Tag Archives: Tattoos

Lily-Colored Glasses

“What does this tattoo mean?” he asks, touching Akeelah in Reality, the larger one on my back.

“It’s a girl who meets a man who’s really a monster,” I tell him. “She only sees what he presents to her, but the whole time the monsters are coming out the back of him to swallow her. She realizes it almost too late, and now she is in a perpetual struggle to withstand corruption and stay safe, in the face of the evils coming to get her. If she looks him in the face and fully acknowledges what he is, she’ll be corrupted and lost. If she remains ignorant, she’ll be swallowed.”

“Wow. How did you come up with that?”

“I met some monsters.”


I was going through old messages to a friend, when I found this picture from a few years ago, with the caption, “I need to tell you about SA!”

I didn’t think this picture still existed. I’d deleted it from my phone, along with all the others concerning This Guy. But it turns out my phone saves all mms messages, and this sucker has been with me all along.

I considered deleting it again, but decided not to because

  1. We look good
  2. I look happy
  3. I look young

2 and 3 sort of go together. When I say that I look young, I’m not trying to be ridiculous and imply that I look sooo ollllld now, or that I have a fear of aging. Quite the opposite. By young, I guess I mean that I look my age, which at the time was 20. I look like a 20-year old in this picture, and I think it’s because I’m happy.

The other day in the teacher work room, we were talking about birthdays and ages. The 27-year olds were all surprised that I was five years younger than they. The 30 year-old suddenly felt awkward for hitting on me. My tattoo artist asked me if anyone ever told me I seemed very mature for my age. My ancienne French professor praised my “incredibly strong, emotional maturity”.

At first all of this was cool. It still is, a little, knowing that people will take me more seriously than they might other people my age. This is all when I don’t think about where it’s coming from.

When this picture was taken, the worst thing that had happened to me was my cousin jumping in front of a train. And, I suppose, meeting The Man, and then again finding him inhabiting another person’s body. It’s funny that all of that used to dominate my life.

When this picture was taken, This Guy and I were just ‘friends’. He hadn’t kissed me yet. He also hadn’t yet sat back as my cousin, his friend, abused me, or after our mutual friend, the photographer, raped me. In my life, I had only ever been assaulted. I was a virgin who was afraid of love and had never been in a relationship. As I type it all out, I understand that I wasn’t really innocent back then. The nostalgia of my present day tints it that way, though.

“The yearbook committee completely messed up my senior quote,” I complain to a girl I haven’t seen since high school. “It was supposed to be a quote from Tennyson, The Lady of Shallot? It’s a poem that takes place in Arthurian times.
“Basically, Shallot is a little island upriver from Camelot, and it holds a tower, in which a woman lives. No one ever sees her, but sometimes reapers hear her singing. She spends all day and all night, all her life, weaving at a loom. She weaves what she sees in a magic mirror that hangs beside her and shows her the outside world, and she can only look into the mirror, because there’s a curse on her should she ever stray from it. But she gets so tired of only seeing the world second-hand.

“Then one day, Lancelot stops by Shallot on his way back from a quest. He doesn’t really pay attention to anything, and just sort of bathes and sings to himself before riding off again, but that’s it for the Lady. She decides that she wants to see him for herself. So she leaves the loom, and looks out the window, and falls in love with what she sees. Only immediately afterward, she’s hit by the curse. She flees from her tower and gets into a boat heading after Lancelot toward Camelot, but she dies on the journey over.

“Anyway, my quote was

She left the web; she left the loom
She made three paces through the room
She saw the water-lily bloom
She saw the helmet and the plume
She look’d down on Camelot

“It’s the perfect part of the poem. She decides she’s had enough of the limits. In an extreme bout of courage, she leaves the world she knows, and for the one moment between leaving and the curse hitting her, everything is beautiful. Of course, the committee messed everything up and stopped the quote in the middle, saying it was by a Lily Bloom.”

