Bubba Henderson squints his eyes and shuts his mouth as he stares at a picture of two little girls he has never seen before. He takes a deep breath and tries to shrink inside his body. His vision becomes clearer; he feels the lobes of his brain squeezing together. His chest lifts, and he breathes faster. There's a whirling pressure above his right eyebrow. He gets a little queasy and asks his Cherokee spirit guide, Great Turtle, to tell him what he needs to know.
When he stares at pictures, he says, he sees a gridded schematic of the people in them, like in the movie Predator. A yellow spot means sickness, maybe cancer; reds mean pain; lime green is a dull ache or inhibition; purple means they're healing already, like a bruise.
"The mother isn't old, is she?" he asks.
No, she's 28.
He says the nine-year-old is going to marry young, like her mother. And he says she needs glasses. He says they're going to figure it out at school when she has trouble reading.
(He's right about the glasses. The girl's teachers already have said she needs them; her parents just haven't had a chance to get them. She sits up front because she has trouble seeing, and her parents both have bad vision.)
She's going to be an average student, he says. Not in the accelerated learning program.
(Not true. She's getting straight A's in the gifted and talented program.)
The three-year-old is going to grow well beyond the oldest, he says. She'll be taller and bigger all around.
(Probably. She is kinda chubby. And she's already wearing clothes her sister wore when she was five.)
She's bright and eager to do things. She started speaking earlier than the older girl, using bigger words and more complex sentences.
The little one, she's certainly going to be the star of the family.
("I picked her up from day care today, and she's telling me the stoplight colors in Spanish," her mom says. "Maybe there is something to what he says.")
That's one demonstration of Bubba's psychic powers, as ambiguous as any other such demonstration. But Bubba can tell more about these strangers in the photo than a stranger would be likely to figure out about Bubba.
Looking at a picture of him, you might guess his other lines of work (personal trainer, massage therapist), but you probably wouldn't guess "psychic." At 43, he has Mighty Mouse's muscles -- each bicep's bigger than a softball -- and his teeth are whiter than the whites of his eyes. In a tight pink T-shirt and $8 sandals, he looks more like a wrestler than a tarot card reader.
But never mind appearances. Bubba says he has got all the psychic gifts there are. He's clairaudient, meaning he hears voices that other people don't -- voices that belong to angels, or spirits, or God. He's clairvoyant: He can see future events taking place. And he's clairsentient: He can sense things about a person by touching something she has touched or by holding her hand. "Everybody has their own truth," he says. He just looks for it.
Those truths often hurt. Reading someone is painful, he says, because he sucks the person's energy inside him, drawing in all the negative, bad feelings before he tries to return them in the form of good, clean energy. And it hurts to know that someone you care about is going to get sick and not get better. Sometimes he tells someone to go to the doctor, but the person says he's fine. Then Bubba watches him die.
"To be able to see people's future, you have to see their past," Bubba says. "The past is what creates the future. If you don't have a foundation, you can't put a building on it."
The life he has lead, a life full of neglect and heartache, made him who he is. Without the pain, he says, he wouldn't have the power.
He grew up in Lake Jackson with three sisters. When he was five, he told his parents that they were going to get a divorce right after he got his driver's license. His mother told him to get her belt. Whenever he said something he shouldn't have been able to know, he got a whipping. But as he predicted, his parents divorced a month after his 16th birthday. Before the divorce, Bubba's dad had a child with Bubba's aunt, the wife of his mother's brother.
After the divorce, Bubba was the only kid who went to live with his dad, who worked at Dow Chemical and raised quarter horses on the side. Bubba's eldest sister, Kathy, was 19 and living in Germany with the soldier she'd married. Eighteen-year-old Mary was a slow learner; she and Bubba were in the same grade. Fifteen-year-old Martha had married when she was 13, but she had temporarily left her husband and was living with her mother.
Bubba's father never told dirty jokes, never said an ugly word about a woman and never had beer in his house. Bubba says he also never had food in the house; he ate all his meals at his girlfriend's, so Bubba ate out on his own dollar every meal. Bubba didn't have friends, and he wasn't allowed to play sports; he had horses to take care of.
