I was twenty, maybe, and she was eighteen, and I was still so young sex was new and magical. But this girl, had a tattoo, and that made her an angel of sorts in my eyes. She was the first lover I had ever had with a real tattoo and it excited me no end. It’s a very long story how I got to Lacrosse Wisconsin, and an even longer story as to how I would up spending a winter there. But this is about the woman with the tattoo, and how much I loved her.
She had a cool name, too, people called her “Woe” because her name was Wooleen and she hated that name so she shortened it to Woe. She got pregnant, dropped out of High School, got married, then got divorced six months later, and a week before her son was born she watched her ex-husband kill himself trying to rewrite the meter to they could steal electricity. He had cut off main breaker in the house and Woe had the thought he was being drunk and stupid, because he was thinking it was safe. But he had beaten the hell out of her on more than one occasion, even when she was pregnant, and she went outside and started to say something when she heard a small noise, saw a little puff of smoke, and he just dropped dead. “I thought, you know, it ought to be more dramatic, you know, and there would be sparks and he would scream, and jerk, you know, but he just fell over and didn’t move again, you know?” Woe had some drawbacks and one of them was using the phrase “you know” over and over again. I won’t quote her doing that anymore, you know.
One of the reasons her husband beat her is she got the tattoo. His theory was the ink was bad for the baby, but beating her wasn’t. She got the tattoo because he broke her heart; the tattoo was a blue heart on her left breast, and it was lined with yellow (gold) and it had a jagged black crack running through the middle of it. Woe told me when she fell in love again she was going to have the crack filled in and maybe the whole heart would be read again. I remember thinking I was supposed to say something at this point in the conversation but I was staring at her breast.
I wonder how much of humankind’s history is filled with such moments.
A year after her son was born, and a couple of months after I started dating her, she showed up with a tattoo on her back. It an angel flying with a harp, and the artwork, even though the angel was small, was very good. Woe worked at a bar and some customer offered to buy her a tattoo if she would let him watch the guy burn it. I wasn’t very happy with the arrangement, but I did like the tattoo. Woe’s manager knew a good thing when he saw it so he let Woe put up a tip jar for her next tattoo, and let her show off as much as she could, legally. The next tattoo went up a month or so after the last, and this time Woe got a snake coiled around her thigh, something it was rumored she did for me. The ink started a few inches below her thigh, coiled around three times, and the snake’s head went up the side of her leg and onto her back. It was the same body style as a Diamondback, but to make the diamond there were four musical notes lined up, diamond shaped. I think it was fifty six notes, or something like that, but she said those were the first notes of “Stairway to Heaven”. We got back together right after that tattoo, but some things are not permanent.
People saw Woe as this flirty hard drinking money in her eyes barmaid but she really didn’t like bars at all. She hated cigarette smoke. She didn’t like her music loud, but she knew the louder the music the more likely it was to draw attention, and attention means tips. She started wearing a bikini in the middle of winter when she was behind the bar, and that bought her a new tattoo.
She filled in her back with the sky, clouds, the sun, and some stars. The angel was going to join others around a ringed planet, but that was to come later. She lay in that session for a few hours, but when it was done she looked like a living mural. We got together again, for a weekend, and she explain to me she wanted her skin to relate to people what she felt because there was no way in hell they would understand it any other way. I asked her if just maybe if she quit using the phrase “you know” so much it might help and she bit me. I bit her back, and well as a few other places and I wonder if I had stopped to ask what she was thinking if that might have been better.
The tattooed bikini wearing barmaid was beginning to gain some fame so a guy in Madison drove over to check her out. He wanted her to come to his place and work, and offered to give her a place to stay, and pretty much bought her away from us. A few of us loaded up to go see her and damn, that place was nice, and Woe was pulling in all the attention from college newspapers and that sort of stuff. I went to see her a month or so later, and I wondered what he latest addition would be. I knew she was going to get some sort of tree with an apple in it, but when I sat down I saw her hanging half out of her bikini top, and the heart was a bright red, with no cracks in it at all.