Seven of Wands
The Seven of Wands has become a familiar presence in my tarot spreads. I’m vaguely annoyed with it at this point.
I’m not a passionate tarot user. I usually only read the cards when I am in a state of emotional chaos and can use some guidance. My current chaos is that I am in my first relationship in years. It is the first relationship I’ve been in since I realized my asexuality about a year ago. I had a plethora of failed relationships pre-realization that I could rely on to determine the course of this new union (we will date, I will be uncomfortable and reticent in every interaction, and then we will ghost each other in a month to my profound relief), but I’m in new territory right now. I’m asexual and I do want a relationship. And so I have some different work to do. I don’t know what that is, so I’ve resorted to shuffling my tarot cards. I can’t even ask a clear question, I’m just thinking ohmygodwhat at my cards and hoping for an answer.
What I enjoy most about the tarot is that it works on intuition. The cards are symbol-based, messages told in pictures. How these symbols are interpreted is dependent on the reader. While there is an overarching theme, it is up to each person to determine what the card is saying to them. So, most times what I read from the cards are things I intuitively already know. Sometimes you just need an excuse to tell yourself what you need to hear. I’ll take my comfort where I can get it.
The Seven of Wands is strange comfort. On the card, a figure holds a wand, typically illustrated as large, long sticks: staffs. This figure stands on a cliff’s edge, back against the wide-open expanse beyond, wielding a wand defensively against six additional wands. There are no bodies supporting these six, they’re held aloft by invisible, unseen forces. It’s like these six staffs are sentient beings of their own right and they’re ganging up on one lone person. The Seven of Wands is a fight.
Yes, this is exactly how I feel. Not just in this budding new relationship, but all the time. I’m vaguely annoyed with it, but mostly annoyed with myself for expecting anything different. This card is my life. I am always engaged in combat.
I’ve always had an affinity for wands. Well, for staffs. In middle school, I loved the show Xena: Warrior Princess. My favorite character was her sidekick, Gabrielle, whose weapon of choice was the staff. She was an unassuming but formidable force. One minute she was a girl traveling with a walking stick, the next she was a fighter, whacking, thumping, knocking out any opponents who thought they’d get the drop on her.
I thought she was so cool. I hounded my mother for staff lessons until one day she took me to a dojo. The instructor there told me the amount of work, discipline, and training involved and I nodded, intimidated. We left and I never brought it up again. But I’ve always been charmed by the idea of carrying around a big stick. There was something reassuring about how, regardless of the circumstances, it was assistance. A walking aid. A weapon.
I enjoyed high school for the most part. I had friends, I got good grades, I had a slew of extracurricular activities. I never had a boyfriend, or even a crush, but that never bothered me. I grew up in a small town and my main focus was on getting out of there. I focused on doing all the “right” things that would put me on the “right” path to college and, in corollary, the rest of my life. So, while my friends lost their virginities, I told myself it just wasn’t my time to bloom. It would happen later when the time was right.
College was an unexpected kick in the teeth. I got good grades but I struggled socially. It was the first time that I recognized that something wasn’t “right.” College had been sold to me as this grand experience where you were supposed to come into your own, to find yourself. I was finding myself lacking.
Everyone around me seemed to be exploring. One friend came out as a lesbian. A girl in the dorms was having so much sex all the time and never asked the rest of us if we were up for a story before diving into long and detailed retellings about each encounter. Once, I was in the cafeteria, eavesdropping on a conversation between two girls at the next table. One girl was going on and on about this “ugly short” guy but she had taken one look at him and just had to fuck him. “You know?” she asked her friend. Friend nodded, in the know. I did not know.
I was vaguely surprised at these newfound sexual identities everyone around me seemed to be donning, like they were new outfits. I still felt pretty content in my high school mindset: do the work and let the rest happen when the time was right. But it was beginning to feel like I was wearing clothes that, while they still fit, were slightly too young for me. Like I was wearing a onesie in sophisticated company. I began to hide myself, taking roundabout routes around campus and shutting myself away in my room. Don’t look at me, I’m not appropriate.
During my first summer home from college, I reconnected with my high school best friend. She had spent the last semester of our senior year distraught at the idea of me leaving town. In the nine months I was away, she had gotten a job, an apartment, and a fiancé. She was hurt by my lack of enthusiasm for her brand-new life. I couldn’t tell her how hurt I was at actually being the one who had been left behind. There was beer in her fridge, she was on birth control, I just felt supremely naive. Our friendship never recovered.