Later that same year Bubba dropped out of school. His mother got sick and sad when her husband left; she moved next door to her parents' in Livingston, a small town in East Texas. She couldn't work, so Bubba got a job at a building supply company there, moved in with his mother and supported her.
He spent a year working while his mother healed and the stocks she got in the divorce matured. When Martha migrated to her young husband, Bubba moved back to his dad's. His mother didn't much want him, but neither did his dad. Bubba picked his dad because his friends lived in Lake Jackson.
When his dad finally married his aunt, she moved in, along with her mother and Bubba's five-year-old half brother. His dad charged Bubba $150 a month in rent and talked about how the house was too small. They fixed four breakfasts and four dinners. "I was the fifth," Bubba says.
He worked 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., slept four hours, fed the horses and went to school. Sometimes school was boring because he knew the answers to tests before he picked up his pencil. He got flashes of the future and occasionally heard voices in his head. He told himself that it was normal; he figured if he said anything, his dad would knock him upside the head and tell him he was "drain bramaged."
His stepmom had another baby, and things got worse. They wanted more space, and he felt he had to leave. After a year of being the unwanted extra, Bubba rented an apartment for $90 a month. He got a full-time job and eventually finished high school in the summertime.
His first serious girlfriend appeared when he was 28 and she was 18. Alicia had grown up a block away from him. They had the same friends and the same interests: They both liked race cars and race boats, exercise and Elvis. They were together two years that he wishes could have lasted forever. But she died in a car accident. Once again, Bubba was alone in the world.
In his early 30s, after 16 years of working construction, he grew tired of the calluses on his hands and the sun shining in his face. Thumbing through a massage-therapy book, he decided he'd found his next career, one that would bring him very close to other human beings.
Touching people, working with their bodies, knowing where it hurt and how they injured themselves without their telling him, Bubba strengthened his psychic abilities. He'd be massaging a woman, and suddenly he'd know she was having an affair. She'd turn around and tell him to keep that quiet.
But in his private life, Bubba was still alone. He worked until nine o'clock at night six days a week. He didn't have any close friends; he didn't have time.
In 1991 he met another woman, in the algebra class he was taking at Brazosport College. She was a quiet, intense, gentle brunette. She moved in three months after they started dating and became his best friend. They went skiing, played tennis and traveled; she was the only person he saw outside of work. He thought they'd get married. But then she became a dancer. He didn't mind the career as long as it was just a job and she didn't bring it home with her. But she moved into a lifestyle he didn't like and left him five years ago. Ten years after Alicia's death.
That, he says, is when his psychic powers intensified. The sadness of being alone again shook up his chakra, and the voices grew louder and more accurate. He loved to dance and drink, but he couldn't go to nightclubs anymore; by the time he got to the door, his stomach would be roaring. Nightclubgoers aren't usually happy people, and he was sucking up their pain.
He saw events taking place months, years before they happened. When he shook hands with someone, he heard a voice describing things he shouldn't know. He started smoking a pack a day and quit exercising and eating healthy foods. He hasn't eaten broccoli or cauliflower since.
He told his sister Kathy about the voices. She thought he was possessed and told him to go to church. She prayed for him."I was afraid," Kathy says. "There's such a fine line there between a true gift of psychic ability and what is known as satanism."
Kathy's pastor told Bubba that he had a demon that needed to be exorcised. He put his hands on Bubba and prayed. Nothing changed.
More depressed every day, Bubba told Kathy that he didn't feel like living anymore. He was sure he was crazy, maybe schizophrenic. He wanted the voices to stop. Kathy made him appointments with a psychiatrist and a hypnotherapist.
Bubba bought a .38 pistol and picked a pretty place to die.
The psychiatrist told Bubba that he had a vivid imagination and gave him some Zoloft. But the hypnotherapist, Sandra Clevenger, took a different approach. She wanted Bubba to listen to what the voices were saying before he evicted them. She asked him questions about things he shouldn't know, stuff about her son and her friends, and his answers were right.
You might be psychic, she told him.
What? Bubba asked. He thought psychics were bullshit. He told her they were freaks.
