Never Say Forever

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, September 16, 2007

A temporary tattoo lasts about two weeks, the man with the airbrush pen tells me. He has a warm smile and no visible tattoos on his own body. "Just sprinkle it with baby powder every day," he says, "for maximum staying power."

"And for minimum?" I ask.

"It wipes right off with alcohol."

Oh, okay, what the heck. A fantasy. I'm at a county fair where lots of people have tattoos, plenty of them probably permanent. A real tattoo has never been a temptation for me. I missed that stage when you know yourself well enough to choose a symbol that you firmly believe will, yes, absolutely still be your identity when you are in the old folks' home. A little rose surrounded by scary thorns for your ankle. Yes! A Celtic cross for the nape of your neck. Yes! These will still be the signatures that make the entire sense of you when you are 60, 80, 92.

I missed that stage. I'm looking at the little pictures of all the symbols that could be my temporary signature. I choose a small horse head, roll up my sleeve.

"You want it brown or black?" the man asks.

"Tough," I say. "I just want it to look tough."

He makes it brown. He steps back. "It looks kind of lonely there," he says. "You want to add something?"

I look at the picture offerings. How about a little Southwestern feather thing -- blue! He adds the feather thing, steps back. "It's a pansy tattoo," he says. "It's pretty, but it's not tough."

I look at the picture offerings and know what I have to do: a ring of fat, mean barbed wire, all the way around my arm, stopping at the horse/feather design. "Do it," I say. "Do it!" As he does it, I realize in a flash what is going on: Holy ink spot, I'm channeling my inner Cindy.

Cindy is the only person my age I know who got a tattoo as a grown-up and for whom the tattoo . . . works. She is a dear friend. She is made of steel. All she ever wanted out of life was to live among horses. She started a dog grooming business, drove a school bus, saved every available dime. She bought the first acreage she could afford. She kept saving. She rescued horses headed for slaughter, put them on her pasture. She drove daily from her apartment to care for them. It took nearly 20 years, but eventually she saved enough to build a small house. It has a front porch. She called me that first day. "I am sitting on my front porch looking out at my horses. I am the happiest woman alive." There are many days I think: Live with all the drive and determination of Cindy.

Cindy decided to get her tattoo last year. It was, unfortunately, a present from a man with whom she would eventually have bad luck. But the tattoo: She wanted a horse, a feather, a string of vines around her arm. She said: Look. This is who I am. This is who I've always been, and this is who I'll always be. The tattoo would be her declaration. It's on her right arm.

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