In so many ways, I have tied myself down to my present understanding. As lies and manipulations have surfaced, as true characters are exposed, clarity necessitates that the cousin is gone, XXXXX is deleted, This Guy has been removed. It’s torture to look back on lies, to remember false realities, so I don’t. But I think I’ll keep this one picture. This Guy was never fully a monster, and the happiness in this picture is completely real. Everything about this picture is real, I am as happy as possible, and on the edge of Everything. This picture is a water-lily, and it’s nice to know that the past has flowers among the thorns.

I look at this picture, and the monsters slither and weave out of The Man’s back, and all I can do is put up my hand to hold them back, because I am tired. I am tired. And maybe it’s okay that I won’t have seven kids, because maybe I’m like an animal, aging faster than my years, and maybe 83 will come to me faster than it would a normal person.

Or maybe I’m not the Lady of Shallot, and maybe this is my awful moment at the edge of some great happiness, and maybe in aging quickly I’ll be able to retire faster. Maybe my boat will make it to Camelot before I’m dead. She did go out unprotected in a storm, and with my maturity comes weathering experience.


Knowing Moments

When the only person in the world with eyes that scare me was younger, she watched her grandmother get out of the bathtub. Years later she would talk about it, while showing a picture of a rip in a curtain, taken in the bathroom of a restaurant. The picture would be blurry, not really focused on anything, but you’d be able to make out the light shining through it. The light made the rip look, to me, like a bird. It made me think of the birds on my back.

People still ask about my tattoos, and it always surprises me. I think it’s because I’ve forgotten, for the most part, that they’re there. Maybe it’s because they’re things I’m already thinking of anyway, messages I’ve internalized. My tattoos have become a part of me to the point where I’ve forgotten I once paid someone to ink them into my skin, and feel more as though they’ve emerged on my body as manifestations of my thoughts. If my body were a house, my thoughts would be the ghosts haunting it, writing warnings and messages onto my walls.

This bird does not look trapped or free; it looks suspended. Janelle Monae before she steps into Q.U.E.E.N.ship. And through it, I can see, what? It’s unclear. Hope? Light.

Her eyes, and their directness, terrify me. She’s the only other person I know who has seen The Man in the corner of her room. I feel as though her eye contact asks something of me. I don’t know what, though, and I can easily understand how they could make a grandmother still, freeze her as she stands in the tub, capture her forever as the light glints off of her.

I look into those eyes and see the silhouette, feel the softness of the skin and the dampness of the towel. I feel safe. I don’t want to leave, and I haven’t even been here.

“What do you believe in?” he asked me.
“Moments,” I told him, except now I think that was the wrong answer.

What does belief mean? A lot of it, I think, has to do with faith, or accepting something to be true. I don’t know if I’m in the position to accept anything to be true. Things just happen, things just are, things are not. Things can simultaneously be and not be at the same time, and I would never want to tell you which. I think on an abstract plane, I hold faiths and beliefs. Concretely, though, I would not be able to state them and be fully there with them. So maybe I don’t believe in moments. I do, however, know them.

For such a long time now, two ideas have been repeating themselves to me, overlapping with each other and expanding together. They are




If the moment is right, it can trap part of you forever. Some bit of your mind will stay there, even if you don’t want it to, even if you aren’t always aware of it.
Some of the strongest moments are ones I was not even present for.

When my uncle was at a state dinner, his food was poisoned and he died.

When my aunt found my cousin’s body, she lay down next to it and told him to look after his brother.

When my father was five, Patrice Lumumba was assassinated, and Coco Meta had a man pretend to be her husband on the train because he spoke all the languages.

When the only person in the world with eyes that scare me was younger, she watched her grandmother get out of the bathtub.

And then there are all the moments that do belong to me, constantly swirling around my head too fast to be inked down. I could get lost thinking about all of them. I already am lost, for the most part. My mind is so split, fractured as different moments lock different parts of it away.

Half of these may reveal themselves to be lies later, and that part of my mind that believed in them will be gone forever. So believing in moments is dangerous. Recognizing, knowing, and holding them is another story. They are what I have.

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.