Sunday, July 27, 2008

the tattoo

The passage of time gets written on our physical bodies. Not just in extra pounds and wrinkles and sad deflated-balloon post-breastfeeding boobs, but in scars and aches and pains. Most of these signs are marks of past accidents and sometimes even traumas.

We don't often have a choice about how our bodies become marked in this way. It is the result of our human vulnerability and the arbitrary circumstances that add up to those childhood accidents and falls, the adult wrong-place-wrong-times. But taken all together, they can narrate, in some sense, our personal history in a way that we often overlook.

Michel Foucault knew this.

Brent has resigned himself to my tattoo, but he still doesn't get the why. It goes beyond the actual symbol itself, although I love my tattoo and am ever grateful that Casey would be willing to share it with me. (She is a generous person in so many ways, tangible and intangible.) I wasn't really able to explain it, not having analytically considered it thoroughly myself, until the Thweatt fam reunion a couple weeks ago.

Where I saw my cousin Kevin again for the first time in probably ten years. Still proud of my fresh tattoo, only a few weeks old, I was hyper-alert to everyone else's...and a surprising number of my relatives do have them. Kevin has a large, beautifully rendered tattoo on his arm, a portrait of his older brother, my cousin James. James Bruce, named after my own dad. James was a little older than me, Kevin a little younger; our ages stairstepped down to my sister Ally, just a year and a half younger than me. They were fun. All Thweatt cousins are fun, it's part of the genetics, but we seemed to see James and Kevin a little more often than others and they were always favorites.

James died young, when I was still in college. It was a shock; I can remember the day and the circumstances when I found out. News like that knocks the wind out of you, you can't process it immediately, just wait until that sick, awful feeling of not being able to breathe passes, and then try to keep breathing in and out. Eventually breathing becomes normal again.

Kevin's tattoo is beautiful; it took three sittings, Kevin told me, by the best artist in town. And it is a physical sign of how certain things mark us profoundly, even when the scars don't show. I like the idea of tattoos, of choosing to mark our bodies deliberately with symbols that speak these profound things; there's a transparency, an honesty, a physicality to this kind of narration that seems to suit the vulnerability of such naked truth-telling.

1 comment:

nathansethjones said...

This is beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

I'm going to a family reunion in a few weeks and my two brothers and I are toying with the idea of getting a matching tattoo: same design, same part of our respective bodies. A symbol of family, brotherhood, and love that knows no end. I like the idea of a physical symbol, something external that I can see when I'm apart from these guys.