This year was the year I got interested in getting a tattoo. Perhaps what I’m saying is that this year was the year I got interested in permanence. Last year ended with me holed up inside a room in a frozen ghost town, writing what would become a book that people have said kind things to me about at the end of this year. Reading this really helped me through a bad time, says a woman who holds my hand between hers, and we both nod slowly in the same time signature. This helped me mourn my dead friends, says a twentysomething guy with beautiful and haphazardly dyed red hair, before showing me a tattoo on his arm that is a memorial to one of those dearly departed, while I nod slowly, again, a metronome of understanding. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to hold the sadness of strangers. It’s something I imagine my work asks of people who don’t know me, and so I am compelled to do the same for others. Obligation isn’t necessarily the word I’m looking for, but perhaps whatever happens when obligation meets a small type of mercy.
A lot of my pals have tattoos. Some of them are regrettable scrawlings from a past season of life; some are full-blown, carefully constructed art pieces. One pal has birds bursting from a spot above her shoulder and rushing down her arm. Another pal has a small “x” or two along his hand, a relic from his straight-edge days on our punk scene. He hides them now, especially when flicking a small flame from a lighter to light his cigarette. I always imagined myself both too indecisive and too anxious to get a tattoo — a combination that is a nightmare for something going on your body forever. For years, I simply admired tattoos of my friends from afar, even going along with some to watch them get their tattoos done.
I find myself navigating the world now by measuring that which can be taken away. I’m sure you may do this as well. Perhaps even more than I do it myself, depending on how you identify, or what privileges you do or do not hold. It is impossible to hoard even the vague words — like “love,” which can slip through your fingers like sand in the wrong season. It’s not that I’m boring; it’s just that I have an intimate relationship with all of my fears. That might be the same thing, or at least it might be in the same family of things. There’s the thing about doing away with all the things that do not serve you, and I try. I left behind a couple of once-close friends this year. I emptied out a closet, parting with clothes that reminded me of a time sadder than this one, if you can imagine. I keep my fears because I am served by them still. I keep my sadness because it serves me to remember that joy is a privilege, even though I ache to make joy the default.
At the start of summer, I sat in a running car outside a tattoo studio in Columbus, Ohio. I hadn’t made an appointment or anything; I just figured I’d walk in and ask some questions. Kind of like the first pass at shopping for a used car. I didn’t tell any of my friends I was going, or even that I was considering a tattoo. I figured I’d get one and then bring it up casually in conversation, hoping to not make a scene. Years ago, a woman I knew leaned on a brick wall outside a bar and blew a plume of smoke in the air before telling me that my first tattoo should be whatever I saw in lights when I closed my eyes. On her right arm, she had a dove trying to claw its way out of a cage. When she was buried four years later, her parents had it covered up for the funeral.
I see the word “Resilience” in lights when I close my eyes. I see it everywhere, but especially then. When signing a book for someone who told me a story about the heroin overdoses in the small town they’re from, I spelled the word incorrectly, forgetting an “i” so that it read “Resilence.” It’s funny, what our small sounds can provide in the way of meaning. I wanted the word on my body, in a place I hadn’t determined yet. I just wanted a thing that I decided was mine that couldn’t be taken from me unless I wanted it to disappear. The lover who returns each morning. I sat in a running car for nearly 30 minutes—long enough for people to become suspicious, I’m sure.
I have no tattoo on me today, and I think I’ll probably make it through another year without one, and who is to say, really, what I’ll survive next year with or without. It is the time again to make promises that we’ll only maybe keep, friends. It is the time again to wish ourselves slightly newer, better engines than we were. I don’t know how we all keep doing it. I can only speak for myself and say that I have stopped looking at the news first thing in the morning, and I instead wait for the sun to slowly move its palms across my face before I get out of bed. I instead squat down in the park and hold my arms open for the dog that is not my dog but still runs to me like I have had its name on my tongue for an entire life. I instead kiss poets on their faces and say, What a miracle, oh, what a miracle that we’re still here. I imagine all these things to have a type of permanence now. I imagine that the sunlight becomes a part of me, and the brief warmth it affords becomes a part of me, and the world is undoing itself at our feet, isn’t it? And so it turns out that I want to wear everything that brings me joy on my skin always. It turns out I want so many of you to never leave.