The Wild Unknown Tarot Guidebook explains the nine of cups card strangely:
Alas…the card of wishes come true. When the nine of cups appears, worries and fears will be cast away. A new phase of peace and harmony awaits. The world seems to be granting your every wish. Good health, happiness, and even material gains are heading your way. Enjoy.
That first sentence, with its conspicuously old-fashioned, ostensibly misplaced “alas,” haunts and has haunted me since I first encountered the card. The alas casts an eerie light over the rest of the entry, making my skin prickle at the description of those weighty “worries and fears” so wantonly dismissed. The awaiting Eden “phase” makes me wonder what dark fall is to follow it, and that it only “seems” to contain an answering to my every desire bristles my hackles even further. And that final admonition to “enjoy” is downright sinister.
It feels silly sitting here darkly parsing a tarot card, but I guess what I’m trying to unravel is why that “alas” has remained with me, joining the ranks of other grim and clear-eyed maxims to become a brain refrain.
I think partly it’s related to Rama. Before him I’d been in a six-year thing from which I finally managed to extricate myself on the eve of 2013. Those were for me floundering years, often murky and marked by loneliness (at least within my relationship). I frequently wished for more, or for just one stroke of luck, a ray of light, any form of deliverance, even for an easy way out. I knew that some of the things that I wanted weren’t what I needed, but those desires were my air pocket and my lifeline. Things continued like that, in one of the stories, for a long time.
Enacting that last break-up and then sustaining it felt like a radical achievement of courage and will (both qualities I’ve struggled with). The aftermath was both light and dark. I felt remarkably unburdened, but existential dread periodically claimed me in the night. I did the messy work, had many talks, took many runs (the best times were both combined), nurtured in my imaginings an insubstantial crush, and kept contact with my ex completely cut off despite intermittent attempts from the other side. I knew the only way through it was through it, and I tried to be whole-hearted and true, not to become snagged on small, thorned angers nor sink too long into muddy griefs.
Many diligent months later, toward the end of September, things were mucked up slightly by a chance encounter—a friend and I were at a cafe grabbing a post-run bagel, and my ex was there for a meeting. I limited his and my interaction to the briefest and stiffest of greetings, but he called me about an hour later (I was back home), and I picked up and agreed to meet him at a park between the cafe and my house.
It was a lengthy interlude. When he, a couple hours later, on the walk back from our second visit to the same cafe, mostly sad-jokingly asked me if I wanted to “be [his] girlfriend again,” I was bowled over by our utter over-ness. The idea suffocated me—it felt like a dark, destroying wave. I had absolute clarity, and I believe he did too. Saying goodbye a block from my house, he stared for a long while with tearful eyes (not in itself notable—he’s a cryer, but in a nice way). When I asked why the sad look he replied with something along the lines of, “I loved you so much for so long, and I don’t know when I’m going to see you again.” So I think he knew the score.
That was a whole-hearted day. We were both mostly true.
A little bit of the void trickled in though. We kept up some off-feeling, inappropriate contact. He dropped by my work. It felt wrong, and slightly sickening.
A week into October some best gals and I had a Yuba camp trip planned to (very) belatedly celebrate Maddy’s birthday. Her actual DOB is July 27th, but we’d at the time been in the throes of moving (our landlord had decided to sell our beloved home and had evicted us, move-out date August 1st), and it took some time to coordinate among the ladies a workable celebration date. From among our battling calendars we could eke out just one night’s escape, so we resolved to caravan out super early (at like five a.m.) so as to arrive in Nevada City for breakfast, set up our tents, then soak up a full river day before returning to our Scotts Flat Lake campground (Yuba spots were closed with that government shutdown) to cook it up.
There was a “secret” swimming hole somewhere upriver Maddy and I had visited with my ex, and, since we had several nude-style sun-lovers in our party, the day before our departure Maddy texted him (I was again in the process of severing myself) to ask which mile-marker we’d pull out at to find the spot. He didn’t get back, and that night the sohsh-meeds revealed he’d been been out of range, because he’d been visiting with a new person a place that had been of great significance to him and me, that beyond our relationship felt sacrosanct just to me. I was grossed out, gutted. I felt gusted away, traded in for cheap, crudely, gracelessly erased. It felt like a violation—of us, of me, of time, of meaning.
