Thursday, September 1, 2011

That's What Friends are For

"Long after the price is forgotten ...
you still have your tattoo.
Doc Webb, San Diego*

My friend Dani told a story on her blog today of shoe love and friendship. She asked her readers to share their personal stories of either or both subjects. I was immediately transported in time to the day my friend, Fluff, accompanied me to almost skid row in downtown San Diego to get a tiny little tattoo on my thigh.

Tattoo parlors and tattooed people have come a long way from the colorless days back in mid-1980's when only drunken sailors and women of questionable repute used their skin as a canvas. So much so that it is hard to believe the tattoo in question packed the same punch as the "shot heard round the world," that started the American Revolution. The day I walked into Doc Webb's tattoo parlor, pulled down my pants to expose my salon tanned, virgin-skinned thigh and asked for a $20 heart was the day I fired the first salvo in the war of my independence.

When I look back on it now with the hindsight of wisdom and cultural shifts, I can see it for what it was - the way I chose to take a stand against my father and my husband. In essence my inner teenager grabbed the keys to the car, slammed the back door when she left, and screamed FU at the top of her lungs once she was down the street. The same girl, who after a few hours of cooling off, had to tuck tail and apologize when she got home.

Ok, so much for metaphors. Here's the story.
On a night shortly before then-hubby was to be gone for three months we were out to dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant. Somehow the subject turned to tattoos, how or why I have no idea. (Remember this was before kids and wives were pierced and colored, and waxed and talked back).

Me: Hmm, maybe I should get a tattoo.
Him: No wife of mine will have a tattoo, throwing down the gauntlet.
Me: What did you just say?
Him: You heard me, no wife of mine will have a tattoo.
Me: Even a small one where no one can see it?
Him: Not even a small one.
Me: Why?
Him: It's too dangerous. yada yada yada (This was when AIDs was coming out of the homosexual closet and needles of any kind were suspect. In then-hubby's defense, this argument probably had merit, but I was beyond listening)
ME (in my head): No husband of mine will tell me what I can't do. Who does he think he is, my father?

And so it went. Back and forth. I was unwilling to let it go. Like a little kid picking a dried bugger out of her nose, I just kept digging at it. Then-hubby left, and every time he called the conversation turned to the whys and why nots of having tattooed skin. I asked every one I knew their opinion. I was kind of on my own with this one. I was a Navy wife in a military community. No one was going to join me on this bandwagon.

However, my friend Fluff, while having no desire for a tattoo, was with me on the "he can't tell you what to do" subject. We fueled each other's fires against husband control that smacked of parental authority. We had plenty of time to do so because she was recovering from a skiing accident and I was her official driver to and from physical therapy. We were big and bad in those conversations even if we cowered once I pulled into the driveway.

Time marched on, and the day came when I had to put my words into actions. Then-hubby had planned a vacation and we were to meet in Denver after a 24 hour train ride through the Sierra Nevada mountains. (This trip was doomed from the start and in the history of family travelogues could be known as worst ever.) I had only a few days left to either get a tattoo or let the subject die the death it deserved. As you know by now I opted for the tattoo. It took then-hubby three days to see the tattoo (remember this was a family vacation) and let me just say it put a bit of a damper on things. In then-hubby's eyes my dainty little vine encircled heart was bigger than the Grand Canyon outside our hotel.

Back then there Tattoo "Galleries" did not dot on every corner. And downtown San Diego had not yet been turned into an urban shopping mecca. The streets were still kind of seedy and even women on a rampage knew it was foolhardy to walk them unescorted after dark. I wish I could plead insanity or say I was under the influence of some kind of mind-altering substance, but the truth of the matter is I was driven by an overwhelming desire to feel my own power, rather than cow-tow to another's. I took myself and my best friend to the heart of downtown, parked my car a block away and headed down the sidewalk to a small shop with inked drawings covering all the walls. I walked with deliberate steps. Fluff hobbled along on crutches. Had we been accosted our only defense would have been a thrust and a jab of a rubber tipped crutch. After three months of fighting about it, getting a tattoo only took about 15 minutes and in those 15 minutes my marriage which sat on a California-sized fault line, began to tremble. It would be a couple more years before it fell apart completely. During those years I wore that tattoo like then-hubby wore his chest full of medals.

Fast forward 26 years and you'll find me in a recliner watching LA Ink, wondering why in the world people are doing that to themselves. The smeared and faded heart on my leg has an invisible crack in it (okay, maybe it's cellulite). I grieve for the relationship that could have been better if I'd known then what I'm trying to learn now.

The point of this post which I sorely lost before I ever got started was about friendship. I think people are placed in our lives to join us on the journey - for a day, or a year or a lifetime. Like the years and lifestyles that separate us, Fluff and I have continued to evolve. Today I'm not sure she'd feel the need to join me on such an adventure, and I hope I'd think it through to the end before I'd put us risk for the sake of childish stubbornness.

Today I'm grateful I don't need to push so hard to be ME. I'm grateful for people who've shared the rocky road with me. I'm grateful I chose a non-descript little ink spot on my thigh instead of a portrait of Gloria Steinem on my forearm.

My wish for you today is to have a friend and be a friend.
Merry ME

P.S. Do you have a friendship story? Feel free to share it here.


Cinderella said...

I love all the things you are grateful for Merry:)

Do you still talk to Fluff?

Fire Byrd said...

Friendship now that's a thing. Where would I be without it. Mine is not such a nice story but it was a life changing lesson. Back in the day I was a bit of a snob ( whadda yer mean I still am!!) and I had a friend, but I wasn't a very nice person although I really valued my friendship I was a bit embarrassed by her as she wasn't as nicely bought up as me.My mother was dying of cancer at the time and we had plenty of heart to hearts. She asked me about my friend, and I told her. My Mum was outraged at my horrid attitude. And told me that if was a friend to her then I would accept her as she was and not use some judgemental template to have her as a friend.You know like I'd only go to her world she wasn't good enough in mine sort of thing.
It was one of the best lessons I have ever had. I got over my nasty attitude and started valuing my friend for who she was and not for the other things that I was allowing to get in the way, like her accent or how she ate.
I am pleased to report that this friend is my oldest friend and although we live a drive away from each other now we talk every week and visit each other as often as we can.
And I now have friendships with people not with how I want them to be. So I can be friends with anyone, who wants to be friends with me and I no longer judge people in the same nasty way as I did in my 20s.

QnDani said...

Having talked with you and heard your soft dainty voice and genteel southern accent, I have to say I love knowing that "naughty" devilish side of you with a tatt on your thigh!!


Anonymous said...

A tattoo? Oh Merry I do so love you!
I loved so many parts of this story, and the idea of you trying to find your voice, your own power
thru the symbol of a heart.
Self love?
You amaze me..
in all the good ways...