.
Catch up.
I’ve always admired how men
have such a direct approach attitude around sexual assault.
So brave.

And you know,
everything he says is hitting a nerve,
except for a seemingly random mention of heroin
that I shake my head no at
and then before I know it it’s time for a group break.

Great.
I turn towards my friends as though to make eye contact with them,
planing on laughing
or something,
because that’s what I do.
I laugh.
But instead I look right through them.

I vaguely hear them chatting about
how crazy this all is.
One of them turns to me,
asks how I’m feeling,
saying something like,
“He really laid it all out there, huh.”

I mean,
the studio is called BLUSH, so…
I suppose it’d be silly of me to be surprised a guy just told
a room full of strangers, friends, and an aptly placed acquaintance
that I was molested.
Should have seen it coming.
Totally blushing.

I start to say something to this effect but then notice Mark
from the corner of my eye
coming straight at us.
He’s come to pay respects to the gays,
reassuring my genderqueer friend that
he meant no harm.

He then turns to me
and the question drops.
“You’re gay right?”
A wave of shock runs through me.
Oh my god.
Wow, me?
How does he know?
A psychic indeed.

I say,
“Yeah, Dude.”
And he immediately moves his hand to his heart,
the other one stretched out at me
and says,
“I don’t have a problem with that.”
Like,
again, Dude.
You’re located in the lesbian capital of the WORLD.
You not having an issue with lesbians might have been left a given.

While the griddle’s still hot
he follows up that statement with,
“I sense you have issues with masculinity.”
Wow.
I mean.
Sure, Dude.
A real shot in the dark.
I want to say,
“I love my daddy.”
But instead I shrug my shoulders
while he tells me I need to sort all “that” out.

I’m feeling ready to tell Mark
his services are no longer needed
when suddenly he asks,
“You write poetry?”
I blush.
I mean.
Yeah, it’s like, hybrid but who’s counting?
He says,
“You need to keep doing that
keep plowing forward.”

God damn it, Mark.
Wrenching me in all directions.
My ego wants to embrace you
but my gay religious values are morally opposed.

Mark moves back towards the front of the room,
fondles the air conditioner,
and calls everyone back to order.
He says,
“I’m hearing the word ‘stupid’.”
And my other buddy is like, “Yeah
That’s me.”

And at this point I start to zone out.
I’m starting to get this funny feeling that Mark’s readings have been noticeably different when confronted with gays.
And I think perhaps this is either because
A.) We’re gay
and our lives are just less boring in general.
Or B.)
Well, I guess I actually just want to stick with option A.
As my eyes travel the room,
I notice how all the women look
when they are gazing back at the gay bleachers section.
I notice one of them holding her hand over her chest,
over her crucifix,
her eyes filled a pity we don’t need.
And I think,
Has Mark carved out for these women
a strong case for the molestation to gay pipeline?
A trauma to gay,
an issue with masculinity to gay,
a STUPID to gay pipeline?!?

Mark.
You sneaky son of a bitch.

I tune back into his presence,
my eyes a little sharper now.
He’s seemingly peaked at a very happy moment.
For some reason he’s now swinging off a stripper pole,
a gleeful smile,
a delicate swoop of his hands.
This man is very pleased with the work he’s accomplished today.

And I can tell he’s wrapping things up when
he asks the room if anyone has any specific questions for him.
Ooooo.
A test of his infinite powers.

The blonde to my right,
who is here with her mother,
asks if she can speak to a “Spencer,”
a “family friend” of theirs who past
and Mark tries to delve into it,
reaching for a range of vague images,
none of which are Spencer.
And I’m like,
Dudes.
Your “family friend” clearly doesn’t give a shit.
Who the fuck has time to care about family friends?
(That’s, like, straight people shit.)

And then Mark says,
“I’m not getting a Spencer,
but I am getting a Jim.
No a James.”

My head snaps up,
my heart jamming into my throat.
I want him to find my eyes.
Find my eyes.
Can’t you feel them.
Can’t you tell this is “bleeding.”
I want Mark to see me
because somehow I can’t speak.
James.
Tell him it’s ME.
but I can’t speak.
And I know my face is emoting a message
that most people with the basic ability to read facial expressions
would decipher as:
Hey! I’m clearly upset and reacting to this specific name.
But Mark somehow fails to see this
so the moment passes
and it’s all too late.

Before I know it,
it’s all over.

“I don’t like asking for money
in exchange for spiritual work,”
Mark says.
“So how about instead
you give me $20 dollars in exchange for a—
hug.”

And I’m like, great.
I want to give him money,
but I don’t want to give him the hug.
So how does that work?

I want to take a second
to frame this particular moment more clearly.
It’s like
some old white guy just triggered the fuck out of me
in relation to my past experiences with sexual assault
and then forces a nonconsensual hug
that he’s making me PAY for.

I stay seated for a moment looking down at my hands,
which aren’t trembling
but look like they are
because my eyes are vibrating in my head.
And I’m about to get up when I notice something strange on my arm…
Right in the center of its crease
are a cluster of tiny red dots
where blood cells had recently burst.
These are not unfamiliar to me.
In fact, my blood cells burst perhaps more easily than the average joe’s.
However
they do not burst unprompted.
The strain of a bra strap on the shoulder,
a hard long puke shows up around my eyes,
an orgasm in the bathtub (gone a little too far)
shows up in the strain of my neck…
But never unprompted.

And yet here I have this cluster of dots
seemingly unprompted
that register immediately in my brain
as marks from a needle,
as track marks on my arm.
And a sharp pain hits me
when I realize Mark had mentioned heroin and
once again,
I’d failed to think of my young cousin
and now this is her letting me know.
I was never the best cousin.

Shit.
I find myself repeating the mantra I uttered when she died,
I’m sorry, Dude.
I’m so sorry.

I could have heard from love ones,
but instead I fuck up
and listened to some dude tell me
I’m
tough
soft
and gay.

I hand Mark twenty bucks
and wriggle into his hug.
“Thank you,”
he whispers into my ear.
And I know now that I’ve really given him more
in that twenty bucks
then he’ll ever give me,
then most men will ever give me,
psychic or not.
All the linear psychic thinking in the world
will never trump the holistic intuition
that I find in the eyes of any old woman or queer.

He’ll never even know.

We exit BLUSH
into the unconditioned air.
We say bye to our bud
who comes every week,
the residue from their spit still moist on my neck.
And I know I’ll never look at them the same.
How many secrets do they hold?
The gay who wades through the fog of spiritual norms.
How many boring secrets?

What a nightmare,
I think,
as we walk back to the car.
But I think,
Was it also a relief?
To have a man confirm my trauma,
a trauma I suppress,
a trauma I question.
To have a man tell me I’m tough.
I’m a tough guy.
A tough gay guy.
Tough guy gay and tough.
I let this image sink.

—-

A month later,
as prescribed by Mark,
I call my brother.
We don’t talk much
so I call him.

We start talking shit,
shit on our parents,
shit on our cousin,
shit on our sad gay lives.

And I wait until the phone is pulling away from my mouth
to say,
“I love you,”
soft, but
only on the inside.

Jay Keery lives in Western Massachusetts where they are pursuing their MFA in poetry at UMass Amherst and where they shamelessly make and sell “gay-themed” merch.