The Kid with the Tattoo

The kid is a live wire. He’s jittery, his presence makes me nervous, afraid, almost. From where I sit I can see him staring at himself in the wardrobe mirror with great intensity. It’s not right, it’s not just vanity, it’s something scarier. Meth, I think, or blows to the head. There’s an electricity coming off of him that makes me give him a wide berth when he walks by. I watch as the other kids greet him and ask him what he’s doing here. He’s not supposed to be here, he did something last year, the year before, and he wasn’t invited back. But he’s allowed to stay, provided he follows the rules. It’s why he wanders down the street to smoke, why he pitches in with the chores. He wants to stay.

He’s good looking — or would be with a different vibe — and wiry, I think his eyes are gray, he might be 20, tops. He has a gorgeous tattoo across his back. I watch him, warily, and circle away. “What’s the story with that one?” I finally ask and I get a diplomatic answer that tells me what I already suspect. “We’re all watching him,” I hear. “Maybe it’s drugs, maybe it’s the drugs have done too much already. Maybe he’s on prescription meds to help him cope, but he’s dosing them wrong. We’re watching him.” I hear that he used to have long hair, now it’s a buzz cut, grown out. I have an awful picture in my head of it being cut against his wishes as he’s booked into rehab or something worse.

I end up in the room off the kitchen with him and he eyes me, seriously. “Your tattoo is beautiful,” I say, and the tension drops a notch. “My sister picked it out,” he answers, “I let her choose. I’m so glad she picked this one.” He sits down across from me and dives right into a complicated discussion of stoner cosmology. It’s the trinity and the devil and the yin/yang. “What if you could know what I’m thinking without the internet, without Facebook?” he asks me. He’s dead serious, but I laugh, I can’t help it. I burst out laughing.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m not laughing at you, I promise. It’s just that I kind of like this idea.” He seems okay with my reaction, he doesn’t change his body language or attitude, nothing shifts when I laugh. He continues on with his theories of telepathy and how heaven and hell are both here on this earth. I’m having a stoner conversation with this kid and I’m not high, it’s not working. “You have a complicated cosmology,” I say, and he agrees. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It’s my own system,” he says.

There are weird moments of lucidity in our conversation. He asks me about what I do, all of a sudden we’re just strangers at a party, equals. “I’m a writer,” I tell him. “I need to write more,” he responds. “I say too many things too fast, and really, I should write it down first.” “I’m the same way,” I tell him. “I just say whatever’s at the front of my mind. If I have to write it down, I think it through first.” “I like it, writing, but it’s hard for me,” he says. “It’s hard for me, too,” I tell him, lying, sort of. Writing honestly is hard; I know now that’s what I was thinking. I try to imagine the pages of this kid’s universe, how many scrawled sheets it would take to get down to where he really is.

He needs this, I think. He needs to be here with something to do, with someone to talk to, even if it means some stranger from the mainland who laughs at his philosophy while still letting him talk. He needs to be fed dinner and sent outside to do chores and told he’s expected in class. That bad electricity crackling off him isn’t just fear or danger, it’s need, too. Another adult wanders through the room where we’re talking and pauses. “Aren’t you supposed to be…?” The kid stands up, I imagine an array of static-y sparks behind him as he rises from the battered armchair. He pulls on a shirt, looks at me with that cloudy sky gaze. “Thanks for the conversation,” he says, and he drifts away.

I was a guest at Keoki Kahumoku‘s Hawaiian Music and Lifestyle Workshop. Most, but not all of my travels were paid for by Hawaii Tourism.

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8 thoughts on “The Kid with the Tattoo

    • It didn’t occur to me in the moment that I was doing any kind of good deed. The kid needed to talk, so I just sort of let him. I thought it was weird that he’d chose to talk to ME, I was a total stranger, a mainland haole, but I wasn’t going to stop him.

      Anyway, thanks, HH, as always.

      • Definitely lonesome. I’ve met some, and I’ve been that, too. The thing about being a good person is you don’t have to know it or do it on purpose to be just that. Letting him talk was probably the best thing you could have done for him.

  1. This is such a lovely, vivid story. I have been following your blog for a while, and truth to be told, I was in mostly for the travel info. But this story was like a wake up call – you’re an amazing writer, and I can’t believe I never noticed it before.

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