Sunday, September 15, 2019

Skin Deep

The young woman bent at the waist, camera held to a squinted eye as she turned the lens for better focus on a pink hollyhock.  On this sweltering sunny day, Dave and I had taken refuge under a shady trellis in the Edgefield Inn's garden, and had noticed her, a colorful blossom herself, amid the profusion of flora.  

Her head was partially shaved, the remaining hair dyed magenta and pulled in a ponytail. Her arms, chest, and shoulders were a swirl of tattoos.  While her look was exotic, her partner appeared scholarly. Dark-haired, bearded, and be-spectacled, he, like us, sat beneath a trellis, and was absorbed in the large book open on his lap. 

We’d seen the couple in passing before, and now, as we had then, as everyone did at Edgefield, we nodded and said hello as we left the garden. 

That afternoon, it was studious John and tattooed Clarissa who settled in at the steamy river pool, close enough to us that conversation was a given. We were not surprised to learn John was a physicist, a scientist like his father, and Clarissa, a tattoo artist. We reminded them of our brief encounter earlier in the garden and Clarissa said, “Lots of people like flower tattoos, so I keep a portfolio of possibilities.  I like to offer a wide range.”

While floating idly or sitting neck deep in water on seats carved into the sides of the pool, we covered John’s degrees and aspirations, but found we had more questions about Clarissa’s field. What was your favorite project? How deep does the needle go?  How do you control the depth? How do you promote speedy healing? And how do you handle a drunken request for a girlfriend’s name inscribed on a butt?

“I never tattoo someone who’s been drinking.  Alcohol thins the blood and there’d be too much bleeding,” Clarissa stated firmly.

Huh. I’d never thought about blood as a complicating factor in tattoo art, but of course it is. Not easy to “paint” with a needle and ink while swabbing up gore.  

“Plus, the image can change some during the healing process, so I include a follow-up to make any adjustments necessary, “ she explained. 

Dave asked, “What do you practice on?” 

“Humans,” said Clarissa.

“Husbands,” corrected John. We laughed as he lifted the leg of his swim trunks to reveal a graceful, flowing image of a bear and two ravens on his upper thigh. Wow. Truth is, although I’d heard the term “tattoo artist” before, I confess I’d not given much credence to the “artist” part; meeting Clarissa and seeing her work convinced me.  If she lived in Connecticut, I’d get a tattoo.

When Dave asked her, “How’s business?” Clarissa mentioned the spike in requests for tattoos around mastectomy scars. I have not sought that route, but told her I’d had the surgery.

She was thoughtful a moment and said, “Do you mind if I ask about the length and process of your treatments?” 

I did not and gave her a run down.  

“My father had a brain tumor,” she said, and described his surgery and chemo, and the gallows humor he employed to keep the family’s spirits up. 

“How’s he doing?” I asked.

“He passed in December,” she said.  Her sunglasses masked her eyes, but she was quiet and still in the water.  She was about 28 years old and had just lost her father. I was tempted to tell her about Mom’s recent death, but I’m never sure when “I know how you feel because I…” builds a bridge of common experience, and when it’s an intrusion into someone else’s story. I decided to hold back, but I knew her pain, and oh, how I felt for her. 

Tattooed, retired, or trying to be trans; liberal… or even more liberal; aware of the fear of a dread diagnosis; bereft of a father or mother: all of us are doing our best in the hot tub of life. If everyone were required to strip to near-naked and spend time together in a warm, salty pool, maybe we’d be gentler with each other.


Your Weekapaug friend, David said...

You have got to be one of the most thoughtful people I have ever encountered in my joke. And this most recent post of yours surely proves it!!! Love you so much dear Lea. Your Weekapaug friend, David

Joanie said...

Oh Lea, This was no chance encounter! “...close enough to us that conversation was a given.” Not a ‘given’ for everyone....or even, perhaps, most. You are a connector....your energy and love acknowledge possibility and opportunity. Love you so, Joanie

gail said...

Couldn't agree more with your conclusion, Lee! I try to connect with people all the time, especially those who appear quite different than me. You should have seen me in the country store today (I am in the hills of NE PA right now), asking the young man in front of me about the "chaw" (chewing tobacco/snuff) he was buying! (I said, teasingly, after his explanation of use: "I bet the ladies love it." It was a nice interaction.)
My son has two "sleeves" of tattoos (and I have one on my hip I got when I was 42). It's a whole art field - and the millennials are definitely keeping them in business!
Love your writing!!

Beverly said...

Just lovely Lea and I agree with Joanie's observations about this "chance encounter"- I know conversation with a partially shaven, purple haired tattoo covered young woman and her bearded husband would not have been a natural consequence for me! But I especially like your sensitivity about sharing....your surgery, yes. Your recent loss of your mother, no. And the choice was made based on her needs- not yours. That is so generous; so kind. Thank you for all that you share with us!

Lea said...

My heart is full in reading these comments! Thank you dear friends for your kind words....and Gail, I love your chat with the young man about his chaw of choice! I really am considering a tattoo of Earth, perhaps with a few of my favorite animals featured somewhere....but where to put it? How big would it be? These are critical questions! XO