A Friday Morning in a Psychic Salon

By Sydney Schwichtenberg

Despite the furious rattling of the air conditioner, the summer heat seeped through the thin window-panes of Mystic Moon, a psychic salon in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. 

Before passing the shop’s yellow front door, I imagined a room draped with fabrics and beads, a levitating table and a crystal ball. Instead, there was a waiting room painted in a boring beige and a sign-in sheet with two names above my own. 

I sank into the room’s lone piece of furniture, a cool leather couch, with my best friend, Morgan Burchett. Our day-trip to the hippie capital of Arkansas was a spontaneous Friday morning decision.  

As we waited for my name to be called, I thought of just standing up, saving myself $45 and leaving before I could be scammed by a small-town psychic. 

Before I had the chance to escape, a red-headed stranger swung her office door open and welcomed me inside. 

In the reading room, there was an empty, foldable table covered in a long, red scarf. 

The space was decorated much like the outside, comfortable with dark reds and creams.

The woman, Lisa, settled into her seat and welcomed me to sit in the empty metal chair in front of her. 

I took in her appearance, much like she was taking in mine. To me, she didn’t look like a psychic. Before entering the salon, I pictured a bone-thin woman in blankets of fabric and heavy jewelry waiting to trade my future for a few bucks. 

Lisa was soft and covered all of her curves in a simple red blouse and long skirt. Her cleavage swooped out of her top and stared at me as she bent over and took my debit card.

“Payment first,” she said.

 Her smile showed off her too-pink cheeks and her eyes squinted from heavy, smudged eyeliner. Her curly red hair curved around to the bottom of her ribcage. 

She reminded me of an elementary teacher, not a medium who could see into my future. 

“I do Shustah cards,” Lisa said. She sounded like a nurse walking a patient through a medical procedure, only speaking in facts. “I can see the next six months of your life.” 

Shustah cards originate from the early 1970s. According to Lisa, the deck she used once belonged to her father. Cards come in five colors and 14 variations. The same card meant something different depending on the color. 

Behind me, Morgan patiently sat in the corner. Lisa beckoned her closer and handed my friend a pen and three sheets of yellow lined paper. 

“Record this for her,” the psychic said. 

Lisa shuffled the collection of 70 cards swiftly. Carefully, she swept the entire deck over the tabletop and asked me to pick the twelve cards that called out to me. 

I stared at the deck, clueless to which ones I should pick. I hovered my fingers over their blue backs and wondered if the right ones would fly up and stick to my palms like magnets. 

They didn’t. I blindly chose my 12. 

After three minutes of deliberation, she lined them up in a neat diamond shape and turned them over carefully. 

“Oh,” she said. “That doesn’t usually happen.” 

Three cards were nestled together: a horse, for swift victory; a virgin, a card that explores identity; and the Gemini, which was my astrology sign and meant something would happen twice. 

“You’re going to fall in love,” she told me. “Very soon.” 

I laughed aloud. Morgan, with her giant brown eyes, just nodded along and dutifully scribbled down the promise.

Somewhere, my empty bank account cried out in bitter betrayal. 

Summer was almost over, and there wasn’t any room in my schedule for men. It didn’t fit into my three-year, five-year or even 10-year plan. 

I went home with a heavy pocket full of promises for the upcoming months. Lisa assured me an easy transition back into academic life when the semester started and a motley of romantic tensions with my new mystery man. 

A week later, I was invited on a canoe trip on the Illinois River. With no expectations and Lisa’s promises already forgotten, I found myself rowing with a young man named Jesse Dunlap. He was a Gemini, too. What began as simple musings about the world around us earned me his number and a date to a local hiking spot. 

Without even understanding how important he would become, I spent the remaining three weeks of my summer glued to his side. He told me he loved me within a month. It wasn’t the only time I heard a man say it, but it was the first time I said the words back and meant it.

All I could think of was how Lisa said it would happen fast. Weeks turned into months, and suddenly, we were celebrating our one-year anniversary. 

It was only after Labor Day weekend, while I sat across from his grandmother, that I realized maybe his family possessed some kind of fickle magic. 

“I went to Jerusalem a week before I met Dudley,” Sara, Jesse’s world-travelling grandmother, told me as we watched lazy rafts float down the Illinois from his family’s cabin. In most conversations, she speaks of her late husband like he is just in the other room. “I went to a tea café, and in my leaves, I was told I would be married in three months.” 

