The Land of the Blind
Been processing some emotions lately. Just got a tattoo. It’s the king of diamonds. When people ask me why I got it, I tell them that in a deck of cards, the king of diamonds is the only one of the four kings who is in profile, so you can only see one of his eyes.
He is, in other words, the one-eyed king. And you know what they say about the land of the blind.
(My entirely unscientific survey suggests that only roughly 60% of people actually know what they say about the land of the blind. For the other 40% of you: in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.)
I tell people that it’s a saying that means a lot to me, which is true. That it reminds me that you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t even have to be “whole” in a conventional sense. You just have to be good enough to get the job done. That is also true.
Then I tell them that that’s why I got this tattoo. This is not true.
About two and a half years ago now, my brother died of heart failure at the age of 27. When I tell people this, they start to offer sympathy, and I always wave it away in a rushed, distracted manner. I do this because I never tell people this to ask for sympathy. I only do it as part of a story like this one, to illustrate a point.
Telling stories helps me make meaning out of things that I strongly suspect actually have no inherent meaning, that are cruel and absurd, like the fact that my brother died at the age of 27 of heart failure, suddenly and without warning. This process of storytelling is how I process my grief.
I hope that I don’t come across as rude when I brush off people’s sincere expressions of sympathy, but the truth is that if they want to help me process my grief, they can do more good for me by shutting up and listening to the story I’ve made up about it than they can by saying words at me. If there’s a non-rude way of expressing that, I haven’t found it.
So. The reason why I have the king of diamonds tattooed on my arm.
After my brother died, my mother and father had a disagreement, which became a public fight at his funeral. That funeral didn’t fulfill the function that funerals are meant to fulfill for the living, at least not for me. I didn’t get to share my grief with others and feel less alone. I didn’t get to say goodbye to someone who was no longer there to say goodbye to and pretend I was heard. I didn’t get to mistake catharsis for closure and live in the comforting illusion that I’d achieved it.
I didn’t get to grieve for my brother that day. I was too busy learning that my parents were incapable, on the one day I needed it from them the most, of putting their children before themselves. Too busy learning that for all they had done for me — and they’ve done plenty over the years — I couldn’t trust them to have my back at times like this. That I needed to see to my own emotional needs, because they couldn’t or wouldn’t do it for me.
I didn’t get to grieve for my brother. I was too busy grieving for my childhood, which at the age of thirty-*cough*cough*, had just breathed its fucking death rattle.
And even at the time, even through all the anger and grief I was feeling, somehow I was aware of that. Because I remember thinking, “Okay. I didn’t get a funeral for my brother. Fine. I’ll do something else. Something private, something that has a meaning just for me. If no one else will do it for me, I’ll do it for myself.”
When I was in college, all my friends got tattoos, and I never got one, because I never had something important enough to me, that I was sure enough about, to want to put it on my skin for the rest of my life or until I hated it enough to get it lasered off.
Now I did. My brother’s first initial. The letter K.
The diamond and the card came later.
So yesterday a friend drove me forty-five minutes to a tattoo shop he used to work at in a shitty part of town, and we drank shitty Taco Bell frozen sugar water and talked and laughed and bullshitted about anime with the tattoo artists and my friend got one of his many tattoos touched up and I got my first and only one put on.
And I told the story about the king of diamonds and the land of the blind and I’d told that story so often that it felt true. And it was a good day.
And then my friend dropped me off at home and I looked at this tattoo, the excess ink that they assured me would wipe right off when the transparent bandage was ready to come off oozing in every direction like a Rorschach blot.
There you go, Kenny. It took me two and a half years, but I did the thing.