International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Love, Life and the Marines
wasnt like someone drawing the words on your back with a finger
while you tried to spell it out in your head. I was definitely trying
to spell out the words in my head, "Seek Happiness" but
I couldnt decipher the pain of one letter from the next, the
needle moved too fast for that. Every once in a while there was
a sharp sting, but I still couldnt see it in my mind
guy tattooing me wasnt very talkative. He sat behind me with his
hands on my skin intent on his task while I stared at the art on the
wall and ground my teeth against the grinding on my back. Sometimes
I tried to follow the direction of the pain but the buzz was too loud
and the scratching too distracting. So I just closed my eyes and pretended
that I could hear the music pumping through the speakers above me.
I took a lot of convincing to finally come through those doors; it was
like when I was a child walking into the doctors office. Except
back then my mother would be the one pulling me through the door instead
of Caitlin. She had gotten her tattoo months ago and it was beautiful.
A shooting star with musical notes decorating the trail perched elegantly
above her hip now. I jealously told her it was an ovary tat and she
told me at least it wasnt a tramp stamp.
"Mine wont be a tramp stamp," I told her. "Its
going to be on the side of my back, not in the middle. And its
going to mean something, not just be a random mash of swirly lines."
She shrugged and told me it was awfully close to being a tramp stamp.
At least with Caitlin I had learned that she could have her opinion
and I could have mine, and it was still okay. I was still working on
that lesson with other people in my life. Ive been a doormat for
a long time, and I know it. But the problem with being a doormat is
unless someone picks you up and shakes you once in a while, you just
kind of sit there soaking up all the dirty shit.
The buzzing continued and it was starting to get irritating. The noise
was one thing, but the scratching at my back was another. I heard it
described once as scratching a sunburn. That was pretty accurate, it
was painful but not to the point of tears or even speaking. Just to
the point to being irritating. Near the end I just wanted to stand up
and say to the guy Hey that freaking hurts. That would be
ridiculous though, since I wanted the tattoo and I was paying him to
give it to me.
I spent a lot of time picking it out, actually. And I figured I couldnt
go wrong quoting the Dalai Lama. Then there was the fact that who would
wipe their feet on the Dalai Lama? When the tattoo was finished I tugged
down on my jeans and looked at his handiwork. It was beautiful and bold
and exactly what I wanted.
"Do you like it?" Caitlin asked me. The urge to throw the
guys hands off me was gone and I was able to tell her that I loved
it. When I was finished admiring my body, the guy taped plastic over
it and let me situate my clothes while he rang up my bill.
"The artist was really kind of a jerk giving you your tattoo."
"What do you mean?" I asked. I was so excited to finally have
my tattoo that I didnt even really care what she was talking about.
"Well, when I got my tattoo the woman talked to me the whole time
and made me completely comfortable. I cant believe he didnt
say one word to you while he was tattooing you."
We drove to Brusters and got ice cream before going back to her
house. Caitlin and I grew up living about 3 and _ minutes from each
other, but we didnt become friends until high school. I always
thought it was how we became friends that made my relationship with
her so much different than with anyone else. We couldnt stand
each other, and actually got into a shoving match at one point. Well,
it was more like me shoving and her laughing at me.
Back at her house, I was finally able to take the plastic off of the
tattoo. I went to the bathroom, tugged my jeans down over my ass, and
pulled the blood soaked tape and plastic from my skin. It came off easily
because the blood wore the glue from much of the tape. It had actually
seeped through onto the band of my underpants.
When I removed it and dabbed at the crusted remains with a wet paper
towel I was able to get a good look at my tattoo in private. Seek Happiness.
I had that feeling right after something really great happens, like
getting a puppy or a new job, where I couldnt stop smiling. But
at the same time, I couldnt help but think what have I gotten
At that time, the thought was short lived. The tattoo was mine, and
it was a part of me now and I couldnt be happier. It was only
later that the thought came back again. I knew I could hide it for a
while, but it would eventually come out what I had done to myself. I
imagined it would go something the way Caitlins moms discovery
of her tattoo went. "Why would you mark your beautiful skin like
that?" She had said.
Of course, Caitlin and her mom disagreed on almost everything that they
considered beautiful. I knew my boyfriend really wasnt into tattoos,
at least on girls. He had told me once that tattoos were cool on a guy
but they would just look skanky on me. But for right now, the tattoo
was mine and there was no one to tell me it wasnt the most amazing
choice I had ever made.
It was only a few months before that something happened that had shaken
all the dirt out of my doormat self. My boyfriend had decided months
ago that it was his calling in life to be a United States Marine. "I
want that kind of respect from the people around me." He told me.
His father had been a Marine and would always be proud of that fact.
Pride is a strange thing in that way, you can be proud and completely
miserable at the same time.
Im still not sure if he was looking for pride or happiness out
of that choice. For my part, I was convinced that I would only find
happiness as long as we were together. The day we went to talk to the
recruiter together was sunny and bright. We walked through the mall,
hand in hand. His stride was fast and excited and he pulled at me to
keep up as we forced our way through the Saturday crowds to the back
corner of the mall where the armed forces recruiting office was situated.
The kids play area was right outside, but was almost always unpopulated.
As with most malls, its more exciting as a hangout for pre-teens
and their cliques. We walked into the office for a meeting with a Sgt.
