Four years ago, when I was just getting divorced, was cracking up and going quickly to pieces, I found myself on the bathroom floor of an Austin, Texas hotel in the middle of the night during a book tour, calling Maria, breathing slowly, weeping and vomiting and praying to get through the day, pretty sure I could not. In a couple of hours, I was in a limo, on the way to a reception at the LBJ Library in honor of me and some other visitors to the Texas Book Festival. Then two readings.
For the first time in my writing career, I thought I needed to cancel my appearances. The book escort was looking at me nervously – I had not slept or eaten in days – and suddenly I passed a tattoo parlor off the University campus and told the driver to pull over. Where was I doing?, wondered the escort, informing me nervously that the Library Director and other dignitaries were waiting for me. Random House was already calling wondering where I was, why I was late. I turned off my cell, asked the escort to turn off hers and we went into the parlor. The kids there got me instantly, and I told them about Maria and we quickly went over some options. They nixed my request for a pirate or skull and bones and I called Maria and asked her what her favorite flower was. A daisy. So I got a daisy on my upper right arm. An hour later we pulled into the LBJ Library. Random House and the Library PR people were near hysteria, and I made up some silly story about falling asleep. Nobody bought it.
Hey, said the Library Director. What's wrong with your arm? It was, he said, oozing. So it was. I believe that tattoo saved my life. It turned things around for me, an affirmation of life and promise, a statement. So good for me. Yesterday, walking by the Mountainside Tattoo Parlor in Bellows Falls, Vt., I was in a very different state of mind. Still, I wanted to affirm much the same thing. My love for Maria, an affirmation of life and purpose, a statement that I could see and was there for the world to see. It felt so good to get that tattoo. Even better when Maria decided to get one on her ankle that said "Jon" inside of a heart.
There was, of course, the usual online squawking about safety, superstition, and some unwanted advice. And lots of good wishes. Some people just got it, some people just don't. When I announced on Facebook that I was getting a tattoo, many people assumed it was for Rose or another dog. Maria is better, I said. I am very happy with my tattoo. It feels better than I can say, to have it and thinking of that day in Texas, a world away, I wanted to kiss the ground. But I didn't have to. I kissed Maria instead.
And back home today, to our beautiful farm, dogs, donkeys, squawking chickens and slithering barn cats. Tomorrow, Ken Norman versus Rocky. The old buy is getting his hooves trimmed for the first time in years, and I doubt he will like it. Stay tuned.