I have a lot more thoughts about these powerful, proprietary, and problematic feelings that I have in mind for another piece, so I’ll leave off here—I put myself to bed that night in an agitated state.
I’m a great sleeper but that was a bad night—what dreams I managed were black and reeling, but mostly I spun in wakeful, inky spirals. Finally I did something I never do: I gave up on rest, switched on my light, and opened my journal.
I wrote down all the true things, that I didn’t want to be with my ex ever again, that I did love him and wanted him to be happy, and that underneath the pangs of change I knew I did not begrudge it.
I’d moved through that foremost grief, then wrote with conviction to the universe that I was ready for The Thing, whatever it was. Romantic love wasn’t by needs the boon I was envisioning—in fact I didn’t believe I was built to experience that form of love too deeply, was better equipped for a more self-sufficient method of tapping into the marrow. I just had a sense that I had worked hard and come far, and that I was stuck waiting on one missing piece that would snap into place and set the whole mechanism whirring into motion.
It’s a dangerous line of thinking, and was a bold and chasmal ask, ungrateful even, when I’d been gifted so much already. But I had experienced, exaggerating though it may seem, my own me-like introverted, understated, totally interior version of a dark night of the soul, had wrestled with and released finally, fully, a tender and tenacious demon, and had emerged with the bald knowledge that I was ready.
I tell this story, I know, from the other side of what happened next.
When I finished my journaling it was dawn, time to go.
We got to Nevada City by nine, breakfasted at Ike’s, ventured to Scotts Flat to set up camp. We still hadn’t heard back from my ex about the swimming spot, so we decided to hit up the next-best/maybe-even-better place, the striking arched stone bridge where a few years back I’d had my first breathtaking glimpse of the unimaginable Yuba.
I got mixed up though, navigating from our unfamiliar camp spot, and we ended up driving a half-hour to a different, exponentially less ravishing bridge. Consulting the map there we saw it would be another forty or so minutes back the other way to our intended destination. Peeps wondered if we ought to just remain where we were and get the river hang going, but I thought that since we were only there for one day, and since for many it was their first time, we should put ourselves at the most magical place. And so about an hour down the road we were laying down our towels on the big flat rock under the Old Highway 49 Bridge.
It was a blissfully luxuriant day. We’d come with much bub and all variety of salty TJs things that go crunch, and passed many hours lolling around on the hot white granite, mostly toplessly (save me—I can’t tan and I’m not really a public nudity person, even at clothing-discouraged creepy old man hotsprings where my opting to a wear a suit seems, conversely, to entice the pervs).
Maddy and Mer passed some time idly hollering at the occasional river cutie. Meredith had a boyfriend at the time—catcalling for her is a purely recreational, raucously hilarious DGAF activity, and it’s a gender-bending joy to behold.
It was October and there weren’t many swimmers—at one point Mer and I polar-bear-paddled our way around some pools and caves (me sans glasses), and when we returned to rock there was some casual talk of the hot guy playing frisbee with his studly dog.
I still didn’t have my glasses back on as the hunky dude mounted the concrete stairs to leave, but laughed my ass off as Madz and Mer, the loud-mouthed big-titty queens, initiated a shouted convo with his departing form, asking how old he was (I don’t know if he answered), where he lived, and if he had a hot tub (classy). He didn’t, but was exceedingly affable, and an invitation was issued to join our campfire, and to “bring his friends.”
Handsome guy was Rama, though I still hadn’t seen him properly nor yet learned his name (I didn’t actually until the next day—I’m bad). He did come round later in the night, brought Poundo (Maddy, dog-deprived, climbed right into his taco with him) and a bottle of wine and jar of garden-grown pickles. We are at any time an extremely boisterous crew, all the more so after our sun-drenched day-drinking, and Rama slid easily into the funtimes.
At some point we ran out of firewood, and since I was the post-break-up single lady I was urged by my friends to go join Rama in scavenging some dead manzanita. It was messy work, and after harvesting a big branch Rama asked me if he had any spiderwebs in his hair. I brushed out some debris, and, as I later learned, this was the moment that I put the (genuinely unintentional) moves on.
