her first tattoo would signify the last time she would consider death.
walking home one afternoon after finishing a shift, i come across a table where two girls are sitting with tarot cards and gemstones. her name is maria, like me. she uses the thoth deck, designed by aleister crowley. i have this deck too, i think it’s one of the most elaborately decorated tarot decks, ripe with symbolism and surrealism, with corresponding hebrew characters, a word for each card in the lower arcana. instead of “9 of wands”, it says “strength”. the usual card for “strength” says “lust”. instead of “10 of discs” it says “wealth”. the card for “temperance” says “art”. each image is incredibly detailed.
“is there anything in particular you’d like to know about?” she asks.
i ask her if i should or shouldn’t hex a surrounding business or two. i know it’s not the right thing to do, that’s why i haven’t done it, but the thought persists. i believe i can do whatever i put my mind to, but i believe in karma too.
i can’t recall all the cards i pulled, or their exact order. this reading happened in late june, the week of an upcoming full moon. a few cards came out reversed. she pulled the cards swiftly and deliberately, talking and eloquently. “do NOT do that shit.” she affirms. “especially with the full moon in capricorn coming up, that deals with karma. it’s not you. what you have going on, what you have inside of you is so great that if you focus on yourself, mind your business, it will eliminate whatever sense of competition or intrusion you feel. using your energy to diminish someone else outside of you is only distracting you from your standing in your power, you will ruin yourself trying to ruin someone else”. i thanked her deeply, embarrassed that i had the wicked inclination to begin with, and promised that i would never act on the urge or entertain the thought again. it gave me closure, as if a hole in my self-belief actually closed. sometimes you need a stranger for that type of thing. they don’t know you, have no bias, are only pulling from what they see and hear from you. plus, her name is my name too. we exchanged cards, business cards this time, and i went about my day, feeling uplifted and aligned.
before you jump to conclusions about me tempted to hex, my reasoning is this: the area is changing, the demographic is shifting, i feel like i’m being colonized. i’ve worked here, tattooing since 2010 but am a new business owner. i feel like i’m slowly being put out through invisible forces and i have no one to blame but my own laziness or maybe not laziness but some sort of blockage. perhaps a limiting belief dwelling in my subconscious, causing me to self-sabotage, is aching to be exposed.
downtown: it feels like gentrify or be gentrified. for me, there are no sides to take because both occur simultaneously. i am not one or the other but both and neither, i lose myself and win another self, at times i stand stalemate. there are no sides as clear as the street itself, just external demands to transform from the inside. some days it feels like my deep blue sea is shrinking into a fish tank with no reef to hide in. why do i want to hide anyway? what am i hiding, and who am i hiding from? i know that my love for work surpasses my fear of failure but if i stare outside too long, i can lose sight of that. i know it’s a big deal, that i have my own storefront on main street. the botattica is still just a baby, but it’s my baby and i see my traits coming out as she grows. i am in the neighborhood but not of it. the way the neighborhood is changing, encourages me, swells me with inspiration and direction, knowing that i am standing in my purpose, but on bad days i feel discouraged and dull, wondering what’s next? what’s the five year plan? how am i going to live after this? how long will i live like this? what do i need to do the get to the next step? i probably just need a vacation, to expand my horizon and come back to it with fresh eyes.
i have tattooed on this street since i was 19, it was a different block then. i know who’s been here as long as me. the amount of new faces increases along with the rent, especially weekend nights. more and more, bars and restaurants open while some close or move location. i often feel highly visible and invisible here, like i have no privacy yet no one really cares. i feel both invaded and ignored while slowly getting priced out by newcomers. i can’t let myself go extinct, i’m already a rare species. this type of tension calls for a perspective shift. instead of wishing and hoping and contemplating hexes, i tenaciously arise to the challenge of my own betterment, personal and business. the foot traffic is not an adversary but a lottery. i’m going to earn my vacation. i’m not going out of business no time soon.
it’s empowering but lonely. it’s lonely but intentional. intentional but multi-faceted. multi-faceted but focused. i have my own space / studio / storefront, but no privacy. the front door opens to a busy street that is often loud, you can hear everything from inside. i watch people look into my window and stare at the tattoo photos and paintings but they can’t see me unless i want them to. it’s too obvious that i live here, i be standing outside in my inside clothes sometimes, especially early in the morning or late at night. for the first 10 months, the front room looked like a living room. now i have display counters and hung the art higher so it looks way more like a storefront boutique. a couple people stop by almost daily throughout the week, most stop by once a month or so. everyone says that the place looks different and better every time they stop by. i don’t have regular business hours. i’m here when i’m here and when i’m not, it’s closed. often times, i am here and the place looks closed, but friends and clients arrange time through appointment.
