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The Woman Is a Doctor - Sloane Crosley

Excerpt of “The Doctor Was a Woman”

By Sloane Crosley

Look Alive Out There: Essays

I used to subscribe to a magazine that came with a postcard crammed in the spine of each issue. On one side of the postcard was a famous work of art, on the other a thin line, splitting the negative space. Standard postcard protocol. I liked the postcards mostly because I like to avoid clutter and they gave me something to throw out. Except for one. A photograph of a tent called Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, by the British artist Tracey Emin. Inside a camping tent, Emin had stitched the names of anyone she’d ever shared a bed with, from friends to relatives to lovers. The tent’s reproduction on a postcard whittled its meaning down to the provocative title, but that was enough to save it from the trash. I put it on the mantel of my defunct fireplace, where I kept other precious keepsakes, like crumpled receipts, votive candles, and free-floating sticks of gum.

One night, as I was making dinner, I smelled something burning in the living room. Somehow the postcard had migrated near one of the lit candles and begun to smoke. I rushed to blow it out, thinking only of the vulnerability of my own belongings. But the next morning, on the cover of the arts section of the New York Times, was the headline “London Warehouse Fire Destroys Artworks.” At 2 a.m., right around when my postcard went up in flames in New York, a fire blew through a warehouse in east London, destroying millions of dollars’ worth of artwork, including the tent. I couldn’t believe my eyes but then, in an instant, I could. An instant is how long it takes to convince yourself of anything—that a banging shutter is an intruder, that you could live off juice for a week, or, in my case, that I was a full-blown witch.

In the wake of my latent powers, I looked into seeing a psychic.
Game recognize game and all that. I had never been to a psychic before. I figured if I want to throw my money away, I’d be better served buying six-dollar lattes. Or curling up cash into little tubes and shoving it down the drain. As far as I’m concerned, the psychics on the sidewalk are hucksters: the ones with the neon signs tell you what you want to hear and the good ones tell you what you already know. You have a fraught relationship with your mother. Oh, do I? Go on. They’re also notoriously poor marketers. Once I walked past a door that read psychic within, which I took to mean “within me” and kept walking.

Eventually, I settled on a psychic who came recommended by a rational friend whose only point of earthly disconnect was a nonsensical aversion to gluten. She sold me on this guy using the one guaranteed pressure point for any skeptic: our own skepticism. How could I be sure that my conception of the universe is the absolute one? I could not. Technically, this fellow was an “intuitor,” which I found less hubristic than “psychic.” And he had an actual office, which was encouraging. The office was located in a building in the Flatiron, behind a wavy glass door. Gold lettering on the door read please knock. This was less encouraging. What kind of intuitor requires a knock at the door?

He welcomed me inside, sat me down, dumped a shot of ginger into his tea, and informed me that I would have many children.

“You will have many children,” he said.

“Don’t you need to see my palm first or something?”

He seemed insulted. He doesn’t come to my house and tell me how to turn the computer on.

“No,” he said, shuffling a pack of tarot cards.

When I told him about the postcard, he was unimpressed. For me, it was one of the crazier things that had ever happened, one of the few life events that did not fall under the purview of coincidence. I was like one of those out-of-control mutant school brats. For him, it was as if I wanted a parade for flushing the toilet.

“You are not a destroyer,” he assured me, trying to rid me of an idea that had never occurred to me. “Energy is like a giant sweater. All you did was tug on a thread. And by doing that, you have created something.”

“I know,” I agreed. “A five-alarm fire.”

“No,” he said, “not that.”

There were tiny bells sewn into the seam of his head scarf. They chimed as he shook his head back and forth.

“You have created the children.”

“What children?”




I looked over my shoulder.

“The children inside you,” he clarified, pointing at my belly.

I did not sign up for this Ray Bradbury shit. It’s one thing to predict the future, it’s quite another to alter its course. How could I possibly have made children, nay, “many children,” simply by coming here? If this were feasible, he should change his business cards and become the richest man in America.

“I don’t think about children,” I said.

This came out chillier than I meant it, like I was snubbing a street canvasser. It’s not that I was against children. I was not one of those women who felt the need to stress how much she never played with baby dolls as a child. As if the budding embracement of the power to procreate is somehow shameful. You’re not one of those girls. Not you. It’s just that I was still in my early twenties and against participating in a version of my life in which I wound up crediting a stranger for calling my motherhood in advance.

I explained that, as a literate female, it’s difficult to control the flow of stories debating the merits of motherhood, pumping women full of anxiety and presumptive regret, yammering on about the inflexibility of biological time if you want to have kids and the inflexibility of actual time after you have them. As if it’s entirely in your hands anyway, which it’s not if you’re single or poor or both. So I had opted to turn the faucet off entirely. Even the articles about how one is permitted to forgo babies only added to the pressure. One or two in isolation, okay. I might have read those. I’m sure they’re very good. But there were just too many. The more they screamed about a woman’s right to make her own stigma-free decision, the more they kept the topic in circulation. So, at the risk of remaining ill-informed about my own desires and thus engaging in the kind of self-suppression that has haunted women for centuries, I closed my eyes and tried to think of nothing. Sometimes it worked. Other times I saw a giant uterus with fallopian tube arms, terrorizing the city, ripping the crown off the Statue of Liberty before sinking into the Hudson.

“It doesn’t matter,” the intuitor said. “The children think about you.”

Okay, I thought. Good for them. Can we get back to me being a witch?

“They’re coming,” he stressed.

I told him I didn’t want the kind of children who show up to places uninvited. He took a sip of his tea, smiling at me as if I, too, had taken a sip of the tea. Then he shouted:

“And I’m sure your tent didn’t want to be set on fire but—poof!”

DMU Timestamp: May 11, 2020 21:16

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