“And I was,” Sara said. “Imagine that, my marriage announced in the Holy Land.” 

I thought of the yellow notebook paper I still had. I stuffed it inside of my car’s center console, and sometimes, when I searched for change, I came across it. 

Jesse found the paper once. In a bored voice, he read off Lisa’s promises like a grocery list.  Jesse refuses to believe in anything strange or unseen. It’s the only thing I hope he grows out of. 

“I think you were scammed,” Jesse decided after he read the entire document twice. “But I’m glad she was right.”

Essay: ‘Home’ and the hands that shaped it

By Sierra Rains-Moad

For a split second all eyes were on me. My teammates gathered behind me as I stepped up to the block and their once boisterous cheering fell to the back of my mind, as though it were coming from a million miles away.

“Take your mark,” the announcer said — the three words that fire anxiety through every swimmer’s body.

In a matter of seconds the ice-cold water flooded all around me, but my body was working too hard to notice its wintry grip. Each time my head breached the water for breath I’d catch a split second of excitement in the screaming encouragement of my teammates.

The tips of my fingers touched the wall, but it was too late. I had made it to the state swim meet, but I had lost my race. It was a brief moment of defeat.

Brief, because in that same moment, a hand reached toward me, helping me out of the water. On land I was rejoined and surrounded by not only my teammates but my friends. The same excitement and joy that existed before the race was unwavering.

I had only known these people for a short time and yet, I felt at home. “Home” was always changing for me. One moment I’d be in Oklahoma and the next I was in Indiana.

I’d walk into a new school at least six times in my life. My first day, I would walk toward the entrance and as I opened the doors, it would always be as if the announcer for the swim meet was saying “take your mark,” with that same anxiety creeping through my veins.

I was unbearably shy and the thought of having to make a whole new set of friends each time I moved was just as insufferable. My heart wrenched at the thought of having to leave them again and again when the time inevitably came.

My mother was young and life always had a way of leading us somewhere new, whether because of my parent’s divorce, my mother going back to college or my mother getting a new job.

My first big move was from Texas to Oklahoma. I was only 5 at the time that my parents split and my mother desired to be closer to my grandparents. As a child, this was hard for me to understand. My world in Arlington consisted of making mud castles and chalking on the road with the neighbor’s kids — nothing more serious than when the rain inevitably washed our creations away.

When the time came, I watched from the back window of the car as my best friends stood in our former driveway and gazed longingly as we drove far away. Their tiny hands waved, with tears at the brim of their eyes. I thought that was the last time I’d ever see them. A pain I hadn’t felt before crept into my chest.

With every move this agony would return and I learned the drill. It became as routine as the drills we’d do at swim practice– back and forth 25 meters at a time. The people I had once laid in sleeping bags with, talking about nothing for hours upon hours would all eventually slip out of my life as we slowly fell out of contact. I’d go back and forth between schools, until it felt like I’d swam thousands of meters, trying to catch a breath.

As I got older, I began to recognize that each time that pain of defeat, of loss, of loneliness would return, so would the hand reaching to help me out of the depths. It came in many different forms over the years, but it was always there.

My grandfather’s hand would stretch towards me as we scaled the Wichita Mountains, pulling me to safety. The hand of a friend lifted me off the ground as I laid gasping for breath after being thrown off the back of a horse. My freshman roommate in college offered me a hand many nights in the library when coffee just wouldn’t cut it for me anymore and I needed the motivation of another person there with me.

Each person I met in my travels touched my life in some way that made me who I am today. I had always felt disadvantaged by how much we moved when in actuality I was privileged to be able to meet so many wonderful people.

Life, which had seemingly taken so many things from me, also had a way of returning what was once lost.

My freshman year of high school began around the time that Facebook had sprung into popularity. One day, a little red notification popped up on my screen. My mouse moved to click on the notification and a message under a familiar name appeared, saying “remember me?”

The little boy I had left standing in my driveway had grown older in the past 10 years, but the details of his face still seemed familiar. His hand which had once waved goodbye now typed “hello” across a keyboard. We were both overjoyed. And even though we still live 196 miles apart, we talk as if those boundaries are not there.

At the end of my senior year of high school, I wrote a short speech to give at my last swim team banquet. I stood on a stage in front of all of my teammates and their families and I told everyone about how I lost my race at state.

