DatesI was sitting in a booth in a diner in the Mission, typing on my laptop. In the booth behind me there was a man and a woman. I could hear them well, but couldn’t see their faces without turning.

The man had a low and scratchy voice. “You get enough to eat?”

She had a high and bright voice. “Oh yes, thank you so much.”

He said, “can I ask you a serious question?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“But I am really serious. I’m not fooling around.”

“Ok.” She said it with a very slight question mark.

“When my mom died I got a tattoo of her picture on my left shoulder.”


“Yeah, the picture looks awesome and right below it I have her dates.”

“What does that mean?”

“Her dates. You know, the day she was born and the day she died.”

“Oh. I hadn’t heard it called that before.”

“Yeah, those are her dates. Right below the picture.”


“Sort of hard to show, but you can see part… See?”

I really wanted to turn around and see what that tattoo looked like but I was eavesdropping. Some people don’t care for that. And I wanted to see where this was going.

“Oh yeah. Wow!” She said. Her voice even higher and brighter than before. “That really is a picture. It’s almost like a photograph. How’d you get that?”

“I got a really good ink artist.”

“I’ll say; that’s nice work. So what’s the problem?”

“You see, I got the tattoo to honor my Mom after she died. The thing that gets me is if my mother had seen her tattoo she’d have known how much I loved her cause I wanted to have her on my shoulder forever.”

“Yeah that’s really nice. You are a good son, John.”

“But she never saw it cause I didn’t get until she was already dead. I just didn’t think of it, you know. I am not so good on planning that sort of stuff.”

“Don’t beat yourself up. I am sure she understands.”

“I don’t know. I hope so.”

“Yeah I am sure.” There was a pause then she said, “should we get the check?”

“Wait. I didn’t tell you the problem.”

“Sorry. I thought that was it.” She laughed, lowered her voice, and confided, “Actually, I was thinking it was kind of a strange problem; like not much you could do about it at this point. Haha. Whew. Now what’s the real problem?”

“I want to get one for my father.”

“A tattoo?”


“Where are you going to put it?”

“I want to do it on my other shoulder.”

“Well that seems fine. What’s the problem?”

“Like what I was saying before; I want him to see his tattoo. So he knows how I feel.”

“But it’s a memorial, isn’t it? For after he is gone? Isn’t that the point?”

“Yes. But what if I get it now?”

Now now? While he is alive?”

“That’s the issue. Do I do it?”

“Hmm. Is he… having health issues?”

“Knock wood. He seems to be going great guns.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah”, she said. Even without seeing her face, I could tell she was biding time, trying to figure out how to respond.

She temporized further. “But what about the dates? How would you handle that?”

“Bingo. That’s the hold up. I would do the picture and the day of his birth but I would have to leave the date that he dies blank. I mean I could put in two zero but I would have to leave a blank for the actual year of death for now. I’d just have to get it tattoo’d in later. Do you think that’d look weird?”

He didn’t wait for her to respond. “I could just wait until he dies but then he would never see it and he would never know how I felt. I so regret that my mom never did. I feel like I should do it – I mean, I decided I would do it, but then I ran into the dates thing and that has got me confused.”

“Hmm. Do you think he might be a little unsettled, you know the whole getting ready for his death thing?”

“Yeah, I don’t know. I mean I’m concerned about it, that’s why I am asking you. I thought maybe you could help, you know, think it through. I bet you’re good at that. What do you think?”

“Well thank you John. I am flattered that you asked. But I don’t know your father. I mean I hardly know you. So its hard to say.”

“But just in general. What do you think?”

“I feel that I’m, ah, not sure that I really… but you sure you want my opinion?”

“That’s why I asked.”

I could hear her take a deep breath. “Frankly, I think it might be a bit creepy to him.”

Creepy?” Clearly she had surprised him.

“Yeah, I mean it’s nice John, so nice, but maybe just a little creepy. He’s not dead yet. That’s a fact. If you do a memorial for him with his death date half in, maybe it’s like you can’t wait for him to pass. But who cares what I think? How do you think he will feel? You know him. I don’t know him at all. What’s he like?”

“He can be kind of difficult. Maybe you are right. But then what if I don’t do it now and he all of a sudden drops dead and never gets to see it. He’ll never know.”

“Yeah, there’s that.”

“I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.”

“Yeah, its always better to make two different mistakes…Haha… Sorry. That was just a joke. Can’t restrain myself. Sorry.”

I almost turned around to see how he was taking that, but I restrained myself. He paused for a good five seconds but when he resumed he didn’t sound offended. He said,  “I regretted it with her; it would be awful to do it again. I mean every day I am taking a risk. He could get hit by a truck, you know.”

“Maybe you should ask him how he would feel about it.”

“I can’t that would ruin the surprise.”

“You were planning to surprise him?”

“Yeah, I think he would get more out of it that way.”

“Wow. How were you going to do that?”

