The Misfortune Teller The Misfortune Teller
X Logo

Celia* is 20 minutes late.

She’s agreed to meet with me at the Arabica Coffee House in downtown Willoughby at 10 a.m. I came early to snag a small table near the front window where she could easily find me, but I’m not entirely convinced she’s going to show. 

And who could blame her? Nine years ago, Celia was down on her luck. She was 26, had lost her job as a dance instructor and was living in her parents’ house in Lake County. Lacking direction, she sought guidance from a psychic who had been telling fortunes in Mentor for more than 20 years. 

As fortunes go, Celia’s was pretty good. She could have everything she desired — a career, a boyfriend, success and happiness. But Celia had a darkness in her life that needed to be removed. For a small fee, the psychic had the ability to clear it away. 

After weighing it for a few days, Celia paid her $100. Things started looking up. Celia and the psychic became friends. She began babysitting for her family and even tagged along on a Florida vacation. 

But a thousand miles from home, things changed. The work the psychic was doing to keep the darkness at bay wasn’t enough, she said, and she needed more. So Celia extended her credit card limits, paid for hotel rooms and even bought a $20,000 Rolex watch. 

By the end of the year, Celia had accrued $80,000 in debt. She became so desperate Celia contemplated shooting herself on the psychic’s front lawn so someone would discover the ugly truth: Gina Miller was a sham, a con artist, a fortune-telling fake.

Celia wasn’t the only one. Last year, Miller was charged with scamming at least a dozen other clients. Initially indicted on 28 counts of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft, telecommunications fraud and securing writings by deception, Miller eventually pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated theft of $1.4 million. Miller received an eight-year prison sentence and was ordered to pay back restitution to Celia and the other clients.

I had been attempting to collect their stories for four months, but hardly anyone responded. The few who did declined to be interviewed. So as I shuffle through my notes one last time, I decide to give Celia just a few more minutes. And just as I’m about to give up on her, the door opens.

Celia is lithe and fragile, burdened by the weight of a black-hooded winter jacket, black gloves and a multi-knit scarf, perhaps one her mother or grandmother gave her as a gift.

She’s young — much younger than I imagined — all legs and a pretty, angular face with olive skin. But as she walks up to me, her booted feet drag across the floor. There are bags under her eyes. 

“James?” asks Celia, gesturing toward me. 

She’s coiled tight with her shoulders and eyes drawn toward the floor by some elemental force. When I offer to buy her coffee, she winces just a little as if the kindness triggers a warning. She leans over to examine the pastry case, but settles on a medium black coffee. 

Maybe she second-guesses my generosity or perhaps she genuinely likes the bitterness that lingers in her throat long after she’s set the cup down.

At the table, she sits tentatively perched on the edge of her chair still wearing her hat and gloves. Only after scanning the room for familiar faces does she lean forward and look me in the eyes.

There’s gravity in her gaze. Her eyes are as deep and dark as her past — and yet there’s something whimsical in the tone of her voice. 

“Tell me how,” she says, quietly. “Tell me how to begin.”


Celia turns over the details of her story slowly, like the flip of a card.

She’s 35 and still lives with her parents. Her mother is a retired grocery clerk. Her father works as a foreman. They were both immigrants from Sicily, Italy, where each town celebrates the good works of patron saints who intervene in everyday life. As Catholics, they would have disapproved of her going to a psychic.

When Celia was 10, she spent the summer with an aunt and grandmother in Alcara li Fusi, a small town in northern Sicily at the foothills of the Nebrodi Mountains. When thousands flocked to the village in August to attend the colorful procession of San Nicolo Politi, the city’s patron saint, Celia was struck by the sheer power of their faith. It gave her a sense of belonging.

“I’ve seen faith be so prominent in people’s lives,” says Celia. “I’m not going to deny that it’s moved all these people and people in my family, and it sort of pulls me, too.”

She felt that familiar tug in February 2009 when she turned into the parking lot of Gina’s Psychic Studio in Mentor. The small white Craftsman could have been a dentist’s office if it weren’t for the neon signs in the windows advertising palm readings. 

