This is one of the most beautiful tattoos I’ve ever seen. It belongs to my dear friend Kathy’s son. It’s an audio wave of Kathy’s voice saying, “Hi Matt…it’s Mom…just wanted you to know that I love you and miss you.”
I’m so moved by this. That a young man would ink the very sound of his mother’s voice into his skin, so she is always with him.
I love this. She is set in his presence forever.
I don’t have any myself, yet I’m fascinated by tattoos. More than the designs, I’m interested in the stories behind them. What they symbolize. If they mark an occasion or celebrate a victory or memorialize a loved one or lost one.
In The Man I Love, both Erik and Daisy get tattoos after a violent incident on their college campus. The idea developed when I was writing the chapter which takes place that evening. Erik is with Daisy’s parents in a hotel room down the street from the hospital. His friend David is with him. At that point, David wasn’t fully developed in my mind. He kept shifting his shape, I couldn’t get a bead on him. Which is probably why he turned out to be such a moody son of a bitch. Moody and mercurial, with occasional pockets of niceness. But that night in the hotel would be a turning point of sorts of David. His true colors revealed in his finest hour, when he proves himself Erik’s true and trusted friend.
As he’s attempting to go to sleep, Erik is shocked to see the irreverent David thumbing the pages of the Gideon bible, looking for a passage his aunt has always liked. “One of the songs of King David, naturally,” he says with a grin.
And he reads to Erik from Psalm 41:
Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble. The Lord protects and preserves them—they are counted among the blessed in the land—he does not give them over to the desire of their foes. The Lord sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness.
I picked Psalm 41 because I was looking for a prayer or quote from the bible for someone who was sick. Or wounded, in this case. Something to comfort Erik. And something that would be a surprise coming from the unpredictable David, who keeps reading aloud, and occasionally looking over at Erik and reassuring him, “Go to sleep…”
The first verse worked perfectly for this. But the psalm goes on:
But may you have mercy on me, Lord; raise me up, that I may repay them. I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. Because of my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever…
And an idea was born. It emerged from the last line, set me in your presence forever. In my mind I saw Erik, looking at the love of his life in her hospital bed, her dreams in pieces. I knew Erik well by then. I knew he’d feel a stab of guilt for being whole and unscathed. Physically unmarked. He’d want a scar. A visible, lasting reminder. Not only to share in Daisy’s experience but to keep her alive. To uphold her.
To set her in his presence forever.
He goes to a tattoo parlor in South Philly and has a daisy inked into the skin of his left wrist. The artist grasps what he wants right away:
Not cute or cartoonish. Simple. Realistic. He even consulted a botanical book he had on one of his many shelves. He suggested the petals not all be perfect, maybe one or two could be tattered. Erik liked the idea, as long as the flower didn’t look like it was dying.
“Oh no,” Omar said, in his sing-song Jamaican patois. “We’ll keep her alive, my friend, but we won’t ignore her scars. We’re all shaped by our scars.”
Erik watched as Omar went over the pencil with a black pen, watched the design come to life.
“It’s a daisy,” Omar said, “but it’s just a little…dark.”
Curious at how an artist might interpret this, I threw up a contest on the crowdsource site createmytattoo.com. I gave a little background and the passage above and stepped back. There were a couple dozen entries. Most of them missed. Some of them came close. No one design blew my mind but this came closest to what I had envisioned:
Daisy gets her own tattoo a little while later, setting Erik into her presence:
They carry these with them through the painful years ahead. Constant reminders. The presence forever.
Do you have tattoos? Tell me what. And tell me why…