Archive for May, 2012

May 7, 2012

Fresh Ink

I cut the connection. I was done with that— I wasn’t going to prolong it. I was done hoping for that. But I wasn’t sure if I would be able to stop thinking about it. But whatever. I walked up the unswept stairs, past the furtive cobwebs, to the living room.  Nik and Daniel were there, debating the Phillies chances of failure or speculating on Daniel’s chances of not being awkward with another girl. I stood, not wanting to interrupt and afraid that if I sat, I would twitch until I generated enough static electricity for a lightning strike. They shortly paused and looked at me

‘Ashlee and I just broke up.’

Silence. Low mumbles reminiscent of a stomach grumbling eventually crawled exhausted from their mouths. If they knew how to react to such a starched statement, they were hiding it. If anyone was going to say anything definitive, it would have to be me.

‘Well, Cuddy and Ricky are going to John’s to play Rockband.  What do you want to do? I’m thinking of going. I haven’t seen John in a while and you guys would be welcome.’

‘Whatever you want to do,” murmured Nik. ‘If you need time alone or whatever…” Daniel nodded in agreement.

‘No, I want to go, but if you don’t want to, “I turned to Nik,” well, you are my guest…’ I stood, not finishing the thought, but flipping my keys around my index finger as I stared at the joint of two walls behind the television.

I eased into the driver’s seat of the Corolla and slowly exhaled.  With the turn of the key, Aesop Rock began to lay his smooth voice over a mid-budget beat, raising his voice incrementally as I turned the dial. The only voice in the car was Aesop’s, though I occasionally interjected swift, clamorous inhales from the imaginary cigarette between my fingers, clamping shut my lips to squeeze the imaginary smoke in my lungs as tightly as possible. The eventual exhale was like climbing into bed at the end of a long day.

We parked on the street and I called Ricky. I didn’t want to be the fulcrum of attention. Nik hardly talks when he’s with people he knows; he didn’t know John, and neither did Daniel. So we couldn’t be the first to arrive. Ricky answered and John was coming down to let us in. That Nik was more social with my friends than I was that night probably gave it away. But everyone gave me my space. I was off, but I was present and beating on the Wii drums with my usual abandon, so no one bothered me. I was just…off. And there was a screen to divert their focus. But I called the night early, and as we gave each other a parting embrace, I whispered the truth to Ricky.

But that was it. The two second, ‘We broke up,’ was all that was needed.  He mumbled his condolences softly without surprise, and I walked out as though nothing had been said.

Again, I eased myself into the car and, grasping the 2 and the 10 until my knuckles were snowcapped mountains, I exhaled. Clenching one’s lungs like one clenches the steering wheel is exhausting.  This time, my breath was visible like compressed nicotine- laden smoke escaping the bronchial cavity. I turned the key and Aesop resumed his monologue where he had previously left off. All he wants to do is pick apart the day and put the pieces back together his way.

Sleep came easier than it had the night before and still more easily than I thought it would, considering. I must have navigated by morning rituals successfully as I found myself in a pew, or as close as Glenbard West High School’s auditorium can offer to a vagrant Anglican. Gesticulating vestments guided my lips and body through the liturgy.  There was a too much internal static to concentrate on lips too far away to read. Turning the radio dial over and over reduced the static in cycles, but the relentless twisting had the effect of a citrus reamer. My folded hands shielded my eyes from the priest- lest he think his sermon was casting out my demons- as though he could see the meager trickle from across the room.

I got in the backseat of Cuddy’s van that afternoon, maintaining my presence but still avoiding the fulcrum. Fortunately, Cuddy chatters regardless of your attention span.  Our destination was a tattoo parlor in a north-side neighborhood which I did not frequent. I stared out the glass in front of me, absorbing the cyclical scenes of stoplights hung between six point corners. The wallet stuffed with fifteen Jacksons wedged under my left thigh cut off the circulation and my leg fell asleep, but I stubbornly refused to acknowledge my tingling discomfort. I heard Cuddy continue to form words and Ricky responded as necessary, but without their lips within my periphery, I couldn’t differentiate between the syllables.

I shifted my gaze from the crux of two walls inside Metamorphosis and found I had chalk outlines on my biceps. Three hundred dollars was a lot to spend for one sitting, but this was a match made by Heaven. This had been in my heart longer than I had known Cuddy and Ricky.  Longer than I had known Nik. Longer. My right bicep would bear the banner of my fathers, the Star of David. I had been born into this star and so had Albert Einstein and so had Jesus and so had Christianity.  Not that many Christians would admit it. The first covenant is woven into that star and the second is born into it. It is the beginning of me and so into it I wove the Alpha. My left bicep held the climax of the right; the cross, upon which Jesus died and upon which I have cudgeled my hopes, encircled with the Omega.

I sat on the faux leather stool with my right arm draped over a vinyl stand as Natalie arranged her tools. She slipped latex gloves over her tattooed hands and slipped plastic sleeves over two tattoo guns.  The stainless steel counter was covered in saran wrap and masking tape. Six ink capsules were adhered to the wrap with globs of Vaseline.

