I shared part 1 of my tattoo journey in day 39, and how I ended up with a vine tattoo around my right ankle that wasn’t what I intended it to be. My goal to stand out and be different in my new home of Park City, Utah was achieved, but not in the way I’d wanted. Now I was different because I was the girl who had an ugly tattoo around her ankle.
I haven’t shared the full story of what happened for me in the car accident on April 2, 1994, but I will soon. But fast forward a few months after my accident, to that first summer out of the hospital, and I was busy with several different types of therapy. I had a speech therapist, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist and a math tutor.
My math tutor’s name was Dave and he was quite eccentric. He was late thirties, married, had two kids under 12 and he loved music of all kind, especially the Grateful Dead. We’d meet for our sessions either in coffee shops or at my family’s second house called “The Red House”, which was 5 min from the center of Park City, whereas my parents lived about 15 min outside of town. The Red House was obviously red and it was a 2-floor duplex, with two bedrooms on the second floor of each side and a living room and kitchen downstairs, with a shared front and back porch. My dad’s office was downstairs on the right side and on the left there were various tenants in and out who were friends of friends and would just rent a room for a few weeks here and there, so I shared use of the downstairs on the left and the upstairs on the right. Dave and I would often sit on the back porch when weather allowed and do our best to talk about math, but often it would just be Dave taking my homework, doing it, and saying out loud his process, hoping it sank in. So I was sort of learning, but definitely getting the work done. After our tutoring sessions Dave would sit on the porch swing on the front porch and play his guitar and smoke weed rolled up to look like cigarettes. I didn’t join him, but I didn’t mind this ritual of his; it was interesting and made me feel like I wasn’t in high school.
Apart from therapy, I also turned to music during that post accident time of healing. My cousin from North Carolina had introduced me to two bands that I fell in love with; Ani DiFranco and The Dave Matthews Band. When I listened to their music it felt like cells in my body were rearranging and relaxing, so for hours I’d either sit in my car listening to their music, or I’d be in the living room at the Red House listening on the CD player on my jam box.
The Red House was a neutral zone where I didn’t have to be anything. I didn’t have my parents confusing energy dynamic in my face and I didn’t have high school people around. At school, I had to ignore awkward stares from classmates who were looking me over for evidence of my brain injury they’d heard about that had kept me in the hospital for the last quarter of my sophomore year. Therefore I loved being alone at the Red House to regroup and find some peace. I thrived in solitude, as did math tutor Dave, so we’d hang out and have solitude time, but together. In the spring of 1995 I was still working with Dave, except not as frequently in a teacher-student dynamic. He’d call me on my enormous flip cell phone and ask if I needed any help with my math homework, and if I did he’d come over and help and we’d hang out, listen to music and chat about life. It got confusing to differentiate between when I was supposed to be paying Dave and when we were having friend time, which was also kind of weird because he was 20 years older than me and had a family. But our time together went on, and often Dave asked not to be paid at all. My parents knew he was coming around and just assumed it was all for math tutoring, so they kept giving me cash to give Dave, which I kept stockpiling for my personal use. In hindsight the dynamic Dave and I had was incredibly strange, but I needed it. It came at a time when I needed help feeling less lonely and more integrated into the sea of the world, so that I could discover where I fit in again.
Dave knew I loved Ani Difranco’s music and he was the one who told me she was playing in Denver that April. I was so excited and knew I wanted to find a way to go. But no one my age listened to Ani so there was no one as equally excited as me to make the trek to Denver, except Dave. It would be a 2 day and 1 night road trip, and I didn’t feel comfortable going by myself, but I also didn’t feel right about going with just Dave and sharing a hotel room with him. So I invited my friend Josh to join us on this adventure to Colorado. I told Josh I’d buy his concert ticket since he’d never heard of Ani Difranco but I asked him to still act like he was excited and that it was his idea to come. To Josh, this was an opportunity to get away from Park City, to have a little quality time with me and be surrounded by a bunch of dancing women, mostly lesbians, so it sounded like a win win for him.
Ani Difranco chose to play at the Ogden Theater in Denver, a location downtown that was both elegant and timeless. Josh and Dave were great companions to have on this adventure and they were 2 of maybe 5 total men at that show Saturday night. I had never been around so many high energy women before, all excited about the same thing and dancing and moving with such effortless synchronization. It was both grounding and overwhelming at the same time.
