by Laura Beiler
He looked at me quizzically, his eyes roaming from mine to my arms and down my back, back up to my eyes. I looked at him over my right shoulder, the cover draped around my front held up by one tight fist as I clenched it with determination.
“All of them?” he asked.
“All of them,” I replied. “There should be 32 in total.”
He shook his head and sighed then rolled his chair away from the examination table and went to his desk. He spent a long time looking through vials of color, holding them up to the desk lamp, peering through the glass at the swirl of ink. He selected two and wheeled his chair back to me, holding one up to a jagged mark across my left forearm where I could see it too.
“This one looks the closest in color, but I may have to use a darker shade on some of the…larger ones.” I could tell he was still grappling with what I had asked him, still trying to figure me- and them- out.
“Let’s do it,” I said, clenching the blanket tighter.
He took the vial and began to pour the contents into the tattoo pen. He clicked it on and it began to hum like a lone bee in the quiet room. He had turned the radio off earlier when he heard my story. When he agreed to take on the task, he had locked the door and closed shop to other customers. Now there was an almost reverent quiet as he began to mark the occasion with the first sting of the pen on my skin.
The pain was nothing compared to what I endured six months ago.
I watched as he slowly began to etch the words on my skin, going around the first scar, carefully avoiding the scar tissue and leaving the scar itself exposed.
I survived this.
He wrote it in beautiful script, turning the scar into a memorial.
One down, thirty-one to go. He moved on to the next one, further down my arm and on the inside near my wrist. I turned away, tears beginning to form.
I survived this.
For the few smaller ones on my back near my right side he simply drew a small black ribbon. It almost looked like a mole or birthmark until one got closer.
I listened to the buzzing of the pen, felt him carving the words over and over into my skin as he marked each scar.
I survived this.
Six months ago I didn’t think I was going to make it. Six months ago my boyfriend had left me for dead, the wielder of the knife that cut and stabbed these marks into my body. Filled with rage that had mounted the previous couple of months and one wrong night chosen to go out with the girls I came home to find him waiting. He complained I left him alone to feel like a failure as he had lost his job, that I was rubbing in his face my freedom to do what I pleased because I still had a job. He was calm, twisting and screwing the knife into the arm of the chair, looking steady at me as he said this. Keys still in hand I made a lunge for the door but he was quicker, stronger. The knife tore and sliced into me over and over. I fought at first, writhing under him to get away, my arms taking the brunt of it. I rolled onto my stomach and tried to crawl away, but he kept baring down, kept pressing the knife into me. Most wounds were not deep, but the last one, the one that created the diagaonal scar half the length down my left calf, that almost cost me my leg.
He left me there, bleeding and seeping from those wounds. The knife was on the floor next to me; the front door just inches away. I called the police and they soon found him, walking down a nearby street as if nothing had happened. He called me a liar, but now he is in jail awaiting sentencing and here I am, scars to bear. But alive.
“Why don’t you just cover them up instead of going around them? Some of these will fade away, ya know.”
The tattoo artist was speaking to me again and I realized I had never even bothered to ask him his name. I was too afraid to know it, too afraid to risk the chance to hear his name again outside the bars that kept him away.
“I want to always be reminded of what I have lived through. These scars are my yesterday, but these words are my every day. They remind me that if I survived this, I can survive anything. My tomorrow may show them faded, but they will always be with me.”
He looked me in the eye again, studying me. He shook his head. “I can’t believe someone could do this to another person.”
He went back to his ink and I said no more. When he instructed me to lay on my stomach so he could finish the scar on my calf, he whistled slow and quiet. I watched in the mirror as he drew butterflies around the scar line, red and black ones that delicately kissed along the scar. He created flowers of yellow and purple, taking care to never cross over or cover the scar.
When he had completed all the tattoos, he sat back and gestured toward the full length mirror. I scooped up the sheet toga style and walked over. I let the sheet drape further down my back to see them all. He came over and held up a hand mirror so I could look into it to the other mirror.
“You really did survive something, didn’t you?” he said as he inspected his own work.
“Yes,” I replied. “And you’re right. The scars will heal, and the memory will eventually fade. But I will remain. And these words will too.”
He handed me jar of salve I took with me to the bathroom. As I re-dressed I slathered it on each mark, seeing in my mind’s eye the knife coming down. I looked to my wrist, circling the words over and over.
I survived this.
I walked to the counter and paid the artist, thanking him. I unlocked the front door and walked into the warm spring air, fresh scars and fresher ink exposed to the world. I was sore from the tattoos and still broken over the event.
And when the morning comes, I will still be here.