By Jennah Kelley
We bounced up to the door, and my
friend roommate housemate sister-person Tricia reached for the handle and pulled.
“You’ve done that like three times now!” I said loudly, laughing as she crumpled her face in a comical mask that looked like a cross between a frustrated baby and genuine smile.
The “Use Other Door” sign should have tipped her off even if she hadn’t already failed to enter the building through this same door two other times. But we were both excited, and it could have just as easily been me pulling back on the door that would never open.
We’d been planning this day for over a year. It’s an important decision: where to lay the ink on your body. You only get one lovely skin canvas, and they don’t make erasers for these kinds of things. Tricia wanted to get a tattoo for a long time. “When I am afraid I will trust in thee” were the words she quoted to me when I asked what she would like.
We didn’t start talking about it seriously until I came home with my fresh tattoo. I wanted one for years as well, but I never knew what I really wanted to say or show so much that I would emblazon it upon my arm for the whole world to see. It took something big to push me over the metaphoric cliff of wanting, to the free-fall freedom of doing.
When I lost my father, all I really wanted was him back. Since that wasn’t an option, I just wanted to remember him forever. “You are the one for me” was something he always said to my mother and us kids. The words came easy enough, but then it was umpteenth-month-long process of where to put the words and which font to use and Photoshopping it onto my body in various different pictures at different angles and locations that took so long.
When the time came, I got pumped up, took my sister and my best friend, hopped onto the chair and braced myself. To my delighted surprise, it barely hurt at all. And that is exactly what I was hoping for Tricia.
She was nervous. In all fairness, a stranger was about to stick a needle into her back hundreds of times to produce the words she chose. I’d been nervous, too.
We got over the locked door episode and continued inside, as giddy as all those bimbos we hate who get really excited about chocolate milk or pretty note cards. We presented ourselves to the receptionist and announced that we had an appointment. A short wait and a few happy yet tense moments later, we ventured into the room of transformation.
Fully aware that I was going to be doing a photo essay on the event, I started to scope out the room. Where could I stand to get the best shots? When did I want to take them? Should I ask the artist? (Yes. Don’t upset the man holding the cosmetic future of Tricia’s back in his hands.)
After I obtained permission and received instructions (don’t block the light and don’t get too close), I fired up the camera and embraced the smart phone photographer deep within.
However important I deemed my homework, my main duty that day was to my friend. I stood by her and became a coat hanger as she slipped off her shirt and undershirt so she could sit in the leather chair in a swimsuit top and jeans.
“Gotta bring you down a bit,” observed the artist while depressing the foot lever to lower the chair.
“I never hear that I’m too tall!” Tricia said.
We were both still completely giddy and adrenaline-pumped about what was about to occur that we laughed way too loud about her 4 foot 11 inch stature and the delightful irony of the situation.
All the prep had come and gone by this point. Alcohol
But that’s what friends do: we try to be there for the pain.
wipes and script stencil had been applied and photo documented, continuing to add to the anticipation. Spinning around in circles on the wheeled-stool that was my observation throne, I watched Tricia as she passed my eyes in each cycle of my merry-go-round. Neither of us could stop laughing as the moment of “first ink” came ever closer. Finally, and all too quickly, the time came.
“You ready?” the artist asked in an amused voice.
Such a trooper for not only tolerating us but being relaxed enough to allow himself to enjoy our craziness.
Tricia looked at me with whimsical fear in her eyes. I abandoned my spinning seat and walked over like a drunk person to join her. I reached out my hand and clasped onto hers just before the initial piercing. I was allowed to do that, even though Tricia is not an easy person to get close to. This is not me bragging, either. Tricia is like a new sister to me, a sister I gained as a result of a terrible situation.
Her ex-boyfriend lived with us and our other roommates not too long ago. But college is stressful for people and relationships, and that particular relationship was torn open by circumstances and differences. The end wasn’t easy for anyone.
It’s an awkward thing when people who are living together break up. It’s more awkward when there are other people living in the house. It becomes impossible when the man begins yelling and fighting for hours, trying to “work it out,” when everyone else in the house can see there’s nothing to work out.
But the whole thing becomes unbearable and dangerous when the man throws and kicks things.
Tricia and I moved out for a couple of weeks and lived on a friend’s floor. Her ex threatened me, and I didn’t want to be in the house with him, anyway. But more than that, I wanted to be there with Tricia.
She and I ate together. We vented together. We got homesick for our own beds together. When the time came, we dealt with him together. When you go through that with someone, there is a new level of understanding and affection that you gain. Anyone who has ever been a protective friend of someone who has an abusive boyfriend knows how I feel about Tricia.
After we got the ex out of the house and our lives forever, Tricia changed what she wanted to have inscribed on to her back. She had me listen to an Angels and Airwaves song one day with these words in the chorus:
We all make mistakes
Here’s your lifeline…”
I couldn’t think of a more perfect message. Mainly I just tried not to think about the days when the house was full of heavy fear and screaming voices. When I do think of that time, I have to thank God that Tricia got out. It’s a second chance that some people don’t get. Some people end up in those situations for their entire lives. But she got out. She got her lifeline.
As I stood there holding her hand, I thought of how I’d done this once before for her, albeit in a metaphoric way. But that’s what friends do: we try to be there for the pain.
But when the artist began to carve out the mantra into her shell, Tricia’s hand loosened and her face lit up.
“That’s it? That doesn’t hurt at all!” she announced.
People say the truth hurts, but I say that it doesn’t always have to. Sometimes something is just so right it doesn’t hurt to say it to the world, or write it on your skin.
Jennah Kelley is currently enrolled at BSU in the creative and professional writing program and will graduate with a BFA. She has lived in Minnesota all her life, and it will forever influence her writing, as will her family, friends, pets and all who have endeared themselves to her nerdiness.