As Violet bathed, she paid special attention to her tattoos, each one reminding her of a unique event in her life, like an epidermal scrapbook: the rose on her bicep where she’d tattooed over Lenny’s name, the serpent vining it’s way around her ankle, the spider creeping up her right breast (so realistic that it sometimes startled her while dressing), the yin-yang on the back of her left hand (a vestige from her martial arts days) and, on her inner wrist, a crude cross with “FTW” (standing for “Fuck the World”) in a decorous arch above it. The “FTW” was her first tattoo, received in Lenny Dodd’s basement two weeks before she was expelled from high school. (When anyone asked, she told them “FTW” was the initials of her first true love.) And finally, on her right bicep was the largest and most artistically-crafted tattoo; a skull, which to her memory, had simply appeared one afternoon along with a two-day hangover. She would never forget the surprise she’d felt upon noticing its fleshless face grinning up at her, more disorienting, even, than waking up in a strange room. Back then, of course, it had been rather fashionable, skulls were in vogue, but now she considered it a reminder to never surrender control of her own awareness, in that way, symbolizing the death of her former attitude towards life. Drying off, she peered into the mirror. The face she saw had softened with age, as over the years, she had grown sentimental. Was that the real reason she was afraid to seek out her old friends? In her mind, they were still young, hardened, crass; still humming, “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” in the shower…Or did she simply prefer to remember them that way, afraid now to find them defeated, dull and alcoholic? Even now, in her bowling league, she was something of a rebel. These were women who had lived traditional lives, marrying, leading careers, going in the opposite direction as Violet; they never would have socialized with her in their twenties and thirties, yet they were now united by age and a common understanding of life in the previous century. That she had once been a punk rock singer (a.k.a. Penelope Puke) added to her mystique, for she had lived out their suppressed rage, and in this way, they envied her. When it was her turn to host the after-game festivities, they would, often as not, find her scrapbooks with the old press clippings and dig out her albums to study the covers, sometimes reading the lyrics aloud and thereby causing Violet to wince; their deadpan delivery of her soul’s primal screams was an unintentional insult. Flipside to their envy, was their subtle gloating and self-righteousness as they spoke of their children, husbands and careers. Violet sometimes wondered why she did not ally herself with them by telling them of the daughter she had given up for adoption, giving them instead, vivid descriptions of her abortions, drug trips and out-of-body experiences. It was not a conscious ommission; she simply “forgot” to bring it up in their discussions, and besides, she’d never outgrown her love of shock value. Choosing to sensationalize her life helped keep a certain distance. She hadn’t even told them about the phone call she’d received two weeks ago, a call from a woman claiming to be her daughter. Donna Nile was her name, and she told a very skeptical Violet that she was a weatherperson for a local news station. One look at the t.v. confirmed it for Violet, however, although she had not seen her daughter since she was a baby over thirty years ago. It even gave her a good idea as to who Donna’s father had been – most likely LeRoy, since Donna (not a name she would have chosen) had his frizzy black hair, his freckles and wide teeth. She looked so damn much like LeRoy. And all these years she’d thought the father had been Noah or Chris… Violet sighed, trying to push aside the dread she felt, as if her whole identity were theatened, as if this meeting today would either make or break her, prove or disprove her. It was the strangest feeling, as if the past thirty-two years had been a mere detour and the paths of the two different Violets (the one she’d been and the one she could never be) were merging.
She knew this first impression would be lasting. What on earth should she wear? Fortunately, the weather didn’t rule out long sleeves, in case Donna had something against tattoos. Violet could conceal all but two of them, the yin-yang and the cross. She hadn’t felt this concerned about her clothing since childhood, when her mother’s strict ideals kept her in a state of constant fear. And now she was afraid of offending her own daughter with her clothing. She imagined Donna getting ready for their meeting; was she dressing with as much care as Violet? She wondered if the t.v. station required Donna to pluck her eyebrows so severely. In her day, those bushy eyebrows would’ve been stylish. It reminded her of the job she’d lost, back in ‘78, working at a florist shop. They fired her for getting a mohawk, although she’d been a loyal employee for over a year, and she felt her position to be quite secure. After her dismissal, in order to save face, she’d made a great scene, yelling at her boss in front of several customers, saying that she was sick of castrating flowers all day anyway, and didn’t he think it a bit odd to be peddling sex organs? Violet chuckled softly at the memory, at the person she had once been – so volatile. Ah, the old days, when her arrogance reigned supreme, back when she’d felt it could change the world. She hoped Donna wouldn’t bring her children to this first reunion; toddlers made her nervous. Perhaps she should’ve asked The Ballard Bowling Babes for some advice. Or would they have understood? Would they have shared secrets of their own – an abortion or a lesbian affair or somesuch – or would that have even helped? She wondered if Donna would ask the obvious question: “Why did you give me away?” If she didn’t bring it up today, Violet would need to, or that question would forever be hanging between them. But how could she explain to Donna the way her life had been? How could she explain the sheer terror she had felt when the nurses placed the little baby in her arms, or the shock she’d felt upon discovering that she had created something so perfect, trusting and fragile, a thing of such incredible beauty despite her own ugliness and mistrust. She knew she could not give the baby the stability and care it needed, so she had given Donna away out of fear, fear that she would be a bad mother and fear that she would lose herself in motherhood. She’d read a story once, about a chronically flatulent dog who – upon failing to respond to all possible treatments – was given to a man with no sense of smell. To Violet, this was a modern parable, so very just in its acceptance of the limitations of those involved. For while many would view her life as a series of mistakes, jagged edges, false starts and loose ends, Violet knew in her heart that it had been much more. No matter how it appeared to others, her life had been and continued to be a search for meaning and experience and – like the Buddha – having gone to extremes, she was happy now to have found the middle way. She hoped Donna could see that it would have been unfair to take a baby on that path. All in all, she hoped Donna would accept her. She seemed so shy on the phone, so vulnerable, quite unlike her assertive t.v. announcer persona. Violet understood this, however, since her own stage persona had been loud, obnoxious, rude and shocking. Yet beneath the heavy, black eyeliner, the geisha-white face and ruby lips, the spiked hair and the spiked heels, had been the rest of her, layers she continued, even now, to discover.