The gypsy lady told her that she would die young.
Her mother had tried to convince her that she had heard wrong. But that’s what she had said. “You will die young.”
She had only been 8 at the time. They had gone to the traveling carnival. One of those that you just don’t see anymore. Where they would pull in to town and set up shop for a few days in the parking lot of grocery store or K-Mart or someplace like that. A few rides. A few side show attractions. And a gypsy lady who told your fortune for a dollar.
Her mother thought it would be fun. She took her and her two sisters in and they all had their fortunes read. Her oldest sister, she was 12 and so very grown up, was going to be a famous dancer. She was pretty sure that the gypsy lady looked at the Cats t-shirt she was wearing and made a guess. It was a good one. Her sister loved to dance and her fortune made her very happy. Her middle sister was going to be an author. She would write books that would make people weep, and laugh, and think. She was pretty sure that they gypsy lady saw the ink smudge on her hand and the books in her bag and made a guess there too. But it made her sister very happy. Then it was her turn. She sat down at the round table in her tent. She could still picture the velvety table cloth. The gypsy lady took her hand. She gazed at her palm for a minute and then said, “You will die young.”
At that her mother had snatched her out of the chair. “How dare you, are you crazy? A curse!”
“You wanted their fortunes read, did you not? You paid me for this. Fortunes, not curses.”
Her mother hustled the girls back out of the gypsy lady’s tent. “What did she say?” Her oldest sister asked, “I didn’t hear her.”
“She didn’t say anything important. She was a big fraud and I am sorry that I thought it would be fun.”
Her middle sister said, “I don’t think she was a fraud. I am going to be an author. I think she was right.”
Her mother slapped her sister.
They were all shocked. Their parents had never hit any of them before.
Her sisters stared at their mother, mouths hanging open. Then her middle sister burst in to tears. From the shock as much as the sting.
“Oh, baby, I am so sorry. Mommy shouldn’t have done that. I am just so flustered. I am so sorry.”
Their mother gathered all three girls in to a big hug, “I am so sorry. I never should have done any of this.”
When her middle sister calmed down their mother packed them all in the car and they went to get ice cream.
When they got home their father was waiting. “I’m going to be a famous dancer!” Her sister announced.
“Of course you are, baby, you are very talented.” Their father was looking at their mother with a confused expression she was trying to signal something to him but he was not understanding her at all.
“Well I’m going to be an author. I am going to write great books.”
“I never doubted you for a second.” Their father ruffled her middle sister’s hair.
Before she could speak up her mother announced that it was time for everyone to get cleaned up and ready for bed. She shrugged to herself. There was no need to tell her father anyway. He would just worry.
After the girls had washed up and gotten in to their beds her mother came to her. “I am sorry I pulled you out of the gypsy’s tent like that. I misunderstood what she said and over reacted.”
“What do you think she said?”
“Well it’s just so silly now that I think about it. And even if it’s what she meant, then it’s not like it’s horrible.”
She gave her mother a puzzled look, “It’s not?”
“No. I mean your grandfather was a cook. You could be a fine chef.”
“Why yes, I mean she did say you will fry tongue right? What else could that mean?”
“Yes. Fry Tongue. That’s what she said. And I thought she was being disrespectful somehow instead of just saying you would be a chef. You will fry tongue.”
“Mom, that doesn’t even make any sense.”
“It does. That’s what she said. You remember that.”
But that wasn’t what the gypsy had said. She knew that. Her mother knew it too. But she understood that they were never going to talk about it again. But she knew.
When her oldest sister was given the opportunity to dance with the American Ballet Theater at the young age of 16 she knew.
When her middle sister published her first novel at the age of 20 she knew.
She would die young.
It was freeing in a way. She tried everything. She lived her life knowing that soon it would be gone. If someone asked she said yes. She took a gap year after high school and traveled through Europe on a youth rail pass. Her sisters were shocked that their mother let her go. But her mother knew. Even though she tried very hard not to, she knew, and so she let her live.
When she returned home she went to college. She took every class that interested her. She didn’t worry about making them all fit in to a degree. She just sampled everything.
She lived fully. Everyone who met her talked about her spirit. “She is so free.” “She lives life to the max!”
And she did.
At her funeral everyone said, “She was so young. She never had a chance to live.”
But they were wrong. She might have died young. But while she was here she lived. Because she knew.
Her mother never stopped looking for roadside carnivals with old gypsy women.
Because now she knew too. It had never been a curse. It was a blessing.