Celia says she remembers very little in terms of specific details of their first meeting — perhaps because it was so long ago or because she’s tried so hard to put the whole thing behind her. But those initial readings were almost always the same.

Short and dowdy with an oval face and dyed blond hair, Miller took her clients into a small room in the back of the house with two folding chairs and a card table. While the furnishings were sparse, the wood paneling and mauve carpet helped bring positivity into the room. Small white candles, crystals and tarot cards served as decor. 

If you were a person of faith, like Celia, you might find comfort in the painting of Christ on the cross or in the sculptures of hands pressed together in prayer and with uplifted palms. The familiar symbols of faith and restoration were signs Celia had come to the right place.

Miller addressed clients by their first names, speaking slowly and softly like a mother imparting an important lesson. She promised to be honest and not hide anything from her clients. She was there to help. If they didn’t understand something, she patiently offered them clarity.

She told Celia she would live to be 84, which was good news. Ever since her grandfather died of lung cancer when she was 8 years old, Celia had an overwhelming fear of death.

Celia would one day get married and have two boys — something she’d always wanted. She came from a big family and looked forward to starting her own if she could only find a man who would love her the way her father loved her mother.

Celia would even become famous, and people would seek her out until she was old and gray. She was not meant to be in Cleveland either, and Celia knew this was true. After college, Celia had bought a one-way ticket to Italy and never planned on returning home. But after working as a teacher abroad, she wanted a new challenge and found a job as a dance instructor back in Northeast Ohio. 

It was after she’d been let go unexpectedly that Celia first went to Miller. She wanted to know what would happen next. She wanted something to look forward to.

Miller claimed to sense all these details through the lines in her clients’ palms, their auras, the cards on the table. She told fortunes with a lyrical cadence. 

Plants have auras, animals have auras, humans have auras, too, she’d explain. Auras surround everything that is living. They’re supposed to be filled with bright colors — blue, yellow, pink, green. Do you understand? 

Most often her clients’ auras were gray. Thank God they weren’t black. 

But the aura could turn black at any moment — it could happen tonight, tomorrow, next week or next year — and if the aura turned black, it would collapse and there was nothing and nobody that could put it back together again.

Miller stood and pointed to the picture of Christ and the praying hands. She claimed God sent her to do good work. When she was 4 years old, she had a vision and her parents sent her to Jerusalem for the next eight years to learn her craft.

Miller said Celia deserved to be happy and God wanted the best for her, but the darkness prevented her from unlocking the health, wealth and happiness she desired. Miller likened her own work to that of a doctor: When someone needs surgery, they should put their faith in God but keep confidence in the doctor’s hands, because when they work together they can make someone whole again.

She told Celia if she wanted to be better, Miller could do the work but it would come at a price.

“I’d been wanting Jesus Christ to come down himself to tell me what the f**k I should be doing,” says Celia, her leg bouncing anxiously underneath the table as she recounts her story. “Everyone wonders, you know?”

Celia sat on the idea for four days. When she returned to Miller’s studio, she brought $100. 

During the second meeting, Celia opened up about her family and a home fraught with tension. Her younger brother had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but hadn’t been taking his medication. Meanwhile, her older brother was wrapped up in a contentious relationship. 

Miller offered Celia a proposition: If she was struggling to find a job, why not babysit Miller’s 6- and 10-year-old boys? 

Celia was the spitting image of her sister who had passed away, Miller said, and she felt good about where their relationship was heading. In fact, she was taking her family on a vacation to Florida in a couple of weeks and asked Celia to come with them. Her travel would be paid for, and she would make $600 for babysitting.

In the meantime, Miller promised to begin clearing the darkness out of Celia’s life. 

Miller asked Celia for a family photo. The one Celia gave her showed her older brother and father sporting black suits, while Celia, wearing white, rests her hands on her mother’s left shoulder. The four of them are huddled close, but her younger brother stands apart near the edge of the frame. Miller offered to pray over it.

When Miller was done, Celia would certainly get everything she wanted for her and her family. Miller even predicted Celia would be so pleased with her work that she might give her gifts to show her gratitude for everything she’s done.

“We all want to know what’s next,” says Celia.