When bedtime rolled around Maddy told Rama (who’d brazenly brought along his tent) that she wanted Poundo to sleep with her, and he replied, Genghis Khan style, that she should “send her sister to his tent” (I was off brushing my teeth).
So we shared a tent. We (probably mostly I) chattered away happily for hours, and it felt like such a significant moment when he at last asked me if I was unattached, and I could honestly and wholeheartedly answer that I was.
We may have fallen in love that night. There was no moment that followed where I realized in a lightning bolt that I loved Rama, nor did I ever really wonder or worry over what it was. It was simply right. I was startled in the morning light to see just how handsome he was—like a classic movie star playing an Italian race car driver—and thankful I hadn’t been aware, since historically, in the rare event I was actually attracted to someone, I’d get totally overwhelmed, and my flustered inward retreat would read as chilly contempt. Thanks to my river-filthy fire-glared glasses I’d been operating at peak audacity, silliness, and sass.
Rama stirred up the previous night’s embers to make a sweet smoky morning fire (still one of my favorite moves of his), and we packed it up. One contingent had to get back to Oakland, but Maddy, Mer, and I were to remain for another river day. We three and Rama grabbed some breakfast in town, and then the gals headed to the river and Rama headed home. He had to put some finishing touches on the roofing project he’d be been at all summer with his dad. He told me later that his fateful river visit the evening before had been his first in many weeks, a celebration of the conclusion of his months-long project; he swears (credibly—he’s not a bullshitter) he’d felt “called to the river.”
He invited us to come by his house later for some post-river pizza before we drove back to the Bay, and we happily obliged. I have a vivid picture of him, freshly showered and lanky in a seventies plaid and long grey jeans, squatting by the oven to check on the pizzas, just impossibly handsome. It was a real daaammmnnn moment, and I’ve thought of it often during the countless meals we’ve cooked together in that kitchen since.
He tried that to get me to stay the night, said he’d bring me back to O in the morning, but I demurred, feeling utterly unrushed, and the gals and I departed back to the Bay with a bag of the delish-est leftover deep-dish.
It’s interesting for me, recollecting those early days, how unafraid I was. I truly felt, returning home that first night, that even if nothing more were to come of it, I was flattened by gratitude just to have encountered someone so good. I gave heart-brimmed thanks to my backyard stars, and felt like I was talking directly to god. I was held in a flow; I was serene.
I don’t know if I’d have kept my peace if things had gone differently, but Rama didn’t keep me in a second’s suspense. There were zero games (and I was coming from a dynamic that had been nothing if not a perpetual power volley)—from the very start Rama made it clear he was absolutely there for it.
It’s about five-and-a-half years later and I still don’t know what to think. Alas, the card of asks answered.
How did I get so lucky? I’m chilled to calculate the slim margin of our meeting. That we were celebrating a birthday months late, that we didn’t hear back about the secret river spot, that we didn’t settle for the wrong bridge, that Rama was temporarily living in NC and had that very day finished his project and felt drawn to the river.
Should I just “trust the magic”? A dear friend keeps me endlessly entertained with insane profile screenshots from her Bumble—truly, the dudely dating pool is populated with some far-out creatures of the deep. We were laughing at the WTF-ness of some recently dredged eligibles, and she was talking about the WTF-ness of Rama’s being such a perfect specimen, both drop-dead foxy and deeply kind.
I agreed, and confided that I do sometimes entertain the fancy that he is a construction of my own fantastical imagining, and that in reality I’m propped up by some hospital window in a cackling straightjacket. (Solipsist!)
There are (in support perhaps of the this-is-all-my-own-invention theory) some uncanny commonalities between Ram and me, and between him and my ex. I have a brain that compulsively makes connections, and it’s a big world to do it in—god knows I can’t reckon where synchronicity bends statistical credibility.
Emma holds the opinion that strange parallels are the universe’s way of telling you you’re on the right track, and I am attracted to that idea, partly because there has been something karmic-feeling about it all.
