12 18 10: On my 24th birthday these numbers were permanently inked onto my forearm. Why? At the time it seemed simple to me: my grandfather was born on December 18, 1910; I graduated from Colorado State University on December 18, 2010. Side-note: I was named after my grandfather; hence, I am The II. An awful lot has happened to me since I’ve had this number on my arm: I was engaged, then single for longer than 2 months (much and still longer) for the first time in 12 years, I learned several new trades including bookkeeping, and oyster fishing (similar in so many respects…), I made some of the best friends I will ever know (2 of whom also know special meaning in 12 18), the biggest change may not have happened if it weren’t for the numbers on my arm.
Last year I made a visit to my grandmother and aunt in Connecticut with my parents and a family friend. When we left it was as hard as usual, as my grandmother has had cancer for some time and has been up and down since she lived with my family when I was in sixth grade. This is my father’s mother, the wife of my grandfather from whom I received my name. As I said goodbye early in the morning I hugged my grandma as she lay in bed, as I pulled away she grabbed my arm and looked at the numbers written on it as she smiled and a tear slid down her cheek. This wasn’t the first time she’d done this; in fact, every time I departed home from a visit after I acquired this tattoo the same thing happened.
The next time I visited was for grandma’s birthday a couple of months later. I ended up being able to catch the same flight out of Denver as my parents, we had a great time at the airport as usual (good drinks, good food, good company). When we landed we turned on our cell phones…
My aunt had called each of my parents to notify us that 911 had been called and grandma, unresponsive and barely breathing, had been rushed to the ER. The three of us were stuck in a helpless position, at the mercy of the transportation industry. We got off the plane then waited for our luggage, waited for the shuttle to the rental car, waited in line to rent a car. After getting a car and loading it up, my father drove us from La Guardia airport to the city where grew up in Connecticut, straight to the hospital, over an hour ride with traffic and tolls.
When we got to the hospital we were told that only two people were allowed in the “room” at a time. My mother and I both looked at my father with the same thought “go.” She’s his mother, she gave birth to him, raised him; he is who he is in large part because of who she is, and he is because of her. He went in and didn’t leave the room all night, came out after a bit and my mother went in, then I went in… by the time I saw her she was slap happy, I don’t know what was causing her mental state (probably a combination of stress, drugs, lack of oxygen followed by an oxygen mask, etc.), but when she saw me she smiled and said “hi, you look funny.”
We finally got to sleep around 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning, my poor father had to pick up my sister and her boyfriend at the airport around 8, so it was kind of a rough couple of days for him. For the rest of the visit we all tried our best to do what we were there to do, celebrate. It wasn’t easy, but I think everybody did the best they could to make grandma as happy as possible (come to find out later she didn’t remember any of it). Everyone did what they do best: my mother conversed with grandma (she is the best at getting her to talk about anything and everything), Auntie Di kept everything tidy and clean as her mother always did, her husband kept everyone thoroughly entertained, Auntie M kept everything and everyone in order in her mother’s home, my sister and her boyfriend provided a helpful touch that only massage therapists can, while keeping everyone grounded and calm, my father did what he does… anything that needed to be done.
So, leaving this time wasn’t quite the same. We all thought we were going to lose this amazing woman, it had been a reality for so long, but it the immediate reality had never been so apparent. Though she had improved significantly in the time that we were all present, her time seemed very limited. As I hugged my grandmother goodbye before my flight she didn’t grab my arm to look at. Before I could even pull away she grabbed my hand and tightened her grip. At that point I didn’t think I would make my flight, but that was ok. I held her for a few minutes and gave her a kiss goodbye, she loosened her grip and I reluctantly walked out of the room, out of the house, and flew across the country.
During my flight, I completely broke down emotionally. Before I even landed I had decided I was going back. I had to, if I didn’t I would never forgive myself…
I told my parents the next day, they were still in Connecticut. They asked if I had thought it over, but I didn’t need to. Yes, my Auntie M had done an amazing job taking care of my dear grandmother for the past several years, but she needed help. My father decided to stay until I moved out, my mother decided to drive with me across the country… I decided I was going to attempt to make myself useful to my family. I think I’ve done that since I’ve moved here: grandma has more energy, eats and drinks more regularly (still not enough), and seems to be thankful for my presence (she says so at least); Auntie M has a bit more sanity I think, someone that can hear what she says and responds, some help around the house (shoveling snow all day every day sucks, I don’t care who you are), and a well deserved trip back home soon for a little while (thanks to my father as well for that).
So, my thought started with a number and some ink on my flesh. Getting that tattoo has taught me a lot about myself that was always true but I may not have always realized: family means a lot to me. We all know you can’t choose your family, we all know family makes everyone crazy, but we all know when it comes right down to it, you’re stuck with them and they’re stuck with you. The number on my arm honors the man I was named after, a little Italian man with a big heart. Remembering him and learning from my father has taught me to do everything I can to help those I love, so here I am with a woman I love dearly, my grandmother (same goes for Auntie M). If you wanted to you could say a number brought me here.