I finally dated, briefly in my senior year of college. I was surprised that someone had noticed me, even more stunned that he was attracted to me. He was my first kiss, my first experience fielding someone else’s desire. It didn’t occur to me then that the desire should’ve been reciprocal. I just figured that my time had finally arrived and I should let it happen. As a result, I was not an active participant in my first relationship. Instead, I endured it.
One time, after a dinner date, he stopped to rent a movie, then drove me back to his place. Blockbuster and chill. He attempted to fuck me to Bowling For Columbine. I was nonplussed. I allowed him to kiss me, my face getting sandpapered by his shaven stubble. On screen, camera footage of two armed teenagers stalked through a cafeteria. “Well no one can get horny to this,” I thought, justifying my complete lack of arousal. My date valiantly pressed on, humping me fully clothed while I lay there in a daze. Eventually, wordlessly, he steered me back into his car and dropped me off back home. He still sat next to me in lecture until the end of the school year, flirting with other girls. When the last class ended, I simply waved goodbye, ending us, relieved to be done with it all.
It never occurred to me that relationships could be an enjoyable experience. I assumed I had an uphill struggle if I was going to do this “right.”
I graduated college, feeling like I was limping out of there on a walking stick turned crutch. I was beat down and lost.
“You should smile more, it’s attractive to people,” my aunt told me as we wandered through a Vegas nightclub, past two dance floors, and up a flight of stairs to the rooftop. “People will want to approach you if they see that you’re friendly.”
I’m sure she considered this to be motherly advice. I could read between the lines of course; she didn’t mean people, she meant men. I was in my early 20s and still single so obviously I was doing something “wrong.” She was offering a small nudge in the “right” direction.
The women in my family liked to take girls trips to Vegas. With the majority of the group over 40 though, we weren’t exactly partiers. On this particular trip, my youngest aunt wanted to take me clubbing, give me a chance to experience the nightlife instead of an early night in. It was also an opportunity to give me some counseling apparently.
I was 9 months deep into an eating disorder at this point. In hindsight, I was trying to make myself look more appropriate, my old college insecurity still present. I was just so uncomfortable in my skin. By paring myself down to the foundations, I assumed I could rebuild myself into something that felt appropriate. Also, I wanted others to see that I was struggling. I was in pain. Instead, everyone saw me as “hot.” I’ve asked my mother to throw out the pictures she took of me on this Vegas night, but she thinks I look so pretty. I’m wearing a hot pink bodycon dress, my hair is down in curls, and the skin on my face is pulled tight around my skull. My eyes are sunken, my mouth too large. My smile is ghastly.
You should smile more, it’s attractive to people.
Yes, I know. It’s why I don’t like doing it. Or why I don’t like making eye contact with anybody. By this point in time, I was learning that a smile, a gaze, all were invitations for intimacy and I was uncomfortable offering up opportunities for that. Every time I attempted it, the exchange rate was off. I wanted friendliness; others wanted... something else. No one wanted to connect the way I’d like to. I didn’t want to connect the way they’d like to. It was best to close all my doors and windows and peer out through the shutters. I am not open for business, please go away.
Unfortunately, this tactic made me seem cold and in need of correcting.
My aunt is a charming, sociable person, so once we arrived on the club rooftop, she smiled and we were quickly flocked by a group of young men. Despite what I felt was patronizing advice, there was still a small part of me that wanted to please, that wanted to get it “right.” I had to make an attempt, even if all my attempts were stiff with reluctance. So I drank and danced and smiled and soon enough one guy latched on to me.
See? my aunt nodded at me.
Before I knew it, this guy had grabbed my hands, my wrists, was holding me in place to keep me from leaving. He stroked my face and called me beautiful, suddenly demanded I text him, relentless until he watched me put his number in my phone. I don’t recall if I smiled through all this. I don’t recall where my aunt was during all this. Was she watching me get handled? Could she see how uncomfortable I was? Was she thinking what was happening to me was acceptable? Was she feeling content with the speed of her successful advice?
I attracted someone, success. Except all of it was terrifying and none of it felt right.
I managed to get away from face-stroker and locate my aunt. When I asked to go back to our hotel room, I could tell she was disappointed. “Are you not having fun?”
No. And I feel like a failure because of it. Thanks.
Conveniently, the shoes I wore were tearing up my feet, which was undeniably enough reason to leave. I actually had to limp back across the strip and through the casinos barefoot and bleeding. I didn’t care, as long as I could get away.
When my aunt wasn’t looking, I deleted his number out of my phone.
