There’s no summer in Florida
Not the summer that I love
A bike ride to the ice cream counter
In the flower shop: Blossoms and Bows
For two scoops of Wisconsin-made,
Thick and creamy, maple ice cream
Or a float on the lake and a soak
In the sun on an orange inner-tube
At the end of the dock
Covered in sun-screen
Shades sliding off the end of my nose
Or popsicles at the softball diamond
Red and white and blue
Cold and sweet and summer
Sunflower seed spitting on the bleachers
And the crack of the ball on the bat
Or a drive along Hwy KK
Sweet songs slipping through the sunroof
And into the summerness
On a Tuesday
Or an afternoon on a park bench
Throwing pennies In the fountain
And snapping pictures of the tulips
And each other
So we never forget
Or the walk back in the warm dark rain
Shoes in our pockets and jeans rolled up
The black-topped road hot on our bare feet
Fleeing from summer thunder
Or a bonfire
Reflected in the faces
Of friends across the pit
Hands in our kangaroo pockets
Warm and dry and summer
Or a night in the grass of the soccer field
Beneath the water tower—star gazing
Flat on our backs on a patchwork quilt
Licking plum juice from our fingers
And swatting at busy, buzzy mosquitoes.
Or falling asleep at night
To the sweeter songs
Of crickets and bullfrogs
And the train in the distance
Through the screen
07 July 2010
I pulled my worn teddy bear and my red felt travel blanket out of my pink nylon carry-on and stuffed the bag under the seat in front of me. I settled into 17a—the last window seat on the left side of the plane—and snuggle under my blanket. The plane was frigidly cold, and the engine was already buzzing just behind me. I could feel the vibration under my seat. I fastened my seat belt, tugged it tightly around my stomach, and made myself comfortable—ready to let the lull of the engine sing me to sleep. I’d been in a long distance relationship for the past two years and was used to traveling by myself, and I was usually sleeping before the plane left the ground.
“Excuse me, sir, you can put that under the seat,” said the pretty young Asian flight attendant to the thirty-something man who was trying to fit his small grey duffle bag into the overhead compartment.
“Oh, under mine or his?” he asked, pointing to the man seated in the row in front of me.
“Under his,” I said, noticing that the flight attendant had disappeared into the back of the plane without hearing the man’s question. “We’re in the last row, so there’s no empty space under our seats.”
“Thanks,” he said, sitting down next to me and pushing his bag under the seat in front of him. “I’ve never done this before.”
“Really?” I exclaimed. “How is that possible?”
“I’m afraid of heights,” he said. And then I noticed the beads of sweat dripping down his face. The man was in his mid thirties, the big and strong type, so it was hard for me to imagine him being afraid of anything. The first time I flew in a plane, I was in seventh grade, and I had flown probably twenty or thirty times since then. I didn’t even think about it anymore. I was used to just relaxing and enjoying the ride.
But this man next to me was clearly not enjoying himself.
“I’m Kelsey,” I said, offering my hand to the nervous man.
“Jason,” he said, “it’s nice to meet you.”
I could feel the dampness of his hands when we shook.
“I just got my first tattoo today, so I understand the nerves,” I told him, trying to make conversation to keep his mind off of the impending take-off.
“Oh, really?” he looked over at my newly tattooed wrist with the word “write.” printed in courier font, like a typewriter.
“I like the period. It’s like—“
“A command,” I said, finishing his thought. “A command to myself to write. To make time in my life for my writing.”
I had spent the past week at a grad school residency at Goddard College for creative writing, and it was life changing. It was incredible to be around so many other writers who knew what it was like to be a writer—to know that writing is inevitable for us. I had never felt so focused and so full, and I had met some of the most amazing people and had some amazing surreal experiences. So I decided to commemorate my week by spontaneously getting a tattoo the morning before I left.
My friend Jen and I had caught a ride with our other friend Angela into Burlington that morning, checked our bags, and took a taxi to Church Street in town to keep ourselves occupied until our flights left that evening. I had thought all week about getting a tattoo, and when we stumbled upon a little tattoo parlor called “Moose Tattoos,” I dropped in to see if they might have time for a walk-in.
