Wednesday, August 5, 2015

My daughter's ankle

My 17-year-old daughter told me she was going to the library, and I thought it was odd, but she is the reader of the family, so I thought, well, okay. She came back with a tattoo. It was an anchor on her ankle, and I was nonplussed. She told me it was for Hope, her friend who had just died in a car accident, so I did not voice my opinions about tattoos. She already knew them, anyway. Six months later, when Maggie applied for college she had to write an essay about a formative experience. It was only then that I understood the import of her actions.

Maggie wrote that when Hope was killed, she felt absolutely nothing. She thought she should be feeling grief, but she didn't. She got the tattoo in the same way. She settled on Hebrews 6:19: "We have this hope as the anchor of the soul." My good girl. It wasn't a particularly original tattoo, but it was maybe the the first autonomous decision she made as an adult. She made it with deliberation, knowing that she would have to tell me, her mother, and accept the consequences of lying and doing something that I had always preached against. I had firm views on despoiling one's body, and Maggie has mostly honored my authority, so this was a decisive foray into adulthood for her. When she wrote her college essay, she said that the feelings she had while getting the tattoo were exactly the same as her feelings when Hope died, numbness. The artist told her it would hurt, but she didn't feel the pain, only listened to the buzzing of the needle and watched the ink imprint into her skin. The result though, permanent and indelible, like death.

In my second year of teaching school, I lost a student I loved to a motorcycle accident. Every Sunday for sixteen years, I've prayed for his soul, and I think Maggie's tattoo is really the same thing  Every Sunday, I think of how old Willie would be, what he might have done with his life. I imagine Maggie thinks of what Hope have done with hers. I won't forget Willie and Maggie has told me she won't forget Hope, I guess prayers are a kind of tattoo, or tattoos might be some kind of prayer. Ink on skin, words from the heart. I have to respect Maggie's lie about the library. It's a testament not to deception, but to loss, honor, and recognition of sorrow.

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