January 5, 2012 – A Bridge to NowhereIt’s almost time for me to head back to Peru. I’m taking advantage of as much of my Stateside comforts as I can before I leave. Several times a day I brush my teeth extravagantly with tap water and don’t even worry about cholera. Nor do I worry about washing my produce in a bacteria killing rinse or sorting rocks out of my quinoa. I flush all the toilet paper I want and don’t even blink at getting hot water showers wherever I bathe. And although Garland, where I grew up and where my parents live, caters a bilingual menu I don’t have to think in Spanish if I don’t feel like it. With only a handful of days left in the States, I soak up the “silence” I’ve found here in Texas and begin to mentally prepare my ears for the cacophonic melody of Lima. This I do with just a touch of trepidation and a slight bit of dread. Noise. I have this hate relationship with noise. I’d walk over any bridge if it took me to a quiet place. But I can handle it; I’ve gathered a good collection of books to take back with me, stocked up on new music, and even gotten a tattoo. I might be ready to head back South. If for nothing else than to find out what adventure the next six months holds for me. If for nothing else than to have more time to write.
|Jesse and Lil Shea|
When I think about writing, when I think about words, I smile. What drives me to write?
“I love words,” I reply. “I love putting them together. I love finding the one word that says exactly what I mean. I love making a story come to life and sharing it. I love getting to know my own fictional characters.” I turn my attention outward from my passion back to the road, check my speed and ease my foot off the accelerator. “I think writing keeps me from going crazy. Even just journaling helps me deal with emotions. If I ever get really angry I write it out and usually that’s enough.”“I feel the same way,” Jesse says. “I journal every day and it’s like that for me too. I feel that words right all that’s wrong in my head--in this world. I sometimes feel that if I could just figure out how to say It. That thing. Then everything would be alright. For all the world. Words have such power. The stories we tell are what our lives are.”
The miles spin out like sparks and soon enough the Dallas Skyline jags the horizon. “Wow,” I say, seeing things as beautiful that I once took for granted. I spot a white arch out of the corner of my eye. “There’s that bridge you were telling me about.” It’s what’s being called Dallas’s first Designer Bridge and is not finished yet because of the discovery of a deep layer of sand that’s creating a potentially dangerous “soft spot” that could weaken the earthen levees.
However, we don’t know this; we just know that some architect designed it, it’s unfinished, it’s striking and it’s part of the make Dallas more beautiful Trinity River project.
“Let’s go there right now,” I say.“Okay.” Jesse’s single word holds a paragraph of enthusiasm.
“Hooray!” I exclaim. “How do we get there?”“I don’t know.” She takes stock of where we are. “Take a left on Commerce.”
I drive while she navigates us through the streets and eventually we wind up at the end of the bridge. I pull onto the side of the road in between the orange road blocks in front of a parked car and hope the dude in the driver’s seat doesn’t mistake us for drug buyers or something.
“Why did they stop it here?” I ask. “Where’s it going to go? Are they going to finish the bridge? Will cars actually be able to drive on it? Where did the money to build it come from?”
My questions are answered with a bagful of I don’t knows.It doesn’t really matter. I like to ask questions. Besides, it’s just a cool bridge. It’s probably even cooler to me because it is unfinished. There are a lot of stories in unfinished bridges. Especially designer ones. We appreciate it for a few moments.
I shift the handle from Park to Drive, make a U-turn and we head back to the highway.“I wonder if you can walk on it?” I wonder as I merge into traffic.
“Hmm,” Jesse wonders with me.“It’d have been really cool if I’d thought of that while we were there,” I say. “Like if we could have found a safe place to park Mom’s car. I’d hate to have to call her if it got stolen.”
“Or if we got thrown in jail and she had to come bail us out.”“Hey Mom,” I say. “We’ve got bad news and bad news. Which do you want first? Well, the bad news is we’re in jail and need you to bail us out. The other bad news is we don’t know what happened to your car.”
I imagine the really cool pictures we could have taken on that Bridge to Nowhere. I almost turn around and go back. But instead, we pass the distance in agreeable silence. We’re comfortable that way. I’m still thinking about bridges when Jesse asks, “Do you want to get that tattoo?”My sister-in-law Marie is an artist. At one point in time she’d turned me on to the sculpture Maman by Louise Bourgeois. I fell in love with it--this giant spider that Bourgeois made as an ode to her mother who passed away when Bourgeois was twenty-one. For Bourgeois the sculpture put into form “metaphors of spinning, weaving, nurture and protection” (Wikipedia) and showed in a stunningly grand visual manner the virtues she’d admired in her own mother. There is a stainless steel version in London, several giant permanent bronze casts in places like Ottawa, Bilbao, and Zürich and a plentitude of nonpermanent bronze casts scattered around the world. My younger sister Michaela and I had seen one of the nonpermanent ones in Washington D.C. two summers ago at a sculpture garden. I was pretty ecstatic.
Marie and I had talked about traveling the world to see all of the Mamans. We also talked about how cool it’d be to have that spider image as a tattoo. I’ve never been one for tattoos for myself. “I don’t like to be drawn on,” I’d always said. “I don’t even write notes on my palms. That drives me crazy. I think I’d always be trying to wipe a tattoo off if I caught it out of the corner of my eye. If I ever got a tattoo it’d have to be something really meaningful.”I’m not against tattoos on other people or even just in general, but until Marie and I discussed spiders and art I’d never thought I’d find a thing I’d like to imprint permanently on my body.
Several weeks before I left Peru for my holiday time in the States, Marie and I had chatted about going to get tattoos together. I’d relayed this on to Jesse (who already has a collection of tattoos) and sent her a picture of Maman.“Oh hell yeah we're getting that tattoo,” she’d emailed me back.