Much about Miller remains a mystery, even to those who thought they knew her. During the sentencing last June, Miller’s defense attorney argued that she had been raised in a Romani, or Gypsy, household, and learned fortunetelling at a young age.

The practice was commonly taught to young Romani women as a novelty to bring in additional income, says Nick Evanovich, a friend of Miller’s family and a fortuneteller-turned-evangelist from Cleveland Baptist Church. 

“It was just something they used to do on the streets,” he says. People found it amusing, so it became a part of the culture. 

“They didn’t have any superpowers,” he says.

During Miller’s sentencing, her defense attorney said she was remorseful. She hadn’t practiced since her initial arrest in 2015 and spent almost two years urging her family and church members to not engage in fraudulent fortunetelling. 

Her parents worked for Great Lakes Expositions, a carnival company responsible for operating festivals at several Northeast Ohio churches. In fact, four pastors — including the Rev. Richard Rasch from Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the West Side — wrote letters to the court on behalf of Miller and her family.

“I was there basically for them,” says Rasch. “I did not know the situation, and all the bad things that she did.”

According to investigators, Miller had taken over her mother-in-law’s fortunetelling business and had been operating her storefront for more than 20 years. Although many of Miller’s clients came through the same small studio in Mentor and a second temporary storefront in downtown Willoughby by chance, many had been introduced to her through women claiming to be Miller’s sister or mother at local church festivals.

Miller denied requests by Cleveland Magazine to be interviewed for this story. 

Her husband, Danny, had a troubled past as well. In 1988, he and his older brother Frank were arrested for the killing of their sister’s father-in-law. Danny, who was 18 at the time, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served three years probation.

Although Miller told clients Danny did concrete work, investigators were never able to confirm any other legitimate source of income for the family that supported their lifestyle other than Miller’s fortunetelling. Investigators could not find records that Miller had incorporated Gina’s Psychic Studio with the state or had ever filed any type of Ohio tax return. They also found no legal documentation for their marriage.

When search warrants were executed on Miller’s home in Madison, police uncovered a lifestyle not reflective of the sparse Mentor studio. The expansive four-bedroom colonial had vaulted ceilings. There were three vehicles parked at the residence: a 2015 Cadillac Escalade and a 2015 Cadillac ATS, both registered to separate victims in the case, and a red Chevy Corvette, registered to Danny.

Each room glittered with gold accents, elaborate paintings and sheer curtains. Expensive jewelry, a designer shoe collection and tax forms for more than $100,000 in gambling winnings were discovered in the home. 

Among Miller’s belongings, investigators recovered five Rolex watches, a diamond ring, Frigidaire appliances, a kitchen table and four chairs, a 40-inch television, nine cellphones, an Apple iPad, and Louis Vuitton and Chanel handbags — all items clients used to pay for Miller’s services.

“The psychic has one of the most powerful products known to man: false hope,” says private investigator Robert Nygaard. “They string the person along with the hope that what the person wants to come true is going to come true.”

Over the last 30 years, Nygaard’s investigations have led directly to the arrest of at least 30 fraudulent fortunetellers in Florida, New York, California, Colorado and Maryland. Each one begins the same way.

“Ever since the beginning of time, people have wondered, What does tomorrow hold,” says Nygaard. “They get drawn in by the law of this person with this self-proclaimed ability and no one else is wanting to give them an answer.”

The con was simple. Miller started by eking out details of people’s lives until hitting upon their innermost desires and fears. Then, she suggested she was the only person able to help them achieve their dreams. But in order for her work to be successful, clients needed to have total confidence in her abilities and do everything in secret.

“They want to isolate the victim from friends and family,” says Nygaard. “Because they realize that the person that they’re dealing with is vulnerable.” 

The work started small. For $180, clients could get nine crystals to wear for nine days and nine nights. If they bought into that idea, Miller would test their limits, informing them of newly discovered curses on their names — and subsequently increasing her fees. 

Everything was tinged with a sense of urgency. She’d say that in order to counteract the curse, for example, holy wax had to be purchased from Jerusalem to balance the scales. For 330 pounds of beeswax, it might cost a client $4,600.

