I decide to get the tattoo on my ribs. The tattoo artist is leaning over me, pushing the needle into my skin and carving the words when he asks, “Is this quote from a play or something?”
“Umm…no,” I say and look away.
“No.” I look at the walls. Underneath the many gorgeous pictures of possible designs, the walls are painted red. Every tattoo parlor I’ve seen has red walls. There must be a law.
I had a job interview at a fancy office. The lobby was modern and beautiful, white marble and chrome, like the architect moonlighted as the set designer for government headquarters in dystopian sci-fi films. The elevators didn’t have buttons—the doors just opened when I stood in front of the bank. Two women got in behind me and discussed the merits of the North Folk and if the Hamptons could ever be salvaged from the tacky hell it had become.
I watched us in the mirrored elevator doors. The other women looked amazing, professional but fashionable, thin but strong. My suit wasn’t right. I should have bought a new suit. I should have lost five pounds so the new suit would fit right. I’d been trying to get up early and exercise but all I’d accomplished was the ability to sleep in snooze-button mandated nine-minute increments. If I’d gotten it together months ago, I’d be ready now.
The elevator opened into another lobby. A pretty receptionist sat at a narrow, sparse desk decorated with a lone orchid. She looked me up and down.
“It’ll be a few minutes,” she said.
I sat in a chair that was molded and curved, modernist and expensive. I had a knockoff of the same design at home. I sat carefully on the edge of the seat and the muscles in my legs jumped.
This was the lobby of an office for people who already had a solid 401k account and had gone to a better college than I did. This was an office full of people who were better prepared for life, who woke up an hour early and exercised and were happy about it.
I could feel the receptionist looking at me and I wanted to apologize for even coming here at all, for wasting everyone’s time and thinking that I could ever work in a place like this. The orchid on the receptionist’s desk fit in better than I did.
But then the tangle of nerves in my belly tightened into something furious. Because yes, I would have done things differently if I could go back and relive my entire life but chubby thighs and crappy schools are not cardinal sins and knowing the differing levels of coolness between the North Folk and the Hamptons should not be a prerequisite for worth. I raised my chin and I looked over at the receptionist to challenge her, to catch her eye and hold it, and she wasn’t looking at me. She was watching something on the screen of her brand-new laptop.
Suddenly I thought of a Bill O’Reilly video. I don’t know why. That one clip from the late ’80s where he kept missing his lines and finally, finally, screamed at his disinterested cameraman, “Fuck it, we’ll do it live.”
I’d watched the video for the same reason the rest of the Internet had. A blowhard losing his mind over nothing is hilarious. His scream of primal rage, his head twitching like it was about to pop off and neither his fury nor his ridiculousness lessened by the presence of the other.
Fuck it, we’ll do it live.
The phrase came into my head like water for a fire, balm for a burn. I was not as skinny or smart or together as I wanted to be but fuck it, we’ll do it live. I could feel myself lean into it and I relaxed, loosened my jaw, stopped grinding my teeth.
“You can go in now,” the receptionist said and I squared my shoulders. When I passed her desk, I could see her screen open to Buzzfeed. I’d been waging war in her waiting room -- she’d been looking at cat videos.
A few months later, I was having lunch with a friend when she mentioned a quote that had been inspiring her. I don’t remember what it was, but I know it was wise, funny and tasteful, because she is all of those things.
I chewed my sandwich. “I think my quote would probably be, ‘Fuck it, we’ll do it live.’”
She’d laughed because she’d seen that infamous video too, and she probably thought I was kidding. I wasn’t. Since the job interview freakout, I’d thought “Fuck it, we’ll do it live” whenever I got anxious and it helped somehow.
“I think I’m going to get it tattooed,” I said, mostly to make her laugh but then I turned the idea around in my head.
I’d always wanted to get a tattoo but I hadn’t known what to get—what design I’d never regret. I scrolled through pictures of tasteful, delicate little scrawls on people’s wrists, hips and shoulders. All nice, all sweet. Not quite right.
“Fuck it, we’ll do it live” felt both right and like a completely terrible idea. What was I thinking, considering a meme tattoo? Branding myself with the word “fuck?”
And then the tiny Bill O’Reilly that had taken up residence in my head chimed in like the world’s most rage-filled Jiminy Cricket and I thought, oh fuck it. Forward.
I decided on my ribs both because I thought it’d be less likely to stretch out and because I wanted somewhere private.*
“You could do your back,” my friend suggested.
I shook my head. I wanted some place I could see it.
“So where’s the quote from?” the tattoo artist asks as he presses the needle into my ribs.
“You ever seen that clip of Bill O’Reilly losing his mind?”
He pulls back a little. “Bill O’Reilly?”
“It’s not from his show or anything. He had a tantrum and someone filmed it and leaked it. And I don’t know. I’ve been using it as a life quote.”
I can feel his arm shake as he laughs. He has to put down the tattoo gun.
“Well, at least you’ve got your life quote figured out,” he says. “Some people never get that done.”
When he finishes, I stand in front of the mirror and look at where I’ve been branded. The skin is puffy and red—the ink is still thick and beaded. It would look better if my ribs were more prominent. I shift so that the chub on my hips doesn’t muffin top over my jeans and when I grimace at the curve of my belly, I notice I’m getting a wrinkle between my eyebrows that I’ve never had before but of course, I’ve never been this old before. And god, I am getting so old. I cannot believe I am getting this old and I have not done what I’ve wanted to do and then I look down at my ribs. And think, fuck it. Because I have a Bill O’Reilly quote tattooed to my body in stark black and white, just hanging out under my boob, and I will regret this someday but right now, it feels like the most gleeful, insolent freedom.
I watch in the mirror as the tattoo artist wraps my chest in plastic to protect the new ink. I press against the tape, feel the words burn and my reflection grins.
* Speaking of which, my apologies for not including a photo of said tattoo, dear Internet. I am, apparently, more than happy to share my hopes and dreams, insecurities and fears, but am not yet ready to publish pictures of boob-adjacent real estate.