A Letter To... The Guy Who Got His First Tattoo for Me
“That’s our word,” you said in the dark the first time I stayed over at your house. I was sitting on your bed in your t-shirt and I shouldn’t have been there.
You had a flair for the dramatic. I think you still do. You were holding a cigarette in your mouth unlit like a character out of The Fault in Our Stars. I didn’t know that at the time. I’d read the book but forgotten the words and I thought of every piece of you as original.
“Everyone leaves me,” I’d said to you. I wasn’t good at making friends and my mother only valued me for the things she could brag to her friends about. Which wasn’t much. I was good at feeling alone.
So, you told me you would never leave and to prove it, Never, would be our word.
A couple of days later you called me on the phone. I was at my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving and my boyfriend of almost two years was sleeping in the next room. We weren’t allowed to share a bed until marriage in her Christian home and for once I was grateful for the rule.
“I’m going to get our word tattooed across my chest,” you told me. I thought you were crazy. We’d only met a few weeks ago when you joined the same dance team I was on.
I stayed on the phone with you all night. I kept the light off and my voice low so my family wouldn’t know I was awake. I tried to talk you out of that tattoo. It was too big. Too much. Too fast.
We’d never even kissed. I didn’t think you should mark your untouched skin for the first time with something that made me significant. I only succeeded in convincing you to make it smaller. A little line above your left peck.
All the girls on the dance team had told me you wanted to sleep with all of us. Like a game or a quest. But that seemed like an outrageous thing to do simply to conquer some random girl’s virginity.
You sent me the picture the next day. It was in Japanese. I thought for sure you had lied. I searched the word on my phone. Kesshite.
We marked each other.
The shimmering black tattoo on your chest is now a faded blue-green. Two thick scars across my right wrist have gone from bright red to pearly white.
You burned hot and fast like those cigarettes you said you never lit but your clothes always smelled of smoke. I still have the rusted razor blades and the stained gauze and the shirt with the matted sleeve. Some of the girls on the dance team gave me a gift bag and a card for surviving that suicide attempt.
I went Christmas shopping for you. I bought you a lighter engraved with your favorite quote: Infinite Forevers. I don’t know who said it, only that you said it to me, followed by “Sometimes forever is just one second." Which I think is from Alice in Wonderland.
I won’t lie, had the choice to cut our time short been up to me, I would have spent an infinite amount of seconds next to you. But I was younger than I am now and things back then felt like the entire world or nothing at all.
We were in your basement when I handed you the lighter. It was our last dance rehearsal before Christmas break. I’d heard about a blow job you received from another girl on the team on the front steps of her house but I didn’t care. I waited for everyone to leave. Or almost everyone. Enough that it felt private and handed you the little gift bag.
I have to get some lighter fluid before I can use it but I love it. You texted me with no warning. And I didn’t hesitate to reply.
It snowed a lot that winter. The sidewalk leading to your front door glittered in the streetlights.
The moments before I would walk up to your door leaving my footprints in the snow are some of the things, I remember most. Sitting in my boyfriend’s car telling him that if he didn’t say something now it would be too late and the silence that followed. Taking the bus with my backpack full of overnight supplies in the middle of the night and laughing to myself thinking I looked like a runaway.
You told me you were half-vampire. And you weren’t kidding. You wanted me to believe you and I said that I did. We made brownies in your kitchen and I sat on the counter and you kissed me like we were in a movie.
I watched the snow falling from the picture window as I laid on my back under the blanket fort you built us. You shared a room with your brother and you told me this night needed to be special. Everyone was asleep. The world was quiet, the sound sucked in by the untouched flakes nestling themselves into the ground outside. The world was quiet except for the feeling of your body against mine and the hum deep in the back of your throat.
We were naked. I’d never been naked next to a man. At least not on a living room floor.
I remember what you said when you rolled over next to me. But I’ll keep that between you and me.
My tattoo did not remain a singular event on your body for long. A quote across your throat. Vampire bites. Music notes. A rose on your forearm that had a petal falling into the palm of your hand. The petal faded quickly, the thick skin on the heel of your hand rejecting the ink.
I paid some guy in a kitchen thirty dollars to tattoo a rose petal on my ankle almost three years later. I mixed it into another tattoo. A disguise for the meaning of the poorly drawn, potato chip shaped, petal. It’s barely the size of a dime but your impact was never meant to be that small. I’ve been thinking about having it covered.
We were supposed to run away together. You turned to me that night on your living room floor and said, “We should go to LA.” You had dreams of performing on a stage with your guitar. And I believed you could make it. I still think you could.
My mother didn’t love me right and yours saw you as the father, so why not go? Disappear and never come back? We never left Chicago. At least not together.
The first time I heard from you after we’d gone our separate ways, I was crying on a bedroom floor in a fight with my boyfriend when the text came through.
I hope you’re okay. You can come to me for anything.
It was 3:40 in the morning. The middle of April. I don’t know how you did it. How you picked that moment to tell me you thought something was wrong. Maybe you were telling the truth about being something supernatural. Or the universe has a funny sense of humor when it comes to coincidences.
The last time I heard from me you called. I answered. It was the first time you’d called me since we were together.
I’d called you a few months before while scrolling through old photographs and catching a screenshot of that tattoo on your chest.
I wasn’t sure if I should pick up. But I did. You had just gotten out of the mental hospital. I wanted to know that you were alright. You sounded, better. Good. Older.
You read me your poetry. You were always good at that. The thoughts that plague your mind come out so well in words on paper. Your voice made memories clearer. Ones I’d never forget anyway. Ones that sleep in a box in the closet of my childhood bedroom at my dad’s house. The razors. The gauze. Your sweater. A condom wrapper. The tank top I was wearing.
I’d be your friend if you let me.
Hold your hand while you tell me about the way your life has changed since the day you changed mine. You still proclaim that the tattoo on your chest is for me.
Your not someone I’ll forget. Not even if your name fades from my lips or if the freckles on your face get fuzzy. Or if I can’t quite conjure up the mixture of cigarette smoke and your skin or the taste of your tongue the day after you pierced it. You got your first tattoo for me and as my father reminded me the day, I got my first tattoo, “That stuff is permanent, you know?”
The last time I heard from you was just a few months ago. You’re different now. I don’t think things last very long for you. Like trying to grasp sand, you hold onto things for as long as you can before you’ve faded into something else and changed completely.
You don’t seem like yourself but maybe I just don’t know you anymore. You cover the tattoo on your neck with a scarf now and cover your arms with long sleeves. I remember the first time you saw my arms and you said they were beautiful. That the lines made me strong. I think there’s something about that I should’ve shied away from. Maybe even found perverse. But the shadowed scenes from that night are branded into the code that makes me, who I am.
I hope whatever your holding onto now keeps the dark thoughts away. Because even though I don’t miss your lips on mine I think the earth would miss your footprints in the snow. Things would never be the same.
I watched a video of you singing and playing your guitar this morning.
Sometimes I wonder if there will come a day that I never hear from you again.
I never thought about it until now. You’ve been filed away in my head as my first. My first time. The first person I lost my mind over. The first time I did anything other than what I thought I was supposed to do.
But I never thought about how I was a first for you. Your very first tattoo.