They're not all 1-900 psychics, she said. Some actually have a gift.
Clevenger thinks that she's slightly psychic, and she thought that Bubba was, too. She spent the next few months convincing him that he wasn't crazy. She let him do readings on people who came into her office; the more he got right, the more he believed in himself.
He went to the bookstore and started studying. The Celestine Prophecy, Past Lives, Future Loves, Richard Bach's The Bridge Across Forever are on his bookshelf, along with Reiki and tarot-for-beginners books. His favorite, Edgar Cayce's Modern Prophet, is on the floor by the peach leather sofa.
His sister Kathy didn't like the word "psychic." Preachers are called prophets, and prophets are in the Bible, so she liked that better. Four years ago, Bubba sent away to a nondenominational Universal Life Church in California and became a mail-order minister. He has a license on the wall, so now she (and anybody else) can call him whatever she likes.
Bubba would watch the evening news with his sister, and he'd tell her what was going to happen with each story; the next night, Tom Brokaw would confirm his predictions. Or they'd be watching Wheel of Fortune, and he'd know what letters contestants were going to pick before they spun the wheel. That was cool, but Wheel of Fortune is Kathy's show. So sometimes she told him to shut up and let her solve the puzzle herself.
Bubba won't tell her, or anyone else, anything they don't want to know. "If you don't want to know, don't ask," Kathy tells all her friends. Bubba has told her things that have scared her and made her sad, she says, but he has always been right.
Bubba told Freddy Hamlin, the owner of Coast Land Construction, that his horse, One Red Hot Zip, would win the 1996 American Quarter Horse Association's World Championship in Oklahoma City. It did.
That summer Freddy wanted to know if he would catch a marlin. Bubba saw 600 pounds of marlin on his boat. Freddy laughed it off, but a month later he caught his first marlin, a 400-pounder. A half-hour later, his friend reeled in a 200-pound marlin. Add them together, Freddy figures, and that's Bubba's 600 pounds of fish. "This psychic stuff's not a fine-tuned deal," Freddy explains.
Bubba has been the personal trainer, masseur and psychic for Freddy, his wife, his son and his general manager for the last two and a half years.
"I can think, 'I need to call Bubba,' and the phone rings a minute later and it's him," Freddy says.
"I pull that on him all the time," Bubba says. "I don't ever call anybody until I get an urge."
Like his spirit guide, Great Turtle, Bubba protects himself by withdrawing into a shell. He spent Saturday night watching movies by himself. He doesn't have any guy friends besides Freddy, who's married. Bubba hasn't dated anybody seriously in four years.
"I've had rendezvous," Bubba says. "But nobody I'd ever get attached to ... it's strictly for recreation." (One of those girlfriends gave him a big-screen TV. Bubba says, "All psychic work is about connecting energy. I can run energy out of any part of my body." He winks. "Works pretty good with girlfriends.")
But serious relationships never seem to get off the ground. He says that women get freaked out that they don't have privacy even in their heads. They can't play coquettish Rules-girl games, thinking one thing and saying another, because he hears the words they don't say. And like most of his friends, his lady friends call only when they want to know something.
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Knowing too much keeps people away from him. They put up a shell around themselves and turn themselves off to him because they don't want him in their head. And the only way he can turn off his psychic senses and just be a normal person is to build a shell around himself.
Before he walks into a restaurant, Bubba draws a line in the dirt and tells himself that it stops there and he's shutting it off. He fans the table and chair to get rid of other people's energy before he sits down.
But he says the only way to totally turn his powers off is to be by himself. He avoids looking into people's eyes, touching them or talking. He stays away from parties where strangers' strange emotions might envelop him. If he does go out, he tries not to talk to and touch people, but that makes them think he's a snob, and he hates that.
He's most at peace at home in his kitchen. He sits at his table with the fridge humming and tries to zone out. He doesn't read many novels because it's no fun knowing how they'll end. Instead, he picks up a book on something he doesn't know anything about -- putting computers together or some kind of instruction manual -- and tries to focus on just the words, not the thoughts and pain of other people. His own pain is enough.