Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Ink. The is the only remaining mark visible to the human eye of a snap-finger moment turned to dust. Like most scars, and it is one - its orgins are local and its relevance unforgettable.
There is this gorgeous girl around here who helps me look after my babies. The other day we were squealing over her new engagement ring and memorializing our scars. She is a Lone Star baby. Her skin bears the small mark of the great state of Texas. Mine, the lion from my family coat of arms. These are not foolish throw-away designs on skin that would see a great deal of love and joy and just as much catastrophe and physical onslaught: They are the things we will always be.
That tattoo was inked into me on a sweltering summer night in Danbury, Connecticut. I had just graduated from college. Law school was beginning, in seemed, instantly. My girlfriends were off to five continents to explore. Their educational road was over for the moment, but I could only afford to realize the three year slog to the bar exam. The previous summer had been spent in cloistered conditions studying for the LSAT exam which was only slightly less rigorous than my undergrad work.
No freedom in sight. My experience with liberation after graduation took one hour, a needle, four Corona's, and two shots of tequila, in that order. Looking back, I have now told you everything I know about liberation to this day as well.
Now that I know what I know, that moment was only split seconds away from the worst decision of my life. But you have to make them, those decisions you never finish crucifying yourself for; take those chances, earn those scars.
So, go on to law school. Do what your people dreamed for you. Tow the party line on and on.
But one night before, I bit a little harder on my own bullet, defied my parents explicit instructions never to mark any body they created, and had the lion etched into my skin and simultaneously seared into my soul. "Strength. Perseverance. " the translation of the motto under that lion. Ferocity. Dauntless courage. I would always belong to that family, to those words, to the concept of having been born into people who had the strength and presence of lions. Whether their familiarity with those concepts was indeed genetic or the happenstance of familial personalities, perhaps I will never know. One certain thing existed there however; it was the only real and enduring concept in all the ones I considered leading up to that night. I knew people with foolish tattoos; if a girl from a good family was going to be inked, she better think hard about what she was carrying around for a lifetime.
When it came to entering graduate school that fall, I was on my own by my choosing. I had worked on an EMS unit since I was eighteen; forever trying to decide if I would be a doctor or lawyer. I upgraded my life saving credentials and in express violation of the American Bar Associations rules for studying the law, stood, alternately, the first and third watches on a medic truck. Exhausted? Adrenaline wakes you up like an electric prod to the heart, believe it. But once it wore off, if I did not have my license to dispense medicine on pavement in my pocket, I would not have known my name most days. I memorized Brown v. Board of Ed with my steel-toe'd boots propped up on the dispatch screen. A cage of my own making. No question about it, I stripped myself of my own liberation.
But none of this was a wasteland of things that never added up, one moment is the fated riser to the next.
As I held people together inside crushed vehicles, I would come to a clear understanding about why the ideals that dropped me into the nightmares of others and tort law were too divergent for my mind's sense of fairness. On any late night in the New York metro region, the malpractice arrow could have stabbed my two good hands only hoping to get a human life to the ER doors in salvageable condition. One morning I was working an accident and waiting for a trauma helicopter to land between power lines. I looked up to realize a lawyer had stopped on the scene and was being waived off by a patrol officer. As surely as I knew I had to keep working to keep that kid awake, I knew the law was someone else's future.
But the tattoo remains unquestionably right about those days even as everything else can reinduce unshakeable square-peg-in-round hole sensations. Never have I been, as my parents warned me I would be, sorry that I have it.
My partner on those shifts was an Adonis of a guy who was as decent a man as I have known. He was there the night the night the lion took its place on my back. He understood, after summers and breaks watching me focus on nothing but succeeding, excelling, that it was time the path was shattered, even if only for a split second. I'm going with you, he told me. I didn't argue, he was mostly always with me anyway, that is a partner for you.
We wore BDU's and wide belts to work. The tattoo was, for my line of work then, poorly placed; directly under my belt line. At the start of every shift for weeks, we filled oxygen tanks and he redressed the wound. It was what we knew to do. One morning he said to me, looks mean.
Still feels good, I told him. Despite all the admonitions, I can still say the same with absolute certainty. Even as it is recolored this week, that old pain is one of the best ones I know: The sear of a point in time when I owe to nothing and no one.
As I was talking to our gorgeous girl about tattoos, she paused for minute when I said I had a one. "Does that surprise you?" I asked her.
"No." she said slowly, "Not once I stopped to think about it."
That is my cover. I don't care if you judge my book by it. But know if you do, you missed a damn fine read.