The Birthday Tattoo

February 8, 2022

Dear Jennifer,

Happy Birthday! Today you would be 51. You didn’t make it to 51, but you did one better. You are whole. And you finished STRONG, friend. The emotions leading up to this day have been pretty difficult. I was dreading it. I started the day fighting tears. But I didn’t start the day without a plan. I had a whole plan. A crazy plan. A plan that included some of my people. And a plan that included some of your people. The beginning of my day would have left you shaking your head in confusion. But the end of my day was a celebratory dinner you would have loved.

Let me back up.

Last year on your birthday, you texted me when you woke up. You weren’t supposed to beat me to it. But knowing it was an hour earlier for you, I was letting you sleep. You texted and asked if I could FaceTime. I texted back that I could and wished you a happy birthday, ya stinker. We talked that morning and texted all day long. You had a good day. You were fully celebrated. Your texts were full of exclamation marks and emojis. I am certain you felt the love.

That makes me happy.

You told me there weren’t enough exclamation marks for your thank you. I told you there wasn’t a gift good enough for who you are.

That’s true.

You know how I know?

Because today I went and got a tattoo. I ran out of good gifts and ideas and landed in a dirty tattoo parlor on 7th Avenue in Ybor City where I let Beau dig into my wrist with a needle to HONOR YOU (not an honor to you, I know, I know) in a place you would never have set foot and probably would have scolded me for going.

And somehow I couldn’t be more excited that I did this.

(It wasn’t really that dirty. I just wanted to say dirty tattoo parlor for shock value.)

The tattoo came about slightly by accident when I was eating dinner before going to the Betty White movie on January 17. I had found an ampersand in my neighbor’s rather clean pile of discarded items. I had taken it home and written about it. And then I got a text from my friend, Lea, in Tallahassee that I should go with her to get an ampersand tattoo. Until that moment, I had NEVER ONCE considered such a violently compromising thing as a tattoo on my person. But the moment my friend suggested it, I decided I was doing it. It was almost past tense already.

And then, only 5 days later, I lost you. And we celebrated you. And boy have we celebrated you. There’s so much to celebrate.

I came back from celebrating you in your hometown and decided I had to find a way to get the tattoo on your birthday. It needed to be today. Ironically, my straightlaced husband was served by a very tattooed waiter in a restaurant and got the name of their tattoo artist. I made an appointment for today.

And that’s how I landed in Ybor City with two inches of ink on my arm.

To the ampersand portion of the tattoo, I added the tribe symbol, because the last gift you gave me was the tribe necklace. I haven’t taken it off since Christmas morning.

So Happy Birthday, Jen! For a gift, I got a tattoo you would think is insane, but that would likely not surprise you. It reminds me of an old episode of The Simpsons (which you also would think is crazy) where Homer bought Marge a bowling ball for her birthday inscribed with the name “Homer.”

I got me a tattoo for your birthday.

But it wasn’t for you after all. Because you don’t need anything for your birthday this year. The tattoo is for me.
To remember.
To never forget.

I can’t afford to forget the things you constantly taught me. You reminded me that everything that truly matters is on the other side of the ampersand. And you reminded me that I have a tribe. And though you are not holding us all together on this side, we are all now holding each other.

Which brings me to the other part of my Jennifer Day celebration. I talked to or texted with so many of your people today. Your mom, your sister, your daughter, your friends. And we all gushed over and about you. We all started out with mostly you in common. But I think I can confidently say that what we’ll end up with will be what you would have hoped for. I think we’ll end up with a fused connection that far outlasts the raw stages of our grief.

So in this, on your day, you gave US something.
You gave us each other.

Tonight, on a dreary, unusually cold Florida night, Jennifer G. and I got together for dinner. Just the two of us. This has never happened outside you.  We met at Chili’s, which hasn’t changed since we were all there in 1991. It was a great meal, with great conversation. The pictures we took weren’t so great, but you can’t have everything.

We made a plan to meet up once a month. I really think we will. I’m going to work on getting her tattooed before the next dinner. I’ll let you know how that goes.

It’s late, but I didn’t get to call you today, so I’m doing the next best thing. I’m writing.
So. Happy Birthday to you, friend.
Thanks for the inspiration.
Thanks for the day in, day out gift of the best friendship.
And thanks for the gift of your people. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

(The tattoo is just a bonus.)

I miss you—you wouldn’t believe how much—but I’m doing okay. And I have no doubt you aren’t missing a thing.

Carry on.

I’ll be seeing you.

Your very edgy friend,
Missy