This tattoo probably gets the most attention. Right along my bicep, it stands out among the rest. This particular tattoo is also the inspiration behind this website. I literally get stopped all the time over this one tattoo. I could be just walking down the street and someone will stop me in my tracks and ask me about it. Or I could be anywhere routine, like the grocery store, coffee shop, or train, and then predictably that noticeable tilt of the head immediately lets me know that the question is about come. Admittedly, people’s curiosities can be downright annoying at times, but I don’t blame them for asking. It’s a beautiful tattoo, done remarkably well; however, this quality is what often invites the most inconvenient of questions.
Most times when I do decide to let down my guard and share what it reads, a very pregnant silence will follow. What? Huh? The speechless look that usually accompanies my translation will always force me to comfort the suddenly awkward exchange with a joke or blow off: “It’s a long story. Deep, deep stuff, I know.” Unfortunately a lot of the time, I just get really irritated when people ask because I know the peculiarity that will follow, and I simply hate dealing with it. If I’m in a particular bad mood and someone stops me, I can be downright rude at times. I’ll either totally ignore them or give a snarky response like, “Don’t worry about it.” But truly, I don’t mean any disrespect, it’s just that I know the whole encounter will be truly nerve-wracking and so I’d rather be rude and dismissive than awkward and ominous.
Another slight complication is what I’ve said before. Far too many times do people expect a quick and easy answer to my tattoos, which is a cause of contention for me. I do not take my tattoos very lightly, like some may do. For most of us with tattoos, they can mean something quite personal and extraordinary (or not), and a flippant inquiry of a curious passerby can often times irritate like hell. With this particular tattoo, I began to realize that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to share my story with everyone, quite the contrary, it was just that I didn’t know how to share such a personal story or have the actual time to share it. And so this is what inspired me to build this website. I can now redirect everyone here and finally share what “Veritus Mortua Est. Viva Veritus” really means.
Much like my other tattoos, the meaning of this tattoo has definitely changed over the years, where once it meant something fairly straight and to the point to now something quite esoteric and unconventional. It was 2001, while working at the bookstore, that the idea did first occur to me. I’d had a really bad day at work and was at home feeling rather defeated. I was grappling with the phenomenon of how some people like to treat retail workers, and to this day, I still don’t understand why commerce is suddenly an excuse for behavior that would otherwise result in a slap in the face. But I digress. So on top of work frustration, I was also dealing with an increasingly strained relationship with my family. I had moved from a once close and open relationship with them to one that was periodic and somewhat obscure. There were a number of factors that influenced this. First of all, my marijuana/alcohol abuse was naturally pulling me away from them. When a person is submerged in any type of abuse or addiction, slipping away into a more isolated world is not unusual because in that world, no one judges you, no one tells you to stop, no one monitors because no one is there to care, and I was certainly not giving a shit.
I was also becoming increasingly more liberal, a direct result I attribute to living in the big city where my level of experiences seemed to make a significant impact on my politics, and with that, the difficulty with interacting with a family who came from a very conservative view, influenced by long careers in the military/government and a strong devotion to the Catholic Church. These opposing outlooks created in me a conflict that I couldn’t reconcile within myself, however judgmental that might’ve been at the time. I felt like my family had no idea where I was coming from, and to boot, my family’s seemingly dismissive attitude toward anything I ever tried to achieve artistically, often left me feeling a little bit neglected and insecure as well. However, that wasn’t their fault. Our family wasn’t one to value “art” the same way others would. My childhood wasn’t filled with museum trips or poetry reads. It was just a run-of-the mill suburban way of life: get up, go to work, eat, shit, sleep, and then repeat. Nothing too out of the ordinary. So naturally, the far removed reactions I’d receive whenever I would gush about something I painted or wrote, isn’t really all that surprising. It was just hard pill to take.
So with the family angst also came the fruitless romances I collected as well, and what tormented artist’s life wouldn’t be complete without all those ardent failures? Guy after guy, the same thing happened. We’d meet and then pretend that any of it would go anywhere but to bed, and then at the end of the day, the play would stop and I’d find myself alone and wondering where the hell they all went. In the beginning, casual encounters were fun, but as my need for real attention and real affection grew, most of the guys I’d meet were simply incapable of providing that for me. So collectively, all of it just seemed like a bunch of bullshit, and (oh) how unreal did it all feel.
So it all came down to this one day in my room. I was living in Astoria, Queens at the time, right at the foot of the Hell Gate bridge. Metaphorically speaking, I don’t know how many times I looked at that bridge and wondered if I was, indeed, on the brink of such a place beyond. The things around me were just so unbelievable—the treatment from customers, the unexcited responses from family, the silences from lovers. It all seemed like just a bunch of bullshit and I’d had it. So on this day, it all culminated to this one bad feeling that something had just died in me. And something did. The truth did. I was sad about everything that was happening. I was sad about all the injustices, etc. And so one late afternoon, after contemplating the disbelief all around me, I recall quietly mumbling to myself that the truth was dead. And that’s when I came up with my tattoo, or at least, the first part of it.
The next day, I went quietly into work feeling somewhat vindicated. Though I identified something rather disturbing about life—my life—at the same time, my discovery seem to offer me a great sense of peace. I realized that despite the metaphorical death that was upon me, something else had also come alive. With this new insight, the identification of the lies around me, I discovered truth again and it felt good. So as I stood sorting out books in the basement of our store alongside several other silent coworkers, I decided to share my idea with everyone. I placed a stack of books down and said, “Hey guys, guess what my next tattoo will say?” I remember everyone continued to work through, but each one casually gave me glance indicating some curiosity. I spoke plainly to them and said, “It will say ‘the truth is dead.’”
At that point my coworker Tom looked at me in satisfaction, picked up a stack of books, and replied in agreement, “Long live the truth.”
Tom’s spontaneous response stunned me, but I liked it. And as sudden was his retort, so was the feeling of completion just as immediate. I knew at that moment that his statement captured what I was now feeling with my new discovery. I became instantly grateful and asked Tom if he’d mind if I included his response in my tattoo design, and he shrugged, flattered, and said he wouldn’t. Little would Tom know that in the future to come, his completing statement would evolve into my most asked about tattoo—the truth is dead, long live the truth.
So what does it all mean? It just means keep going through it all. However trite it may sound, that’s what it means. So it’s really not that awkward and ominous when fully explained, is it? Everyone has experienced that one point in time when things just seem to stand still. Things just seem to end. Kind of like how I felt in that room of mine, and my tattoo just really reminds me that it will be okay and things can become true once again. To point out the obvious, it’s about rebirth, redemption, and on some level, salvation. When you know what the lie is, you know the truth, and that’s emancipation we all need (I think) to feel right about the world and all it has to offer, both the good and the bad. I don’t regret any of my ill-gotten past because I’ve been able to learn and grow from it all, and what better teacher there is than life itself? I hope on some level my explanation satisfies whatever curiosity you had about my tattoo, and for your future, I also hope it offers some true guidance, especially if you find yourself, also, at the foot of Hell some day.