The first time I got sick from alcohol, at fifteen, I was with all three of my older brothers–at a Christmas party that my oldest brother M’s best friend held annually at his Tribeca loft.
It wasn’t their fault. Each time I finished off a Heineken, said best friend would swing by and replace it; before anyone could have seen or stopped it, I found myself in the bathroom with M holding my hair back and showing me how to use my fingers to make myself throw up. (A skill that, not too many but a few times since, I have been very, very grateful for.)
Putting me to bed that night, my brother J’s then girlfriend made the well-intentioned but misguided move of placing my trash can next to the bed. The parents were furious with all of my brothers for months.
If you’ve ever been a sibling, you can understand that, as the baby girl, I will always be the baby girl: at fifteen, at twenty-seven, at forty. There is a way in which, in my family’s eyes, I will never be as accountable as my older brothers.
A fact that, I’m sure, was in the back of J’s mind when he took me, today, to get matching tattoos: my first, his a small complement to the collection that already fills both his arm sleeves.
So here’s the story:
Up until last Friday, I’d always told people that I “didn’t understand” tattoos.
“I just don’t get it,” I’d say. “I can’t imagine any image that I’d know I’d want on my body forever.”
And then, a day before he and his wife D arrived in New Mexico after driving six days in a rented minivan to get here, J sent me a text: “Tiny matching tattoos in NM?!”
At first, I thought: “Is he kidding?” (Later, I realized, he kinda was). And: “Doesn’t he know how anti-tattoo I am!?”
But within about a minute I was seriously contemplating the idea. I never had been able to think of something so significant I’d want to etch it on my body. But a matching tattoo with my brother? My brother who I love and adore and who spent lots of money he doesn’t have to come all the way to New Mexico to see me? For his honeymoon?
That was, and is, something I could immediately fathom living with forever.
When J and D arrived on Saturday, I brought it up right away.
“So what would we get?!” I demanded of J, still in my driveway, still wearing sunglasses, still incredulous that I was actually serious.
“Well,” he slipped the glasses off. “I was thinking something about ‘Team Tannen.'” At which point, basically, I was sold.
“Team Tannen” is a phrase my immediate family members use, usually with one another but sometimes not (it’s pretty catchy): to motivate, to congratulate, to urge out the door.
“You don’t really want to do this,” J must have said about four dozen times daily between Saturday and today. “Are you totally positive you want to get a tattoo?” “I just don’t want you to get regret it.” And, in the waiting room beforehand, while playing with a three month old bulldog puppy named Wilbur: “Are you nervous? I’m nervous for you.”
I was the slightest bit nervous–I thought it was going to be much more painful than it turned out to be. But I had absolutely zero hesitation.
I can imagine a lot of sentiments that are potentially regrettable: will I still love pink roses tomorrow? Will I still love this person three weeks from now? Will this Chinese character still resonate in ten years and does it actually mean what I think it does?
I’m not sure how to express this without being overly sentimental, but what the heck: it’s the Ides of March and I did something radically impulsive that, three whole hours later, still feels friggin awesome.
The “this,” of course, is that there is nothing that feels even remotely, potentially regrettable about a symbol, jointly designed by my brother and me, to represent our family bond.
“OH MY LORD YOU DID NOT!!!” my NY best friend S wrote when I emailed her photos; R followed moments later with a similar response.
Later in her email, though, S wrote this: “But as far as the message goes, I love it! Can I be an honorary team member?”
I consulted with J on the question; the answer is yes, but we’ll be collecting dues. Tattoos are expensive.