Weller. He was young, probably not one or two years older than my boyfriend
and I, and he was of course enthusiastic. His cropped head bobbed as
he pulled two chairs up to his desk. I sat in a chair in front of the
large particleboard desk while he offered my boyfriend one to the side
of the desk.
"How soon could I go to basic training?" I heard my boyfriend
"Well, since you have a few months left of college, we would put
you into the DEP, then you could ship in June, when you were finished."
What is the DEP? I thought as I listened to the conversation progress
around me. The DEP, MCT, CO, active, inactive, reserves were all words
that had very little meaning to me, but seemed to make perfect sense
to the two men sitting around me. The only words I understood were 4
to 8 years.
When we left, he couldnt stop talking about everything the recruiter
had said. "He was so nice, though I wish they could offer more
to help pay back my loans." But for him, the other perks made up
for it. My contribution to the conversation was a chorus of nods, hmmms,
We made it to the food court and decide to eat lunch there and talk.
He never stopped chattering about how awesome it would be to be a Marine.
When I finally found enough frustration buried in a tight ball under
my ribs, I forced it out over his tirade. "So where do I fit into
It was the only think I could think of to say. It came out angry and
accusatory, but really, thats how I intended it to sound. He stopped
eating and talking for a minute to look at me.
"Well I thought I you would wait for me while I was in boot camp."
"Of course I would." I said, "But what about after that?"
"You would come with me of course."
"Oh" was all I could say to that statement. Who knew where
he would be stationed and how long he would stay there. I wanted to
scream that this is not what I wanted out of my life. But like always,
my mouth seemed stapled shut as I just stared at my food.
This is not what I wanted, I kept thinking it over and over but my mouth
wouldnt form the words. They finally came out after another ten
minutes of silence as a tiny squeak. My boyfriend looked confused, I
could only guess that he hadnt heard me so I forced to words out
louder. "I dont want this."
Now his face was a funny mixture of anger and hurt. "This is my
dream, cant you support me in that?"
I couldnt answer that question because I wanted to support him,
but I didnt know if I could. I didnt want to give up what
I had imagined for my life.
"I was thinking that I might go to graduate school while you did
"Why didnt you tell me that?"
"Im telling you now"
"But I talked to you about this before I decided to do it. I involved
you in the decision. It sounds like youve already made up your
"I just want to have something for myself when youre gone.
Even if I move with you, youll be in training or be deployed to
Iraq most of the time."
Now he just looked hurt, like tears would pour from him at any moment.
"I need you to come with me if I do this. Marry me and you can
live on base with me. Well never have to worry about paying for
housing or anything."
Now, I knew I heard the words marry me come out of his mouth, and I
was immediately sold. I would have given up anything to hear those words.
Its a strange feeling wanting something that depends completely
on another person. Its easy to justify giving up anything to convince
that person to give you what you want.
After that, the fact that he was joining the military barely registered
in my mind. I could be happy; I could take up hobbies and be the perfect
There is always a problem with giving up dreams, because they never
go away completely. When he left for South Carolina, I did not leave
with him. Back here in Pennsylvania, I was consumed with regret and
relief at the same time.
The first few nights after I realized he was gone were spent in my bed
staring at the wall and trying desperately not to cry all night. It
was too embarrassing, and I was certain I was making my poor roommate
feel awkward as hell. Instead I held it in until I could force myself
to sleep and in the morning I would get in the shower and cry until
my stomach was sick, thinking that no one would be able to hear me over
the sound of the water.
It was a hard thing to regain myself. For now, myself only
consisted of a zombie who went to class and cried in her spare time.
During those showers I would stare at the wall and up at the ceiling.
Sometimes I sat down and just breathed in the steam from the hot water.
Days went by, then weeks, and finally I called Caitlin who met me back
in our hometown and drove me to the tattoo parlor with my design in
hand. I dropped the paper on the desk for the artist to peruse. He nodded
at it. "This will cost $120 to do."
"Thats fine with me."
"Go ahead and have a seat while I draw it up."
We sat in the waiting room and flipped through one of the art books
situated on the shelves next to me. I remembered what he had said to
me the night we broke up, "Dont do anything stupid."
And even through my tears I was thinking "What the hell does that
mean? Its not like Im going to kill myself." I wondered
now if this constituted something stupid. Caitlin looked completely
calm, but she had done this before. My mind was racing with thoughts
of what the needle would feel like, what my mother would say, how could
I hide it, why did the machine have to be so damn loud? Then finally
it was my turn.
The artist called me into the back room. It was decorated with colorful
paintings and pin up girls. The ink was all set up on the counter. My
teeth started to chatter from nerves. "Ready?" He asked. I
tried to sound as resolute as possible when I said yes.
Caitlin sat across from the table to get a better view. I wanted her
to talk to me about anything, just so I wasnt thinking about what
came next. I think it was just as exciting for her to be able to watch
though, and she was completely absorbed in the process. The whole tattoo
took about a half hour, though it felt like an eternity to me.
"All done" the artist said as he wiped my back. The cool water
felt good on my raw skin. "Jump down and have a look." I slid
off the table, my legs lethargic from the tension in my body, and looked
at my back in the mirror. It was perfect; my eyes were glued to the
mirror. I imagine it is a little like giving birth, all the pain completely
forgotten once its over. I twisted my body around to look at the
beautiful scrolling letters. Seek Happiness it said. I read as I ran
my fingers over the black ink over and over again.
© Maria Dastolfo May 2009
Dastolfo.maria at gmail.com
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