Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Permanent Ink

The Rose Tattoo

It was never really planned. It just sort of came to me one day. Even as a young man that had just been let loose in the world, there were some things that I saw a bit more clearly.

After a very protective childhood and a loving home, I graduated from high school and unlike most of my friends, I went off to college. During my first year away from home I was a pretty good kid. I studied hard, I got good grades, and I partied a bit. This was all a new adventure for me. But I still kept in touch with my best friend from High School. He had joined the Navy and was training to be a submariner.

So at the end of my first year of college my friend called me up and said, "Fly out to Hawaii, I am stationed here for three months, we can party for a week.". I don't know of any normal young male that wouldn't jump at the chance to be 19 years old for a week in Hawaii. I hopped the first plane out.

My friend met me at the airport on Oahu and after some catching up regarding what we had been doing since High School we set out to have the time of our lives.

You have to put this all in perspective. I had about $200 in my pocket. I had a free place to stay in a condo on Oahu (with three of my friend's Navy buddies). Gas was about .75 a gallon and my friend had a spare Honda 360 motorcycle for me to ride around on. This all added up to free room and transportation. I was single, young, had a full head of hair and I was in paradise. I had no alarm clock and no cares. All I had to do was live and enjoy the coconut palms and azure waters that surrounded me. This was heaven.

I don't remember a lot about that following week. There was a lot of riding around the island, a lot of sunburn, drinking till the cows came home (mostly Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill, the precursor to modern wine coolers).

One morning I woke from a drunken night's debauchery and found myself on a beach on the north shore of Oahu. The sun was just coming up and the pacific waves were crashing a couple of yards from my feet. I had fallen asleep on the sand with the half empty bottle of Boone's Farm not far from me. I looked around and saw our motorcycles still parked in the parking lot and my friend asleep on a park bench several yards away.

The previous night was a blur, as most of them had been. But I didn't have a hang-over. When you live on wine you sort of build up a tolerance to it. I watched the sky lighten as the sun prepared to burst over the horizon. It dawned on me that this was it. Life wasn't going to get any better than this.

Seriously, what did I have to look forward to? There were going to be more classes in my sophomore year of college, graduation and getting a job. I knew that my future would consist of making rental payments, car payments, paying taxes, getting married, having children, growing old. Nothing was going to match this moment. This was the pinnacle of my youth. I was a young man with sand in his hair, lying on the beach, watching the ocean. I realized then that I couldn't forget this. I knew that the future would hold highs and lows, but in the long run it would wear me down, like the wind and the surf erode a stone. I had to memorize this time, so I wouldn't forget it. So I wouldn't forget how good life "could" be. I needed some sort of reminder.

After my buddy had awoken from his restful park bench, we rode back into town and had some breakfast. Thinking over the mornings events, I popped the question to him. "Hey man, let's get a tattoo." Without blinking an eye he said "Sure, I know a good place." That afternoon we were on Hotel Street in downtown Waikiki looking at tattoo designs. We settled on a black rose. He had one put on his left arm, mine went on my right. A half hour later and $25 poorer we walked out with bandaged arms.

It is the first bookmark in my life. It is still there. The only tattoo I ever got. The only one I ever really needed. Every once in a while I look at it and remember that time. I have grown older, my hair has thinned, and wives have come and gone as have the jobs and the cars and the houses. But the black rose lives on. I keep it sheltered from the sun so it won't fade, because if it were gone my memories might go with it. I look at it from time to time and wonder if I was ever really that young. I knew when I got it I would wonder if it was all a dream.

When I got the rose, it was not something that most folks did. It taught me a lot of things that I never thought it would. The four great questions it always generated were; were you in the Navy? (No), were you drunk when you got it? (No), did it hurt? (A little), and how much did it cost? ($25). How folks reacted to it taught me a lot about their personality. Woman loved it; some men couldn't figure it out. None of them could ever really understand why I got it. Today, toddlers get them and people cover their bodies with tattoos to make themselves 'different' and to 'express' themselves. I chuckle at these folks. You should get them for a reason, not to demonstrate your coolness or personality.

Many have said that we are just ghosts in the machine. The rocks and the forests and the ocean go on forever, but we only experience them for a short while on this earth. They are eternal; we are just flesh and blood. My flesh speaks to me sometimes, of worlds that I can no longer see.