I’d lost many things in my life. I’d faced challenges that felt akin to making it to state, but I was never alone. I watched as the faces silhouetted by the low light of the auditorium listened. Love was thick in the room as their hands came together to produce a resounding sound of applause.

I would begin a new journey on my own after that night. Time would mean distance from the family I had built on the swim team, but my new journey lead me into the hands of yet another.

Essay: Jawbone — a story from under to over


When I was a sophomore in college, an oral surgeon made four incisions behind each of my bottom and top molars, ripped both upper and lower jaws from my head, repositioned them and painfully screwed the two sets back into my skull.

And I asked him to do it.

I had lived with a 1 ½ inch underbite for 10 years. However, in a matter of merely four hours, I would have closure on a decade’s worth of using miniscule brushes to excavate food out of my braces, dodging rubber bands which, while connected to each bracket, would catapult out of my mouth if I smiled too big, and much more.

Regardless, minutes before the operation, the only thing I could focus on while laying in my warm, comforting hospital bed purposefully equipped with a half dozen blankets for consolation was the small faucet in the prepping room intended for hand washing. It beckoned me to leave my hospital bed and run my mouth under it. Drip-drip-drip it sang, taunting me more with every single dribble.

But I couldn’t. And I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in nearly 12 hours as I waited for surgeons to reconstruct my face. If the anesthesia made me sick for some reason after the surgery, I could possibly start to vomit, which would destroy what my oral surgeon would do in the next half hour.

So, water was out of the question. All I could do was stare at the sink.

And then stare as a nurse came into my small prepping area at Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City and slowly shoved a needle the length of an adult index finger into my left hand.

And then stare at my parents, both teary-eyed, as the nurse wheeled me into the operating room.

And then stare at the crowd of medical practitioners, completely disguised in blue scrubs and latex, as they cheered my name when I finally arrived before them.

I thought back to the third grade right before they put me under, when I first heard the term braces. At the time, I never thought my physical appearance and personality would travel  such a dramatic, transformative 10-year arc. Back in my orthodontist’s waiting room in 2004, all I thought about was how “cool” it was to be the first kid in the third grade to get some colorful, showy hardware.

“You have an underbite,” assessed Dr. David Birdwell after fitting together plaster molds of my top and bottom teeth he had taken from my last appointment. I was 9 and, surprisingly, incredibly enthusiastic to choose what color bands the doc was about to painfully stretch over each bracket.

Upon my return to class, my classmates were enamored by my now vibrant teeth. Colored brackets started popping up on everyone’s smiles during the next two years of elementary school. Although wiring would stab my lips and gums causing sores from time to time and I had been told to wear “headgear” every night—a contraption resembling a catcher’s mask, only hollowed and fit with rubber bands attached to my top jaw—I loved the temporary attention. By the sixth grade, my orthodontist took off my braces, and my teeth were fairly straight.

What I didn’t know was that braces wouldn’t fix my underbite. They had aggressively lined my pearly whites into an orderly formation a drill sergeant would have been proud of, but I wasn’t done growing by a longshot. My facial composition began resembling a person sucking on tobacco dip. A lisp started to slowly creep into my daily speech. Eating certain foods became such a challenge that by my senior year of high school, I couldn’t take a bite of pizza and was forced to eat many things with a fork and knife. During a visit to my orthodontist in my senior year, he advised me that surgery would be the only way to completely correct my underbite. What he failed to tell me was that my underbite would be one of the biggest corrections he had ever been confronted with.

Going into college, I believed appearances were extremely significant. Looking back on it, if a semi-dorky freshman with a weird looking smile (check), a lisp (check) and braces (check) walked into a fraternity house during rush or walked up to a girl, he would immediately strike out.

So I was a little apprehensive. My orthodontist and I made a deal throughout my freshman year, however: I would only have to wear bottom braces during my first year of college. Yes, I was and still am a little vain. But what adolescent guy isn’t?

The surgery went better than expected. My surgeon casually greeted me as soon as I woke up and assured me recovery would be easy. Although I was a little pessimistic about the healing process when blood seeped out of both my mouth and nose like a bath faucet as I sat up for the first time hours after, I made myself think positively. If I sulked around and complained about my situation, I was only hurting myself. The next day, I demanded to take a stroll around the hospital. I clutched onto my rolling IV like an old man holds a walker. Wide-eyed nurses and recovering patients were greeted with a muffled “What’s up” and a high-five as I strolled down the hallway, desperate to recuperate.

