The Angel Ladies are giving readings in the small, formal living room of my aunt and uncle’s house. I sit waiting with them and my mom’s coworker Tina in the family room, like it’s a lobby for the Other Side.
I’m here because I’m curious. My aunt was happy with a previous Angel Ladies reading, so I quickly claimed a spot when she decided to host a group reading. My curiosity bubbled into excitement, and that excitement turned into apprehension over what they might tell me. Since my grandfather died—and especially after my grandmother followed a few years later—I’ve been afraid I disappoint them. They were devout, conservative Catholics, and I spent my late teens and now early twenties having premarital sex, getting tattooed, smoking pot, drinking underage, and abandoning Catholicism. And my grandfather, who valued family above everything, would not be happy about my messy falling out with a cousin. If my grandfather got angry about petty childhood fights over dolls, he’d be furious now.
The fear that I disappoint them isn’t strong enough to push me to behave in a way they might prefer—I can’t live my life based on what my dead grandparents would want, despite my mother’s occasional guilt trips when she wants me to go to church and the guilt trips I lay on myself when I do something they wouldn’t like. But the fear is strong enough that it creeps in as I wait for my reading, and I start to worry my grandparents—my grandfather especially—are going to yell at me through two psychics. I feel ridiculous for putting so much into women who might be scamming and manipulating me, like my dad insists they are. My mom and I believe in psychics, but my dad is the Scully to our Mulder. They’re frauds, he says, playing with our emotions, statistics, the power of suggestion, and the Internet to make us think they’re communicating with the dead. We admit frauds exist—she thought one psychic picked up on her desires at the time and told her what she wanted to hear, and I once haggled with a palm reader on the street—but we don’t think all are guilty.
“Your mom’s in there now,” my aunt says. She brings me a cup of homemade soup.
Tina talks about things the Angel Ladies knew but couldn’t have, like how her grandfather died and that he called her by her full name, Christina.
I hear the living-room door open, and my mother walks down the hall. She’s crying but smiling, even laughing slightly.
I smile and chuckle when I see her. “Uh oh,” I say.
The living room smells like incense, the strong, musky kind they use in church for Christmas. I’ve spent a lot of time in this house, but rarely in this room. One Angel Lady stands near the unlit fireplace. She has blonde hair and is wearing a pink “Angel Ladies” jacket, like a Pink Lady from “Grease.” Three chairs are arranged in a tight cluster, with one facing the other two. I sit in the separated one.
She lists names. I don’t recognize any, aside from distant cousins.
“It might be my dad’s family. I don’t know much about them,” I say.
“You may not know much about them, but they’re strong with you. They followed you right in here.” She sits in the chair to my left.
The second Angel Lady enters, also blonde with a matching “Angel Ladies” jacket, like it’s a uniform. They even look like sisters, but they aren’t. They chat briefly, mostly about a spirit they sense in the house.
They open my reading by chanting a prayer, calling upon angels by name as they each hold one of my hands.
The Angel Ladies are hard to listen to, often interrupting and talking over each other. I have trouble focusing until I hear a name or something frighteningly accurate.
We’ve never met—they don’t even know my name—but like Tina said, they know things they shouldn’t. They know my heritage—German on my dad’s sad, Polish on my mom’s. I can’t be too impressed, as they may have learned some things from my mom’s session, like the fact that I work for a closed-captioning company, but they also somehow know where all the company’s offices are located acrossthe country.
“Your grandmother is on the other side.”
“Okay.” My replies are short and vague, showing a hint of my dad’s skepticism. I don’t want to reveal much. I want to see what they know without my help.
“But you don’t know which grandmother we’re talking about,” the other says. “Your dad’s mom is here.”
I gasp slightly. I want to hear from her. She died when I was two, and I often wonder what life would be like with her still in it.
“She knows your grandfather has another woman now. She wants you to know it’s not a big deal, don’t worry about it. ‘I don’t give a damn,’ she says.”
“Your grandma Eleanor is here,” the other says. “She’s beautiful.”
I smile and agree.
“She thinks you should’ve learned to play piano. You could’ve done that, she says. You could use your creativity more. She tucks you in at night.”