A few days before Christmas Marie sketched out a tattoo version of Maman which I’d carried around my parents’ house with me to gaze at and decided to take back to decorate the wall of my bedroom in Lima. A few days after Christmas she’d used henna to do some sketch tests on both our ankles. I’d sent a phone picture of these to Jesse as well.Now in the car, heading away from the Bridge to Nowhere, Jesse asks, “Are we going to get that tattoo?”
“We could,” I say.“I have off work tomorrow. We could go in the afternoon when the tattoo parlors open up.”
I pull up in front of her apartment. “Okay. I’ll call you tomorrow and we’ll see.”When I get home I tell my parents about the potential upcoming tattooing. They’re not normal parents. Instead of espousing the evils of tattoos they both say, “Cool!” My dad goes a step further by saying, “If it looks really cool I might get it too. I like spiders.”
“I know!” I say. “It’s because of you that I think spiders are so good. You always used to say that when we were out gardening. ‘Spiders are good. Grub worms are bad.’”I go to sleep uninked and wake up the same way. Some strange dream hovers near the ledge of my mind and it reminds me of a dream I had a few weeks ago. I dreamed that Jesse was with me at Machu Picchu. We were walking up one of the steep staircases towards Huayna Picchu when I stopped, turned and looked back. “That’s Machu Picchu there,” I said pointing, and then about faced and pointed at the opposing peak, “And that’s Huayna Picchu.”
Maybe getting a tattoo with your sister is the same as visiting such a place as Machu Picchu. So late in the afternoon I go pick her up and we head to Deep Ellum. The labyrinthal streets are child’s play to Jesse and she navigates with impressive skill. I drive where I’m told and soon enough, we’re there. We find a good place to park my dad’s dragon-fire red Mini Cooper and walk across the street to a tattoo parlor.“How much for this tattoo?” Jesse asks the bearded, tattooed, earringed guy behind the counter.
“We have a base cost of sixty bucks,” he says.“Do you have availability right now?” she asks.
He goes to consult with the Walk-ins’ artist and after a few moments returns. “We wouldn’t be able to get to you until probably eleven tonight. We’ve got two others in front of you.”Jesse and I consult via telepathy and decide to try a couple other places first. She’d hoped for something a little cheaper and more instantaneous. I’m still not sure what I’m hoping for. I drive us back to her apartment where she makes a few calls. Kings Tattoos in Oakcliff—recommended to her by one of her coworkers--has some openings so we head out that way.
The streets get darker, the buildings look more run down, the guys walking down the streets or driving by are the ones that most mothers warn you about. Though with my parents’ track record, who knows what my mother would say.The Kings Tattoos parking lot is full and we have to back out and find parking in the lot next door. I lock up the car and wish it well. Then Jesse and I walk inside. We head past the drawn examples hanging on the wall of Virgin Marys, crosses, black widow spiders, skulls, hearts filled with all sorts of things and beautiful, naked women. We walk past two tough looking girls sitting on the couch consulting each other over a drawing and up to the counter where a guy is taking tattoo orders.
“How much for this?” Jesse asks, handing him the sketch Marie made. We tell him the approximate sizes we’re thinking and he estimates.“About forty dollars.”
“Do you take debit cards?” Jesse asks.“No, cash only.”
Jesse turns to me. “I could get mine first if you can go withdraw some money. Then if you decide you don’t want to get a tattoo, you don’t have to.”I go get a hundred dollars cash from an ATM down the street. When I get back Jesse’s already filled out the release form and is waiting for the tattoo artist, Tuny, to prepare the equipment. The front desk guy has me fill out my own form and pay for both of us. Paperwork finished, I go watch Jesse get Maman tattooed on the inside of her left ankle. She winces a few times and admits it hurts when I ask. Ten minutes later she has a spider.
It looks great.“You can back out now,” she tells me, thrilled to death with her new tattoo, “if you want. You don’t have to do this.”
“I’m good,” I say. I take the seat. Tuny transfers the image onto the outside of my right ankle, gets my approval for the look, asks me if I’m ready and sets the needle. It’s not the best feeling I’ve ever felt, but it’s not as painful as I’d thought it could be either. And then less than ten minutes later, I have a black-inked permanent spider of my own.Tuny wraps my ankle up in plastic. “Don’t leave this on longer than an hour,” he advises.
“Thanks,” I tell him and Jesse and I leave.We pick up a bottle of Shiraz and some pastries on the way back to her apartment and she gets cash to pay me back.
“I’m glad we went there rather than the other place. It’s more…” she pauses.I pause with the word I’d been thinking on the end of my tongue then let it loose at the same time she lets her word loose. “Ghetto,” we say.
“That’s more my style,” Jesse says.We sit on the floor in her one room apartment, sip our wine, and admire our spiders.
"What was it you said the other day about ‘figuring out how to say It’?” I ask.
“Oh yeah. How to put It into words. Whether it’s turmoil, tension or blocked energy if you could say It, put It into words that would release it. That would free it. You name it even though it’s nameless. It’s this need we have to speak the unspeakable.”
Like putting an image on my skin to represent something to myself; that spiders are good and what I fear is nothing but an adventure to try. Like writing words down to tell stories, to create relevance for my life, to give meaning to what happens to me and around me. For me, writing is giving ideas form. It’s giving the unspoken voice. It’s emptying my soul of darkness and saving my mind from crowdedness. It’s tattooing words onto a page and giving permanence to art. It’s taking that bridge to nowhere and discovering that somehow I’ve gotten to someplace wonderful.