A coworker set me up with a friend, P. I was not actively pursuing dating so I figured I’d better jump on any opportunities that came my way. P came into work to introduce himself and suggest some activities we could do together that were free.
We took a day trip to the city, driving up Highway 1, the scenic route that hugged the Pacific coast. I’d only been to San Francisco once before and was happy to see as much of it as possible. When P asked what I wanted to do, I suggested the Golden Gate Bridge. He obliged. I didn’t realize that there was a toll, however, but the change cluttering up the crevices in his car was just enough to get us across. He dropped me off at the small park beyond the bridge so he could circle the tiny, crowded parking lot. A half hour later, we met up in the center of the bridge. It was a beautiful view of the city, but once he slipped his arm around me, I turned as cold and distant as the fog on the ocean. I didn’t realize there was a toll. I didn’t realize I was going to be unwilling to pay it.
Afterwards, he dragged me around the city, driving up and down hills and across the main thoroughfares, unable to stop, no change left for parking. I was silent, offering up no suggestions, no longer wanting to participate in this date. I had been told that this would all be free. I was angry that he was asking something of me. Friendliness, connection, intimacy. Romance. I really wanted to just launch myself out of the car. Tuck and roll and run.
We stopped at the Botanical Garden. I walked the paths quietly with him at my side, muttering with hostility under his breath at me. I did begin to feel bad at this point; he was trying so hard but it felt like I had picked up a staff and was holding it out between us, establishing a boundary that I couldn’t let myself drop.
In another attempt to appeal to me, he drove us out to Treasure Island, an old military base in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. We parked for free and wandered around, exploring old buildings, an empty swimming pool tagged with graffiti, abandoned barracks. Concrete slabs formed breakers on the beach and standing there together he asked me if I had been molested.
This was the first time I had been asked that, but not the last. And I thought then what I’ve thought so many ugly times after: would it be easier if I had? To have a reason to be so aloof? So reticent, so scared? I should be enjoying his company. This is how the “right” path wends, right? So why was every fibre of my being screaming neon bright “NO NO NO?”
Night fell and, in a last-ditch appeal, he drove us across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley, where he parked along a stretch of desolate train tracks. I was still 2 hours from home and it finally occurred to me that a toll had to be paid in order to get there. I set my stick down, tried to soften, make a connection. I attempted to explain to him why I was so uncomfortable. I didn’t understand then what I see now as the truth: I don’t like romance. But I concluded that he must be moving too fast for my liking. He promised me he would take things slower. Content with some sort of answer for the enigma I’d presented him with all day, he finally drove me home.
In retrospect, our city excursion was the perfect romantic date. For someone else. I wish I had known all of this then, I wouldn’t have turned so mean.
The next time P came into work to suggest plans, I dumped him. Hard. I could hear the guys in the office across the hall snickering. I’m sorry, P. It’s not you, it’s me. My demeanor was diplomatic, apologetic even. I was presenting the same girl who appeared in the dark car beside the Berkeley tracks. But underneath was someone new. She gripped a staff like a barrier and bared her teeth. No more tolls.
My experience with P turned me off of dating for years. My focus turned to establishing my career and lying down roots in a new home city. Whenever I had a niggling thought that I should consider putting myself back out there, I told myself the same old story: do the work and let the rest happen when the time was right. Except, I was losing myself in the work as an excuse to put off the rest.
At 27, I finally felt overwhelmed with my inexperience in love, sex, relationships, all of it. I decided I needed to get rid of my virginity. I was just so embarrassed in myself for still wearing my outdated clothing; time to donate it. I was hanging out with friends and one of them brought along a cousin. I could sense his interest in me. Instead of averting my eyes like usual, I held his gaze, counting out the beats. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, let’s fuck.
It wasn’t the transformative experience I had hoped it would be. I had spent the majority of my life unwilling to have sex until I had the attraction first. When that never happened, I had hoped just throwing myself into the deed would be something of a jumpstart to the attraction part. I just had to fuck him, you know? But there was nothing. Just the knowledge that I did have a libido but also the awareness that nobody seemed capable of flipping that switch on.
So I tried to find someone who could.
I gave online dating a shot. Every message I received was like a snowball in the pit of my stomach. I ignored most of them, the few people I engaged with I eventually ghosted. When one guy asked why I stopped messaging him, I lied and told him I found a boyfriend before blocking him.
I kept trying. I attempted a few dates. One guy asked me to cuddle; I burst into tears in his arms, nauseous at the request.
I tried again. “Don’t bother,” I told a guy in bed after he had come and was trying to reciprocate the favor.
