Only Parents, Children, and Dead People (9)
Left and Right Collar Bone – Swallows with Banners – 32
Derek is out of treatment again. His sixth in eight years. We meet at Adam’s old shop, even though he’s gone. I have a handful of 100 dollar bills my newest boyfriend, Danny, gave me after a fight. A tall, lanky roofer who wears baseball caps and drinks Jamison straight, with a volatile temper and a cocaine connection.
Derek and I awkwardly exchange kisses on the cheek, our bodies stiff, avoiding too much contact. I have to fight the urge to melt into him, to hold his hand mindlessly as we have done thousands of times before. We meet in secret, my cell phone off in case Danny calls, because Derek and I are uninvolved and excessively involved at the same time. It only takes once, a single phone call, a casual “how are you” and the threads of the past pull tight in my chest.
We flip through pages of flash, studying panthers and pin-ups and exotic birds and flowers. We are both impulsive, and want to get a new tat right now. He has a settlement from Social Security, several months of back pay that deem him disabled. But, no place will accept walk-ins.
Before treatment, Derek got an Asian dragon on his forearm. It is thin and sharp, with skinny claws and wispy mustache. It hides his scars from self-inflicted encounters with razor blades and glass, mostly. He has it on his left arm, the same place I have the Virgin. He reaches over, brushes his fingertips against my forearm, traces the Virgin’s fragile outlines gently, as if he’ll break her if he presses too hard.
“I remember when you got this,” he says as his fingers move over the lines – her dress, her veil, the golden light that surrounds her head. “This isn’t how I wanted things.”
I pull my hand away, sharp and short, turn towards the walls of the shop with the images of swallows and ships, serpents and sea-life. The front wall is painted with blood-red poppies, paper-thin and translucent. When we had a garden together, that was our favorite flower, though it was stubborn and fussy, blooming only twice in three years. A single, top-heavy blossom balancing on a skinny stalk. I read once that poppies are a symbol for sleep, for forgetfulness. Maybe I’ll get a whole string of them, falling from my shoulders to my ankle.
“I was supposed to marry you,” he says, his head hung low, his shaggy hair crawling over his eyes.
“That would’ve sucked,” I say quickly and laugh. I don’t tell him I still have the dress, the wedding dress we picked out with the cherry organdy and lace. It still hangs, lifeless, pushed to the back of my closet. I was going to sew silk flowers all over the skirt, even though I didn’t know how to. But I was going to learn, just for one day.
I make an appointment the next day without him. I pick out two swallows, mirror images of one another, banners in their beaks. I have my children’s names written on each one in blocky, architectural print – ASTERA and EZRA. The swallows are blue, with hints of spring green, summer yellow. The tips of their wings stretch up, grazing my collarbone.
Wherever I go, people stop and tell my how lovely the birds are. Unlike the other tattoos, I cannot hide them. They are the brightest of all.
Filed under: Addiction, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Only Parents - Children - Dead People, Publishing, Tattoos, Uncategorized, Writing | 4 Comments
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