Tattoo Reasons

The feeling lasts a month after I've had a seizure. Like I could nod my head too many times and have another seizure. Or drink a cup of tea or a beer and have another seizure. Or lose the thread while telling a story and then lose the thread on being conscious. Maybe my eye twitches after I work on the computer too long. Is my brain about to restart?

No. Statistically, no. I don't have a seizure more times than I do. I've had maybe eight in my life. Average that out and it's one every three and a half years. Some members of my family contend with seizures daily. Picking straws, I got the longest one. My mother has MS, and I sometimes wonder if all my seizures will lead to that. There's no stopping that kind of worry, so I try not to start.

It's been a month since my last seizure. My body was tense all that time, except for one isolated hour when I received a tattoo.

I had a craving. I spent all weekend after my seizure going through a folder of images on my computer. I photoshopped old French etchings of animals onto pictures of my body. Squid on my left arm. Stag on my right. Snake on my chest. Cicada. Arrow. Two arrows. A snake and some arrows. A snake biting a finger. The urge for a new tattoo was strong. I stood in the shower, the best place to think deep and quick, and I considered that urge.

"What do they mean?"

I've answered. And answered. And answered.

"My tattoos don't mean anything."


What I should have said was, "I don't know what they mean." I'm closer to having an idea, but I still don't fully know. I can tell you why I got them. It's boring and obvious and has everything to do with feeling out of control of my body.

For a long time I was fat. Not because I wanted to be fat but because I wanted to be in control. You've heard this one before. Eating was comfort, and I wanted to be comfortable. I had my first seizure when I was ten, and although I'd been an active kid, I became a lethargic teenager. What I see now isn't what I saw then. I can look back and see I was afraid of my body. Back then I didn't know what I was afraid of. Salty and sweet was all I wanted. Chicken tenders. Fries. Snack cakes after school. Soda (never water). I didn't like good food, or complex flavors, or moderation. I liked shorthand.

After my parents divorced, my mother chose the butterfly as her personal symbol of transformation. As an adult, I've chosen snakes and spiders, stags and cicadas. All these animals shed in part or in whole. Not just to become something else but to grow.

How did it feel then to see my teenage self strain at the buttons of my Boy Scout uniform? I grew out of that shirt and used it as an excuse to quit the Boy Scouts entirely. My use for the physical world was limited. As I grew, I became interior. Observation was my exercise. The results were typical. Poems. Paintings. Little dinosaurs made out of clay. I read and watched and drew.

I also didn't have another seizure for eight years. The spell worked. For a while.

My seizures came back. One before college and a few after. Then for four years, nothing. In that four years I started writing again. I found the stories I needed to tell, and I wrote a book. My interior became exterior. My control didn't slip. It changed. I ate responsibly, expanded my palate, started walking, then running, then lifting weights and doing push-ups. I lost my teenage self and became the man I'd imagined in my head for years.

Then I had two more seizures.

My response was different this time. Like I said, I experienced a craving for a new tattoo. Needles don't scare me. Tattoo needles don't read as needles anyway. They're more like vibrating pen knives being dragged across the skin. I say that, and you think, "Oh. OK. So even more scary than needles." Fine. Yes. Pain is important. Growing hurts, and if I'm going to grow, I want to command that growth. I have no use for the fear that seizures command me. No. Seizures happen to me. What happens after is my choice.

So I got the new tattoo. The craving disappeared. I relaxed. My jaw had been sore from stress, and then it wasn't.

I look in the mirror now and don't lie. I tell myself I'll have another seizure someday, but for the moment I have a new tattoo, and even though it stung to get it, I chose it. It's mine.