what’s wrong with this picture? more foot traffic means more customers, more business opportunity, more success. so why am i shutting myself out? my customer service was better when i worked for someone else, it seems. now, at times i act like i don’t want to be bothered or have nothing to share, or perhaps my inaccessibility gives a charm and mystery that can’t be contrived or imitated. i remind myself that i’m still building: building confidence, building presentation, building business. it’s always going to be like this, at different levels.
a week and some change after the tarot reading, my life felt like it was falling apart, which was making me feel suicidal. it was the end of june and the beginning of july, the midpoint of cancer season. all this stuff started happening and i wasn’t dealing with none of it well. a new guy i had been seeing got robbed, then stole something from me. me and my brother got into an argument and he kicked in the glass of my front door when i wouldn’t open it. my “ex” who also punched out that same glass a couple months ago, popped up on me late that same night, drunk as hell, talking that “i-know-things-were-fucked-up-but-i-miss-you” shit. i ended up gently closing the foot on his door while he was in mid-sloppy-sentence. it felt like my personal life was overflowing with personal problems and it was interfering with the business and it made me feel incompetent, incapable, like my existence was a burden that required more than i was equipped to offer. i felt like my life was happening out of my control, so i guess that’s why i felt like taking my life, to gain some sort of control.
cancer season is usually rough for me. it digs up old wounds and makes me feel sentimental without solution. something in the sorrow is sweet and tender, the vulnerability that makes you strong, the pain that shapes priority. the soft inside that holds up the hard shell of the crab. i’m certain i have seasonal depression, although next winter may be different. cold weather keeps me sad but when the sun moves into cancer in the middle of summer it’s like the universe laughs and says “oh bitch you thought you only get like this when it’s cold? haaaa”. the cold is where things go to die. yet during summer, in cancer season, the corpses wash up.
when i think about suicide, i imagine myself jumping off one of the bridges over the ohio river like my friend did years ago, RIP Raiyah. one heavy night, i walked to the river like i do when i feel heavy, not the bridge but the shore. the river shows me what i need to see, and that night, the water was so calm and serene, it was the opposite of treacherous, it looked harmless and impossible to die in. as if i could easily swim across to kentucky (although i wouldn’t because that water is nasty.)
i took this photo of big white fish i found washed up ashore:
in tarot, the “death” card does not mean literal death, although it can. it’s not a bad or ominous card, it means ending or transformation. the card itself is not bleak but that of transition, celebration even. something has ended and will never again, be. there are other cards that are worse: the three of hearts is heartbreak, the five of pentacles is poverty and strife. the death card represents change, transformation, a new beginning out of a final end. in the thoth deck, the death card has a fish holding a snake in it’s mouth, a scorpion, a femur turning into a harp turning into a stringed double helix apparatus with swirled silhouettes of spirits in the background.
after the rough week i had, maria texts me on thursday, july 5. she says she wants me to do a tattoo for her and wants to know when she should come to the shop. she stops by later that evening, to tell me what she wants. the death card.
she explains how the death card isn’t bad, shows me a sharpie doodle of the skeleton that she has on her keychain. she doesn’t want the whole thing, she wants it to be small and simple. she shares with me her struggle with depression and how she has often considered suicide, but is making a commitment to herself that she never will again. her first tattoo would signify the last time she would consider death.
