An elephant never forgets

“I love you in the morning,

and in the afternoon;

I love you in the evening,

and underneath the moon…”

The Elephant Show, 1984-1989 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

I waited in the tattoo parlor for an hour, nearly an hour and a half, before we were ready to begin, my skin nearly itching with anticipation of catharsis. When I sat in the chair, I watched as he carefully dropped the ink into the tiny wells, fitted the needles to the gun and with an almost agonizingly forced patience, sat still as stone as he prepared the stencil to the whitest part of my arm, the place I hold close in my sleep.

I thought about what I could display, what I could declare, what I could do to shout in polite silence how much this hurts. I wanted to carry her with me, never lose an opportunity to remember her. For 70 days, I have woken up, and she has not. That has been the first thought in my head for 70 days. I cannot wake up another day, and let that be my first thought. So I needed something good to remember.

I have too many words, and not enough skin. I wish the words I felt showed through, words that I could see. I wish I had something left to see. I can feel her, I can almost hear her voice. But I cannot see her. I have waited and I have begged. She has shown her presence in more than a few ways since her death, but I have never dreamt of her.

I miss her immensely. I am sad beyond words. I can sit here all day and think of a thousand adjectives to describe the enormity of it, but none will come close. Some days I am caught between, “please give me oxygen!” and “please shoot me now!” and this is a living hell limbo I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Last week was my 28th birthday, the end to the tremendous disaster that was 27. It was the first year I did not open a birthday card with her shaky writing. Last year, she only wrote “Barb” but I know how much effort she put into it. It was the first year I did not have a birthday cake, or share a piece with her, as we remembered all the good things her mother used to bake. It was the first year I spent my birthday standing in a cemetery, 13 years to the day she buried her mother. It rained, and I cried, and none of it mattered.

I went home, and I crawled in my skin. I slept all night and I woke up angry. I woke up thinking, if this is the first day of the rest of my life, it can be the last goddamn day for the rest of this life for all I care. I wanted to tear off my own face, to rip out my hair, to reach in and pull out the pieces of whatever was rotting inside me that made me feel so wretched.

Instead of going to work, I nearly checked myself into the hospital. I was convinced I was losing my mind. In that moment just before a spinout, as you realize that shimmer in the corner of your eye was in fact, black ice, when you argue with yourself for that fraction of a second whether or not you’re still in control of your own life – that’s where I was.

I went to work. I had to literally remind myself to breathe, to blink, to pick up one foot and put it in front of the other. I thought about my options and rationalized with myself. I gave out my most professional information and kindest advice, and helped as many people as I could. I put my best foot forward and tried to fake it til I felt it.

On the way home, I listened to the same CD I’ve had on repeat for months. The drive is the only place I can cry – so if you see a blonde in a tan SUV talking to herself through her tears, that’s probably me. As I drove into town, I turned it off. I’d had enough. I drove through our old neighborhood and I slowly passed what’s left of her house. It wasn’t the house I remembered and in that moment, I was sick and tired of having nothing left here to remember.

So I stopped at the seedy-looking tattoo parlor between two bars (the kind of place you almost want to take a selfie to send your mom just to freak her out) and I walked in looking for a price on something I’d been thinking about for a while.

Let me take a moment and plug Electric Chair Tattoo in Bay City  – the guy at the counter, Painter, looked over the wall, looked back at me, and said they’d fit me in right then and there. He also quoted me an awesome price (further on that in a sec) and introduced me to the artist, Chris. They asked for my input, asked me about what I wanted and what it meant to me, and didn’t make me feel crazy when I told them I was in a place where I really needed a professional to do the skin tearing, instead of myself.

He took his time, and made sure it was perfect. I told him, “This has to be the very best piece you’ve ever done – this one is for Grama.” I generally don’t watch as they do it. It always hurts at least a little and the thought of watching my skin literally shred in front of me makes me a little queasy. But this one was different. I waited for the sting, waited for the sharp pain that always brought me down from the high of the panic. It never came.

Instead, I found myself watching closely as each needle expertly sliced into my flesh and left behind a perfect line of ink. It was strangely satisfying to see the picture come to life on my body and become part of me. Something I could keep with me for always.

After, when it was complete and my arm was slathered in ointment to protect my new art, I told Chris we needed to square up and I was prepared for the price. After all, this was for Grama. I told him I thought she would like it and he beamed. Then he told me he had fun working on it and gave me a much lower price than he deserved. I tipped him 25% but if I’d had a spare hundred, I would have gladly handed it to him. His work is wonderful, his manner is welcoming and non-judgmental and I can’t wait to go back.


It has been a week now since that particular panic attack. Our house has been on an emotional roller coaster, what with a dog scare, then a cat’s miraculous return, to a crashing wave of “how are we going to pay for this?!” to the sweet relief of having at least three things off my plate, having finished them this week. This is it – this is my life. This is my plate, overflowing with good intentions and bad habits. It is mine, for better or for worse, and I have two choices in which I can handle this: I can wake up every morning and remember the things that hurt, and I can go through the day slowly decaying until I fall into bed, crumbling into the mass of nerves that has to do it all again the next day; or I can wake up every morning and find something wonderful to remember to put me back on the path this entire past year has thrown me off.

Three separate people have told me this week alone that they never had a doubt in their mind that I would make something of myself. I have been shown blessings I could not explain, and received some good karma that I have to wonder if I deserve. They say it will get better. It hasn’t yet, but maybe I might start believing them.



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