If clients couldn’t pay in cash, Miller took alternative forms of payment. Sometimes her clients paid her utility bills, gave her cellphones and even leased the cars Miller drove. If at any point an individual asked to see proof of her work or questioned Miller’s purchases, she’d deliver an exaggerated, booming performance like a fire-and-brimstone preacher.

“She’d invoke this energy, telling me like it was because she was unsettled with these feelings,” says Celia. “She was so convinced they were true.”

At the sentencing last June, when victims were given the chance to read their impact statements, Celia was one of the people who spoke.

“During the time I knew Gina, I had no idea that all of what she owned was off the backs of other people,” she said. “The shock from not having realized that makes me feel like I can’t even trust my sense of objectivity.”

That day, she spoke about how she was forced to comply with whatever Miller needed her to do. 

“I wish I had done more to escape from you before it got really bad for me,” she said, looking Miller in the eyes. “I had imagined the best way for me to feel like I could get you back was to show up at your front lawn and blow my brains up, so you would have to deal with cleaning up my body — that’s how I wanted you to feel.”



In the weeks leading up to the Florida trip, Celia was becoming like part of Miller’s family. 

She was called to babysit at erratic times several days each week, often at the last minute. But the job was easy. Most of the time was spent playing games with Miller’s young boys who were home-schooled.

“They had no rhyme or reason to their day,” says Celia. “They never had a schedule to follow.”

Still, it was a happy distraction. “Someone coming into my life like this was a pleasant way for me to devote my time, because otherwise I wasn’t really hanging out with other people,” says Celia. “The more I saw her, I legitimized what she was doing.”

To combat the darkness in Celia, Miller used Celia’s Macy’s credit card to purchase new bed sheets and clothing for each of her family members. It signified a fresh start in Celia’s life. 

Celia never saw the items. But Miller was upfront about the purchases, telling her they were being taken to churches and blessed. Without her work, the problems facing her family would only worsen.

“I was the vehicle to get all that changed,” says Celia. “I wanted to help them.”

In the weeks leading up to the Miller family vacation, Celia withdrew $4,009.91 from her Roth IRA and gave it to Miller. It wouldn’t make any interest sitting in her account, Miller told her, and was better spent on the work she was doing for Celia’s future.

“She said, ‘Celia, we have to wipe you clean of everything,’ ” Celia recalls. “ ‘You have to use all of your power that you can give me right now to do the work I’m doing. … So if you have the money, we need to get it.’ ”

Celia was made to believe they were headed to Florida to visit Miller’s daughter, Sophia, who was living with another Romani family. The trip was as much a family reunion as a vacation. 

But when they arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Miller started acting strange. Nothing satisfied her. She nagged employees at nearly every hotel and restaurant they visited. She’d throw an embarrassing tirade if their room wasn’t close enough to the elevator or if the food didn’t arrive right on time. 

It was vastly different behavior for the soft-spoken motherly figure Celia had come to know.

“We’d get things comped for the fact that she didn’t get her butter out in time to be warm enough for when the lobster came,” says Celia. 

When they wore out their welcome, they moved on to the next hotel. They never stayed in any one place for more than a day or two. 

Celia also got stuck footing the lodging expenses, because Miller was waiting on her husband’s paycheck to clear with the bank. She said it was a small, unfortunate mishap. Once the check cleared, she’d pay Celia back for everything.

“Do I question that?” Celia muses. “Yeah, but I’m alone in Florida and I don’t know how to leave.”

Nights spent with Miller’s daughter and the family  she lived with revolved around dinners out and boisterous parties late into the evening. Although Miller’s family often spoke in Romani, Celia identified with how food, family and music united them. 

The work for Celia’s happiness was varied and erratic. Sometimes, it was as simple as Celia writing down her wishes on wax paper, wrapping them around an orange and tossing it into a garbage can. Other times, Celia was sent to the beach with crystals and told to pray over them for the things she wanted before burying them in the sand. But no matter what Celia did to comply with Miller’s plan for success, the darkness continued to grow.

