He traces the lines down my arm again. Slowly, carefully. He’s bent over them, studying them, slightly twisting my arm to the side to see all the angles.
I don’t look down. I stare outside through the window instead, the sky a soapy blue, fading away as night begins to do her dance.
It’s quiet in here. I can hear the clock on the wall and the receptionist’s nails as they tap on the desk. The buzzing of the machine next to us faintly fills the room, while the man in the chair behind me breathes deeply, in and out.
He looks up, stares into my eyes. His hands still holding my arm. “Yeah, let’s cover these. Let’s forget these.”
I exhale. I don’t know this man, not really. I don’t even know his last name. I found this place a year ago, by chance, when I was trying to find a different tattoo studio. He’s already engraved in me a camp site, a sunrise and an L. That interaction was funny, and he was talented. So I came back.
He is for you. That’s all I wanted. Four words, a reminder that God is for me, He wills my good, he will not leave me stranded, no matter how dark it gets.
I have words crawling all over both my arms, but my right arm has more space. Yet, I wanted my left arm. He didn’t agree, but when I held both my arms out, he saw the scars, the lines, faded, but there.
That’s when he understood, after analyzing them, seeing them for what they were. Pain. Streaks of shame from long ago sorrows. Every time I see those lines I remember opening the door in Haiti, his coffee in my hand, just how he likes it. And him, laughing with a group of beautiful dark skinned women. He turned to me, a look of disgust, of annoyance and dissatisfaction. Why are you here, his eyes screamed. I had turned and walked away, starting going down the stairs when the coffee slipped out of my hand, shattered against the cement floor. I had made him that mug, look what you’ve done to me painted sloppily on the side. Coffee burned my bare feet. I turned and ran into the office then, a brick on my chest, suffocating me. He hadn’t called my name. Didn’t come after me. There was just the crash of the mug, silence, my own ragged breathing, his laugh pounding in my head. I opened the desk drawer and saw scissors. Before I could think I pushed them into my arm, drew red lines of blood over and over again. There was immediate relief, and instant shame. I had never felt so lost. So alone. So reckless on the side of a mountain, far away from everyone I loved, except for him.
Jay, the artist, is still holding my arm. He tenderly runs his finger along the lines again, shakes his head. “I’m not going to ask. But let’s move on from these.”
Somehow, he’s in this with me. He takes my old wounds on as his own, asks for the liberty to freely draw a spring of wildflowers there, among the words I wanted. The way he is looking at me, I can’t help but agree. I suddenly want to cry, so I swallow hard, nod my head, give him the freedom to do with the lines what he wishes.
He has more care for my heart than the boy I loved, all those years ago.
I don’t look down for nearly two hours. I feel the sharpness, the pushing and scraping against my skin. The tracing of his fingers ever so slightly before he drew over the lines, putting life where death had been. I trust him, somehow, this stranger in this room.
When he’s done, he’s holding my hand as he asks me to look.
I’m silent at first. My eyes following the flowers as they grow and bend and stretch. He is for you in the middle, the flowers sprouting from within it, engulfing it. The colors, soft and light, delicate. “Do you like it?” His eyes again.
“Yes. I love it. I needed it. I didn’t realize that.”
He smiles, “I did.” He pauses. “He is for you. So grow. Be wild. Be beautiful. Do whatever it is you have to do, because He is for you, you can.”
I’m overwhelmed, so I nod. We finish up and I pay and leave. I drive home in silence, sobs rising and rushing out of me. The intimacy of what happened settling around me. Trusting a complete stranger, being cared for in my broken places. It feels like healing.
Grow. So I will.