Suszynski: Palm as map |

Suszynski: Palm as map

In sixth grade, I had a teacher, let’s call him Mr. F. Mr. F looked like Clark Kent, but if you pulled the little arrow at the bottom of an image and he stretched sideways. Stocky.

Mr. F gave us an assignment. We were to give 10-minute presentations to the class on any subject of our choosing. At this point in my life, I had given at least four informational presentations on manatees to various teachers, all with the same manatee poster. But as a newly minted middle schooler, I decided that I would try to hide my obsession with manatees, and the worn poster, or at least put it on the back burner as I made new friends.

I chose palm reading instead. A few days before the presentation, I came in early from lunch to grab something I had left on my desk in Mr. F’s room. As I was leaving, I noticed an email exchange on the projector screen. It was a correspondence between hotpinkbunny45 and Mr. F. The email at the top of the screen was from my teacher to hot bunny. It read: “I just bit my lip. And now it hurts.” It was still in draft mode. I hoped it would stay that way until he found something more compelling to say.

For my presentation, I dwelled on palmistry’s supposed Indian origin, the slight variations in different cultures, and then a brief overview of the most commonly used form of palm reading: earth, air, water, fire. I showed the class my own “water” hands and then pointed to how the heart line on my hand has a strange crease that connects to the head line.

After the presentation, the class pushed Mr. F to my desk where I was conducting readings. “Is he going to die tomorrow?” “Are we going to have homework over the weekend?”

This is my only memory of Mr. F but I was reminded of it because I recently finished Alexander Chee’s collection of essays called “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel.” One essay titled “The Querent” is about Chee’s deep dive into Tarot card reading.

Perhaps his most poignant realization is that Tarot cards indulged his desire to know the future: “What I understood … is that the mirror I wanted, back when I wished to see around corners into the future, was never possible. The only mirror to be found in the cards was something that could show me the possibilities of the present, not the certainties of the future.”

I liked reading palms (the amateur that I was), which I continued to do for most of sixth grade, because it was my first brush with fiction, with looking for the signs. I was collecting details about my classmates, their questions, whether their nails were cut to the quick, clean, if they wriggled as I laid their hand flat, and I made a compact narrative for them.

“I think few of us know enough about our lives to know our place in them—we can’t see ourselves as we might a character in a novel, with the same level of detachment and appraisal… We think this means this, and that means that, and in the meantime the true meaning is somewhere else, and the omen lies on the ground, face-down, as good as mute,” Chee says.

I don’t read palms anymore, but I do still look for signs. On Monday, as I watched the clouds move overhead, I saw what I initially thought were geese draw close. Then they morphed into hawks. They tilted their wings to glide upward and then circled as if in a tunnel. At least 50 of them, more joining. They descended, a controlled plummet toward the pine, and swept back up. A foreboding symphony. But these weren’t hawks, I only realized later as I got closer to the tree they stood in. They were vultures.

When Mr. F reluctantly laid his hand on my desk, I observed the signs. His heart line looked like a chain, like many small lines threaded together. I pointed to it: “It seems like you will have many relationships. They hop across your hand like bunny tracks.” He eyed me sternly. “But you also have a solid fate line, unlike mine,” I showed him how my fate line had a few wide sweeping strokes. “You’ll probably teach for a long time.”

On Tuesday, I lit a dishtowel on fire. By accident. I picked up the teakettle from the stove and the towel brushed the flame. This sign was pretty easy: Get an electric teakettle.

Like Chee, I attempt to interpret signs in my own life. I often pull apart my palm, or scrutinize the heart line of this country’s hand, and see a glimpse of our future. This is wishful thinking. Chee ends his essay with a question: “What can you trust of what you can’t see?”

I trust in things that I feel. My palms are still soft. Winter has not settled into my knuckles yet, not cracked with cold. I can trust in the possibility of now, in the promise of an electric teakettle, the prospect that maybe vultures don’t have to be foreboding, they could just be stopping by to say hello.

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