Josh and I didn’t drink anything at the show but Dave did, so Josh tacitly agreed to be the “adult sitter” for Dave for the night. We agreed on where to meet at the end of the night in order to walk back to our hotel together; and with that, I was free to have my experience at this Ani Difranco concert. I knew every song by heart so I made my way towards the front of the theater to be closer to the source of it all. I kept looking around for faces I’d recognize, but no one was familiar looking as this was Denver, a new city to me. But I felt an odd kinship with the myriad of bodies moving together on the dance floor.
And then I saw her off to my right about an arms length away. One of the most beautiful girls I’d ever seen. It was as though she was glowing; it wasn’t just her physical appearance that made her glow, it was how she carried herself, and if came from a deeper place. She had beautiful eyes that I couldn’t tell the color of and her hair was several different shades of blond and was tied up on the up of her head in a messy way that felt nonchalant, but looked like a stylist had done it. She was about 5’8 and was wearing flattering blue jeans, and a black suit vest that was tailored to fit and show her curves, as well as accentuate her sculpted tan shoulders where I saw a tattoo peaking out. I wondered if she was a model just because all her clothes fit her so well. She didn’t have a bra on under her suit vest so I could see the side of her large naked breast through the armholes. She wore dangly earrings and a few necklaces that hung to her chest. I traced her jeans down to where I saw she was wearing Birkenstock sandals, which at the time, was an expensive high end brand, so that told me she had money. This girl looked wild, free and beautiful and I couldn’t stop staring at her. And when I realized I’d been inching towards her and we were now close enough to be brushing shoulders, I got butterflies in my stomach.
I stared at her and the tattoo on her shoulder for what felt like several minutes, but time didn’t seem to exist in this moment. What existed was me dancing next to but with this girl. She must have felt me come to this realization because she turned around, looked at me, and smiled, revealing her straight white teeth, and she took me by my hips and moved me in front of her and continued to dance. Except this time we were definitely dancing together.
I felt all emotions shooting through my body; I was mesmerized, I was happy, I was turned on, I felt bold and I was immensely enjoying the fact that no one in this theater knew who I was, which meant I had a free pass to be and do whatever I wanted, which in that moment meant getting hit on by a gorgeous girl and leaning into it. She had both arms wrapped around my waist and her hands were resting over my groin and she tapped her fingers against my pelvis along with the beat of the music. We stayed like that the last 30 minutes of the show and it was perfect.
And then, as Ani came out for her encore songs, my nameless dance partner turned me around slowly and kissed me, for what felt like a lifetime but was only a few seconds. She followed her kiss up with a long hug and then said, “thank you for this experience,” and then she walked away without a glance back; leaving me standing there in the middle of the dispersing crowd not knowing what had just hit me. The show was over so I went to our meeting spot and found Josh arm n arm with drunk math tudor Dave. Seems they’d had an exciting evening as well.
When we arrived back at our hotel room all I could think about was this girl, and all her details. I took out a piece of paper and drew her shoulder tattoo as true to form as I remembered.
That night I shared a bed with Josh in our hotel room and Dave stayed in the other bed and stayed up playing his guitar after we went to sleep. He was sitting on top of the bed singing about a young girl who he was supposed to be teaching but was instead teaching him, and how he knew he shouldn’t have these feelings for her but he did. He was singing about me; and both Josh and I realized this at the same time, and I gripped his hand under the covers in disbelief. And then I fell asleep because I knew I was safe next to Josh.
We drove home together the next day somewhat peacefully, with a hungover Dave sleeping most of the way. But what I learned from Dave that night through his music about his true feelings for me was never talked about; until it was, and it ended with a scar on my chin, a restraining order and my confused and furious parents. But all that’s another story.
That night in Denver at the Ani DiFranco show was cemented in my memory, and so was that girls tattoo. For weeks I stared at the piece of paper where I’d drawn it, and the more time I spent with it the more I wanted it on me as well. So I looked for another tattoo parlor in Salt Lake City that was different than the first one, and I showed the design and asked that it be inked in its exact form on my lower right back, and so it was. I loved everything about this tattoo, and it stayed like this for about 3 years until Rodney, my college boyfriend that I shared about in Day 7, shared his input on my tattoo at a particularly vulnerable time, and I folded and agreed it wasn’t enough and I needed to change it.
And so began my dislike of this once sacred & loved piece of art that was inspired by a night dancing in Denver that I’ll never forget. And it would be about 13 years of this tattoo going through various stages of destruction and creation before my tattoo got to what it is now, and ironically the symbol on my back covering the creation means “Never forget the pleasure of the journey.” Touché. But each stage of this tattoo has its own influences and story that will unfold another time.