“Which hand do you write with?” my grandfather asks as I stretch my palms toward him. I extend my right hand further. “Your left hand is the one you were born with. The right is who you are becoming.”
Each time I visit my family in Virginia, I beg him to read the lines criss-crossing my palms, tell me what they reveal. I find him outside on a green lawn chair or inside where we are now, sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by sections of The Washington Post and the remains of breakfast. This year I am around 11 or 12 maybe, and last year my grandfather proclaimed that my sister has the mark of Apollo, signifying her creativity. I am praying that now he’ll find that triangle between my index and middle finger, or the fork at the end of my heart line that shows an inclination towards writing, or that maybe my fingers line up in the way that shows I possess strong leadership qualities; I wait for him to tell me anything to reassure me that some bright destiny is written for me right there on my palm.
My mother hates this ritual: “Daddy!” she’ll protest, “I don’t want you pigeon-holing them like that!” I’ll deny it and beg him to continue, but as I grow older I will find that she is right, that I will not be able to sweep his prophecies from my memory, that I will, in fact, obsess over them. It’s not quite like she imagined. I never become uncompromising because he told me that the length of my ring finger indicates I do not have especially good negotiating skills, and I never forgo setting up lemonade stands because my headline is not deep enough to scream potential success in business. It is the life events rather than qualities that refuse to dislodge themselves from my mind.
One year he takes my calloused hand, dwarfing it with his own, and studies the bubble in my life-line. He’s pleased with the strength, but that bubble’s bad news when I’m around 17. When I’m 17 and I tear so much of my knee that I can’t walk, I’ll think back to this memory will hit me with its eerie accuracy. But the life-line isn’t everything; even your palm can’t tell if you’ll be hit by a bus he tells me.
Another year, he reads the marks on the cushy edge of my hand that reveal the number of loves a person will have, and his eyebrows bunch together in what might be understanding.
“This is interesting. I see two great loves here. One very young, late teens maybe.”
My experience with the world of love at this point consists mainly of unrequited elementary school crushes, but I have read enough books to let his comment and look worry me.
“And that’s bad because I might get my heart broken?”
He shakes his head, “In your case you might be the one doing the heart breaking. That’s worse sometimes. Very hard.”
He sees my look–confusion muddled with dread– and backtracks, “Well the second could be the love of the child, or, well, there are other parts of the hand that indicate that, it changes over time. You never know”
I understand this small crease on my hand does not know when or with whom I will fall in love, or rather I try to remind myself. But the conversation I try so hard to forget decides to embed itself in my life.
For years afterwards I wrestle an obsession with his reading. In Fairway when my father asks me to pick up some goat cheese for dinner it takes me 10 minutes because I cannot decide whether to take the first or second package I see; inanimate objects and numbers start carrying decisive meaning for me. In choosing the second, I am choosing my second love. Or is it my first? Eventually I force myself to pick with my eyes closed and turn away so quickly I cannot process which one I’ve taken.
As life’s stakes get higher, this obsessiveness ingrains itself in my daily routine, bursting out of my palm. When I am fifteen and auditioning professionally for the first time, brushing my teeth at night I convince myself that if I do not take 24 sips of water I will not get that next call-back. For a while, it works.
Eventually, in the years leading up to my current state I will manage to convince myself that this numerical system is not really the way the universe is run. I will stop running to find the nearest piece of wood the moment I say something remotely optimistic, admit to myself that my grandfather is not a palmistry expert, that his reading methods could have easily been mixed up since the years he read a book on palmistry.
Still, when I begin to emerge from the haze of anesthetics and surgery, slowly stirring to the duet the nurse and heart monitors are humming, I look down to my hands as something solid. Later, when I am home and try to pry off the ECG stickers left clinging to my ribs, hidden on my back and chest, I cannot help but realize: I am 17. I’m living in the bubble on my lifeline, the one my grandfather frowned at years before. My body is following a predestined indent on my palm.
Palmistry is in no way a science. If I were to research the topic, I’m sure I would find little to no evidence of its accuracy. Yet my obsession with those two little scratches beneath my pinkie finger refuses to succumb to doubt or reason. Six years after my grandfather traces the lines on my right hand, when I am tracing over the fingers of a boy, they are there. As we lie with our hands intertwined and I try to comprehend the meaning of the words, “I love you” they stand out, illuminated by the glow of a computer screen. I don’t let them get in the way when days become months and months become years and our hands automatically fall together, my left and his right. Finding his hands occupies more of my brain than analyzing my own. Our hands rush to find each other, and the markings resurface; are we becoming one of them? Because if the markings on my hand really are so wise, then that might mean the end. Or it could mean forever, and when I’m right in the middle of something so elusive, it’s impossible not to cling the doubt when it’s branded right there on my body.
Age 17, Grade 12,
Berkeley Carroll School