Five-Year Old Heart

Martha was hiding in her closet. It was past midnight, and she’d woken up to the sound of Doug smashing his beer bottle in the kitchen. She was only five years old, but she already knew that Doug drank too much beer, that it made him nasty, and that every few nights he felt the need to throw his last bottle down hard and hear it crash. The mornings after he did that, Martha’s mother would clean the shards up quickly, quietly, telling Martha to stay in the tiny hall so she wouldn’t get glass shards in her feet.

Martha knew why her mother cleaned up in the morning. It was because one time, when she hadn’t, Doug woke up and saw the glass all over the kitchen floor. That just put him into a new rage. Martha had hidden in the closet then, too. She’d heard her mother whimper, but just barely, because she herself had been crying so hard.

Tonight, though, she was hiding in the closet for a new reason. Her mother was safely in bed, and Doug never did anything to her at night. He used to come home and fall asleep on the couch, sometimes leaving puke on the floor next to him. But lately, Doug had been coming into Martha’s room. She was so scared of him that even though she tried to sound like she was still asleep, her breathing quickened involuntarily, and Doug would then laugh quietly and move closer.

He’d been coming into her room for a few months, but Martha never told her mother what he did. She didn’t really understand it herself, only that it made Doug happy that she was hurting and frightened. She was only five years old, but she knew that if she fought him, he’d turn dangerous. She’d tried fighting, but he’d smacked her. So she knew to stop. To preserve herself.

This was the first night that she’d awoken before Doug got home. She couldn’t tell time yet, but she knew it was late because her mother was asleep and all the lights were off. So she hid in the closet, waiting for Doug to get back. She thought that maybe, if he didn’t find her in bed, he’d just go away.

She wanted him to go away so badly.

She wanted to tell her mother, but she was scared to. She knew instinctively that there was something wrong about what Doug was doing, and felt it was her fault.

She wanted, with all of her five-year old heart and body, for something very bad to happen to Doug. And that want, that intense need for him to be hurt, frightened her almost as much as Doug himself did.

Ink

A curly-haired guy in his early thirties sat back on his swiveling stool and snapped the black latex gloves on his hands. He picked up his tools, dipped them into the tiny ink-cups, the size of a fingernail or so, and pressed down with his foot the switch that connected his tools to the electric current. He adjusted the current, making the needles buzz louder, dipped them into the ink again, and began his work.

The two girls sitting in the room with him were vastly different. One was experienced already, having undergone the process earlier that week. The other- well, the other was me: nervous, afraid, excited, ecstatic. I’d been waiting for this for years, known it was coming for years, and had waited patiently for years to prove to myself that I wouldn’t change my mind. Even through the height of my nerves, it felt right. I felt right. The buzzing in my ears, the slight shivers in my body, my legs positioned awkwardly and my arms propped on the armrest I was facing- it was all exactly as I’d imagined it.

“Take a deep breath,” the tattooist said. “I’ll touch for a second and then stop.”

He touched the needles onto my skin. It seared and felt like fire and then, just as abruptly as the pain had come, it was gone. I breathed. My body shook. Then he said “Ok, now let’s continue.”

At first I couldn’t control the shakes. Having a tattoo done on your spine makes your nerves, your physical nerves, tingle and jump. My arms felt like they were buzzing with currents, and my shoulders shook uncontrollably for a few minutes. But I mastered myself, my body, and the pain. It became bearable – even enjoyable in a perverted way, because it was pain that was marking my body with a beautiful design, one I’d chosen years ago.

But it did hurt. It felt like someone using an excruciatingly sharp marker on my skin – I could feel the tattooist coloring in the lines, the needles going back and forth on my skin. Again and again he wiped away ink and blood with a paper towel. Again and again I breathed in a sigh of relief when he loaded the needles with ink again and let my skin breath and relax for a few moments before beginning again.

When it was done, I had my design. I had my tattoo. I had my ink.

Cathartic Description

A white blaze of fire seems to travel from the nape of my neck and all the way up to the crown of my skull. It spreads as it goes, reaching places in my face and bone structure that I’m normally not even aware of. There are so many parts of the ear that I never notice, but when the pain creeps up the side of my face I realize just how complex the cartilage of the ear is and how soft and susceptible to pain the skin right behind it is.

My jaw is even more attuned than I am. I can almost hear it protesting and groaning as the painful fire shoots flame after licking flame into it. I can feel the long bone, stretching from right next to my ear and down almost to my chin, and I can feel the creaks in it as I try to open my mouth wide enough to yawn the inevitable nauseous yawn that is caused by the painful flames.

My eyebrow and eye seem to be warring for my ultimate attention, each begging to be soothed by the firm press of a finger or palm. The eyebrow and the bone behind it win out, because the poor eye gets even more painful when given over to the practice of being rubbed firmly by the knuckles of my fingers.

Writing about it doesn’t really help, but it seems like a better way of dealing with the pain than banging my head against a wall.