I was born on July third, the same day as Franz Kafka and Tom Cruise. I used to think the fireworks on the fourth were for me. I was born in 1983, and Kafka was born in 1883 and before I understood what reincarnation was, I used to trot around feeling really awesome about that connection. I have no feelings about sharing the day with Tom Cruise, except to say that if he ever wanted to throw a double birthday party, I wouldn’t be opposed if only for the photographic opportunities such an event would present.
When I was 18 I got a tattoo on the upper-center of my back. I got it on my birthday. At the tattoo parlor I made my friend Tal hold my hand and tell me a story to get me through. It hurt, but not that badly. I was just that specifically teenage brand of dramatic. Adults squirm for those teens when they witness it. At least, I do when I see or hear them now. They are the ones screaming “OH MY GOD” on the subway. They are the ones singing loudly as they walk down the street. They have no shame. They cannot be abashed. They are moving too fast and working too hard for that.
I was the loudest, most lying-est, shy person on the planet. I stank of Gap’s Heaven scent and underboob sweat and new, strange, adult aromas that made me worried. In my mind I reeked of vagina, always. I didn’t want to be quiet or still or boring for a minute because then everyone would learn the horrible truth: I was boring, I was bad, I was worthless.
I wanted to blurt out a wild tale and make everyone laugh. I wanted a boyfriend.
Not a lot, really, has changed. Except, I guess, this weird spurt of self-awareness that’s started happening. Less of a spurt and more like the very satisfying feeling of extracting a blackhead from your chin. You know, when you finally grab the waxy top just right and pull? It starts to give way and you see that it's much longer than you realized. It’s practically a root. It’s the kind of blemish that once removed leaves in its wake a creepy, open, black hole on your face. The thought makes my stomach wobbly.
As the needle passed over my spine and my limbs shook, I remember Tal panicked and began recounting me Melville’s Moby Dick. We all went to a Chinese restaurant afterwards, and even though my back was sore and hot I felt so lucky and loved to have those people as my friends. To be ‘in’ with them was as rebellious as the tattoo. Silly, silly, silly. I don’t even know if I liked them or they liked me. I didn’t know the first because I was so caught up in making sure they felt good I never checked in with myself. I didn’t the know the second because I kept ‘me’ so well-hidden they never had a chance to get to know her. I am the trapped dirt twisting and roping beneath the surface. I am the warm pus in the darkness. Get rid of me and there’s just a weird hole.
The tattoo is a severe, black rendering of a sword. The point angles down towards my butt-crack. The final quarter of my senior year of high school I’d circle the building, listening to Pulp on my Discman and thinking about July. I wanted the sword because it reminded me of King Arthur. I wanted to be recognized and plucked from obscurity. I got the sword too, because it reminded me of Joan of Arc, and I was really into the Leonard Cohen song at the time. The idea of dying fighting was romantic to me. I am not a warrior, I am not a king, I am not a saint. I got the sword to remind me to be strong. Now it reminds me of being 18, which is different than what I intended, but not bad.
In the past month, I’ve gone from one tattoo to three. One, on the inside of my left wrist, and then, two weeks later, another on my right. They are two cats. On my left, the cat is walking, nervous, big-eyed, and frowning. On my right, the second cat is sitting up, smiling. The one on my right is goofy and pretty. I didn’t plan on adding him. I’d just planned on the nervous kitty on my left, but as he healed and the skin flaked away I was struck by just how lonely he looked. Yes. Correct. I was upset by the loneliness of a drawing on my own arm. I added the second as a strange impulse to correct this feeling, however strange. I wasn't unaware of the reason I got the second. That I liked how it hurt, that I liked watching it heal. This might be a bad thing to know about myself. I reject that thought.
I shared the photos of the tattoos on Facebook because of course. “Isn’t it nice when you start to become a caricature of yourself?” Asked one well-intentioned friend. White hot pain in my kidneys. Like a knife. Swift and fast. Mortification: Just as keen as it was at 17.
Then something bordering remarkable happened. I let it go through me faster than hurt has ever left before. Is that the drugs, or is that therapy, or is that just me? Probably some delicious combination of all three. That makes me think of the dudes from those old 3 Musketeers commercials. Studs who come baring nougat -- that's me.
I studied the cats on my wrists and I was glad the right was there to keep the left company, even if that sounded foolish or deliberately cute of me. Their placement wasn’t accidental. The sit with their black lines and bright yellow eyes directly above the big blue veins that do the hard work of moving my blood around and keeping me here.
Back before, back when things were just screaming white noise and terror, I’d stare at my wrists and feel queasy. I’d get that blackhead-empty-pore feeling all over. My stomach was filled with that debris, that pus. I was afraid of what I thought when I looked at my wrists. It was like people who talk about standing on the edge of buildings and worrying that out of nowhere they will jump right off. I look at the cat on the left and see that worried, overwhelmed time. I look at the cat on the right who is perfectly -- stupidly, even -- happy to be alive. How could you not be? He asks. Stupid cat, I say. Because I can't think of reason to disagree with him, but I still feel like fighting.