THE PAGE OF CUPS
We know how the movie is going to end. There is a girl, and there is a boy, and so in the end, no matter how hopeless things seem right now, we know that the girl ends up with the boy. Unless it is one of those movies where everyone dies, but even then, sometimes. The girl ends up with the boy.
But then in life who knows. So we slap on the lipstick and go for the prettier dress and the less comfortable but nicer shoes rather than the flats nobody loves but you that have molded themselves to your feet, and we drink our drinks and we laugh at jokes that ordinarily probably not and we brush our hair every day because this is us trying. You need to try, our friends tell us, and this is us trying.
Rather than wearing the same caftan that you wore to bed to the grocery store, which twice this week you had to remind yourself not to do. Rather than snarling in response to “Lovely morning, isn’t it?” Rather than spitting at the screen when the girl ends up with the boy.
“I am going to Oaxaca to cut my heart out of my chest and bury it in the fucking jungle and then go back into the world unfuckingburdened.”
My friend paused, and thought. Then she replied, “Right, but you can go to Oaxaca and bury your heart any time. Why not go somewhere you really love now, and save that for later?”
It was a reasonable response, and it is exactly what I did. I had been clobbered again by the Wrong Guy, another Wrong Guy, a guy who didn’t need much pushing to devolve frothing into angry statements about How Women Are. And I felt burdened by my hope, angry, close to devolving frothily into statements about How Men Are and How My Life is Going to Be (Lonely), and I felt like if I could just close myself off somehow I could spare myself so much. If I could ditch my heart, I could run around the world, then, not feeling anything at all. That sounded wonderful.
I didn’t go to Oaxaca. I went to Athens. I danced at a club called Spinster. I stuffed myself with pastry and smoked cigarettes in sidewalk cafes with writers. I dragged my stupid, lonely, burdensome heart with me and somehow made it through all right.
All of this is to say: I hate the Page of Cups. Hate his stupid little face, his stupid outfit, hate his stupid fish friend. It’s the card that demands vulnerability. It demands it of you even while making no promises about the ending of the movie. Whether girl ends up with boy. Not knowing whether it’s going to turn out well, or even slightly bearably, and there’s no option for cutting one’s heart out.
The Pages are messengers, but they are bad at their jobs. Or, the message is always incomplete. They’re telegrams, too brief and difficult to decipher. It’s up to you to follow the clues and all the story to reveal itself. And for that, you need faith and courage and vulnerability.
Vulnerability because these are the Cups. It’s the heart and the soul. The gods don’t want you in their temple proud of yourself, nor do they want to hear about how great everything is going for you. They want you broken, naked, reduced to a puddle. That’s when they love you the most. That’s when they do their work. When you’re unsure, when you’re at your limits, when you’re penetrable.
Otherwise we’re too confident that we know best, that we don’t need their guidance or their help. We’re doing fine on our own, thank you very much. We’ve got this covered, don’t worry.
That’s the stupid fish in the cup that the Page is talking to like a loonybird. The gods, or maybe just the unconscious. The voice we generally don’t listen to when everything is going okay. And we will do just about anything to avoid vulnerability. Cloak ourselves in anger, in ideas about How Women Are. We will fight to stay in terrible relationships, we will work 14 hour days at jobs that are utterly meaningless. Just to avoid looking at how things really are, how we are, and admitting that they’re not so great.
In the years before a shocking revelation, a secret that once spoken changed everything in my life, I dreamed about that exact truth. My dreams kept handing me the reality, and I kept saying, no thanks! I’m doing fine, I’m great, fuck off! I know exactly what I am doing, don’t worry! The dream kept circling back, you’re an idiot, you’re deluded, wake up girly girl.
I kept ignoring it, because I could see the level of broken I would have to reach to accept it. And my la la la everything is fine was serving me well. Except that we can’t avoid being broken. We think we can, we think we can wrap ourselves up in delusion or ignorance or, sure, love, and that will protect us. But we break, we always break. And fighting it only makes the blow that finally shatters you have to be that much harder.
I told L. about my most recent troubles, but she wasn’t impressed. “That is what love is supposed to do, hurt you. Wound you.” She said it like eh, girl, what did you expect?
We expect love to heal us somehow. To improve us. Bring out a version of ourselves that is happier, prettier, safer. To make our lives understandable, give it some meaning. But that’s just selfish, to expect another person to fix us, to take away our darkest nights. It’s also too much to expect some man to travel to Oaxaca, unbury our hearts, and restore it to us like some hero from a Greek myth. One has to stand, as much as one can take it, in a state of vulnerability, and allow love, in all its forms, room to come and go.
As L. said, “It has to shake you up so it can transform you. Otherwise what would even be the point?”
Jen May is a Scorpio and artist living in Brooklyn, NY with 3 cats. She keeps a tumblr updated regularly with horoscope images and everything else.