It's as if he has always been there.
I didn't plan for this to happen, but I've been almost protective of him since I got him. I haven't shown him to everyone, I haven't talked about him, I haven't shared his picture. He's like a little secret that's meant only for me and it almost seems wrong to let anyone else in on the secret.
You see, Hank was born with a purpose.
He exists because I needed a reminder to write and that if I don't, death won't wait for me to fulfill my dream. Death is coming for me. Perhaps not soon, but he's coming. I have consistently held my writing close to me and felt the most comfort in sharing it with strangers. As I think about why I have kept Hank covered, I liken it to the reason why I've kept my writing to myself. It's intensely personal and intimate and private.
I got my first tattoo when I turned 18 and I was hooked before the needle even penetrated my flesh. I’ve wanted to start a sleeve for several years, but I wanted the “anchor” of the sleeve to be significant. I knew that I would look at it every day even before my eyes fully open and therefore that precious piece of skin would need to be considered with great care. It needed to have a purpose.
When one of my favorite artists evolved into a tattoo artist, I was ecstatic to discover that his talent with a brush, pen, pencil, and camera, extended to a tattoo machine. I realized that having the tattoo that everyone else has (see Pinterest) was the LAST thing I wanted. Something that I learned after getting to know JJ and his wife, Darlene, (and through personal experience) is that the best way to make bad art is to tell the artist exactly what to do and how to do it and control every aspect of the creative process so as to make something shitty that everyone in the entire world has already seen and shat all over.
I asked JJ to create something that would remind me to write. I got so much more than I bargained for. You might know that my calling is to write, but laziness (as my late writing professor, Peter Christopher, would say “eating cookies”) has gotten in the way. Some days, when I don’t touch pen to paper, I am literally sick to my stomach at the egregious waste of time.
Initially, I sent him an email with a few small things I had in mind, then we had a conversation about the piece that lasted less than 4 minutes.
I arrived in Mauldin, South Carolina right on time and walked into the shop. He presented me with the drawing and watched my face. The size of the skull was the first thing that I saw, but next, I saw the little bee, and then the crown of leaves, the heart, the inkwell that would eventually peek out from the sleeve of a t-shirt, and then the soft feathers of the quill. I admit that the skull looked ominous at first and I feared that it would be too big, too tough for me. A few minutes later, he laid the stencil over my arm and it looked enormous, too large for my too large arm. If I didn't have to hide it for work, I probably would have went for it, knowing full well that a larger tattoo is generally better than one that's just a hair too small. I asked him to take it down just a little bit and a few minutes later, he laid the paper over my arm and without hesitation, I said, "yes." He went back to the computer and printed out the stencil and placed it on my arm. "Yes."
I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a bit of a masochist, so the pain didn't bother me, nor was it something I was afraid of--full disclosure: I was kinda looking forward to it. The pain serves a purpose and therefore it is easy to withstand. I was more concerned about passing out on him due to the fact that I hadn't eaten. He assured me that we would eat. My head took a few spins when I got settled in the chair and the vibration of the machine began to hum, but I settled in and relaxed, even threatening to fall asleep.
We ate mixed berry crumble pie and drank beer and it was the best lunch I've had in a long time.
We discussed how the tattoo would look in its final state throughout the process and it was truly an experience.
As he got closer to finishing and I began to dread the end of this amazing day, without looking up and as I gazed up at the ceiling, he said, "Thanks for letting me do this."
My head whipped around to him and I studied his eyelashes for a few moments before saying, "Thank YOU, JJ. This has been an incredible day."
He continued in silence and for that I was thankful because the lump rising in my throat would have forced me to choke on any words I would need to use to respond. Nothing I could say would convey how thankful I was at that moment anyway.
He told me things that only another creative person seeking their "spot" would understand. And, as I thought about what I know about his creative history, he didn't sit back and wait for it to happen. He didn't get some magical tattoo that would suddenly open up his place in the world--he tried different things, hoping to find the place where his creative heart could soar and he could share his art with people who could appreciate it.
A month later, Hank is serving his purpose of reminding me of my mortality and how little time I have left to make something of the life I have. It's not a magical tattoo in the sense that I'm suddenly a brilliant writer about to stumble upon hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it IS magical that I have a reminder of such an important day in my life that I carry on my skin, in my flesh.
It's like he's always been there, sitting on my shoulder. I can't imagine my life without him and photos that show that bare arm bring me closer to the screen, thinking, "How did he just get here?"