I tried again. I kept my eyes closed during the entirety of one encounter, realizing in horror afterwards that I never even checked to see if he wore a condom.
I tried again. I tried again. I tried again and again and again.
Looking back at this period of my life, I liken it to a crossroads of sorts, the various sexual orientations marked out on the signpost. I felt fairly confident that I was not gay. That road, I knew, was not mine. So I assumed mine had to be the “straight” path and, naturally, kept trying to head down it. I felt I was expected to. Yet, a few steps in, I would always become overwhelmed and terrified and I would backtrack. I constantly felt like a failure for not being able to knuckle down and charge down that path. Since I couldn’t seem to make any progress, it was important that I could say I tried.
It took so long, too long, for me to accept that this path was actually a mirage. This entire time I had been crashing determinedly into a brick wall.
I want to say that I knew of the other road at this point. The “none of the above” option. But I didn’t pay it much mind because I couldn’t let go of the small chance that it wasn’t really my road. I didn’t want to deny myself of possibilities.
Now I know what I ended up doing was denying myself entirely.
Nobody talks about their anger. I was bathed in it all the time. The “it gets better” narrative is generally one of sadness, loneliness, shame, feeling misunderstood and unheard, and I felt all of that, but I didn’t know yet that it was my narrative and I was so sick of not knowing, so all of my confusion warped into rage.
I swung my wand around freely. The quiet formidability I admired in Gabrielle was no longer palatable for me. It was one thing to be confident that you could handle yourself in a fight, but I was not confident. I was naive, inexperienced, scared. I didn’t know who I was. I was definitely not going to win any fights. The solution to “speak softly, carry a big stick” was “speak loudly, flail around a small stick” and hope that was enough to keep any interlopers at bay.
I transformed. I got mean. I became loud, brash, outspoken. I intimidated. I even enjoyed it. Like a baton twirler or a fire-spinner, I twirled my stick with a smile. Observe me, that’s fine. But do not disturb. Do not get too close or I might drop this stick. Might accidentally on purpose drop it right down on your head.
My relationships suffered. I went out with a group of friends to celebrate my birthday. One girl gave me a hand drawn card, a sketch of an owl with a large erect penis. I laughed, but also asked her bitingly in front of everyone “do you know me at all?” and I saw it in her frozen, smiling face, the split-second of implosion before the support beams of our friendship came tumbling down.
I began seeing fights where there were none. I felt trapped, so boxed in, that other people living their lives around me became too close for comfort. It felt like the world was brushing up against me. Any glance my way I interpreted as a challenge. Once at the store, a girl kept pushing her cart past me, bumping into me as she made her way up and down the aisle. I grabbed an item off the shelf and brandished it at her. I demanded she quit walking past me as I stared her down, One Mississippi, Two Miss--
“You look possessed,” she told me.
I have a laundry list of similar infractions. They’re ugly. I turned into someone very ugly.
Nobody talks about their anger because it means owning up to the shameful, desperate garbage you do when you’re just trying to push the world off of you. It’s not an excuse, but it’s important to acknowledge. “It gets better” also has to mean finding your way back from being a less than decent person.
The life I was living was unsustainable. And so it finally happened. One day, I picked another fight. This time I was almost killed.
My near-death incident is another story. For the purposes of this one, it’s enough to say that it resolved itself quickly. Like falling into a thorny thicket, the extrication was swift, but it was the road away spent dutifully pulling out thorns that was the most painful. Therapy was not court-mandated but I went voluntarily. I hoped the optics of trying to get help would lessen my punishment. It ended up being a godsend.
Many years in therapy were spent deconstructing “rage girl.” She is the part of me that has always leapt to my defense, my avatar. She is armor, protecting me from taking on any more hurt. She is a wall, preventing anyone from getting too close. It took a long time to convince “rage girl” to stand down so that I could get a glimpse of the kernel of self she had been guarding. I assumed this “true self” in need of protecting would be fragile. She is not. She is ready to be known.
“I think I’m asexual,” I told my therapist. We had been discussing for some time my struggle with intimacy, how I both wanted and avoided it. I talked about the crossroads, how I felt paralyzed at the signposts. I had thought that attraction had to be work and I wasn’t doing enough. I had been putting myself through the ringer, of course I built up defenses. But when I lay them all down, I could finally see which path was mine.
I sobbed when I finally spoke aloud my truth. I am asexual. I did not feel relief, I felt sorrow. I was grieving. I had spent so long and tried so hard to walk a path that everyone else was walking. The “right” path. It was difficult, in my mid-30s, to realize that living “right” hadn’t meant living “true.” I had wasted a lot of time. It was a six-wand ass-kicking.
