The 13 on My Wrist

The simple story is that it was Friday the 13th and I'd had a long day and I needed something physical to calm me down. It was one of the hottest summers Los Angeles had experienced in awhile. The wild fires that filled the air with ash and smoke didn't help much either. Of course this was the summer I decided to work at a summer camp across the country from my small town home of Ivor, Virginia.

I had a special job at the camp where I rode a school bus every morning and afternoon, five days a week, with children whose parents picked them up in another location. This meant that unlike my colleagues who worked solely at the camp, I actually had to interact with the parents. My days were long, filled with children, and often ended with a parent demanding that I help their 4 year old, one out of the hundreds of children I interacted with on a daily basis, find the jacket that they left four days ago. 

It happened to be the afternoon of friday the 13th. The bus drove by the same shopping center everyday, but for some reason I decided to pay attention. A giant sign outside the parlor said "Friday the 13th tattoo special!!" The second I got off work at 5:45, I walked to the parlor. 

It's an impulse for me, putting permanent things on my body. After a lifetime of inconsistency and pain and trauma, the feeling of getting a tattoo always makes me feel safe. Out of the 50 designs laid out in front of me, I chose a simple inch round number 13 done in gold and black to put on the outer edge of my left wrist. It was cute. I didn't regret it, but once the vibration of the needle subsided, I didn't give the impulse much thought.

I sent a picture to my family group chat, partly out of spite, partly out of the need for their approval. Within seconds I got a response from my father.

"Do you remember your grandfather's tattoo?"

I paused. That wasn't the response I was expecting. What tattoo?

"He had a 13 tatted on his neck, after the Johnny Cash song."

Then I did remember. My grandfather, a a stoic man with a military background, had an array of tattoos all over his body including the hand sized 13 on his neck. I could see it clear as day. I looked up the Johnny Cash song. 

"I've got the number 13 tattooed on my neck
when the ink starts to itch, then the black will turn to red
I was born in the soul of misery 
never had me a name
they just gave me the number when I was young."

Suddenly, something that I didn't think I needed explained to me made perfect sense. My grandfather had endured years of abuse and neglect as a child. He never talked about it but you could see the tragedies in his always distant eyes and tired slow stance. He loved music and whistled all the time. He died at the age of 59 from Leukemia. I was 13 and knew very little about where I'd come from. Then out of the blue, at the age of 20, I somehow knew I needed this, this lesson on connection and history. A clear way to make the world understand my pain. 13.

Suffolk, VA USA. Kali Fillhart is a traveler, a vandweller, a student, and a chronic card writer. She spends more time being anywhere else than where she probably should be. Unfortunately her pet tortoise, named Hot Pocket, Hotty for short, could not fit in her van as she traveled the country and this makes her very sad.