A few weeks after the Paris massacre of Friday, November the 13, 2015, I got my first tattoo. It’s the Eiffel tower centered inside the peace sign and wrapped at the top are the words, Joie de vivre ! (joy of life!), a French phrase that speaks of our healthy national obsession to live a good live and enjoy it with simple pleasures and few complications. I am a lefty, so the tattoo is on my left arm.
Getting micro perforated for an entire hour brought to memory a familiar sensation. I was a cutter as a teen. Early 80s, I was a cutter, and a door puncher for two long painful years. The needle pain was mild compared to what I used to do with burning cigarettes, razor blades, and my pocket knife, the one stolen from my dad.
I’m not sure what to make of this sensory connection with my troubled past. What I feel does not resemble a trigger. It’s warmer, kinder, safer surge of memory. It’s evidence that I’ve done some effective therapeutic work to change my memory of these times of inner terror.
I don’t fear or resent or regret that past, I want to jump right into it and provide some much needed therapy to my younger self. I’m solution driven. I must help. I want to give young and confused Michel some nurturing kindness. One hour per week of casual conversation might do the trick—I am good with teens. I’d want to visit just before bed, so he can sleep well and finally ward off awful night terrors—I am a good dad.
I want to tell him he’s done good things to many people, and he should stay the course because he is going to be a good guy. Loving and loved.
I want him to laugh at my weird accent. French in the US. American in France
I want him to ask if I met Prince or Cindy Lauper or Michael Jackson or Madonna. Or if I played basketball with Isiah Thomas or Magic Johnson. Or if I met Jimmy Carter (who my young self believes should be the president), or the actors who played Fletch and Axel Foley, or Roseanna Arquette, Molly Greenwall, Whoopi Goldberg.
He will want to know if I am a writer, a poet or a teacher, if I am still poor. He’ll ask if I can speak perfect English, understand the lyrics of his favorite bands, if I watch MT and understand what they say, or if I understand Dan Rather, the American journalist who tells the news early in the morning on Canal +. He’ll want to know if Sylvie, my sister, is safe, and if she went to America with me. Also, he ‘ll ask if I killed either maman or papa before I ran away to America, if I am a fugitive of the law.
I want him to feel good and I will tell him about the tattoo and I might lie about Cindy or Prince or Eddy Murphy or my English skills.
I might lie to him and tell him I am a writer, so he never stop writing, and never, never, never destroy his every words, thousands of pages, like I have done in shame, self-hatred, and worthlessness for the past 30 years.
I would tell him to keep his poetry and his written confessions in a lockbox to open it at the right time, in his late 40’s when he is finally ready to love and respect himself. When he has learned to appreciate the love from his wife, his kid, his friends.
I might frown about what he asked about maman and papa, but I won’t say a word. I remember how he feels, I don’t want to anger him. I will hold his hand and say everything is safer where I come from. And I am big and I am strong physically and mentally.
I will add that Dad is dead, I saw it, and mom can no longer scream at me or beat me to a pulp. I will explain that I had surgery to my right eye. I never lost it, and I can see well through it, even at night.
Finally, I will show him the tattoo and tell him that in some ways, it is a reminder that the pain can be changed and that he will change it on his own, because of his strength of character, his courage, his fearlessness. He will nod with confidence when I tell him he’s a fighter who doesn’t know the meaning of giving up. I’ll tell him that he’ll try to kill himself twice, but he’ll stop of his own accord, to show them, to show his worthiness to the world.
I will point out that the tattoo is about life, an important reminder that despite the pain, abuse, brutality, neglect, and abandonment he has suffered, and will continue to suffer for some time, he will have a long life, a longer life than the unfortunate victims of Friday, November 13, 2015.
Young Michel was sensitive and he would have cried for these innocent victims who were killed at the restaurant, the concert hall, the stadium. He wasn’t always strong for himself but he was always strong and available for others.
He would have wanted to fight for their memory, for the injustice they suffered. “But, all they wanted was a chance to enjoy life! C’est la joie de vivre qu’ils voulaient, c’est tout!'” he would cry out, punching his pillow. He’d written about them in his journal the next day, speaking of injustice and the horror of organized religions. He’d written something young and eloquent, because he knew injustice, he knew it all too well.
Young Michel had a big heart which helped him fight the pain all the way to now.
Before he’d close his eyes, I’d make sure he saw me take away his razors and the pocket knife from his bedside table. I would kiss him on the forehead, and whisper in his ear: “Let’s wait until we get a tattoo to feel that pain again. Let’s talk every night for a while. Let’s get stronger together, because we have a great future. Let’s make it even better, so we can meet the great ones in history.”
Eyes already closed, he would smile a sleepy smile. “Sleep well, sleep away the pain, I would say softly. All will be good. I will always be there for you, and we will fight for what matters: La joie de vivre!”