Her tattoo said “fuck the meatloaf.”
We stumbled into each other on the street, two blocks from the beach. Golden skin, with bloodshot eyes, and salt-water hair plastered to her body like a second skin. Eighteen years old, freshly scarred by a stranger’s needle.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
“I got a tattoo,” she repeated, thrusting her arm toward me once again so I could see the drawing of a cartoon meatloaf with eyes, its outline crusted with blood, and the words “fuck the meatloaf” like an epitaph for her childhood or possibly a history of good decision-making.
“Hey sexy!” A guy, a dude, and a bro, hanging from a beach house porch waved in our direction.
“Hey!” She managed with a little dance that can only be described as pre-vomit, post-dignity.
“Hot!” the guy yelled. “Sexy!” the dude demanded. “Fuck!” the bro declared. She waved goodbye to me as she tripped up their steps, and they laughed, watching but not helping.
Insert joke about her meatloaf getting fucked.
Insert question of which decision she regrets more.
“Fuck the meatloaf” is not easy to forget. For years I used this story, a means to my own end in arguing all the problems with tattoos.
The permanence. “Why would you want to scar yourself forever?”
The regret. “You might not even like Pokemon when you’re 40!”
(Insert note: The big picture, the one of an intoxicated girl I met on the street disappearing with three strangers into a strange house with the obvious intent of sex, and the even bigger big picture, of the metaphorical beach boys I would encounter for the rest of my life about whom I’d have to make big decisions, and usually the wrong ones, were completely lost on me. I was all “ink stinks!” or something more clever.)
There is more than one way to scar yourself.
I was a virgin when we met. Long blond curls covered my breasts, my nipples peaking through and I felt like a mermaid in overpriced underwear. I arched and the ends of my hair tickled the small of my back and I felt like a lion who really loved getting fucked.
“You’ve only been dating a month,” my mother said. I was an adult, asking to sleep over at my boyfriend’s place.
“So it’s too soon to be having sex anyway.”
But I had sex. And it didn’t feel too soon. It felt like what I wanted. I was eighteen, freshly fucked by my boyfriend’s needle.
Insert joke about penis size.
He owned my virginity and he loved it. That’s what he said. He loved that when we got married, he was the only one to ever touch me. He loved that he was the only one who ever would.
“That’s mine,” he would say and I believed him.
We got married. He got drunk. I got hurt. He was sorry. I didn’t believe him.
Our one-year anniversary came one month and eighteen days after I left him. I was twenty-two years old, freshly scarred by the scars of someone else.
I drove three hours through the shadowy mountains of the Hudson valley. I slept in a motel room, with a door that wouldn’t lock. The next day I stood in a field in upstate New York forty-one years to the day after peace, love, and music, and the rain weighed me down as I sunk into the mud and wept.
A week later I got a tattoo and he was mad. I should have asked first.
“Are you sure you want it there? It’s really painful there.”
“A lot of girls prefer to get it here.”
“No, I want it where I want it. Put it there.”
Insert sexual innuendo.
I took the bandage off and traced the outline of the words I had chosen to scar myself forever. The guilt sunk in that I had scarred someone else’s body instead of mine. I mourned. Skin, once clean and fresh now stained forever. I mourned. My body as a baby, new and perfect, adored by my parents. I mourned. My body as a woman, ownership to be determined.
I rejoiced, my body at once belonging to me.
Sometimes they say “fuck the meatloaf.” Sometimes they say more.
This is the truth about tattoos.