My fourth tattoo is probably my most controversial and most misinterpreted. I was living in San Diego at the time ('99), helping my mother go through her breast cancer treatments. I would love to say I quit my job in New York to do this entirely for her, but in reality, I was bored with my life and found her illness a perfect excuse to escape the unstable life I had created for myself back in New York.
Right before I moved, I was living in Park Slope, Brooklyn and really not getting along with anything in my life, including my job, my roommates and my love interests, etc. And on top of a steadily growing marijuana habit, I had decided I didn’t need a “real” job and was going to instead go at it as an “artist”. So I moved out to San Diego where consequently my mother needed my help any way, got a part time job at Barnes & Noble, and slowly made my attempt at “art”.
Life was habitual and boring. Most days I’d wake up, get high, go to work, and by the time I got home, I’d be so fried from all the “smoke” breaks I’d taken that I’d pass out on the couch. On my off days, I’d smoke more and sit at my computer and type away at the keyboard creating hundreds and hundreds of meaningless poems, half-started screenplays, and just downright crap. There really wasn't much else for me to do. I didn’t have many friends, just a few co-workers I’d casually hang out with sometimes. And then there was my dysfunctional relationship with my mother, which despite knowing that my first priority there was to see her to health, it still became rather difficult to focus on that because she would manage to make me feel irritable and angry with her own arrested development and intolerable expectations. I was certainly in a lonely hell and with every passing day, found myself feeling less and less significant and with no apparent guidance helping me through all the waywardness.
So one night I was in one of my typical moods that required nothing but escapism in front of the television. My oblivious mother had no idea what was happening to me. I had kept very quiet about the events leading up to my moving there. She knew I smoked marijuana occasionally too, but had no clue as to the amount or frequency. I’ve always been very good at hiding things from my mother. She didn’t know how unhappy I was or why nothing seemed to matter to me anymore. She was just happy to have me there who was distracting her from her own private hell that was filled with chemo treatments, exhaustion, and fear.
So as we watched the news together that night, I remember I laid catatonic on the couch having just eaten a huge burrito while staring blankly into this screen that just continuously reported on bad news. There were murders, scandals, things amiss and things array all across the county, the country, and the world. It was all so numbing for some reason that night. I remember it made me turn to my mom, who sat unbeknownst to my sudden feeling of morbidity to say, “Hey Mom, wouldn’t it be just great to be gone from all of this? To never have to deal with any of it ever again?” My remark was subtle, and perhaps slightly suicidal, but mostly it was just an honest inquiry.
My mother responded by nodding nonchalantly, and then saying, “Well, yes sure, that would be great…” but then hesitating, she glanced upward and said, “But that…” while pointing towards the ceiling, “THAT—is forever.”
It was weird, but my mother’s zen-like response sent shivers down my spine at that moment, and soon I felt a great sense of relief. I remember I thought to myself: So I guess that means…this will all end some day. There won’t be any more of this. No more burrito I just ate or that news story I just heard or those problems I have or …so on and so on. It was very much a reminder of the “this too shall pass” proverb and as I laid there, I finally began to understand what she meant and what it all meant. THAT being death is forever and this, being life, is merely transient—ever-changing and unattached. To this day I regard my mother's response significant and awesome; significant in the wisdom and verity of it; awesome in the spontaneity of it. Her comment at that moment helped me to see beyond the problems of life and instead through to the appreciation of it regardless of the circumstances. This comment would later force me to reevaluate my own priorities, and incidentally, would later lead me down a road to where I am happily traveling down today.
But the tale doesn’t end there. A few days after my experience with my mom, a coworker of mine named Ivy and I decided to take a road trip to Los Angeles. Ivy, for the short time I knew her, was like a sister to me. I remember when I first laid eyes on her, she’d had her septum pierced like me and that similarity helped the connection. Ivy also liked to smoke a little marijuana every now and then, which made our association even tighter. So one afternoon, she and I hopped into her car and headed up I-50 towards L.A.
