The hardest place to start is at the bottom.
The hardest step is the first and the hardest room to sit in is an empty one that was once full. I associate my feelings at this point with the realization of how far I fell and combined this with all that I lost.
I was on my own and there was no one around but me. There were no decorations on the wall, pictures of smiling faces, or family photos. There was nothing but the echoes of a vacant two-bedroom apartment. I went from a half acre, four–bedroom home with a nanny’s quarter to a walk-up in a private house.
I went from an active family life to the inactive existence of an alternating weekend dad, and in the emotional bottom of my adult life, I saw nothing else but how far I had fallen.
I recall the first day in my apartment very clearly. There was no one around to say hello to, or ask how my day was. There was nothing but the sun pushing through white curtains like an unwanted guest.
There was nothing for me to do. My television was not hooked up to cable. All I had was a VCR with one VHS tape, which meant if I wanted to watch anything; it would have to be the only movie I owned: Pulp Fiction.
I moved back to the town where I grew up and hoped to find comfort in an uncomfortable time. I suppose I chose to go, “Home” so to speak, and feel something familiar.
Most of what I remembered from my town had changed. The house I grew up in belonged to someone else and the corners I spent time on had all been updated. Many of the stores I knew had closed and the old names had moved away. But there was a perfect sense of anonymity to my old town.
I felt accepted in an unacceptable time…and what more could I ask for?
After I unpacked the little I had, I decided to take a drive. I drove passed the junior high school and passed the house where I wrecked John Coffey’s motorcycle. I drove passed my elementary school and the East Meadow Water Tower. I drove through the streets I used to walk along and felt as if the landmarks remembered me.
I passed the sumps where we used to get high; I passed the beverage barn where we used to steal beer, I passed the park on Prospect, and the old Church on East Meadow Avenue. I went back to square one, and while hurting from an emotional downfall, I felt something good.
I felt a freedom, or at least I felt the decision to be free. It was June 1st, I remember. That was the day I drove along Hempstead Turnpike and stopped into a tattoo shop.
My skin was plain at the time. There were no markings on my body and there was no one around to stop me.
I promised myself, “If I see something I like….I’m getting it!”
That’s when I came across a series of Chinese characters, which translated to, “I have trust in no man but the trust I save for myself.”
“I want it,” I thought to myself.
“I’m going to get that.”
I had always appreciated tattoos and liked the expression of art, but I was always afraid. I was afraid of the needles and whether I could withstand them for a long duration of time.
I read the quote once more, “I have trust in no man but the trust I save for myself.”
Those words rang true for me. If this was going to be my starting point, then I saw no better way to begin.
The shop was small with an artistic appeal, and smelled from burning incense. There was a tall thin kid, maybe in his early twenty-something years, with large hoops cut into his ear lobes, and scattered tattoos on his terribly thin arms. His voice was slightly feminine and his tone was mostly condescending.
“Can I help you?”
“I think I want to get a tattoo.”
“You think,” he asked.
Flipping through the wall-hung panels of various tattoo flash and previous artwork done by the shop’s artists, I pointed to the Chinese characters.
“I want this.”
The young apprentice stood from the chair behind an antique desk and approached the panel. He squinted his eyes and read, “I have trust in no man but the trust I save for myself.”
“Good choice,” he added.
“Do you know what you want to put it?”
“I was thinking I would put in the center of my back.”
“You mean, like up and down, on both sides of your spine?”
“It sounds good to me.”
The artist was a girl. She was covered in strange tattoos along her arms and her neck. She had bluish-pink hair, pretty blue eyes, and a pretty face.
She called me, “Darling,” and smiled.
“Is this your first time?”
“Ha,” she laughed. “A virgin…..I love it!”
She asked, “Are you nervous?”
“I don’t like needles,” I explained. “And I don’t know what to expect.”
“Don’t worry,” she joked. “This won’t hurt me one bit.”
As the artist went into the back to prepare a stencil, the apprentice set up her station and instructed me to, “Come on back.”
“Get comfortable,” he told me. “It’s gonna be a while.”
When the artist returned, she centered the stencil on my back. The tattoo was going to be bigger than I expected. However, when I brought this to her attention, she stood me by the mirror and cheered, “Go big, or go home.”
I chose to go big.
The moment was at hand. My adrenaline was pumping and I could feel my heart beating like a pounding drum.
“Don’t be afraid,” stressed the artist. “It’s like getting a cat scratch on a sunburn.”
Her foot pressed down on the pedal of her tattoo machine. She tapped it as if it was a gas pedal and the tattoo machine was a revving like an engine. I could hear the hum of the needles jabbing quickly, approaching my skin, and as the steely pins touched down onto my flesh, I felt the hot sting of ink being set into my back.
The pain was true, but the lancing of my skin somewhat pierced the toxic emotions I had bottled inside me.
The artist asked, “Does it hurt?”
“A little bit.”
“Don’t worry,” she promised. “Pain is only temporary.”
I thought about what she said. “Pain is only temporary.”
I sat through my first session without flinching. I did not move or complain. I bled, and while I do not condone physical pain as a trade for emotional, this was my first tattoo experience……and even if I could do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing