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by Ella Lehman

     Preparing to give yourself a tattoo is an intense process. You have to use a specific type of ink, burn your needle to sterilize it, breathe through the adrenaline, and most importantly: plan it out… Unless you purposefully forego the latter. Or even better, trust a friend to give you a mystery tattoo. The worst part of receiving a DIY stick-n-poke isn’t the individual sewing needle stabs. It isn’t the bleeding or the swelling. The worst part is the time between sticks when your best friend apologizes over and over again for hurting you even though it was your idea to give each other tattoos. It gets repetitive after about a minute. 

     Stick, stick, “Sorry!”  

     “I’m fine, keep going.”  

     Stick, stick! Poke! “Shit, are you okay?” 

     Every morning I make a thirty-minute commute to school. I get to decide whether I take the main highway (the boring way) or the country roads (the fun way). Usually, I’ll choose to take the country roads because I can drive at twice the speed limit. I drive east to get to school, and as the sun rises, it blinds me when it hangs low in the sky. Usually there are pastel-colored clouds or a thick morning fog to disrupt it, but sometimes I find myself hurtling down the road at high speeds with next to no visibility. For almost the entire journey, the roads are bordered by woods on both sides. When the woodlands disperse, corn fields replace them and herds of deer forage for a meal, ears piqued as they hear my approaching vehicle. I might drive the whole route without passing a single car, these back roads disrupted by me alone. 

     The day after our stick-n-poke adventure, I tried to hide my new tattoo from my mom. I didn’t think she would be angry, but I did think she would question my judgment. To be honest, I was questioning my own judgment. The tattoo my friend decided to give me was a small flower on a stem, and it was very swollen. You see, when you get a mechanical tattoo, the swelling is minimal to absent. Maybe the lines of the tattoo raise a little, but this stick-n-poke was completely raised. The entire area was, for lack of a better word, lumpy. At the time, I didn’t know this was irregular, so I simply moisturized the area and stuck a band-aid on top.

     Even though I disturb the mornings of dozens of woodland creatures every day, I am proud to say that I’ve never hit a crossing animal. At least, until a few days ago. I didn’t do it on purpose, I don’t think anyone makes roadkill intentionally. I was driving at my typical speed, and the sun was in my eyes as usual. A bird flew across the road just a bit too low. I’m not sure what type of bird it was, but it was small. I saw a flash of wings and heard a light thump against my windshield. It’s not like there was anything I could do. If anything, it was the bird’s fault. It can fly hundreds of feet off the ground, and it chose to glide right in front of my (low to the ground) vehicle. 

     But birds don’t understand how roads or cars or velocity work. All they know is to fly away from danger, scrounge up a meal and find their mate. It would be selfish to blame the bird, but it would be foolish to blame myself. 

     The painting can be restored, the damage isn’t permanent, just as a toddler’s crayon mural can be cleaned. The faceless figures will be faceless once more, but I still wonder what compelled that security guard to “add” to the painting. After all, his entire job was to keep people from tampering with the art. Maybe he was bored, though I can’t imagine the thirty seconds it took to draw four circles was worth losing his job. 

     Perhaps he thought the painting was incomplete. Is a person without a face really human? But who was he to decide whether or not someone else’s piece was complete. Or maybe, he thought the painting was pretentious. A person without a face? Seriously? The most difficult part of portraying a person is perfecting their face. It was lazy for the artist to skip the face altogether. 

     My efforts to hide my tattoo lasted for all of three hours. There was no dramatic discovery. I didn’t make a mistake that led to my mother seeing the tattoo. Frankly, I just didn’t care to try and hide it for an extended period of time. I showed my mom, and I was right, she did question my judgment. She asked me “Why?” and I couldn’t answer, I just wanted to have some fun. 

     “What was the point?” 

     “Why would you do that to yourself?” 

     She thought it was unwise to get a tattoo at such a young age. She got her first tattoo at age forty-eight. But, after a few minutes I was able to convince her that it wasn’t that serious. What’s done is done, it wasn’t very big, and she knew that it was my decision. 

     I guess what I’m trying to get at here is that everything has its natural state. My skin was unmarked before I decided to let my friend doodle on it. The countryside I drive through every day is marred by a winding road. And the painting was finished when the artist decided it was. Each sequence of events that cause a state to be altered are coincidental. Life is random, it’s unpredictable, it’s cruel, and then it’s over. Control is an illusion. 

     If I had been just a little more tired after my shift that night I would have gone home and gone to bed like I usually do. If I had left for school just a few minutes earlier, the bird would have lived. And if the guard had been assigned to patrol a different section the painting would have been left intact. But those caveats are only obvious in hindsight. Control is an illusion. 

     It’s better to accept things as they are rather than lament about how they could have been. Our choices, once made, cannot be unmade. The painting can be restored, but it will bear the marks of its vandalism. I can do my best to avoid hitting more birds, but I cannot bring the dead back to life. And I could remove my tattoo, but it would be painful and likely leave a scar. I can accept that control is an illusion. 

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