From “The Boys” An Elegy Of An Old Life

My collection began on June 1, 2006. I was alone for the first time and unsupervised to say the least. This was the first time I was single.
There was no one in my life to help guide or govern my decisions. I had moved back to my hometown to find a sense of comfort in an uncomfortable time.
All that I had known was gone. My list of friends and social influences were different. My finances were different and so was the structure of my day. There was no one but me and a small place of my own.

It was a warm June morning after the move took place. I had just evacuated an old life that was never meant for me and a relationship that never worked.
We pretended for as long as we could, but eventually, there was no room left to deny the obvious fact of our mismatched discomforts of a bad marriage that needed to end.
The writing was on the wall for a long time. However, neither of us had the courage to pull the trigger. She had her reasons and I suppose I had mine as well. We were two people in a mutually hostile (or hostage) situation.
Then again, I suppose this is what happens in bad marriages. Neither of us were sure of why, how, or when this all took place. In fairness, no one was surprised about the split and neither of us could see how we lived this way for as long as we did. 
We both went into this marriage with our eyes, wide shut, hoping to find something that resembles true love.
At the end, however, we were both seeing clearly. I suppose she had her point of view the same as I had mine, and quite honestly, never did the twain meet.

At last, the pretend charade was over. There was no more acting or reason to impersonate a happy family or fake it to our neighbors, as if everything was okay.

It was a pretty morning. The sky was blue and the wind was warm. One of my old friends from my old neighborhood helped me gather the last of my belongings and truck them over to a new, but much smaller place to live. I went from a big home with someone always around on a half-acre, an attached two-car garage, and in-ground pool to a small two-bedroom spot in the upstairs of a private home.

Once the furniture was in place and the move was finished, my old friend went back home to his wife and family. Most of my other friends admittedly had to distance themselves from me. Whenever there was an argument in their household, I was told my name came out of the mouths of angry wives that said, “So what are you gonna do, go live with Benny now?”
Maybe this had nothing to do with me at all but still, whether this had anything to do with me or not, the fact that my so-called friends had to stay away from me was hurtful.
I suppose this was because their wives saw divorce as a cancer cluster that broke out like a contagious fever blister. I suppose this was more about their fears and less about me as a person. But still, this doesn’t mean the sentiment wasn’t hurtful. Either way, there was no mistaking this was me on my own. There was no mistake that bottoms happen at different levels and at different times in our life. There was no mistaking the fact that this was a bottom for me. I was alone and uncomfortable. I was afraid of what would come or if anyone would ever “want” me. I had no idea what to do and there was no one around to tell me.

For the first time in my life, there was nothing but me and my own accountability. I truly never knew how incredible this moment was until I looked back, years later, and found myself where I am now, which is far from where I was then.

It was a Saturday morning. I was in my apartment no more than a few minutes with nothing but the echo of empty rooms to echo my sense of loneliness. Rather than be alone in my sadness, I decided to take a drive. I put on the air conditioner in the window of my new bedroom to cool the place off for when I came back home. The emptiness of my new place was like a spirit to me, as if to say this is where my rebuild could take place in though painful at times, at least I could slip into a comfortable code of anonymity and be myself.

I locked the door to my apartment behind me with a key that I earned with all of my hardships. Then I proceeded to my car. I had no destination in mind and no one to go see. All I had was my car and a somewhat full tank of gas and a few hundred bucks left to my name. 

The idea to drive was just to drive. There was no direction in mind. I just needed something to rest the worn soldiers in my head and stop the constant criticism in my thinking. After I put the key in the ignition, it seemed as if my car knew exactly where to go. I took a drive by the front lawn of my old junior high school, which was odd to me. I say this was odd because back in the day the building looks so huge. However, now that I was fully grown, the school was small enough to signify that maybe not everything about my past was as big as I believed. Perhaps this was the first time I realized how much I have grown – or, moreover, perhaps this is when I learned about the inaccurate shades of our perception that lead us to miscalculate facts from fiction

I drove around the old streets. I drove by the street where Kevin T died on a dirt bike. I drove by the Mobil Gas station where Randy used to work. I drove past by the park and by the stores on Newbridge. I even drove by my old home from when I was a kid. Then drove past the The Beverage Barn on Front Street. I allowed the memories of my youth to cloak the feelings and settle the disputes in my head. I relived good times and troubled times. I drove passed the elementary school where I found myself on the roof on a few occasions. I screamed my drunk, teenage thoughts to the sky and told my secrets to the stars on some of those nights. I was never sure how I got up on the roof and I was even less sure of how I ever got down. I went by the spot where I took LSD for the first time and smoked with a friend we called, Crazy Eddie from 116th Street. I said goodbye to some old demons and let my past sleep where it deserved to be. But thankfully, my town was on my side this time.