she had no idea what kind of week i had, how badly i wanted to die, how much i did not want to continue living. i’m no stranger to the feeling. i usually talk myself out of it, i have people i confide in when i’m feeling this way. i don’t see suicide the same way as most do. i don’t think it’s selfish, i think it’s a decision, and i respect peoples’ decisions. people often say suicide is a “permanent solution to a temporary problem” but to a suicidal mind, i can see how life feels like a permanent problem in which death is the only and inevitable solution. it all comes from putting too much pressure on yourself. i don’t threaten people with it, saying that i will kill myself if x y z happens or if someone does woowoowoo to me. honestly i think every human has these thoughts at times, when things aren’t going their way and circumstances seem hopeless, or even when great things are happening and you don’t feel like you deserve it. i’ve talked myself, and others, out of it enough to be confident that i never will. after the slump passes, i feel rejuvenated and gracious, on top of the world, capable of anything, happy to be alive, to be able to live this precious life. the depth of the low creates momentum for the upswing of the high. how can one decide to never contemplate suicide again? it’s like saying you’ll never have a bad day again. shit happens. some things are out of your control. suicide is a choice, but depression is involuntary. well, that day, this other maria made a different decision: to get a tattoo, to get death tattooed on her.
i liked the idea of quitting suicidal ideation, but i wasn’t there yet. i was just coming out of a depressive episode.
i have a lot of legitimate reasons why suicide seems like the answer. my art would increase in value. no one would be able to say that they killed me. so many different people would come together. i’d be free. i would never feel unbelonging or misunderstood again, i would belong to the dirt and air. a lot of people do it, maybe i’m meant to be one of them. wouldn’t be better to combust than fade away? some say suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, on the third time i tried to finish my degree, i came up with the thesis that all death is suicide. our lifestyle is our deathstyle, we curate our transition through personal decisions that each shape the next. that’s back when i believed in free will through and through. my god complex was out of this world back then.
i believe in destiny now, at least that i have one. you can write but some things are written for you and will happen eventually no matter what you do to slow it down or speed it up. maria and i talked for a while before doing the tattoo.
she asks me what i believe in, she says she believes in yahweh. i say Isis.
she asks me to describe Isis, what that means for me.
Isis is the holy mother. she gave birth to god. She has high standards, is very strict and demanding but merciful and compassionate. She can get rid of anything as well as put broken things back together. The wife of Osiris and the sister of Nephythys. She is the goddess of magic, nature, fertility, a friend to sinners, the goddess of goddesses. Being the goddess of goddesses, she rules over and makes space for other goddesses. This means that wherever she lives, is also a home to other goddesses, not just in the Egyptian pantheon but every goddess imaginable, not just Ma’at but Yemonja, Oshun, Artemis,
Demeter, Venus, Hecate, Kali, Yemonja, Athena, Aphrodite, Laksmi, Saraswati, Virgin Mary, all of them. All women of reverence are esteemed through Isis. Isis is all things and all things are Isis.
She says “Okay. All of those things that you mentioned, all the ways that you described her, that’s how you have to be, with yourself and your space. You must embody those same qualities that you worship in her. How she is to you, be that way with your life, if she is what you believe in.”
“When you learn things, learn them to a root. There’s so much information out there, don’t just collect and hoard it on a surface level, learn and study until the knowledge grounds you. Knowledge and wisdom should make you more secure, not drive you crazy or have you out here floating questioning what you believe in. Learn things all the way through, to the root.”
Maria continues, explaining something that made me believe in her tattoo, and why she will never think about killing herself again.
She says, “If you kill yourself, you’re going to face your creator. They won’t be pleased to see you. You won’t be accepted into the kingdom, because you did not allow them the task of bringing you home. They gave you life, and one day they will take it. It is their right and will to do so, not yours. You are robbing your god of their duty. What do you think happens to you when you die? If you are spiritual, you know you have a soul, and that death is not the end. If you take your own life, you are overstepping the divine right of your god. It won’t happen the way you think it will.”
I believe in God so much. I’ve heard a lot of ridiculous rumors about myself, they don’t bother me if they are true. The worst, most inaccurate thing you could say about me is that I worship the devil, or deal with devil worship. I love God so much, I wouldn’t be alive if I didn’t. Despite the strength of my faith, up until that point, I thought that suicide was a normal ideation to have. but just because it is common does not mean I have to accept it, anymore anyway. I never thought about it the way she explained, that my God is so almighty that one day they will take me, and it is their decision to do so, not mine. Tarot cards can read the future but the future only reveals itself at the rate in which you can change. There is always a future greater than the one you can fathom. To commit suicide is to relinquish your future, or fall into disbelief, thinking you don’t have a future, or are afraid of your future, or think that the fullness of your future cannot override the present temporary suffering. I won’t try to rationalize it or come up with a theory to detour back into it.
Her first tattoo would signify the last time she would consider death. And so,
my idea of death itself, died.