Here are the facts about the tattooed neighbor, as they currently stand:
He’s 28. The youngest of three children. I remember his older brother rather distinctly– a senior when I was a freshman, handsome in this goofy, affable way, well-liked, fringy, a lanky skater kid in oversized pants with a wallet chain, who dated my friend’s big sister. He could draw, and everyone knew he could draw. Apparently, there is a sister between them who is two years older than me, and who I must have gone to high school with, but I’ve racked my memory, and come up with no one.
Besides the tattoos, he wears those crazy earrings (in both ears) the formal name of which I am unaware– the ones that stretch giant holes in your ears. Initially, I was off-put by these earrings; once I managed to tell the tattooed neighbor that I thought he was cute–
“Is it inappropriate if I tell you I think you’re cute via Facebook? Whatever, the Internet has made children of us all”–
and he affirmed that actually, yes, he thought I was attractive as well, I almost immediately thought How am I going to kiss him with those crazy fucking earrings? I like ears; I like to bite them. I feared I might break a tooth– they look fierce, and not in the fabulous gay way. Sure enough, when we sat down in the backyard he confirmed that they were made of stone. Stone ears– like something from a fairytale. A fairytale that landed pretty quickly in my proverbial lap.
“So,” I said to him, in the backyard, in the almost pitch black, with an IPA in my hand. “You have a bunch of tattoos.”
“I do, yeah.”
“How many do you have?”
“Oh, I dunno, like–” he paused, glanced down at his legs and chest, absently touching his t-shirt, his calves– “Seven? Eight?”
“Oh, come on!” I exclaimed. “You have like a million more than that, you’re covered in them!”
“Well, I mean, they’re big, right? So…”
“I don’t have any.”
“Nah. I have this one I want, but I never got around to getting it. Someday, I guess.”
“What is it?”
“Well. When I was writing my thesis for graduate school, I worked part-time at this dentist’s office. It was really cool, and old school– the guy took over for his dad, and the office was in the basement of his parents’ house, which was like, old and beautiful. Anyway, the dad was always wandering around, making crowns and whatever. And so anyway, I had this dream that I was at work, but it wasn’t a dentist office, it was a tattoo parlor, and I was sitting in the dentist chair, about to be tattooed, except like, the dentist and his dad were one person with two heads, and they were about to tattoo an anchor on me, and I was like, ‘Wait! Stop. That’s not what I want!’ And they were like ‘What do you want?’ And I said ‘I want the ancient Hebrew for Ariel.’ Oh yeah–” I pause for a breath; I’m really in major nervous talking mode– “Ariel is the name of my favorite poem by this woman named Sylvia Plath that I did a bunch of work on in school, so. Yeah. I woke up, and I was like, Man, I think I should get that tattoo.”
“Well, you should totally get it!” He has this voice that I like; I can’t explain why. He sounds a tiny bit like Kermit the Frog, which is weird, since he is officially the third person I’ve hooked up with who sounds a tiny bit like Kermit the Frog. My first really serious boyfriend way back when I was 18 could do a dead-ringer impression of Kermit which included throwing his head back in laughter and moving his arms around in that muppety, disjoined manner. What kind of bizarre trend is this?
“So, what are yours about? Why did you get them?”
“Um, well, ok. So this one here–” he lifts his pant leg slightly, and I use my phone to shed light on his calf, which is brilliantly colored with a series of swirling, seemingly floral designs– “this is the woman from the soy sauce bottle. ‘Cause, like, I really like Chinese food, like, ya know. General chicken. Whatever.”
I literally burst into laughter.
“What?” he says, slyly.
“Nothing, just– I just talked for like four straight minutes about this incredibly meaningful tattoo that like, came to me in a vision, which is purely theoretical, it literally doesn’t exist; and you’re covered in them, and are like, ‘This represents my love of Chinese food.'”
“I really like Chinese food!”
“I’m sure,” I say through my laughter.
“So, where are you gonna get it? Your dream tattoo? On your lower back?”
“Fuck that, man! Do I strike you as someone who wants a tramp stamp?!”
“I dunno, my big brother has a tattoo on his lower back!”
“No, I want it on my arm. On my bicep.”
“See, I don’t know about that. With girls, it’s like, what if you have a wedding, or something, and it’s all this like, nice pretty skin, and then a tattoo?” Jesus Christ, he sounds like my mother. And short of being kidnapped by a fundamentalist cult, I plan on never gracing the institution of marriage with my presence again, as the first time went about as poorly as it can go– no sex, no money, and I gained 25 pounds.
“No, but see, to me, that’s bullshit. I don’t want a fucking tramp stamp, or some stupid tiger lily on my hip, and I sure as shit don’t wanna get a tattoo only to have it hidden. I want it out in the open! Like, if I’m gonna get it, then here it is, on my arm. I think that’s kinda bad ass.”
He nods in agreement. We talk more. It’s after midnight when I finally concede that I absolutely have to go to sleep. We stand.
“Well…” I say, kinda staring off into the distance, biting my lower lip.
“Why did this suddenly get really awkward?” he says, laughing.
“Are you gonna kiss me?” I ask abruptly.
“I– yeah–” he says, and grabs me, pulling me in close.
There are at least a million and two cliched ways to describe a kiss; here are a few: we melded together– he pressed his face to mine– her lips met his in a dance– they pressed their mouths together as though they understood the rules, unwritten, as though they needed no more words–
I have read countless women’s novels. Sometimes they leave the sex out; sometimes the sex is creepy and gross (I’m lookin’ at you, Emily Bronte, with your necrophiliac lovers); sometimes it’s barely implied; sometimes, though, they hit on the little miracles of it, the little ecstasies, the way that person’s open mouth becomes a door you can enter into a brand new world. And worlds need words. Without them, it’s a pre-Edenic landscape– a few foxes and a dinosaur wander through a stream. No one is minding the store. Adam and Eve need to arrive, because until they do, folks, we’re at a stasis. An unknown object. Open your mouth. Open my mouth with yours. I know your hands can barely keep from grasping me, I feel it coiled in them as they cup my face. I want to be known. I have decided I want to know you. In the pitched tension of the evening, the pitch black of the night (so thick, I can almost grasp handfuls of air in my hands, but instead I’m reaching for you) I have switched my address, lost my perspective, started to ink a page on your scratched and scribbled form, a narrative with no established I or you, just two greedy mouths, fused and breaking.