I had built it up in my mind though, the attainment of the “right” life. I would dream about my wedding. I had my song picked out. I had a venue in mind, we would be outdoors in the early summer sun. My father is long deceased, so my only brother would walk me down the aisle. I would be radiant in my dress, my hair down in curls. My mother would cry happily through the whole ceremony. My guest list consisted of anybody I even remotely knew. I wanted a huge elaborate to-do. I told myself I wanted this so badly. I had a goal in mind and I thought my true orientation did not mesh with helping me to attain it.
And then I had to ask myself: What is it that I really want here? What have I left out of this picture? And it was the hard, honest truth that there is never a significant other in these wedding fantasies. I mean, there’s a blurry image of another body that I’m beaming at the whole time, but the happiness of our sheer love is never the focus. All I really want from this dream wedding is all eyes on me. I want everyone to see that I lived right. I loved right. I did what was expected of me and attained the right goal. I am not broken, do you see?
I am not broken. Do you see?
My god, I’ve been so blind.
To my younger self: I am so sorry. We are not broken. I do see now.
The process of discovering who I am has been a journey all its own. A part of me feels like now the true journey can begin. I will walk my “right” path. One day I will come to accept that I’ve walked it “right” all along.
Any future I imagine now is pretty threadbare. Not because I don’t picture a full, satisfying life, but because I am still trying to figure out what I want it to be. I still want a wedding. My wedding song will still be “You’re Always Welcome” by Aereogramme. But anything else is obscured by the sun. And my significant other still remains blurry. But the focus now is on me grasping hands with this person. Of feeling perfect love, the sheer relief of finding a safe harbor, a person I can be fully and honestly myself with. Of feeling the unconditional joy of being able to offer that back. That goal has always been attainable. But I feel more confident in achieving it now that I know who I am and what I truly want. The path forward no longer feels so daunting. I can see us in the sun.
May your days be golden, may all light surround you.
May your days be golden, may all light surround you.
May your days be golden, may all light surround you.
May your days be golden, may all light surround you.
May your days be golden, may all light surround you.
At the end of our kickboxing class, he asked me out. I had been friendly with him for weeks, sensing the undercurrent of attraction, wishing I could be both friendly and obviously unavailable.
I like the way he inquired. “I don’t know what your status is, but…”
My status? Ha!
At the same time, I felt it in the pit of my belly, that familiar cold fear. Still, I told him I was “totally down to hang sometime!” and then promptly wondered how I was going to tell him.
It happened on our second date. I don’t remember what the lead in was, I just remember telling my first potential mate that I’m asexual. I could feel the muscles in my throat, taut like ropes as I spoke. Vaguely, I wondered what I must look like to him. You look possessed.
“This feels like talk for later in a relationship,” he said.
“No. I don’t want to be accused of leading you on.” Honestly, I didn’t want to lead myself on. I could sense how easy it would be to camp down at the crossroads, to distract myself with all the possibilities, the false wants, the various fantasies that gleam like mirages down roads that aren’t meant for me. No, I wanted to claim out loud who I am.
He was understanding. He went home and researched asexuality. I went home feeling the most empowered I’ve ever felt in my life. I almost stood on the coffee table, a show of the footing I’ve gained, the ground I held, the elevated feeling of truth keeping me aloft. I didn’t care in that moment if the relationship was doomed. This is my path. Walk with me or move aside.
It’s a beautiful shock when the Sun card shows up in my tarot spread. Depicted is a child riding a horse, hands free in the air, a brick wall behind them, and the Sun beaming down on the scene. “A hurdle has been overcome. Enjoy the victory.”
We mutually break up on our next date. I could see in his eyes as he walked me to my car that he wanted a kiss. I told him I only want to hug. And he admitted he would like more from a relationship than I have offered. I cannot be mad. I know all too well how difficult it is to be honest about your wants. I have gotten more than enough from our brief union. I feel more confident going into the next one.
The glow of the Sun card is brief and the Seven of Wands continues to make intermittent appearances. I’m still walking my path, lugging along a giant stick, my forever companion. I don’t believe I will ever relinquish it completely, though lately I try to use it less as a weapon and more as a walking stick. For so long, my identity has been defined as “under attack.” With so many battles under my belt, with the ground I’ve fought for firm under my feet, I move forward. I am re-defining my identity. My new focus is on enjoying the journey.