“I didn’t really work it out. I was just thinking, you know, I would invite him over for dinner and maybe after dinner when we were sitting around and having a beer I would just take off my shirt and see if he noticed.”

“Now we’re talking creepy.”

“Come on, that’s not creepy. And it’ll give him a chance to see how it looks.”

“What for? What are you going to do if he doesn’t like it? Get it removed?”

“He’s gonna like it. It’s his own picture for Christ sake.”

“Does he like the one of your mother?”

“I don’t know.”

“Has he seen it?”

“Oh yeah, I’m sure he has. I don’t remember specifically, but I think he has. Yeah. He has got to have.”

“Maybe you should show him your mother’s tattoo before you go ahead and get his done. That will at least give you an idea of whether he is likely to like it, you know, in general.”

“I don’t know. He might just react to her, not the tattoo.”

“What does that mean?”

“He doesn’t – didn’t – like her much. They got divorced.”

“Oh wow. That puts a whole new spin on it.” She pantomimed the big voice of a game show host, “Are you ready to solve the puzzle?” She returned to her regular voice. ‘HaHa.”

“Why did you say that?”

“Just a funny. How long ago did they get divorced?

“I don’t get it.”

I really wanted to look at him. With that low scratchy voice I couldn’t even be sure his age. I mean maybe 30. She was easier. I had her at 25 or something.

He continued. “They got divorced a long time ago. Ten twelve years. Something like that. She got into a relationship with a guy from her office and he couldn’t abide that.”

“So they split up?”

“He kicked her out. I mostly lived with her in high school but I got to be pretty good friends with him after she died that’s when I heard the whole story. You see that’s why. I want to honor my father just as much as her.”

“Did he get remarried?”

“Naw. Not yet anyway.”

“How about your mother?”

“Yeah, she married Brad.”

“Is he still alive?”


“Haha. You thinking of getting his tattoo too?”

“Brad? Seriously? Not a chance. He’s a little twerp.”

“So I guess showing your father your mother’s tattoo isn’t that great an idea.”


She didn’t say anything for minute. With my back to the wall of the booth I could feel her shifting around on her side. Then she said. “Have you picked out a picture for the tattoo?”

“I got a great one at home. It’s from when he was in the Service. He’s carrying a rifle and wearing his uniform. Kick ass.”

Another pause. “Look John, this is just me, but you asked my opinion. I think you should definitely talk to him about it in advance. A tattoo is forever.”

“I know what you are saying, but what if he says no?”

“Then you know and you don’t do it, right?”

“But I want to do it. I want the balance.”


“It’s awkward this way. You know, like one of my arms is heavier than the other.”

“Really? I doubt that could be the case.”

“I know. I know. It’s the weirdest thing, but I’ve been feeling that everything is out of sync. I don’t think it will be right until I get his done.”

“Even without all the dates?”

“Yeah, I don’t think they’re that heavy.”

“Seem pretty heavy to me. Haha. Just kidding.”

“Do you always do that? Look, I know it won’t be perfect but it’ll balance much better.”

“What if . . . no.”

“What were you going to say?”

“No… its not appropriate”

“Go ahead.”

“I was thinking you could use erasable ink.”

“Are you kidding? That isn’t a good idea at all.”

“Just so you could handle the dates thing.”

“No. It’s a really bad idea. You’re completely missing the point.”

“I was just trying…”

“Completely missing the point.”

There was a pause. I really wanted to look at their faces but I didn’t let myself turn around. Then he was talking again. “Just completely missed the point. I can’t believe it. I was thinking you would have really good advice.”

“Well you asked what I thought. Anyway, do you really want both of them on your body? They got divorced. You wouldn’t bury them in the same gravesite, would you? People don’t that, do they?”

“It isn’t the same.”

“Isn’t it? Like you are putting their pictures are on the same canvas.”

“I am not a canvas.”

“You got their pictures painted on you. How is that different? I am just asking if its a good idea to put divorced people on the same body. I mean what will they think? Do you think your father really wants to be with his ex?”

“You are making this too complicated.”

“Sorry. Sometimes I do that.”

“Yeah. I can tell.”

“But didn’t you say that she had an affair with that Brad guy.”

“Did I say that? But yeah. That’s why they got divorced. My Dad put his foot down.”

“Well, if it were me… I am just saying.”

“I think I will get the check.”

“Suppose it were you? Would you want to be forever on your kid’s shoulder with your cheating ex just around the corner? Wouldn’t that kind of freak you out?”

He did not say anything, and then she was talking again with the Big Game Show Announcer Voice. “Particularly with only half of your dates?”

Another long pause. I would have loved to be able to see his face.

“Sorry,” she said. “You asked my opinion. Always figure its better to put it out there; that way you know.”

“I can tell.”

“That’s the thing with these meet ups; you gotta be yourself. No sense wasting each other’s time, right?”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“No point to holding back.”

“I just thought you’d be more understanding. I really did. Thats why I swiped right. I thought you’d understand.”

– Jay Duret