I keep talking about my long-ago ex, and I guess what I’m trying to express is that it felt archetypal. Being for years entangled in a wrong relationship, then freeing myself from it and staying freed, was in my story a heroic act. And I’m not saying it like he was the beast and I was the girl—in fact I’ve always felt more like the wolf in the red cloak. It wasn’t a good guy bad guy struggle; I think our souls had unfinished cheese-grater business with each other, some stuff that had to be worked through before either of us could advance. Meeting Rama felt like my prize for making it out, for ascending.
The coincidences feel to me like a part of the story—they’re strange in a fated fairytale way. And though it’s clunky I want to catalog them.
Rama’s and my moms were both born in Long Beach, CA.
Neither my dad nor Rama’s are native Californians—they both migrated here in their teens—but they are both devout ones.
Our moms were born under a week apart (different years).
Our dads were born a week apart (different years).
Both of our dads are veterans.
Rama’s dad is from Duluth, the same rando Minnesota town my ex-bf came from.
Both of our parents met at Cal State Long Beach.
Rama’s paternal line and my maternal both came to the States through Canada.
My dad and Rama’s stepdad are both from Ohio.
Rama and I are both the eldest of three, with a younger sister and then brother, all three years apart.
Rama’s and my ex-bf’s moms both taught at Waldorf schools. Sidenote: Rama also attended Waldorf, which I mention because my encounters with Waldorf alums have been notable. I’m not always quick to connect with new people, but with the ‘Dorfs I’ve been lucky enough to meet (Biz, Lizzy, Emma, Allie May—and of course Rama) I experienced an instant recognition and a profound liking, jumping with each directly into a deep dive. I recently learned that Joanna Newsom went to a Waldorf school (as Allie May said, of course she did.) Side-sidenote: my ex was super into Steiner.
Rama’s parents practiced in the same spiritual lineage that my ex does; they were married in the late seventies at the Kauai Hindu monastery where my ex attends his annual retreats.
This one isn’t so much about Rama, but it creeped the shit out of me. The same person made mine and my ex’s 2017 wedding rings. A stylish acquaintance of mine (zero connection to my ex) got married in 2014, and I was struck by her ring: a black diamond set in a crimped eye-shaped rose-gold setting. It was the only band I’d seen that I could picture wearing (a version of—I’m a white diamond, yellow gold gal). When ring time time rolled around for Ram and me, I still had the screenshot. My mom’s a wonder and tracked the maker down, then worked with the jeweler and with Rama to design my bands. My ma loves jewelry and loves instagram, and had naturally followed the woman’s ig account; she was flabbergasted a month or two later to see a post picturing a custom ring created for my ex and a congratulations to him and his partner—who incidentally married the same summer Ram and I did. He and I had no shared tie to this jewelry designer (besides, I suppose, all being East Bay folk—though Esqueleto, the source for me of the initial ring, carries jewelry from all over). It was just really fucking weird. (More pleasingly, because he knew Meredith had admired my ring, her now-husband commissioned the same maker to create Mer’s engagement band, so she and I are ring bros.)
The last thing, and the thing that might make me seem the most crazy (if the rest of this hasn’t already—I am aware I’m pretty far up my own ass): my ex had a kid last fall, and it was born on what had been his and my anniversary. And the nuttiest part is I somehow knew it would be. I’m not claiming all-knowing psychic abilities—I was aware via friend gossip and the fb that my ex and his partner were expecting, though had no notion of course of a due date. I just had a really weird feeling, so much so that I laid down in my own mind a gauntlet. Almost a challenge to fatedness, to karma, to meaning. When, a week or two later the birth and birth date were announced, I’m telling you I felt like a witch. Heady with power. Crackling.
All of this does have something to do, for me, with meaning, and my tenuous relationship with it. (God? No god?) It reminds me of the exquisite conclusion of Pinsky’s ode to it:
Dare to disparage
Your harp of shadows I taste
Wormwood and motor oil, I pour
Ashes on my head. You are the wound. You
be the medicine.
I don’t want to make a practice of playing chicken with meaning. I probably should try to “trust the magic” more, accept my longed-for god-given kick and then run with it as far and fast as my luck will carry me. Try not to get bogged down about the shadow half. I’m under no misapprehensions about what it means to love Rama as much as I do. (Savior, sentencer.) Everything costs. Love comes at high price.
