Inspired by Italo Calvino’s “The Castle of Crossed Destinies,” seven of the Weekender’s staffers came together to write short pieces based on the same set of five tarot cards. Join us in ruminating on how the same visual prompt elicits different responses from each writer, and how the commonalities and differences between the memories, emotions or reflections that have surfaced speak to what it means to be young and chasing destiny in the 21st century.
On a murky morning, before sunrise, I caught a glimpse of it. All night I’d suffered, pounding up and down logging roads searching for the exit. The maze of trees had only spread further as I’d weaved onwards, mist and second growth density making the work impossible. My ‘88 Toyota had been pissing steam, dissipating into the fog like a feeder to the fury. The longer this had dragged on, the faster I’d taken the turns.
I’d been in the pits, drinking that special late-night cocktail of sleep deprivation and deep depression — the poison you reach for in the dead of night when nobody you love is awake.
When I finally saw the road, I envisioned a great hand saving me from misery, pulling my car towards the ocean. I spun the wheel, down the path to salvation. But when I reached the road’s end, I saw no ocean or cliff. The hand, suddenly, smothered me, locking me into a dark gray pillow of mist. Before me was only a wall, and fog laughed at me.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been scared that the Sun is going to disappear.
I rush to my window every morning to make sure that she’s still there. I only let myself take my first breath when I see her beams poking out over the horizon as she prepares for her daily journey across our sky.
I keep track of her throughout my day. She’s there outside the window when I can’t focus in class; she keeps me warm when I doze off on the grass; she tucks me in every night when we both retreat to our respective homes. And then we do it all over again.
For as long as I can remember, she’s always been there. I’m sure that on some level I know this. But I can’t help myself but wonder — what if? What if the sun doesn’t rise today? What if I left the stove on? What if everyone I love hates me? What if?
I drown in my what-ifs. I run from opportunity; I turn back to see if I have lost it. I weep when I find that I have.
I wait until the sun sets on me. I lie awake in the night and stare into the inky black, listening to the easing drumbeat of my own heart; I see no phantoms in the void and find the space to breathe.
But then I hear my mother saying that if I learn to look beyond myself I will finally be happy. I tell myself I need to go to therapy.
I hear my father saying I will get what I work for — I hear my father saying I will get what I deserve.
I tell myself I will go to therapy.
I do not. I never do. I listen, instead, to the prophecies that my nightmares tell me. I let them eat me alive from the inside out. I let the gaping hole in the pit of my stomach grow. I let the walls of my bedroom close in. I feel myself falling and I do not jolt awake. I feel myself falling and I cannot jolt awake. I feel myself falling and I wonder if, perhaps, I do not want to jolt awake.
I realize then that demons do not need the light to haunt me. I realize that the largest mountains cast shadows even in the dark.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to scale mountains. Some, like my high school situationships and Freshman year midterms, were more akin to hills in size. Others — managing my mental health, exploring my identity, coming to terms with my sexuality — felt as massive as Mount Everest.
When the mountains started appearing in my life, I wasn’t a serious or seasoned climber. Even mild climbs were too intense for me to manage. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve trained myself to endure some of the less daunting climbs, effectively scaling my way to the tops of those peaks. But I’ve also learned that some mountains are too steep for even the most talented athletes among us to conquer.
Now, when I come across those mountains, I make peace with the knowledge that I can’t get over or around them. When I sit back and observe my mountains, I often discover things about them that I didn’t notice when I was so intent on climbing. There’s a lot of terror, sure, and there are certainly dangerous cliffs and edges. They also have pieces of beauty: snow sliding down the sides, endless hues of brown and gray melding together, patches of berries amidst the brambles. In a certain sense, the very existence of these mountains is magnificent. When I allow myself to accept them in all senses, I find strength.
Four men walk into a bar — Ambition, Greed, Search and Solitude we’ll call their names,
Similar are their looks, but different their aims;
Their eyes fall on the green girl, in the corner, playing games
Surrounded by fire, in a chamber of flames
She extinguishes the red,
Then looks at them a little bit funny;
Green is a symbol of hope and nature — but also money
Give me a few coins, thus says the girl — and I’ll tell you your story.
Greed goes first, and the room turns yellow,
All he wants is gold, the girl thinks — what an odd fellow!
Your gold will turn into your sun — she tells him;
But careful one day, for you’ll find your world has gone dim.
Ambition goes next,
Again, his desires not very complex;
The girl sees he wants recognition, lives for the approval of others,
You’ll never love yourself, she tells him – oh but you’ll have many lovers.
Search is tired, he fills the room with blue;
He is looking for something, something he cannot get to,
This world does not have the thing you seek, he is told
Close your eyes and breathe, very slowly you’ll get old.
Finally comes Solitude and asks,
How does one live when life feels like a list of endless tasks?
Retreat, tells him the girl in green,
You’ll be alone, but at least you’ll be morally clean.
Four men walk out of a bar — leaving behind flames, burning like a shining star.
The most dangerous thing I ever did was discover how to escape.
Like a hand from the heavens, delusion came down to save me from life itself. When the others left for adolescent adventure, the joy and grievances of friendship, to baptize themselves in the highs and woes of young love, I knew it was a path that would only ever lead to ruin — that someday a sword would swing to my head and I would be asked to choose: to pick one life and expunge all the others in the process.
Now, I relish living surrounded by my potential. Obviously, my lives are all dead — out there, in the world beyond — but here, I hop through them like abandoned train cars. My world is one of abundance and calling because I housed myself in the mountain and never came out; sometimes, though, I look out on the rest — lives with destinations, movement and possibility and wonder what could have been.
New opportunities are on the horizon — the Ace of Pentacles holds its hand out for us to receive new beginnings. But these new blessings are not for our keeping alone, as the Six of Pentacles below urges us to share our wealth; to live with generosity. Maybe this news comes while wallowing in a mood of darkness, depression, and anxiety, the Nine of Swords would suggest. Gwenyfar, a force warrior goddess, grants us resurrection and awakening in her divine Judgment.
But above them all there is a mountain. A mountain that stands tall above human desires and frivolities, taunting, daring, one to climb. A man nestled inside its entryway awaits those seeking the challenge and revelations which he may grant. But as the girl, enveloped in ivy and naivety, embarks, her promise of awakening and the easement of the dismal cloud that follows her only seems to loom further in the distance the longer she walks. The more she looks at the mountain, marvels at its opportunities, and searches for the man inside, the less she sees of that which she sought.
No matter the reading or the configuration of the cards, their meanings begin to dissolve as one tries to solicit meaning from that which the universe has been screaming all along.