The Man with the Faded Neck Tattoo
The other day, standing in a convenient store checkout line, the man in front of me had a faded neck tattoo that read, “Created to be Hated.”
He is holding a silver can of Red Bull in one hand and his cell phone in the other. And as the line snakes forward, I’m staring at his neck tattoo in a way that is rude and worthy of a blackeye.
He steps to the cashier and instead of knocking over the gum display and spitting on the floor like I thought he would, he greets the cashier with a “Good morning,” and before he leaves he tells her, “Have a nice day,” in a voice that as soft as the Autumn air.
With my 20 ounce coffee, I leave the convenient store, thinking of words that could replace “Hated.”
Created to be Vaccinated. Timely and socially responsible.
Created to be Mated. A pro-life advertisement.
Created to be Castrated. An anti-life advertisement.
Created to be Excommunicated. A religious troublemaker.
Created to be Checkmated. A novice chess player.
Created to be Domesticated. Like a homeless cat.
Created to be Gated. Like a spoiled rich kid.
Created to be Irrigated. Like a swamp.
Created to be Marinated. Like a chicken cutlet.
Created to be Donated. Like a box of old clothes.
Created to be Assassinated. Like Lincoln.
This is a musing I would have talked to my English class about. Maybe have the students do some sort of writing assignment: If you had to get a neck tattoo, what would it say and why?
Selfishly, the last lesson I taught was on courage. We read the chapter “Speaking of Courage” from The Things They Carried and then wrote letters to the most courageous person we know. Not that long ago that my neck tattoo might have read, “Created to be Educated.” Good thing neck tattoos are not my thing.
Anyway, I find myself thinking about my former life as a teacher. I was a character in one story: polo shirt, khaki pants, Adidas canvas sneakers, and an ID badge ringed around my neck. And then suddenly, a character in a new one.
I almost always wear shorts and a t-shirt now. I almost never wear socks. My Adidas sneakers buried in a closet. And I’m not a security threat in my own house. I can only laugh at the “old” story moments, times seemed so serious, like when a parent leaned against my car, arms crossed, and threatened to take my job and sue me. Or the time a supervisor informed me that if I kept telling stories to my classes, the administration would seek “termination.”
Seventeen years of khaki pants and I’m astonished at how little remains in my memory. It has only been a year and, to some degree it feels like a lifetime ago.
Much of Bedtime Stories for the Living is my attempt to accept the changes I can’t stop. My growing children. My brain disease. Time. And how I’ve learned, rather reluctantly, that we must find the courage to adapt to new circumstances. For those old circumstances no longer apply. That old tattoo may remain, but the ink is always flowing. Always writing a new story.
Created to be Reevaluated.
I sip my coffee and watch “Hated to be Created” slide into the driver’s seat of a white Tesla, exit the parking lot, and disappear quietly into a blue morning.
I laugh and think, “Created to be Battery-Operated.”
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