Then, “Your great-grandmother Julia is here.”
This makes me uneasy—my great-grandmother Julia is still alive, but they continue to speak as if she’s already dead and I don’t correct them. I wonder ifthis is significant, if she’ll die soon, and she does within two months.
“You dream in color, don’t you, baby doll? You dream about your grandparents sometimes. That’s them communicating with you. If they say something to you in your dreams, that’s a message they have for you. But they’re not talking to you about the past. If you can’t remember what they say, ask them to come again the next night. Keep asking until they do.”
I do dream in color, and I do dream about my grandparents. Those dreams are rare, and I don’t remember most of them clearly. Instead, I wake up with a vague sense they were in my dream. But one I remember vividly—while the entire extended family was gathered at my grandparents’ house, my grandfather appeared in the living room near the front door. I asked him what he was doing, acknowledging he was dead and shouldn’t have been in the house. He said he needed to tell us something, sat on the couch, and talked.
I was upset when I woke up and couldn’t remember what he said.
“Sometimes, you look up at the clouds and think they look like angels. That’s your grandfather sending you a sign. He’s with you when you drive. It’s the only time he can get your attention. He can’t get through to you at work.”
Now when I see sunlight streaming through the clouds, I think of him and smile.
“Your grandfather was like a father to you.”
“In some ways,” I say.
“‘In all ways,’ he says. You and your dad don’t get along well, but that’s his stuff, not yours. He’s very opinionated, even when he’s not right. You shouldn’t feed it into it.”
I think of our notorious, loud arguments, usually about politics, and how my grandfather used to say I should be a lawyer.
“Your grandfather says you do anyway. You don’t put up with much.”
“You’re going to get married.”
I smile and don’t mention my boyfriend of two years, Paul. We’ve talked about getting married, but we’re too young and too broke.
“You’re already seeing someone,” the other says some time later, after the subject shifted. “You’ve been together for two years.”
They won’t call him my boyfriend—instead, he’s my “future fiancé.”
“Your grandmother wants to know what you’re waiting for. He says you’ve already talked about it. Paul wants to marry you bad. He’s crazy about you.”
“You’re not living together, are you?” the other asks.
“No,” I say, thinking she should know.
“Oh, good. I didn’t want to have to tell your grandmother.”
“Do you have any questions?”
I thought of some on my hour-long drive over from work, but I forgot almost all of them. I want to ask about things I wrote about my grandfather and that falling out with my cousin. We’re not speaking, and as strongly as I feel this is in my best interests, I feel guilty, I’m doubting myself, and I’m looking for validation. Once again, I feel ridiculous.
Instead, I ask what my grandfather thinks of Paul. I wish they could’ve met—Paul’s best, most gentlemanly qualities remind me of my grandfather, and they share the same tall, lanky build and goofy sense of humor.
“He likes him. He thinks he’s wonderful and likes his determination to do better.”
“Paul’s not lazy,” the other says. “If he was, your grandfather says he would’ve kicked him out of your life. Paul has good intuition, and you should listen to him if he feels strongly about something.”
Paul feels strongly that I shouldn’t speak to my cousin anymore.
“You get goodness and calming energy from your mom’s side. You try to love everyone. You have a good heart and light around you, and as long as you keep that, no one can interfere with your energy.
I wonder if this is my validation. I feel better, as though goodness, love, and light must mean I shouldn’t feel guilty or like I’m a disappointment and I haven’t screwed up all that bad.
“You cut your hair.”
My hair, previously long, curly, and brown, is now cropped short and dyed red.
“Your grandfather doesn’t like it,” she says. “But it’ll be long again when you marry Paul.”
I chuckle. I’m disappointed, but not surprised or upset.
“I wasn’t going to tell you.”
I wonder what else they don’t want to tell me.
Janelle Sheetz is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg with a degree in English Writing. She won the university’s 2011 Joan Didion Prize in Creative Nonfiction/Memoir. Her writing has previously appeared on HeraldStandard.com, Pop-Damage.com, and Inyourspeakers.com, where she also served as managing features editor until her very recent resignation. In addition to her full-time job at a closed-captioning company, she currently writes for Examiner.com and AXS.com.