We lost Poundo on January 24, 2019. Maybe not lost—what do I know about souls or space or time? I try to comfort myself with Roethke: “What falls away is always, and is near.”
P was diagnosed in late October with an aggressive nasal tumor. The months that followed were, in a word, brutal. Rama nursed and cared for him as devotedly as I’ve ever seen one being do for another. The depth and purity of love I witnessed is more than I have words for; when I think about it every corner of me is blasted with a blinding white light.
It was a bad cancer; he got worse quickly. I ordered dark bedding for our bed; we covered the cream-colored couch in towels. The spots of nose-blood became a slow gooey drip, then a more constant stream. We were strangely relieved at his violent, gory sneeze attacks, because they were at least a clearing out of necrotic tissue, hopefully making it even a little easier for him to breathe.
He got less excited. He slept more. A visible lump protruded from the bridge of his handsome snout, and grew. The tumor started to affect the airflow through his second nostril, and Christmas Eve Rama and I entered death watch. He couldn’t breathe at all through his nose, stopped so long between each ravaging inhalation we couldn’t tell if he’d manage another. Sleep was hopeless; he kept standing and pacing and resettling himself in the bed, over and over. It was excruciating.
The next day, Christmas, the fam went to Jeff’s parents’ house and Rama and I remained. Poundo wandered the house like a tortured ghost, and we wondered if it might be time. That night though we got a respite—Mom gifted P one of his beloved wubbies for Christmas, and he enthusiastically received it. Rama realized, watching P meditatively chewing himself into a doze, that the ball propped open his powerful jaws enough that air could enter and escape around it without drying his mouth out, making it possible for him to breathe, to sleep. So was born yet another palliative ritual, one that would carry us for a few more weeks.
Until the tumor blew. At least we think that’s what happened. The snout lump flattened and Poundy’s face swelled up with fluid.
We’d visited different veterinary oncologists—had decided not to pursue the highly intrusive radiation offered at Davis (not a cure, but the possibility of some pricily purchased months)—and had resolved that when the time arrived, when we reached the point where the last loving thing had to be release, instead of going straight for euthanasia we’d try a Hail Mary potentially (temporarily) symptom-easing procedure we’d heard about from a vet friend: nasal hydropulsion. The dog is put under and high-powered water jets are shot into the nasal cavities. It’s actually used as a diagnostic tool, as a means to acquire a biopsy, but it would also flush out dead tissue, maybe making it easier for Poundo to breathe (until the tumor grew back). There was a risk he wouldn’t survive the procedure—he could bleed out—but it was time to try.
We were so relieved, waiting that evening in the bar of a San Jose golf course (our So-Cal vet had recommended a kind and excellent clinic in San Jose), to get the call that he was alive, in recovery, coming out from under anesthesia. He was bellowing terribly when we arrived to pick him up, and continued to the whole drive home. It was agonizing. I sat in the back with him, tried to calm him, and tried to reassure Rama, who needed to focus on the hectic drive home, that Poundo might be disoriented from the anesthesia, sore from the procedure. I didn’t know though. There was something about his harrowing terrified sounds, the blind blank look in his eye—he seemed beyond the bourn. Lost.
It was a terrible night, and in the morning still terrible. He kept trying to walk into corners, fall into the wall. I figured out that he seemed most calm when he was big-spooned and propped up a certain way, and I set up Rama (who had over the months himself become something of a sleepless gaunt ghost) to rest with him like this, with a wubbie propped in P’s mouth. They slept a little, maybe an hour, and I thank god for that small pocket of grace.
It didn’t last long—he started up again with his agonizing bays, and then, while were on the phone to confirm with the clinic what we knew, that this wasn’t just the anesthesia, the most-dreaded thing happened and he stiffened into a seizure.
We didn’t have to decide—scheduled an appointment for an hour later at (another highly-recommended) Montclair vet. Maddy drove us, I cradled Poundo in the sunlit backseat and for the last time felt the wonderful heft of him, inhaled his bristly softness, his mild corn-chip dog stink. Esan met us there, and in the room we surrounded him.
