Explaining My Tattoo

Two birds are supposed to meet on a wire, but they’re separated by train tracks.

One is trapped, one is free; one is you, and one is me.

The birds are crows, or as I refer to them, souls. I’m not entirely sure where I heard this or if I’ve made some of it up, but I have always understood crows to be the lost souls of people in limbo (or purgatory). There’s something macabre-ly hopeful about it to me. These people messed up in their lifetimes, but they aren’t condemned for all time. Instead, they must fly around, travel and explore, and somehow find the path they need to take in order to reach salvation. When I talk about salvation, I do not mean in a biblical or strictly religious sense. I believe in souls, and I believe that sometimes the vessels that hold our souls, our bodies, break before our souls are ready to move on. And then where can they go, floating around the Earth without aim or anchor?
I like to believe that they turn into birds. Birds that fly high and far while staying bounded to Earth; birds that are beautiful, dark, mysterious and haunting. After the funeral, crows clustered outside my cousin’s house. There were two patrolling the gate that we drove out of as we left for the airport.

Two crows. One is you, you being Person One, my cousin. My same-aged, closest thing I had to a sibling, cousin. The other is myself. Trapped, free; you, me; dead, alive. That should be in there as well, as it’s what I tell most people in lieu of the “you, me” bit anyway. You got to the tracks before I could meet you, before I could save you. I didn’t think it was our time yet, and you beat me to the tracks, so now one bird is trapped in the tracks on my back, and the other is free, flapping its wings about to take off into flight.
Only, who is who? I let people guess which is dead and which is alive, which is you or me if we’re particularly close, but few of them ever find the correct answer. The answer is that we are both. When you jumped in front of the train, you trapped yourself in those tracks. You will never come back. Sometimes I remember this, and it’s like I can’t breathe. I still catch myself thinking that I’ll run into you somewhere, or see you on a visit, and when I realize that this will never happen, the grief overwhelms me and it’s all I can do not to lie down and paralyze myself. I’ve learned the hard way that despite how much you may want to, lying down and dying is simply impossible. If it weren’t, I would have done it by now. But I’m stuck here, living. You trapped me, One. You stuck me on Earth. No matter how sad I ever get, I know that I can never follow you.

You were in my vision. Not so much a dream, because you have not yet appeared in one of those, but you were in a vision. I was standing at the edge of a building, crying and scared. My face was in my hands, but when I took them away, you were in front of me. You held out your hand, saying that things would be okay, that you knew what was chasing me, and if I would just take your hand, you would lead me to safety and happiness.
Of course I took your hand, and I followed you as we leapt into the sky. We were flying! Holding hands, looking up, and flying.
I did what you are never supposed to do, and looked down. I looked down at my dead body on the ground; somehow, my soul had left it as it dropped off the building, and I hadn’t noticed. But now I saw it lying there, and I saw people coming out to mourn it. I saw my parents draped over the body of their only child. I saw your parents, already ghostlike, turn into living stone. I saw the rest of our family angry, and I saw my friends abandoned. I saw the kids that I used to care for confused as they heard that I killed myself — because that’s what it looked like to all of them. No one understood that I was freeing myself and that I was finally happy, with you. They all looked so alone and betrayed, I wanted to go back and help them, comfort them, let them know that things were okay.
“If you go back,” you told me, “You’ll never see me again.”
“But how can I stay with you?” I asked, “Knowing exactly how they all feel? How can I leave everyone in pain?”

And then I was waking up, back in my body on Earth, and here I am. I’m stuck here, while you’re free to fly off into the sky, but you also can’t leave. I need to find a way to feel free while staying alive. I suppose it’s what I’ve chosen, although empathic distress really chose it for me. I hope that what you said was wrong, and that somehow I do see you again. At least, barring an extremely unfortunate accident, my tattoo can’t leave me.


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