“Sure, just come back in a half-hour,” said a tattooed man with messy hair who was tracing a design with marker onto a woman’s bare back.
I was terrified, but so ready to make my mark—on myself.
Jen and I went to the City Hall Park across the street and took a seat on the benches on either side of a granite chess table next to the fountain at the center of the park. We sat in the shade of a giant oak tree, and I felt the warm new-July breeze combing through my hair. We sat quietly in the sun, watching children scooter around the fountain and other young people lounging on the grass, squealing suddenly when the sprinklers sprouted from the grass and sprayed water across their picnic blankets.
“You ready?” Jen asked me after a bit, looking down at her watch.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I said, taking a deep breath as I stood up.
My week at Goddard had finally proven to me that I was a writer. It proved to me that I had a precious talent that I shouldn’t forget. The people at Goddard ranged from 22 to about 75, and most of them there had other jobs, other lives. They were going to Goddard to make writing a priority again. For them. Because many of them had forgotten to make room in their lives for their writing.
I attended the graduation for those who had completed their MFA, and a professor said in his speech “don’t fit your writing into your life; fit your life into your writing.” Goddard convinced me that I was a writer, and I never wanted to forget it. I never wanted to forget to write. This tattoo was my commitment to write. For the rest of my life.
But as I sat in the chair, as Paul Martinez sharpened his needle and dipped it in his bottle of ink (or so I imagined) and prepared to write, I was terrified.
I had thought before about getting a tattoo. Although I knew it would hurt, that wasn’t what I was afraid of. I had discussed it online with a graduated Goddard friend a few days before I found myself sitting in that chair with Paul:
irishbelle2010: there's some other fear there
irishbelle2010: it can't quite be the fear of my mom
irishbelle2010: because she actually is supportive of a tattoo
irishbelle2010: which shocks me first of all
irishbelle2010: but maybe just the fear of not being....
irishbelle2010: like i just feel this pressure to be...
irishbelle2010: is that the word...
irishbelle2010: I don’t know
Thomas Deans: I know where you're coming from
Thomas Deans: Too much permanence for you to not be sure
irishbelle2010: right, like... i just really like to be accepted by superiors
irishbelle2010: the teacher's pet thing
Thomas Deans: There's nothing wrong with that
irishbelle2010: i wouldnt feel confident with, like, a boss or teacher
irishbelle2010: if i had a tattoo
irishbelle2010: because i DO feel that pressure to be the best
irishbelle2010: and i feel like being inappropriate would somehow hold me back or something
irishbelle2010: I don’t know
irishbelle2010: i've never tried to articulate this before
irishbelle2010: so i'm having trouble with it
irishbelle2010: even though i know consciously that my mom would be okay with me having a tattoo
irishbelle2010: she's still responsible for my perfectionism
irishbelle2010: for raising me with a need to be accepted by her
irishbelle2010: and other authority figures
Thomas Deans: That's a good thing. I'm a perfectionist in many respects, which is why I have to get my tattoos in certain places now
Thomas Deans: If you got one, that'd be awesome, it'd look good, but to be unsure, nah
irishbelle2010: like, i'd be fine with a tattoo if i was constantly in a group of my peers
irishbelle2010: i'd be fine functioning with it in college or here [at Goddard]
irishbelle2010: but when i'd go to work for the wedding planner
irishbelle2010: meeting with clients
irishbelle2010: i crave their approval
Thomas Deans: I got it! This is genius
irishbelle2010: so part of me wants to get one so that i can overcome that
irishbelle2010: that thing that is so ingrained in me
Thomas Deans: Like a form a rebellion
irishbelle2010: not really
irishbelle2010: like a conscious way to...
