The other day I was in Atlanta, in a restaurant, waiting for some snacks to arrive. A waiter caught my attention and kept it long after she had retreated to the kitchen. She had a tattoo around her arm, just below the elbow. A simple band, thick and black. Just like the one etched just below my knee. I felt a gravity toward this woman. As though the container that holds the depth of her status must be the same mold as mine. As though a conversation between us would last past dawn. The spot was mad busy though. And I suppose that I knew that the revelation of her skin might not match the truth of her style. So I made no effort to get her attention. Still, I looked for her as I rocked the exit. I couldn’t tell you what she looked like, though. I remember only the ink and the hallowed essence I seem to have embedded within it.
I wonder if placing someone above is still a reduction. The haters, the racists or sexists or whoever, remove reality from the objects of their hatred. They replace this reality with something simple and vicious and bind it, perhaps, to an accident of birth. An incident of choice turned my attention to a stranger waiting tables. She put the ink on her arm and its possible meaning broadcast on just the spectrums that my eyes could see. Perhaps I essentialized all the same, though I attributed more reality than I took away. Still, it could be the same sin: a refusal to let a person be. Which, for me, is a refusal to be a friend.
Sometimes the gulf that lies between us is just the right distance. And sometimes a naked embrace does not bring us close enough. Life is the balancing of proximities. Yet I can never quite figure what it is that I need near me the most. Maybe it is the band around my leg, or the bike in the shed, or music in my ears, or a friend who will walk with me in the dark, though I don’t know where the path will lead.
You know, the woman at the restaurant had another tattoo. It was complicated, full of colors, and clearly unique to her style. And it wasn’t sayin’ nothing.