Friday the 15th should have been the day of my “I am trying to get as honest as I can” tattoo, words my brother spoke to his final victim on a phone call he didn’t know was getting taped by the police.
By Friday, the last scabs had fallen off my peacock tattoo, and I could see that the infection (caused, I think, by a man who grabbed my arm in the store, demanding the story when the tattoo was still shiny and new) had not ruined it. My beautiful peacock was emerging with no visible damage.
However, I was sick from the side effects of antibiotics, not to mention a migraine and the eerie blue rings around my eyes that signal impending seizure. I also wanted to give the peacock time to fully heal, so I moved my final tattoo to Thursday.
All day, though, I had this nagging feeling that the 15th was important somehow, that I should be getting my tattoo on that day.
One advantage of being hospitalized a lot as a kid is that I can check my whereabouts during almost any time period, so I pulled up my hospital chart, and sure enough, the 15th was significant: the 25th anniversary of my suicide attempt and the 23rd anniversary of my brother marrying his final wife–the one who would eventually cooperate with police when he molested yet another child.
Back then, I didn’t even know he had remarried, let alone that he had exchanged vows with a woman who shares my mother’s first name, making Karen Higgins my mother and sister-in-law.
I wonder if he knew about my suicide attempt.
At first, I felt as though something significant had been stolen from me. I wanted my brother’s words branded into me on the anniversary of my overdose, which after all, is the same way he died (depending on who you believe). One of the drugs he took was even an anticonvulsant, just like me, though he took it for pain, not epilepsy. Somehow, branding my arm with his words — the same arm I used to cut with a butter knife, leaving white hatch-mark scars even 25 years later — on this day of all days seemed right.
But nothing was stolen from me. In fact, I think the new date is even more magical in its own right: May 21st, the 25th anniversary of my first pass home form the psychiatric ward:
I remember that pass home well. Playing on the radio as my mother pulled out of the hospital parking lot: “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman:
The same song played on the day I got out on a second pass, too. And it played again on the day I was released for real, as if the clock kept getting reset to May 21st, over and over. Every release some kind of rehearsal or act.
And they were.
A car was the ticket out; a car was how you escaped. And yet, I could not drive because of my seizures, and in fact, have never learned to drive. Something inherent to my body was going to make it hard to escape– the very disease all those anticonvulsants I swallowed were supposed to suppress.
I wasn’t normal, but I knew I had to fake it on my first pass if I ever wanted a chance to get out–not out of the hospital, but out, as in far, far away. So I did fake it.
Note the nurse’s comments:
It was a lie. It did not “go well.” I faked everything that day, doing my best to play normal daughter and sister. I remember oohing and ahhing over the food at dinner. “This beats hospital food!” I said. I didn’t say that my stomach hurt from sitting so close to my father.
And even with the contraband search, I hid the new cut marks on my left arm, self-inflicted in my bedroom hours before returning to the psych ward. I was very good at hiding them.
So this anniversary is more important for my final tattoo, because like my brother,
I am tired of faking normal. I am going to wear my heart on my sleeve from this day forward, in the most literal sense of that expression. And by my heart, I mean my brother’s confession, because if he confesses, I confess.