Inkling

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On our first date, my first girlfriend tried to do an impressive ice-hockey stop on the skating rink. She fell onto the ice and broke her nose. The medic lingered over her telling someone to get some ice, to which she responded: there’s fucking ice all around me. We went to the emergency room on our first date, and I met her mother, who hated her father, the ex-husband who was also there. And they didn’t know who I was, but suspected their daughter was gay. They glared at each other, at me. In the waiting room, I sat next to an attractive woman, her tan shaved legs crossed towards me, revealing her tattoo of an upside down triangle colored in with a rainbow. I liked that.

It became my first tattoo.

My best friend in college got a small tattoo on her foot of a leaf falling on water, the exact moment when one soft element breaks into another. Her boyfriend at the time became my best friend. Eight years later he will become my first boyfriend, the first man I have sex with. One hard element breaking through to the intensity of my desire. Hard meeting soft. We swim in the slipperiness of my shifting want.

I’m not quite sure yet how to explain the ways in which I have come to this new desire, how I reckon my steadfast and sturdy queer identity with this man inside of me.

The reader should know: I have slept with as many women as my boyfriend. And after our first time together, after my first orgasm with a man, after the first time I ever had an orgasm with a new lover on the first try, he said, god, I love eating pussy. And how I said, me too!

But this is not a competition.

My first girlfriend tried to play softball in order to show me up, to try and excel in a sport I was good at. Perhaps to prove she was the butch. In the outfield, a high fly ball lost in the bright field lights, the stars. She caught it with her face. And, again, I followed her to the emergency room. More blood, another broken nose.

The first time she fisted me, I bled all over her hand. She wiped her red hand on the white carpeted floor. A red hand print permanently imprinted in the place where I first tried to expand my desire. Practice for the male lover who would come twelve years later.

I wonder if the tattoo on his chest bled. It’s a symbol from the Iching. Creative force on his chest. I stroke the raised black lines with my fingers, knowing how I am in love with what seeps out of him.

My best friend from high school, who had a threesome with my first girlfriend and I, failed at being a long-time lover because I couldn’t stand the way she kissed. She felt the same about me. We laugh at this now. And I laughed at her when I was getting my second tattoo, the moon cycle circling the sun on my stomach. I laughed at her because she said something funny, god knows what now, and that’s just like her, to say something funny at an inopportune moment. Because as the needle hit my skin, I jerked my stomach in a laugh and now there is a lopsided moon on my abdomen. The places she has touched.

But, perhaps more importantly, there’s this:

With his lips, he touched the scars on my arms, scars I carved there a few years ago when I had too many moments that felt hard. With his lips on my disfigured skin, I cried. Past pain healed by current pleasure. My last girlfriend left me because she did not know how to deal with the cutting, the carving of straight lines in my flesh, lines that would become more hideous than the lopsided moon on my stomach. But this new lover, this man, knows how to touch, how to heal, how to understand my self-made markings.

A tattoo in the process of healing is an interesting thing. A scab of the design flakes itself from the skin, yet the ink will never disappear. My past will not fade away. The lesbian stamp on my leg is still there as I have sex with this man in my life. There is the text scrawled across my chest declaring I’m still alive that is still there, still showing itself proudly high above the cuts that tried to resist that notion, that aliveness. Something that bothers me as I type this: Microsoft Word always capitalizes the I’m, which is not capitalized on my chest. Somewhere in my head I was resisting social norms—the fact of having to be a female with a “perfect” body—by resisting capitalization. How at the time this made sense to me. I want to continue with this ink, want new words on my skin, new text that makes sense to me in this moment.

I want my next tattoo to say with. Because I am finally in this world, with this world, with him—the best-friend-turned-lover. With me.

Continuing on with the inventory of my ink: he glances at the word home on my shoulder as he continues to thrust inside of me. And how I feel at home in my body, and he finds a sense of home as he is finally inside of me. And how I agree.

I am not done yet, not done searching for the meanings of this flesh.

There is a tree on the inside of my left wrist. I got it to cover up the woman’s initials who I loved, yet who never became a lover. How I finally grew out of my desire for her, and how the tree does not grow, because, well, it’s inked in place. But how my skin grows, how it sheds layers of meaning and finds itself in this continuously regenerated body, this home always under construction, always considering its new possible angles. The way I can paint this body to my liking.

I forgot to mention earlier that I got that first tattoo—the upside down triangle with a rainbow painted inside of it—when I was merely seventeen. I had to use my older girlfriend’s ID to get it. We looked nothing alike, but the tattoo artist knew that I needed it, could see that this was important to me, because at the time I knew I would always be a lesbian. How that has changed, the impermanence of meaning, the tattoos now as mile markers instead of a marker of who I currently am. The meaning continues to grow, to seek out new ink for new meanings. The text of my body continues to be written.

He reads the text of my skin with his hands. And the owl on my shoulder whispers to me, that tells me, yes. This here. This now. This yes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Lucie Otto-Bruc

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About Author

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Chelsey Clammer is the author of the award-winning essay collection, Circadian (Red Hen Press, 2017) and BodyHome (Hopewell Publications, 2015). Her work has appeared in Salon, The Rumpus, Hobart, Brevity, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Normal School and Black Warrior Review. She teaches online writing classes with WOW! Women On Writing. www.chelseyclammer.com

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