“What did you do with the number?” I asked my boyfriend as I washed the breakfast dishes.
The phone number had been handed to me by a man the night before at a gallery; he wanted to have a three-way. I meant to throw it out, but my psychic voice told me, “Boyfriend’s going to sneak that number.” So I left the Post-it in my jeans as bait.
My boyfriend always confessed. Maybe it was his overbearing guilt. Or maybe the relentless game of betrayal, confession and forgiveness we had mastered.
I scrubbed and rinsed and waited for his answer.
None of it mattered. I knew the relationship was over the night we met three years prior. My voice told me everything I needed to know, but I ignored it.
I’m reluctantly a bit psychic. I know that’s a very L.A. thing to say. But I hear a clear voice now and then. After I graduated from USC, my Silver Lake apartment was burglarized. I filed a police report and accepted the loss. As I drove along Santa Monica Boulevard, the voice alerted me, “Go into that pawn shop.” I went in and asked the clerk if anyone had pawned a Tiffany watch and about 200 CDs.
“I’ve got your stuff in the back,” the clerk said.
My boyfriend finally answered: “I copied the number on a piece of paper.”
“I placed it in my office trash.”
I stopped scrubbing. It was a gut punch, like finding an alcoholic’s bottle in the toilet tank.
“My psychic voice told me you’d do this. I was hoping I was crazy, but you proved it right.”
He knew I had the voice, and a girlfriend of mine told him, “If Trey ever tells you something weird but can’t explain it, believe him. He’s right, and he’ll figure it out later.”
“The funny part is,” I continued in a dead calm, “the voice also told me to change the number.” I paused. “So, you can’t get a hold of him anyway.”
I had clocked him within seconds of meeting him. My boyfriend was charming and attentive but intensely motivated by the possibility of scoring sex.
His flirting was ridiculous, but I let myself be entertained. My voice told me, “Run. He is not for you.”
The voice popped up when I was 12. I went to Las Vegas with my friend. He gave his mom $5 and told her to play red 21 on roulette. The voice inside me said, “It’s gonna be black 17.” She returned empty-handed and informed us it was black 17. That was the first time. I told myself it was a coincidence.
A few months later, my mom stopped by my friend’s house. She said she was going for a drive. The voice said, “She isn’t just going for a drive. Go with her.”
“I want to go,” I said.
“I’m just going for a drive. I love you.”
At first, I dismissed the voice as fear. Mom wouldn’t lie to me.
We found her in a hotel two days later. She had attempted suicide. I blamed myself for not stopping her and not being lovable.
I started ignoring the voice. “I’m just crazy,” I’d tell myself.
Mom attempted suicide several times after that. I thought I could fix Mom with love, and the voice would stop telling me things I didn’t want to hear. She loved me but thought I would be better off without her.
And then, on my 16th birthday, Mom had an asthma attack. The voice told me to drive her to the nearest hospital, but Mom said, “I’m fine. Take me home.” I dismissed the voice as fear.
She did need to go to the hospital, and I took her to one closer to home.
When the doctor came out of the operating room, my voice told me, “This is it.” And when the doctor took me to a small room, the voice told me, “This is where you find out.” And when he told me that he tried everything to save her, the voice told me, “You should have listened.”
I believed my mom, and maybe she believed it too. But she was tired. Her battles started as a girl, and perhaps “take me home” meant somewhere far beyond anywhere I could drive.
I blamed myself for her death.
I hated the voice when it told me things I didn’t want to hear.
I listened to my boyfriend when he told me he loved me, even when his actions told me otherwise.
Mostly he was kind and caring. His life hadn’t been easy either, and his sadness was with him like the oxygen in his blood. I saw it in his eyes, behind the twinkle, the moment I met him. His sadness triggered his deflective smile, and he’d detach. “Nothing to see here. I’m fine. Let’s have sex.” He ached for pleasure, anything that could mute the howling that haunted him. I saw it in him because I had it too.
The voice also told me another thing, “You’re in pain.”
I had mastered pretending I wasn’t. I was.
The voice had relentlessly told me, “He’s not for you.” And he wasn’t, not for the long term. But maybe he was exactly the person I needed right then. He showed me I couldn’t take away someone’s sadness by loving them, not his, not Mom’s. And not mine. I needed to allow myself to feel my own pain.
The kitchen was still as he stared at me, his hand on the counter. The morning light was coming through the window. We waited for what was next. I raised my gaze from the sink. We locked eyes; this boyfriend I loved. We vibrated.
“Leave,” the voice told me.
“I’m done,” I said in a soft voice, mostly to myself.
I got my few belongings together, and I left.
The author is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, NBC News and the Sun magazine. He is querying his memoir. Find more of his work at treyburnette.com. He’s on Twitter and Instagram: @writer_trey.
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