In this environment, Miller became controlling. She sent Celia by taxi to make credit card cash advances for $800, $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000. When Celia questioned her reasoning, Miller pulled her aside and threatened her with the worst: What would happen if her younger brother killed himself? What would that do to her parents? Didn’t Celia trust everything she was doing? Imagine what would happen if all the hard work they’ve been doing was for nothing.

“It would just become a tiring scene of her telling me she’s here for good work,” says Celia. “And if I’m not going to listen to her, this is all going to fall to shit and nothing will come to fruition.”

When Celia was in danger of maxing out her credit cards, Miller asked her to apply for limit extensions or open new ones. When Celia’s requests for credit were accepted, Miller claimed it was proof that her work was successful. Otherwise, how would it be possible for her to keep getting so much money? It was meant to be.

“I didn’t know how to stand my ground and say ‘no’ to her, because I had become her muse,” says Celia. “I had built my own legitimacy around what I saw and what she had told me to believe.”

When Miller’s husband was offered a deal on a $20,300 Rolex at an Orlando mall, Miller pulled Celia aside and told her she needed the watch to turn back time on Celia’s past mistakes. So Celia opened a line of credit with the store and bought it for her.

“I was pressured to buy them all this stuff that I had no choice of saying ‘no’ to unless I wanted to poof away and go to the airport,” says Celia. “As strange as this was, I teetered from half believing her to half covering it up and telling myself that I would just deal with my problem and I would deal with this however it unfolds.”

Miller had gained so much control that she monitored Celia’s social media. Miller didn’t want her or her family in any of Celia’s photographs. In fact, the only picture that remains from the trip is Celia standing alone beside Minnie Mouse during a brief trip to Disney World, nearly one week after she was supposed to return home.

“For her to not really know when she was coming home, that was really strange,” says one of Celia’s childhood friends. “She knew she was in trouble.”

But even after they returned from Florida and Miller hadn’t repaid the expenses, Celia continued maintaining a relationship with Miller. 

Celia hid the bills from her family and found work as a babysitter, brand ambassador and substitute teacher in an attempt to bounce back on her own. 

“I had formed a co-dependency,” says Celia. “I didn’t want to face figuring out how to pull myself away from these ties I had with her, because her promises of all the money coming back were keeping me with her.”

When pushed for results, Miller would show her work. While Celia’s parents were gone, she invited Miller to her house. Armed with a small bottle of holy water, Miller walked carefully through every room, taking inventory of the energy in the house. She sprinkled holy water on her fingers and drew crosses above the doorways to expel the evil spirits bringing darkness into their lives. 

For a time, the prayers seemed to work. 

By summer’s end 2009, Miller had a new lead on Celia’s life. She called from Atlantic City and told Celia to come visit. It was where Celia was supposed to be, closer to a big city. In order for her to find love, Celia needed to go out there for a weekend.

So Celia got in her car and drove eight hours to meet the Millers at their hotel on a Saturday. She gave Miller $2,000, spent the night and turned right around and drove home Sunday because she couldn’t afford to miss a day of work.

“I wanted to get everything she said was coming,” says Celia. “I didn’t want to be stuck with this debt, and if she had told me she’d help me, I was going to see to it that she would.”

For almost a year after returning from Florida, their relationship was a tug-of-war. 

As Miller needed Celia less and less, Celia reached out more, threatening to file for bankruptcy if Miller didn’t help pay off the debt she accrued. Miller obliged, giving Celia enough to keep her afloat. 

“I wasn’t going to let her go as much as she wasn’t going to let me go,” says Celia.

Then in September 2010, Miller made Celia buy her a washer and dryer. “She was like, ‘Can you help me? ... You’re my sister. We’re going to be in each other’s lives forever. You’re helping me,’ ” recalls Celia. “‘The way you’re helping me, I help you and we give strength to each other for everything to keep working.’”

So Celia tried opening one last line of credit to make it happen. 

It was denied.

“She said, ‘It means we’ve got more work to do,’ ” says Celia, shaking her head.

But Celia was done. She told her family, went to police and filed for bankruptcy. Celia’s losses were more than financial, however. 

“I have no youthful life of the 27-year-old I used to be who had adventure and confidence and gets a one-way ticket somewhere,” says Celia, tears welling in her eyes. 

