When we found out Lu was pregnant last January it was one of those rare moments where we knew beyond any doubt that our lives had just changed forever, and that the transformation would be an ongoing process for years, forever, really. We were right about impending change, but wrong about the true nature of what was to come.
Now, over a year later we aren't even back to where we started. I am not back to any place that feels anything like the life I used to have. Everything appears exactly the same and that sameness feels utterly wrong. I look the same, my life rolls on the same way as always and yet within I have been transformed.
It is as though I have been enlarged by grief, and I'm still learning how to carry all this extra soul-weight on body that was used to moving lightly through the world. I had no proof of this, though. No son to show around that says "Now I Am a Dad." That expansion was supposed to be Silas and parenting and a whole new, challenging and invigorating way of life. Instead, that expansive, beautiful life was turned inward and invisible, into a black and dense weight that lives at the center of my being. My tattoo is a physical expression of that pain and loss, and it is helping me.
Lately I have felt less angry about people not remembering or not knowing about Silas. I can't just bring him up, but yet at the same time I cannot go through every day distant and angry, waiting for someone to acknowledge my loss, to speak to me about him. Oh the seething rage or sadness sometimes can't be denied, no doubt, but I work hard to face forward and get through it. In the end, other people can't help me if I can't help myself.
My tattoo in honor of Silas is a way to do that.
Since the tattoo is in a very visible place I know people see it. I am certain that they are aware of the mark and I like that. It is sort of like I'm sneaking Silas into the conversation. He's accounted for, whether they realize it or not. I'm surprised, though at how many people have not asked me about my ink. I figured it would be something people mentioned, but now that I think about it, I can't recall a single time I've asked someone what their tattoo meant.
I guess I just figured if I asked someone about their tattoo that at the least it would be a banal response about alcohol and spring break, or at the worst, well, me I suppose. Our story. And who wants to hear that? So I guess it makes sense that people don't ask me what it means. I'm not even sure how I would respond. I suppose some would get the truth while others I would be more gentle.
"It is to honor someone very close to me that has passed away," is probably the simplest way to put it, but the lack of specificity reduces that sentence to near-garbage. But on the other hand, "it's for my son, who died the day he was born," is so brutal and awful I can see people's souls short out when the words hit their ears. Their gaping, moving mouths and wide eyes make them look like a fish drowning in air. Which, incidentally, is how I always feel anyway. Welcome to my world. Here, have a sip of this. Cheers. To Death, that creepy, invisible intruder that rots the couch and bends the bed springs.
This tattoo is a talisman against the decay of memory and the reductive friction of time.
In a way it's a booby-trap, too. It is there to be seen and wondered about, but god help you if you ask. You just may get the truth. We're dangerous like that these days. There are a lot of things you don't want to ask us when you first meet us. And I worry about that now, in a way I never have before. I always looked forward to new friends and fun parties but now those situations are rife with potential disaster. Kid conversations are out whether it's about your new one or if we have any. Complaining is not an option as idle chit-chat with me. Can't handle it, don't care, will walk away if you keep it up. Plans for the future? Oh yeah we have one, but we had one last year and look where we are now. So we can do movies or music or better yet we can just talk about you because you don't want to know me. But if you do, if you really think you want to be my friend, go ahead and ask about my tattoo and I will tell you everything.
The tree is based on designs of the Tree of Life because Silas means "of the trees." This tree is dark though. It is black and gray and it swirls with an alien strangeness that I thoroughly enjoy. And although this Tree of my Son's Life appears dark and dead, tiny yellow fruit adorn several of the branches. Their pattern reveals the constellation of Orion--Silas' middle name--which rises in the autumn and rides high in the sky through those cold winter nights.
Silas was born on September 25th, so we were looking forward to teaching him about his stars as his birthday rolled around every year. Now that distinctive pattern of stars mocks me as the shape of a man he will never become. All winter those stars were brighter than the sun to me. I could barely look at them without the endless chasm of grief cracking open at my feet. I hate them and love them and drown in their cold starshine whenever my eyes capture their interstellar glow.
There is a heart hidden in my tattoo. That is because Silas is my heart. And because he is hidden, too. Around the edge is a pattern, a border. It is an S repeated over and over like the way I say his name to myself over and over, all the time, but it is also an Eternity symbol that is broken to reveal how he is lost to us.
This tattoo represents a private part of my soul that I demand to have revealed. I require this mark as a feature of who I am because without it, without a conjuring of Silas, I am not complete. It is a channel for my sadness. It is a badge despite how fucked up that sounds to me sometimes. It is a symbol for his life because that's all we have. We don't have his life, so a symbol is used as a poor, paltry placeholder. It is memory insurance.
So far, no stranger has asked me what my tattoo means and I was surprised by that, but it makes sense now. Yet, in the last week three people have out of the blue stopped me and told me that my tattoo was beautiful. I thanked them and smiled and they continued on their way. Inside I whispered over and over that it is, but you should have known my son. This is nothing compared to him.
Do you want people to ask you about your lost child? Do you initiate conversation about him or her? How do you commemorate your child? Necklace? Ink? Photographs? What objects or images link you to your child?
This post is a part of The Body Shop at Glow in the Woods -- a month of themed reflections and memes that explore what we do in an effort to occupy these physical selves with grace after babyloss.