In the coming weeks, I would start to undergo various physical changes. The swelling in my cheeks (which resembled a mobster’s from “The Sopranos”) would go down significantly. I would lose 20 pounds in about two months due to my inability to eat solid food. My mouth would open only enough to fit a pill of Advil between my bottom jaw and the splint the doctors had installed to allow proper healing. For the first two weeks, the only path to a meal was through a plastic, hospital-grade syringe. The lowest point was when I drank pizza by blending two pieces in a blender.  It tasted as bad as you can imagine, but the grueling hunger that clawed at my stomach day and night was enough incentive.

Looking back on it, the process doesn’t seem that bad. My chin is still slightly numb, a characteristic the surgeon says is permanent. But, my facial design is much better than it was. I can enunciate every spoken word, and I can even eat pizza, which is obviously the best part.

But most situations, whether bad or good, are temporary. Optimism acts as a hefty tool as it can alter any situation for the better. Having my face completely reconfigured led me to one definitive conclusion: If that was the worst thing I ever had to go through, I can get through about any daunting task or situation.

Sitting on my couch while high on Vicodin days after the procedure, transcribing my barely-understandable thoughts to whoever visited me, I kept feeling this nagging sense of clarity. Even though I had just undergone a painfully transformative process, I was extremely happy and almost in a euphoric state. Because, for once in my life, I was looking forward and not back. I couldn’t wait to get off that couch, let the orthodontist rip the second round of braces out of my mouth and genuinely smile for once in my life.

Now, I smile all of the time.


Essay: Support from a community

By Parker Biggs, JMC2023

Sitting in the doctors office at 15 years old is never fun. It was a visit that I dreaded and still dread today. There was something different about this visit, however. There was almost an eeriness in the room as I awaited the return of my pediatrician. When he returned to the room, he was not his typical fun-natured self. With a straight face, he quickly told my mom and I that we needed to see a specialist with better MRI equipment.

This scared the hell out of me. Just a few weeks before I was preparing for my freshman track and field season and now I’m rushing off to another doctors office and don’t know exactly what is going on. I’d been suffering headaches at the back of my head for several weeks and my mom thought it would be a good idea to go check it out. I was thinking it was just early spring allergies, or possibly a sinus infection. So when I was told that I needed to go to a facility with the best MRI equipment, I quickly realized that this was no sinus infection.

After lying down under several x-ray and MRI machines, I waited to hear what was going on. I waited for a full day before my father was contacted. My parents sat me down and told me that I had a brain cyst. And according to the person on the other end of the call with my dad, it was large. I had no idea what a cyst was. But for the teenager who always tried to act tough around campus; it scared me. After several discussions with experts, my parents decided my best option was to have the cyst drained by a brain surgeon in Dallas.

In the weeks leading up to the operation, I found out lots about my friends, family and community. As a freshman, I really did not know the head track coach too well. I wasn’t a superstar and didn’t compete on varsity, so we didn’t have much interaction. But this man went out of his way to show support. Every day leading up to the surgery, he was asking for updates. He always made sure I knew that I was in his thoughts and prayers. He literally gave my phone number to every member on the team the night before I was in the hospital. I was receiving texts from the senior D1 football commits, whom I’d never spoken to. I was receiving calls from teammates that I hadn’t spoken with since elementary school. This along with the kind words from schoolteachers and principals really showed the strength of the community and helped me feel at ease as I was off to the hospital.

While I may have gone into the surgery with some confidence, the weeks following the operation may have been tougher. After a successful surgery, I was out of school for a couple weeks as I recovered from the pain in my head and neck. Things were different upon my return. I was out of athletics indefinitely. So the security that I had always felt from having teammates that backed me up could be gone, I thought. And on top of that, a big chunk of my hair was shaved off the back of my head, where I had a 6 inch nasty scar staring right in the eyes of fellow classmates walking behind me. I didn’t want to return to school like this. No more girls, no more touchdowns, no more popularity. My mind was racing. But I toughened up and returned to the Jenks High School Freshman Academy. I immediately realized how great this community was. While coaches, parents and administrators were always making sure I was doing well, my friends treated me the same as they always did. They didn’t ditch me because of my gnarly scar or not want to hangout because I was no longer on the football team. Normalcy is what I needed during that time. I never asked for it, but it was as if those closest with me knew exactly what I needed.