“My life has no resemblance of what others my age at 35 have,” she continues, wiping away the tears as quickly as they fall and taking a sharp breath. 

“She took my time,” says Celia. “She robbed my brain.”


Celia was one of four people who reported Miller to the police from 1998 to 2015. 

“A misconception by most police and prosecutors is that when you undertake one of these investigations that you’re trying to prove whether or not the alleged criminal is actually psychic or not,” says Nygaard. “That really has nothing to do with it, because what you look for is the proof of the lies and the theft.”

In fact, it took until March 2015 for police to investigate Miller after a 72-year-old woman from Concord reported that she had been scammed out of $106,000. Her story was remarkably close to Celia’s. She maxed out her credit cards, bought a $13,000 watch and drained her annuity of $35,000, all in exchange for Miller to keep her son and granddaughters safe from some impending tragic accident. The difference, however, was that this woman kept a journal of all the transactions and receipts needed to prove the amount of loss she suffered.

“On the surface, it appeared that the victims willingly handed over their money or these gifts for service,” says Mentor police detective Mike Malainy.

During the six-month investigation, police encountered victims with harrowing stories of deceit.

The woman from Concord reported Miller held her hostage on several occasions, driving her to local businesses to take out cash advances. The woman was so fearful, she left a note in her locker at work stating that if she ever went missing, it was probably Miller’s doing. 

A Chardon man in his late 40s struck up an ongoing relationship with Miller in 2000 because she promised to keep his incarcerated son safe in prison. When he was diagnosed with diabetes and became severely ill, Miller urged him not to see a doctor but to drink a special tea he could purchase from her instead. Eventually, his leg had to be amputated because he hadn’t received the necessary medical attention.

A 46-year-old mother of two from Willoughby started seeing Miller in 2006 when her basement flooded, she lost her job and her mother died all in the same week. The divorced woman took out a loan using her home as collateral, reverted back to her maiden name to escape her cursed married name and gave up her wedding rings to keep the darkness at bay. In exchange for imported beeswax and prayers at Northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania churches, she lost more than $163,000. 

“I thought this evil was in my life,” she says, requesting to remain anonymous. “I felt like that was the reason for everything falling apart. I would believe the darkness was there, that the evil was there.”

During the investigation, the Mentor Police Deptartment uncovered more than a dozen other victims who had never come forward. “They thought that they would die or be harmed in some terrible way if they even spoke to me,” says Malainy.

By monitoring Miller’s trash and planting a GPS monitor on her vehicles, police were able to prove she was deceiving her clients. She wasn’t going to local churches to pray over blessed linens and wax statues. Instead, she was making frequent trips to the Hard Rock Rocksino in Northfield and casinos in Atlantic City. 

“I’ve never seen a group of victims so maligned as the victims of fortunetelling fraud,” says Nygaard. “Anybody can fall victim.”


In late March, Celia invites me to her home for dinner. Her older brother is in town with his wife and two children for Holy Week, so family and friends have been dropping by unannounced to see them. 

Very few people outside her immediate family know about Celia’s relationship with a psychic, so she whisks me away to a spare room in the basement until her aunt and cousin leave.

Downstairs feels barely lived in, with a well-kept queen-sized bed and a large wicker canopy chair hanging from the ceiling. A large amethyst and a small smoky rose quartz Miller gave Celia five years ago sit on a shelf in the corner. Celia is not sure why she keeps them, but they add color to an otherwise drab room.

She tells me that she’s finally met with one of the other victims from the case — the 72-year-old woman from Concord. Tears instantly spring to Celia’s eyes. She feels a sense of guilt, because she believes she’s suffered a lot less than some of the others.

Since filing for bankruptcy, she’s put herself through school and earned her master’s in counseling and human development. She’s working full time now in admissions at a local community college and teaches yoga. 

Her younger brother has since moved out and things are more peaceful than they’ve ever been. She’s even begun collecting kitchen utensils in the hopes of getting an apartment in downtown Cleveland.

The woman from Concord, on the other hand, is still working two jobs and won’t file for bankruptcy. 

“She’s very alone,” says Celia. 