‘Why do you have two guns?’

I’m using two different types of needles.  The first is a single needle and I’ll use it to draw the outline.  The second is called a ‘shader’ and it is actually three needles to cover area quickly. Your other tattoo,’ as she touched my shoulder where my four year old Chi Rho was etched, ’is small enough that they probably shaded with a single needle.’

I nodded in affirmation and comprehension.  “Which was your most painful tattoo?”

She pulled one of the latex gloves up toward her fingers. On her palm was what appeared to be a simple sketch of the mechanisms sitting on the counter. ‘Probably this, although there is one on my foot that I have yet to finish because of the pain.’ She pulled the latex back down. ‘Are you ready?’

Again I nodded and murmured, ‘yup,’ as though I hadn’t heard the question.

If I hadn’t seen Natalie turn on the machine, I would have thought an angry wasp had entered the room and would have panicked. Her latexed fingers began to stretch my skin taut over my bicep. ‘If you want to pull out,’ I thought, ‘this is your last chance.’ And then I stared intensely as an oscillating steel needle injected black ink into my skin.

My muscles did not enjoy being stabbed repetitively and my skin did not relish being squeezed and stretched like silly putty. But there was no stopping now.  And it wasn’t because I’m not a quitter. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t going to walk out with an incomplete tattoo. And it wasn’t because I wanted to be a badass. It was because I couldn’t turn away.  To watch that needle weave its dark thread through my skin. To watch the excess ink mix with blood and flow like the Nile surpassing its banks to nurture the adjacent fields. To feel my nerves progress from calm to concerned, from concerned to pierced, and from pierced to burning. My whole body was coiled in reaction to the subjugation of its perimeter defense and my mental facilities were completely focused in observation.

To break the intensity, I’d allow my eyes to wander the studio. The walls were covered in sketches of varied themes and styles but my eyes frequented the grizzly bear flirtatiously covering her chest with one paw and carelessly dropping her bra with the other. But the drama unfolding between nerves, skin, and ink-covered needles always drew my attention back. All of me turned toward the etchings on my arms.

After she finished the six pointed star, Natalie wiped away the excess ink and the blackened blood that was creeping out of my skin.  She then grabbed a spray bottle and misted my muscle before covering the wound with saran wrap.

“What’s that?”

“Just a numbing agent,” she replied, before turning her attention to the omega and cross on my left. I shifted my position on the stool and lowered by right arm off the vinyl stand.  Even though I had taken care to move my wallet to the front pocket of my jeans, my ass was still asleep. She began to outline the diagram with the single needled machine.

As she approached the looser skin closer to my underarm, the pain sharpened and for a moment I glanced at the floor to the right of my feet. There was a dark mahogany dot on the lighter faux pinewood floor.  I glanced at my saran-wrapped arm. There were rivulets of blood with black splotches entrenched under the plastic, flowing under the edge. I grunted in surprise and Natalie raised her stoic eyes from her medium. She saw the blood stream and casually grabbed another paper towel, peeled back the saran wrap, and wiped up. Another mist was applied, the wrap was lowered, and she returned to the unfinished outline.

Before she switched to the shader, she took another look at my right arm; the rivulets were back. She started the cleaning process again.

“Did you get drunk last night?” she asked, not quite accusatorially.

I had to pause. I didn’t think I had. What had I done last night?  All I could think about and all I wanted to think about was the burning in my arms and how I wanted to get back to the stabbing. But I strained and dredged for the answer. Nik was over. So was Daniel. Did we do anything after leaving John’s?

“Umm, no. No, I just had one Newcastle. Why?”

“The only guys I ever see bleed this much are the ones who’ve been trashed recently.”

“I thought you had people sign a waiver saying they’re not drunk?”

“Yeah, here we do. Other places, not always. Sometimes that’s just lip service to prevent a lawsuit. And sometimes they’re coming in the day after a bender.”

“Oh, right,” I murmured as both our attentions once again sharpened on the color filling in the cross and omega outline.

Ninety minutes. “An hour and half,” Ricky replied, when I asked how long it had taken. Despite the numbing agent Natalie had sprayed on them, my arms felt as though they had been dragged across a gravel driveway. It was impossible to ignore the pain during the process, but I didn’t need it to stop- I could have kept going. Let’s get another tat now! But now that it was done- now that there was no process to watch- I just wanted the burning in my biceps to subside. I pulled three hundred dollars, fifteen twenties, out of my wallet and, folding them in half with my thumb, gave them to Natalie.  She in turn handed me her card with nonchalance. I placed it in my now empty wallet and stepped out onto the street.

There was a black Cadillac CTS parked in front of the studio, as close as it could get without the violating the personal space of a nearby fire hydrant. The temperature had dropped since we entered the building, but I did not put my hoodie on; instead, I draped it over my shoulder as I turned back towards the door to check on Cuddy’s progress. He and Ricky exited the parlor and we turned south towards the van. As I sauntered behind the two of them, I flexed to feel the lightning surging through my nerves.

Advertisements