I decided to start a blog because that way I would write something at least every couple of days. Hopefully it’ll help clear the clutter and personal stories from my head so I can focus on writing the made-up stuff that I want to write – short stories, novels, miscellanea. I don’t know how interesting this is going to be, but whatever – here goes nothin’.
So, my first personal story is this: I got a tattoo. (See? Not that interesting.) Lots of people get them, but here’s the story behind mine.
My mom smoked almost all of her life. She probably started as a teenager where she grew up, in Keister, in the 60’s, when they thought smoking was a Great Idea. She had an ashtray, and I don’t know when she got it, but I’m pretty sure she had it all of my life, that was made of artillery. The bottom was some kind of canister, and it was wrapped in M-60 shells. She loved that damn ashtray even though it was hideous and it rarely, if ever, got washed. She took it with her everywhere she went – wherever she was in the house, in the yard, on the boat… She took it with her on vacations when we were younger. She put her cigarette between the brass bullet shells and it didn’t fall into the tray and go out and evidently, that was Brilliant.
I talked to Mom right around 2009, and she mentioned that she had a “flu bug.” This wasn’t news for Mom; she usually declared she had some kind of bug. When she couldn’t get out of bed, my nephew, who lived with her all of his life, went to their kind neighbor, a retired RN, and she called an ambulance. Mom went to the hospital, fluid was drained from her stomach, and a few days later she had a diagnosis of cancer. Her urologist thought it was the kind of cancer that normally forms in breasts, only because she didn’t have any – having had them removed some 18 years prior because of cancer – it had formed in her stomach.
She had one chemotherapy treatment, but then contracted pneumonia, and she never recovered. Mom, an at-times-raging (although she raged quietly) alcoholic, had been in the hospital, close to death, on more than one occasion. When it became apparent that Mom wasn’t going to cheat death again, I went to see her one last time to say goodbye. That was January 17, 2010 and she died the morning of January 19. Even though I made my peace, I’ll always regret not being there.
There are seven of us – me, two sisters, and four brothers, three of who are still living. After Mom’s death it was left to us to go through her belongings (which is Another Story Entirely) and decide what to do with them all. Each of us wound up with something meaningful, and the Stupid Ashtray went to my brother Tom, who made the mistake of soaking it overnight in an effort to clean it. It rusted. He threw it out. It was frustrating to hear this news because that ashtray was, in terms of our mother, an iconic item. She took it Everywhere. It was synonymous with Red-Haired Blue-Eyed Norwegian Smartypants.
I have a tattoo of a quill on my back (its placement is symbolic; I am Writing’s Bitch). For a while I’d wanted a new one but didn’t know what I wanted and was just waiting for an to get it done. I toyed around with the idea of a breast cancer ribbon, but I sincerely dislike pink; also I thought about a tree to symbolize my family but with six siblings of my own and five siblings-in-law that would be one o\Out-of-Control Tree, I think. My brother Jon told me about the Death of the Stupid Ashtray, and there was the Epiphany I’d been waiting for.
I know butterfly tattoos are cliché and everyone has them and they’re boring and whatnot, but I still love them and what they represent. Despite not being able to stay sober I believe Mom wanted to change. She and I share our birth month (March), thus the aqua-blue color. And in the wings, one on each side, are M-60 shells. I thought about a breast cancer ribbon for the body of the butterfly, but just as her alcoholism didn’t define her, her cancer didn’t define her, and that isn’t what I want to remember when I think of her.
The work was done by the incredibly talented Shawn Hebrank, who works at Identity Tattoo in . I kind of found him by accident – I decided on the morning of what would have been Mom’s 61st birthday that I should get that tattoo That Day and contacted a few places to check availability. When I emailed Identity Tattoo, Todd The Owner emailed me back to say they didn’t have anything open, but invited me to come check out the place anyway. I found another shop who said they could fit me in, but they closed unexpectedly. So instead, my Auntie Lin and I visited Identity and perused the photos and while all three of them do incredible work, I picked Shawn because of a Muppet – a tattoo (a picture of which I can't find online). Awesome.
Anyway – there’s my first story. Something a little more light-hearted next time, perhaps? That’s a Great Idea.