Celia’s father calls us upstairs for dinner. As we begin eating tri-colored rotini in a homemade red sauce, I ask how they felt about Miller’s intervention in Celia’s life. 

Immediately, her father puts down his fork. “If I would have known it before, all this would not happen,” he says.

The family agrees that Celia has grown more confident with every person she’s told. In just a few months since our first meeting, I have seen the light in her eyes surface. They’re not as deep or as dark as when we first met. Even when she announces to the table that she didn’t get a job at a local four-year university, she cracks a laugh.

“I’ll tell you what,” she says, “It’s a thing like that that makes me wanna go see a psychic! Like, what do I do?”

It’s hard to tell if she’s joking or putting on a show. But when her family chastises her for even thinking about such things, a small flash of grief ripples across her face. 

“The last person I would think about going to see is a psychic,” says her older brother sitting across from her.

“Yeah?” she asks. “Well, what’s wrong with me?”

Celia’s mom says there’s nothing wrong with her, but that she would never consider going to a psychic either.

“You don’t believe in the possibility?” Celia asks, turning to her mom.

“No, I don’t,” she says. “I believe in God and faith, but not in a psycho.”

The family laughs at her mistake. Sometimes she mixes words in her occasionally broken English, but here it’s almost a Freudian slip. 

When I ask if Celia ever genuinely believed in the curse Miller prophesied, she nods her head. “A part of me believes in this Malocchio business,” Celia says.

Malocchio — the evil eye. A part of Celia’s Italian culture, it holds that evil spirits can be summoned by someone’s jealousy of you. Celia’s older brother even wears an Italian chili pepper on a necklace beside a golden cross to ward off evil.

“I believe in miracles,” says Celia’s mom. “But I don’t believe in superstitions because it’s against my religion.”

Celia is quick to defend herself. She still carries wishes for a promising career, a good husband and the opportunity to travel written on slips of paper in her back pocket. She doesn’t hesitate to point out her mother is just as superstitious, although perhaps in a different way. Just the other night, she told Celia not to sit at the corner of the table, because if she did she’d never get married.

“We wanted to give them a new set of knives,” Celia’s sister-in-law chimes in, perking up at the head of the table. “She gave us a dollar because if you give knives as a gift, it’s bad luck for a year or something.”

“My mother used to believe all those things,” says Celia’s mother, a little red-faced.

So, I push a little further. “Aren’t you curious, though,” I ask, “about the future?”

“No,” her mother says. “I don’t want to know because they could tell me good things or bad things, and I don’t want to know the bad things.”

Celia’s mom was diagnosed with stage 3B lung cancer three years ago. The chance of her surviving beyond the five-year mark is less than 5 percent.

“The faith is what keep me going,” she says. “The doctors help me, of course, but I have the faith and I put everything in my God’s hands and go from there.”

When another family member shows up at the front door, I’m asked to cut things short. Before I leave, I ask Celia if there’s anyone else I should talk to who knows about what happened to her. 

She pauses in front of a wall of family photos, and pulls her long dark hair over one shoulder. 

For a moment, I catch a glimpse of the girl I saw trudge into the coffee shop, weighed down by all that gravity.

“I have a hard time thinking people should spend the time on me,” she says.

As I turn to leave, I notice there’s an altar set up in the living room.

Celia’s mother can’t always get out of the house. So she kneels here to pray every morning and every night — not for herself, but for her family and friends. On the altar, there’s a large statue of the Madonna painted bright pink and blue.

“My mom won that,” whispers Celia. 

While attending a local festival after her diagnosis, Celia’s mom entered a raffle for the statue. “The person who was pulled wasn’t there,” says Celia. “They kept pulling, and her number was the third one.”

It was a sign the Madonna was meant to come home with her and a sign that good fortunes were ahead. Since then, Celia’s mom has traveled to holy sites in Jerusalem, Fatima and Lourdes in search of something to hold onto. 

Next year, she’d like to go to Medjugorje, the village in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared in 1981.

“She’d say it was a miracle,” says Celia.


*Cleveland Magazine has agreed to change her name to protect her identity as a victim of theft by deception.

X Logo