About halfway through our foggy “trip,” I retold the story about my mother’s response and my sudden epiphany. Ivy and I then got into a heavy conversation about life and death, and combined with more pot-smoking and the sounds of Sisters of Mercy (Ivy’s favorite band) in the background, our conversation gradually grew deeper into things like the afterlife and/or heaven. We both discovered that what my mom said was very true (to us). Life was temporary. We are here at one moment and the next, could be in heaven. I remember at one point I started giggling and said: "Gosh Ivy that could mean there’re no more yummy burritos in heaven….” And from there, it all snowballed into the two of us coming up with things that just wouldn’t be in heaven. We had a good time naming all the things we'd miss or not miss. But then finally in a most stupefied moment, Ivy turned to me with a sly grin and whispered: “So I guess that also means, there’s no sex in heaven."
It was truly a funny moment when she said that. We both cooed in disappointment, but soon her remark got me thinking a little deeper. If things were so temporary and fleeting, then shouldn’t we treat the world and all things in it with a bit more respect or reverence? As Ivy and I talked more and more, I soon felt myself developing a sudden reverie for life, and this discovery would mark the beginning of how I would later feel about all sorts of different things and especially with how I viewed sex. I knew on this day that I needed to remember this and so as soon as Ivy and I got to L.A., I told Ivy to get me to the nearest tattoo shop pronto.
I remember it was pouring down rain as the two of us found our way around L.A, hopping from tattoo shop to tattoo shop with me trying to decide where to go. I finally settled on a small joint right on the streets of Hollywood and Vine. I recall one other shop nearby, but it was super expensive and seemed to cater to a more “starry” crowd, and so I instead went for the no frills shop just down the block.
The shop was indeed a small place. It looked more like a hallway than a shop, but I liked simplicity of it. I walked in and was met by an older Asian gentleman who had just finished a job on a client. I introduced myself and told him what I wanted. I recall the tattoo artist just shrugged in compliance, then led me to a seat where he later took out a blue ball point pen and began to scrawl the words “there’s no sex in heaven,” on my inner left forearm. It took no more than maybe 5 minutes to get it done, but after he finished, I remember I felt awesome.
At that point a couple had walked in. They looked like a fun pair that had maybe just left a bar. The woman then inquired about what I’d just gotten. I showed her and she cocked her head to the side in wonder. I shared a short version of my story to her, and left my response with saying: “Just means to keep things special here, at least while you are here.” I recall she smiled at my answer as she looked kindly to her boyfriend. I knew I had somehow struck a chord with her and I was pleased about that. We then said our goodbyes and best of luck, and then Ivy and I headed out.
Ivy had beamed with pride at my decision to get the tattoo. I think on some level she felt flattered, which I hope she did. After we left the shop, we continued our metaphysical marijuana-induced conversation at a local coffee shop. It was a good time and I have to admit, though our relationship was short lived—I lost contact with Ivy years ago—this was truly a day I’ll always remember.
After getting my tattoo, the meaning of it has since evolved greatly. Much of the evolution comes from how people have reacted to it. Most people when they read it usually let out a groan and say, "Well then, I better get all the sex that I can!" And that's usually when I'll groan. My tattoo doesn't necessarily mean free-for-all sex. Not at all. Actually it's quite the opposite. Like I stated early, if it is true, that is, if there isn't any sex in heaven, then maybe we should keep it special here on earth. It’s really that simple. Sex is the most powerful force in the universe. It creates everything, and I think too often do we misuse or abuse that most powerful force which can result into any number of consequences, i.e. disease, unwanted pregnancies, and broken hearts.
I think when I essentially got this tattoo, I was definitely even trying to teach something to myself at the time. I had lost my virginity at age thirteen and had been fucking badly ever since. Casual sex was a typical part of my life and it often got me into sticky relationships that never amounted to much except for a lot of hurt feelings and possibly a few critters creeping around in the pubes. I think anyone can relate (well maybe not the crab part) to a bad relationship ending because the sex occurred way too early. I think if we treat sex as perhaps "sacred" then maybe we can all avoid those disappointing relationships, and instead, find ourselves in a really special relationship with someone we truly love.
Incidentally, that day on the couch with my mom has completely passed on, but at the same time, I’ve been able to keep it special by this story I will forever share. My mom has since recovered fully from her breast cancer, and I have recovered happily from those sad feelings of hopelessness. It’s amazing how a simple conversation can turn into such an influential force in one's life, or maybe even turn into a little, ugly tattoo.
Update: Ivy and I have been reunited by the magic we all know as Facebook.