I took a drive down Hempstead Turnpike and reminisced about the old days of cruising up and down with no plan except to be out instead of home.
I thought about the late-night stops at the diners and the cheeseburgers deluxe meals with french fries with melted mozzarella cheese over them with brown gravy on the side.

I drove by the place where a girl allowed me my first exposure to a sexual feeling that went beyond my control. So much happened here. I lived here. A piece of me died here, but yet, I was back to be resurrected in a new sense and hopefully find whatever it was that could pull me from my loneliness.

Heading down Hempstead Turnpike, I decided that I was not going to control my direction anymore. I decided that I would no longer live in the past. This was a new time. This was time for me to find my own freedom. I wanted to find my own voice and learn about my own opinion. Finally, after years of following suit and being as others told (or needed) me to be, I decided that for the first time in my life, I was going to be myself.

Truth be told, I always had an appreciation for the art world. More to the point, I have always appreciated the tattoo culture. The only problem was someone was always around to talk me out of this idea. But not anymore.

I saw the sign and decided to pull into the parking lot. I admit to the mental masturbation at first. I admit to the fear of the unknown. Would this hurt? And how much?

There was a pet store that shared the same parking lot as the tattoo shop. I walked through the pet store and considered the options. I bought a fish tank with hopes to add some life to my new apartment. I picked up a tank-stand and some decorations and all the filtration I would need to get the tank up and running. I placed this in the trunk of my car and then looked up to see the front window of the tattoo shop.

I decided, hell with it!

I decided to go in. If there was something I saw that hit me, I would have this tattooed on me right then and there. In fact, the process was easier than I expected. I found a traditional Chinese saying that translated to: I have trust in no man but the trust I save for myself. I thought about this for a second. I thought about the betrayal I have seen throughout my life. I thought about my part in the same dishonesties, and that yes, we are mainly dishonest creatures. I thought about a famous quote from Mark Twain that says, “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.” And me, I was tired of blushing. I thought about the time I wasted my trust with the wrong people as well as the trust I never gave myself. And yes. This had to be it. This was going to be my first tattoo.

I have trust in no man but the trust I save for myself

The artist was pricey, which I failed to research or argue. Then again, I suppose the artist figured I would be “one and done,” so to speak.

She asked, “Where do you want it?”
“On my back, I guess.”
I told her, “Right down the middle.”
She lent me a smile as if to wonder if I knew what I was getting myself into.
“Have you ever been tattooed before.”
“Nope!”
“Great! A virgin,” she said.

“Are you scared?”
“I just don’t know what it feels like.”
“Don’t worry,” she told me.
Then she laughed, “I won’t feel a thing.”
The artist explained, “The best way I can describe the feeling of a tattoo is it feels like a cat scratch on a bad sunburn.”

I took off my shirt and assumed the position. I heard her rev the tattoo machine like a speedster revs a car.
“Are you ready,” she asked.
“I’m ready.”
“Well’’ she laughed, “ready or not, here it comes.”
As for her analogy of the cat scratch on a sunburn, I suppose this could be accurate if the cat had a wide claw and the sunburn was fresh and red. I felt the needles drag against my skin at the middle of my back, which was not pleasant by any means, but yet, I felt a sense of relief, or better yet, this was a release of all my toxins that were never allowed to be set free.

Safe to say that my collection grew from here. Safe to say that this was part of my change. This was me evolving from who I was into who I am now, both artistically and personally.

I understand there are people with battling opinions about tattoos and the tattoo culture. I understand this is not everyone’s taste, which is fine because I am not living my life to coincide with anyone else’s taste anymore. I don’t have a report card to bring back to school. No one has to sign a permission slip for me. I was free to enjoy my own taste without the input of anyone else. 

When asked about my tattoo collection, which has grown quite considerably (and tastefully) since then, I always say that my tattoos tell a story, which they do. This is me. This is my life, in full color. Although some disagree, I always say at least people can see me clearly.
“You know what you’re getting into with me.”

I have heard people say things about my choice in appearance. I have heard mocking from the so-called, “plain-skinned,” people that feel it is their right and responsibility to tell me what they think about people with tattoos to which I always say, “At least you can see me for who I am!’
You can’t always see this amongst the plain-skinned.

A woman once told me, “I just believe that the body is a temple.”
I answered, “I believe the same thing.”

My temple is just painted.
That’s all.

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