We sit in the tattoo parlor’s narrow hallway, watching the artist prepare our image from the pictures I’ve asked him to work off of. I examine the dozens of sketches lining his walls. There’s an intriguing darkness to them. Most of the pictures are of dragons and demons.
My brother is next to me, calmer than I am. This is the first tattoo for both of us. After a series of discussions, we arrived at the perfect design- a paper airplane containing my dad’s initials.
During the research phase, I discovered that there are a surprising number of options when it comes to paper airplane design. I chose the one named after The Harrier, an attack aircraft. Usually, I’m not one for tributes to war, but my father was a warrior who fought metastatic cholangiocarcinoma bravely until the very end. This fits.
The artist composes a picture of the tattoo from the printouts I brought him. He draws carefully with his glasses on, in deep concentration.
As we wait, my brother points to a sketch on the top right wall, “That octopus looks cool,” he says.
“Oh yeah,” I respond, “It reminds me of that creature Will Smith found and then dragged across the snow dessert in Independence Day.”
We had watched the movie with my dad. He loved movies.
“I like the drawings that capture the darkness of the human experience,” I tell him.
My brother points to a plastic bag marked “reusable and recycled” hanging from the artist’s door.
“You know one place I wouldn’t want to see the word ‘recycled’,” he says, “in a tattoo parlor.”
I laugh. His joke mitigates the anxiety swimming in my stomach.
The artist taps his foot to an upbeat rock song as he continues to work.
I ask my brother, “Can I go first?”
He laughs. “You’re scared aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I respond.
“Wouldn’t it be so funny if I went first and just screamed in agony as I got the tattoo?” he asks.
Only siblings can get away with such shenanigans.
While we wait, he checks his voicemail. A pleasant woman addresses my father. My brother has had the important calls routed to him. I feel a gut punch upon hearing my dad’s name.
He is the reason we are here I remind myself. This tattoo is a symbol of our love for him. A paper airplane with so many meanings.
He used to make them for us when we were children. He was crafty that way.
I was adamant that the airplane be drawn in an ascent. I like to think that his soul jetted off to the next adventure. It brings me a little bit of peace to believe that. We both miss him so much, and we hope he sees this small gesture from where he is and smiles.
The artist shows us the finished design. It’s perfect. All of my nerves about what the composite picture would look like have been assuaged.
“Who’s going first?” he asks, a smile playing on his lips.
“Me,” I say.