I thought I’d hate the body, after the second injection, but actually it was the opposite. The peacefulness of release was palpable, like a shot of solace right into my own heart, and though his powerful body was relaxed at last he didn’t feel gone. Rama held him a long while, and we petted him and talked about him and wept and even laughed a little about the incredible being we’d had the privilege of loving. That was possibly the worst day of my life.
It was weird after, because one of the big feelings for Rama and me was relief. It had been so hard watching him decline, become more and more uncomfortable, less and less interested in the things that once made him froth with excitement. I believe, or at least hope, that he was for the most part more uncomfortable than acutely in pain, up until those last horrible hours. I do know that he had the best life of any dog I’ve ever known—as Britani said he got to go more places and have more adventures than many humans do. He was so loved by so many, and he got to pass the vast majority of his time with the person he loved more than anything—who loved him just as much right back. I remain in awe of Rama’s and Poundo’s connection. The best words I have for it are not my own: my mom, when I was a toddler, was visiting her friend’s mother, a woman my mom adored. The woman, watching my mom with me, said: “You and Molly are connected as if by a golden thread.” That’s what it was with Rama and Poundo—like a thread of shining gold ran between their two souls. Or like it was one soul into bodies. Or just some kind of scorching godsource love.
The missing is a constant, and is in moments acute to the point of being almost unbearable, but I know that’s all part of it. I talk about him a lot, and we laugh and cry, and I think it helps Rama let some of it out. It’s kind of hard for me still to look at pictures, partly because it’s being surprised again with the him-ness of him, and hit again with his vast absence, or at least the absence of his delectable, brutish, snuggling physicality. Partly it makes me sad because I know there will be no new pictures, no new videos. But I do know when I’m ready the comprehensive documentation of the guy—from several adoring sources—will be a source of (almost) unending joy.
Also, Rama and I moved, or more accurately we packed up and put in storage all the stuff Maddy didn’t want remaining at the Oakland pad, and have embarked on our planned-upon improvisational vagabond phase.
It’s still fresh—we handed in our keys a mere fortnight back, then camped our way down the coast, dogged by the atmospheric river. It didn’t shape up to be any kind of surf trip (absolute dearth of swell), and now here we are in Huntington, filling the closet and drawers of my old room at my folks’ place.
We’re still settling into routines here, and have grand plans to help with a variety of less-than-grand projects (I am a trussed-up Kondo cast into titanic chaos), but so far it’s been very sweet spending time, making meals, playing games, taking beach runs—and rides (Ram defied physics and managed to cram our bikes into the wagon).
It’s a trip being so untethered—to exist in time unbound from a countdown to the next dreaded workday is new to me. I’ve felt downright disoriented, and it’s alarming how quickly things like knowing the date and the day of the week flew right out the window (alas), but just in writing this rough and rusty thing I feel more again like the captain of my vessel.
The last camp night of our drive down I got out my tarot deck, and a couple cards jumped right out: the ace of cups and the six of swords. I took fire-lit photos, but they might be hard to discern, so I’ll type them out.
ace of cups, love’s beginnings:
Aces mark the beginning of exciting new phases. Since the suit of cups deals specifically with love and emotion—you’re in for a real treat. Expect to enter a blissful time of health, joy, and friendship. A new love could be on the horizon. You may feel like you’re making a whole new start—just go with it and allow this feeling to revitalize your spirit.
six of swords, hope at last, travel:
The six of swords is a kind card, indicating a recovery from difficult times. Hope is on the horizon, things will get better. It’s important to rest, revitalize, and surround yourself with joyful friends. Plan a trip, short or long. Even getting out of town for the weekend will further lift your spirits.
Both felt timely, and kind, and the word “revitalize” showing up twice made me realized how racked and ravaged we’ve both been, how tired.
I’m definitely still settling in, but I can appreciate that this is an objectively exciting time, almost worryingly wonderful. We have been blessed with a a wide-open calendar and a blank palette. This new form of freedom is dizzying, dazzling. What will we do with it?
I’ve lately had some other words bumping around the belfry, these from Joyce Carol Oates:
How crucial for us to rehearse the future, in words. Never to doubt that you will live to utter them. Never to doubt that you will tell your story.