Being a freshman in high school is scary. Being a freshman in high school having a brain surgery is even scarier. The strength of a community helped pushed me through it, however. It didn’t have to be that way. That coach had no reason to go out of his way to show support, but he did. My classmates could have easily picked on me for my shaved hair, but they didn’t. It has been about five and a half years, yet I am still thankful for how I was treated by my community.

Essay: My snow globe childhood


Walking into my childhood home after school was like entering a secret clubhouse. Quirky characters with wrinkly fingers greeted me with snacks, laughs and “The Sound of Music” on repeat.

Chuckles too big for 70-year old-lungs filled the air. They were followed by coughs and then smiles.

I was raised by three grandparents and a great grandma. My parents, who had married young, were usually working, building a life in Norman after years of attempting to acclimate to a foreign country.

Mamay, my mother’s mother, exhibited the impact of British colonialism on Indian culture. She drank British tea in white china, tended to her garden and let sarcasm fly faster than her victims could register her remarks. She loved mangos and taught me to love them, too, as we grazed our teeth along the giant pits, peeling off any excess juicy goodness we could.

Raj, my mother’s father and my own personal stylist, wore foundation he insisted was moisturizer. He fashioned three-piece suits with his hair slicked back, everyday. The most casual I ever saw him was in a polo on the weekend. When my tween self came back from the mall, he’d patiently critique my purchases. We’d compare notes about who had the best sales and new products. We’d end our days with tiramisu from Olive Garden.

Kamaliamma, my dad’s mom, was loud. She was the original feminist. She let me do whatever I wanted, even when my dad said no, always answering my timid fears with, “Eh, we’ll deal with him later.” She was the queen of pineapple pizza, slipping me $20 bills to order in.

Alu, my great grandmother, did crossword puzzles well into her 90s. She knew more than any encyclopedia, and ate riotous amounts of popcorn. Late at night, when I’d help her into bed, she’d tell me about the adventures she had as a youth in Burma. She taught me to have some of my own.

As I grew, they remained the same. They were constants, living snow globe lives. Their 70-year-old lungs would always be full of laughter. They existed in a tiny familiar world that would always be home to me.

When I left for college, things changed.

I began to deal with health issues. My anxiety, which turned into depression, which turned into something resembling a bipolar disorder, began to consume my life.

My childhood clubhouse became quieter. Chuckles shrank. “The Sound of Music” stopped.

Mamay began to eat fewer mangos, her diabetic blood begging her to slow down.

Raj began wearing polos more often, easier to get dressed in each morning than his full suits.

Kamaliamma began to spend more time at my aunt’s in Chicago. At first I thought she liked my cousins better. Then I realized it was because my aunt was a doctor.

Alu’s encyclopedia brain began to forget things — starting with the Pythagorean theorem and ending with my name.

My health began to take a turn for the worse. Autoimmune issues, neurological dilemmas, medical mysteries took over my life. As my days filled with scans and blood tests, so did theirs.

Mamay developed breast cancer, Alu passed away, Raj was consumed with stress and Kamalamma kept postponing her surgeries.

Going home, nostalgia stings my heart. As I walk into the living room I see Raj, Niru and Kamaliamma in the kitchen. Niru, bald, smiles at me while she sneaks a mango onto her plate. “Touch my head,” she says, laughing. “Your cousins say it’s really soft.”

Raj rolls his eyes, “You look good,” he says. “Want to go to Dillard’s with me later?”

Kamaliamma feigns false annoyance. “Have you forgotten me?” she says, before breaking into a toothy grin.

They smile, happy, talking about chemo, surgeries and blood sugar. They don’t exist in a snow globe. Neither do I. Their 70-year-old lungs will fall apart, their laughs will shrink. I will change. My ideas of familiarity, of home, will also change.

It’s the secret of the elderly — the no bullshit acceptance of reality.

When Niru was first diagnosed, I asked how she felt. She said that she was scared for the pain, but nothing else. She had a career, a family, friends. She got to paint, drink tea, watch Audrey Hepburn movies.

“I’ve lived my life,” she said.

Now as my head rolls into a whizzing MRI machine, “Doe a dear, a female dear…” begins to play in my head. I smile, closing my eyes.

Tomorrow I will watch the sunrise. Get coffee with an old friend. I will read the book on my nightstand. I will book a plane ticket to visit my brother, plan a camping trip with friends. And someday, when my fingers are covered with wrinkles and a big-eyed, curly-haired girl looks up at me and asks how I am, I know exactly what I will say.

“I’m good. I’ve lived.”