New parenthood inspires clichés.
“You will never see life the same way,” was one I heard in the nine months of pregnancy.
“It is a moment you’ll never forget.”
“You will change.”
Every experienced parent I met told me some variation of all these things, and people who weren’t even parents said they’d heard that’s how I’d feel. I tend to be wary of clichés. I feel like there might be something wrong with me if I don’t experience what everyone else claims to have experienced. I was eager to meet my son, but I’d wait until my own experience so I could see for myself what it was like.
Sometimes, clichés are based on truth.
I’ll spare the graphic details. I’ve found that most people don’t really want to hear about mucus plugs, dilation, or Braxton-Hicks. Childbirth had been built up to be like Knocked Up crossed with Saw. Some fathers pass out, faint, or run from the room screaming at the birthing process.
All in all, the birth was far more fascinating and PG-13 than I expected. So that cliché didn’t come to pass.
Nor did my son emerge as a hideous, slimy newt, which is how most babies come out. I thought he’d be a wrinkly gremlin that was only cute because he was mine. So he defied that cliché.
Then I held him for the first time. Brace for the cliché.
His eyes, which had been open only minutes, looked up and saw drop-ceiling Styrofoam tiles. They looked out the window and saw the Meadowlands, with the New Jersey Turnpike in the distance. They looked at me. Those bright blue eyes were seeing everything for the very first time. And I thought of all they would see in this world. Beautiful things: sunrises and sunsets. People who love him. Puppies and kittens. Fireworks on summer nights and the lights on the Christmas tree. Autumn leaves and spring flowers. That cute girl (or boy) who is his first crush. Then later, his own first son or daughter. And he would see ugly things: darkness. Enemies and betrayers. Hideous monsters in his dreams or under the bed or in his closet. Bombs on television or, God forbid, in the streets. Death. Death of the things he loved, just as I had seen a few weeks earlier with Sid, his beautiful broken body lying in the street, or my aunt, wasting away from cancer hundreds of miles away.
The ouroboros, like any mythic symbol, reflects life. In that moment I looked into my infant son’s eyes, I saw the circle. I saw new life, and within those eyes I saw death, and more new life. Someday, my son will look down on me in my deathbed (I can only hope for so much) and see the tail of the serpent. And someday, he will look into the eyes of his child, and see the serpent’s head. The ouroboros isn’t just the unending circle of life and death in my life. It’s the unending circle of life and death that coils in the life of my son, and his offspring, and downward through time.
I had my work done at Industrial Arts Tattoo in Bayonne, only a few minutes from my home. I had done my homework and seen many favorable reviews for them. I went in on a Saturday afternoon, trying to act casual and relaxed, and probably coming across like a flake or an idiot. They kindly scheduled me an appointment, and I went to the shop on my big night, not feeling a bit nervous, but filled with anticipation.
My artist was Luis, who was recommended to me because he specialized in detailed work and work with intricate lines. I signed my waiver (essentially saying that yes, I want a tattoo, no, I’m not drunk, and yes, I understand it’s gonna be there for ever and ever) and watched the setup and preparation. I had thought I would go in feeling jittery and nervous, but I wasn’t. I was eager, but that was it.
Luis showed me the drawing he had done of the ouroboros design I had sent him, blew it up on the photocopier to the right size for my arm (it’s not an impressive arm; there’s not much blowing up to do), and then traced the ink template onto my shoulder. Then he sat me down and got to work.
I didn’t fear the pain, and really, there wasn’t much to fear. No macho trip here, I just didn’t find it that painful. Maybe uncomfortable, and even that, just at first. It was like being persistently scratched or paper-cut. The process was actually rather boring. I chit chatted with Luis and the other guys in the studio. After the initial adrenaline jump, there was about two hours of just sitting. When he was done, I looked at the work. It was even better than I’d hoped for:
Sometimes I think back on my life and reflect on how a seemingly insignificant, minor event or a few words can profoundly influence the course of our lives. We often don’t realize it until years later, if at all. Then there are times like this. I knew as I lived through March and April of 2013 that it was a period of time that would profoundly alter the rest of my life.
I’ve been asked (and asked myself) if getting a tattoo was a good idea because what if I regretted it later? This had always held me back from getting one in the first place. But how could I regret honoring those I’ve lost? How could I regret the birth of my son? Though people, circumstances, opinions and feelings may change over time, life and death do not. The ink is on me forever because life will always be a part of death, and death a part of life.