18 December 2014

There Is Only One Path

About three years ago, I had an otherwise random dream on what I assumed at the time was a random night. Presumably this dream had a plot, inasmuch as dreams ever do (mine are very often Edward Gorey-esque affairs with roast chickens on velvet cushions, cartoon dogs piloting flying handlebar mustaches, or what-have-you) but what I remember from this dream was waking with a very clear image of a tattoo. I've had two tattoos since my mid-twenties. One means a lot to me spiritually and metaphorically; the other is a random lizard on the small of my left hip. I frequently forget I have that one since, you know, I'm so rarely standing behind myself while I'm naked. I remember thinking I wouldn't ever get another one. I didn't want it to become a habit, something that I just did the way I occasionally pierced my ear or my navel
--that last is something, by the way, I'd advise against doing within twenty-four months of cancer surgery and multiple doses of radiation. It helps to have an immune system if you're going to be poking bits of metal into the soft parts of your body. Just a lesson from someone who didn't think that through at the time. As Dooce says, be ye not so stupid.

Anyway, back to the dream-tattoo. It was just a simple word, in a simple font. In a basic American Typewriter-type font, in black, was the single word:


on the inside of my right wrist. In true annoying dream fashion, the "o" had been turned into a red heart. (Because, really? Apparently my dream-self is kitschy? Gag.)

When I woke up, I thought I had been having a dream about 9/11, which was the next day. Then, on making my morning rounds of teh interwebz, I learned it was World Suicide Prevention Day. Apparently this is a thing on 10 September every year, and I hadn't known it. And I found this out that September tenth via a tweet from the fine folks at To Write Love on Her Arms, otherwise known as TWLOHA. It's an organisation I've heard of but not really had a whole lot of interaction with, though I hold its founder, Jamie Tworkowski, in high esteem by reputation.

It's possible my subconscious knew the significance of the date, and it's certain that somewhere in the back of my mind I had the name of the organisation filed away--but that the dream happened when it did has stuck with me since.  I've known since putting the pieces together that I was in for one last tattoo. But I wanted to wait until I was certain that the design was what it was supposed to be (since, you know, this is a permanent thing I'm sticking on a much more visible part of my body than my butt or my ankle).

Over the years I toyed with some design elements, textual phrases, fonts. Nothing seemed right. I had just about decided on a design--a particular phrase written in a research notebook for me by a beloved friend while I wasn't looking, in his handwriting--when (as previously recorded) the, erm, excreta hit the overhead air circulation device with said beloved friend, not to mention said friend's unwitting embroilment in a certain, shall we say, "tattoo snafu" and, long story short, such a design became inadvisable.

A few weeks ago, it dawned on me. What better way to write love on my own arms than to use the words and the hand of a man who loved me better than I loved myself in those darkest days? And what better place to mark this love than Nashville, a place that is struggling to teach me so much about love these days, in all its widest and most illogical forms, whenever I'll give in and let it?

Yesterday, the first night of Hanukkah, a night when I was always guaranteed to talk to Robin even though it was often only a text or email conversation, I scarred myself one final time, with his words in his own handwriting.

(the tattoo is straight; it's my arm that's crooked here)
Remarkably, without meaning to, the tattoo artist (a friend of my hosts') aligned the design perfectly with the, uh, existing real estate, so that the first downstroke of the "t" emerges directly out of one of the deepest and most traced over scars. Even more remarkably, I'm not ashamed to look down at my arm anymore. The scars from the cutting are still there. In fact, while the tattoo is healing they're even more visible, I think. Maybe they always will be. But for the first time, that's ok. Because for the first time, the love is visible too.

Maybe it's always been there. Maybe, as usual, I just needed him to point it out to me so that I could see it.