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The Blue-Footed Booby Bird September 1, 2000
... About her ex-husband, and her new tattoo...
'I could never be friends with my ex-husband.' So says the woman who has my hips and a needle in her hands. Her name is Annette. She has bleached white hair with blue tips. And she is tattooing a sun below my belly button, near the top of my left inner thigh.
I am lying on my back on a tiny black table, my heels resting on a bookshelf, afraid to move or respond lest the needle skid across my abdomen like a record needle gone awry. My ex-husband, Michael, is tattoo-sitting me, letting me squeeze his hand purple.
'You're a friendly bunch,' Annette says, shaking her head. 'Who goes to a tattoo parlor recommended by their ex-husband's girlfriend?'
'Ex-girlfriend,' corrects Michael. Although tattoo-less himself, Michael had accompanied his first lover after our divorce to this same parlor. She'd had a Celtic knot, the symbol of eternal love, etched onto her back shoulder. He warned me that the tattooing felt like crushed glass being ground into her skin over and over again. But I was undaunted. Even the phone number, 555-OUCH, didn't scare me.
Most of my friends think I'm crazy. 'Tattoos are okay when you're young, but how will it look to have a tattoo when you're really, really old?'
Michael understands. I want to be the kind of ninety-five-year-old woman who'd boast a tattoo. During our marriage he was my creative spirit, my voice of liberating unreason. He danced while he cooked us sensuous omelets and Greek pizzas wearing nothing but a black fedora. Once he picked me up from the airport with a samurai topknot springing straight up from the peak of his head like an exclamation point. I was so in love that the astonished looks from passersby only endeared him more to me.
'I got married at fifteen. I could never be friends with my ex now,' Annette repeats - like some annoying one-woman Greek Chorus - as she plants the inky orangish-yellow sun seeds into my body. 'My old man didn't like what I was doing. He said women would never make good tattoo artists because they have periods. They're too moody. He just wanted me to sit on the back of his bike and clean up after him.' She snorts.
I was crazy about a guy like that, I want to snort back at her. It was during a phase of drunken dementia, back when I was nineteen. I silently breathe through the pain - which is not at all like crushed glass, but more of a gouging, burning sensation - and conjure up this guy, Bob, and his tattooed biker friends. Bob treated women like nothing but maids and orgasm donors. He liked to pick up other women in front of me while his friends encouraged him, slapping their large palms in studly support. During one particularly drunk-crazed party, I was so enraged I shot my fist through a glass boa constrictor cage. (The good news was that the boa was missing from the cage. That was also the bad news.) And I now have a permanent scar where the doctor stitched up the angry slashes on my inner arm.
At least I'm making better love choices today. I no longer get unintentional tattoos, either. This emerging tattoo is a conscious healing instead of a drunken fracturing. A potent, fiery sun of creativity and rebirth that is blazing my way into a life of self-sufficient glory.
'Is that a blue-footed booby bird?' My former life-mate casually interrupts my reverie. He is eyeballing a postcard on the bookshelf above my feet.
'How did you know?' asks Annette, impressed. 'My friends gave that to me when all of my hair was blue.'
'Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut writes about the booby bird.' Former Life-mate is a fountain of enriching information and that is exactly why I am drawn to him again after all this time. Not to mention his compassion, his originality, his open-hearted green eyes. Why did I ever leave him? I'd been so drenched in love with Michael that all I wanted to do was be in love with him. We'd become inseparable; we were melding into one person, and a neurotic person at that. Eventually, I panicked and fled into a relationship where my lover gave me so much space, he moved out of state.
Then just a few months ago, after three years of nothing more than post-divorce phone chitchat, Michael announced he'd broken ties with Ms. Celtic Knot, and was henceforth abstaining from relationships. 'I finally realized I've always either been in a relationship or desperate to be in one. I need to find out who I am - alone.'
'Me, too,' I said emphatically as we made plans to devour offbeat books and music and movies together.
When we saw Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite, we sat coolly, side by side - the only ones in the entire theater - and later confessed that we'd secretly, foolishly longed to hold hands, to touch knees. Shortly after that, after another night of talking and emotional communion, he walked me to the door of my house. 'If you don't go inside right now, I'm going to kiss you...'
'Hey,' Michael says now, rupturing the moment. 'Hey, did I tell you that Susan is coming out this weekend?'
Susan? Who's Susan? Does he mean the woman he's been e-mailing for a few weeks? The six-foot-tall poet-goddess who loves mountain biking? The woman his best friend thinks is just right for him?
'You okay?' Michael asks kindly. He un-grips his hand from mine and shakes it out.
'Almost done, hon,' says Annette. 'It's not so bad, is it?'
I shrug my face into a semi-smile and scream inwardly. Here I am getting this fiery sun, this symbol of courageous independence burned into my skin - when all these months I haven't been finding myself, I've just been melding into Michael all over again. Who are we to each other, anyway? Are we really friends? Or simply fill-ins for our next great loves?
The needle dives under my skin again for the last time as I notice a sign on the bookshelf next to the blue-footed booby bird: 'Tipping Makes It Hurt Less.'
Maybe, I think, Susan is just what I need.
'Beautiful,' Michael says, grinning back at me. 'It's all done.'
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