irishbelle2010: to try to breakdown this
irishbelle2010: this thing that my mother created in me
irishbelle2010: i guess maybe rebellion
irishbelle2010: but i'm not actually rebelling against the authority figures themselves or against my mother
Thomas Deans: True
Thomas Deans: Wrong word-choice
irishbelle2010: but against this psychological thing in me that craves their approval
irishbelle2010: it's a rebellion against my psychological need for approval from authority
irishbelle2010: so when i finally get a tat, that's what i'll tell people
Thomas Deans: Haha, you're so gonna get one
irishbelle2010: "it's a rebellion against my psychological craving for approval from authority"
irishbelle2010: that's why i never drank before I was 21
irishbelle2010: well, that and other reasons
irishbelle2010: that's why i got straight A's
irishbelle2010: that's why i never break rules
So, sitting in that chair at Moose Tattoos in Burlington, Vermont, I was overcoming that burden. I was overcoming my fear of being a disappointment.
And back on the plane from Burlington to Dulles International, Jason was overcoming his fear.
“Well, my hand is right here if you need to hold it,” I said.
“I might just have to take you up on that offer,” said Jason, clutching my hand in his. He started breathing heavily as the air plane began making its way down the runway, so I started asking him questions to distract him.
“Why are you flying alone?” I asked him.
“I’m moving to Vermont,” he spoke between heavy breaths. “I drove over here from Cincinnati, and I’m flying back to get my wife and her car."
I saw an opportunity for distraction. When Paul was painting on my tattoo, I told my friend Jen the story of how I met my boyfriend. Everyone loves to talk about their own love stories, so I knew this would be a good way to distract Jason too.
“Oh, tell me about your wife.”
And Jason proceeded to tell me the story of how he and his wife met—at a party thrown by his ex-girlfriend at which he was supposed to be meeting a different friend of hers who never showed up.
“We’ve been married for six years,” he said.
“Why are you moving to Vermont?” I asked him.
“We were both born and raised in Ohio, and we just wanted to move. We did some research, decided on Vermont, and started looking for jobs. I got a job first, so that’s why I’m the one flying.”
I asked him if he had any kids next. He had none but told me about his two Jack Russells. I learned he and his wife were both accountants.
“Oh, where did you go to college?” I asked next.
“I didn’t,” he said, unembarrassed. “I worked for a theme park for fifteen years.”
“Oh!” I squealed, excited because I had decided to write my book on the circus and thought he might be a great source for technical questions about rides if I needed him.
“What did you do there?”
“I had different jobs—even joined the police academy when they needed a security guard. But most of my time there I was a supervisor for The Beast—America’s longest roller coaster.”
“Roller coaster! But I thought you were afraid of heights! Didn’t you have to ride it?”
“Yes, I did,” said Jason. “I had to climb it and check it every day. And if the roller coaster stopped, I was the one who helped them off and led them down to safety.”
“Weren’t you afraid of heights then?” I asked him.
“Yea, I was, but I guess I just got used to it. Because I had to. It was my job. I’d be climbing it, and the coaster tracks would be on one side of me, and there was nothing on the other. It was terrifying. But I learned just to look straight ahead of me and not at the distance between me and the ground.”
“Well, even I would be scared to do what you did. This plane ride should be a cinch.”
We talked more about Jason’s time at King’s Island—how he ended up there and how he ended up as an accountant after that. I told him about Goddard, about my family and my boyfriend. I told him about writing and about developing characters, and about studying abroad in Ireland.
When the plane landed, we de-boarded, and he treated me to a slice of pizza for my chivalry.
“It was nothing,” I said.
“Oh, no, I wouldn’t have been able to get through that without you. You don’t know how lucky I was to end up next to someone like you.”
It was fitting that it was Independence Day weekend, because Jason and I had both gained our independence that day. Our fears had been controlling us, and by overcoming them, we were finally free. Getting my tattoo was the first independent thing I had ever really done. It was important to me. I wasn’t making that decision based on what my parents or teachers or other grown-ups would think. I was now free to live my life for me.
Jason and I were free from the anchors that had been keeping us from flight. We were both liberated that day—he a thousand miles in the air, and me with my butt in the tattoo parlor chair.
Jason and I sat together for a bit and talked until my next flight down to Jacksonville, Florida began to board.
“You might end up one of my books now, you know,” I told Jason.
“I would be honored,” he said: the roller coaster man who was afraid of heights.