In Rome we rented mopeds and after a day’s worth of riding around the city I had a back bruised and red from the back of the bike. My brother had a conference call and so dumped me in front of the first tattoo parlor we passed. Nobody spoke English; I held my notebook out to the man behind the desk and pointed and he brought me into a small room and told me where to sit. I had been to Mexico and to Canada but this was the first time I had gone so far as Europe and everything felt different, distant, foreign, and it was hot and I wore a tank top with a skeleton on it and the entire time he tattooed my arm, he spoke to me in Italian like maybe, somehow, I would begin to understand him.
It was quick. It was over quickly. The man left and came back with someone who could translate.
“He wants to know if you’re a writer,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. “Can you tell him I’m trying?”
The translator left. It was the tattooist and me again and he rummaged around in his drawer and came up with a simple calligraphy pen, a piece of polished wood with a metal nib at one tip. He handed it to me with a bottle of black ink and I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to be able to talk to someone so badly before—just to tell them—Thank you. I don’t know what this pen means to you but in another life it would mean that I would never leave this city. I would move into the flat about the tattoo shop and maybe you would teach me how to make art and eventually our language would find a sort of middle ground we could navigate through. I could cook breakfast and you could cook dinner. It’s just that I’m better in the morning. I feel like the whole day is spread out in front of me and in the evening I feel like it’s crashing down all around us.
The city was fine. It was too hot; I was too tired; my jet lag was a physical impossibility, a weight I carried around in my temples. I was young and still broken-hearted and I thought that I would always be young and broken-hearted and that I would never age or feel happy again.
But just in that moment everything made sense. Things came together, things rose up and pushed me through a door into a small tattoo shop where I waited nervously and realized I didn’t have any money. My brother lent me 50 euro. I sat on a stool and a stranger held my hand and without any sort of words, we managed to say everything important.