On the morning I woke up with the tattoo, the first thing I noticed that was weird was not the tattoo, but that I could see, which meant I’d fallen asleep with my contacts in. This would not be so unusual had I passed out drunk, but I hadn’t, or at least, I didn’t think I had, and so right away, still shaking off my last dream (fiery airplanes, a boiling sea), I started the work of untangling the night before. Imagine poking your fingers through a curtain of gauzy white cotton candy. Pulling and peering through holes, discarding dream parts and grabbing bits of yesterday’s life.
I slid out of bed and walked to the sink. During this period of my extended adolescence, I resided in a tree house, and so the journey from bed to sink was three steps across a bare wood floor. And there, as they say, I got the shock of my life. In the mirror above the sink, was my face, as always. I touched my right cheekbone, under my right eye, and stared. The left cheekbone wasn’t there. Or rather, most of the left side of my head, from jawline to brow, appeared to have caved in. Like a baseball bat had taken a home run cut to my skull. I was frozen still but gripped in heat. You know how your blood seems to run hot when you’re scared shitless? I stared at my head. Was I dead? I didn’t see any blood. I didn’t have a headache. Was I still asleep? I wasn’t sure. Long seconds passed and a future life passed before my eyes, like dying in reverse, in which I was now a monster. I’d leave the tree house only at night, to buy beer. But could I? What would I do, walk into the 7-11 wearing a ski mask? I hadn’t married in time. If I’d managed to find and keep any woman who’d loved me, she might be good enough to stay with a monster. But now, it was most definitely too late.
I reached up with my left hand, but where it looked like a great, strange cavity, I touched skin, right where it had always been. I traced the lines of mandible, teeth, braincase with my fingers. What the fuck? Was this a shadow? If it were a shadow, it was attached to me. Like the dark side of the moon. I squeezed the flesh of my cheek and eyebrow, pulled my ear, slapped myself upside the head a bit. My head was all there, I could feel that it was, and yet, it looked like it wasn’t. There was an illusion, and that illusion had somehow become a part of my face.
By now you’ve gathered that this is the tattoo to which I earlier referred. This was the mysterious indelible mark that would change my life. So artfully rendered. By whom? And, why? And obviously, how the hell? Had it manifested itself from within me? Growing just under my skin, perhaps as a punishment, or, more in line with my spiritual ideas at the time, was it a visible manifestation of my inward terribleness? I was the picture of Dorian Gray. But after I’d scrubbed my face raw and even dabbed some Goof-Off on there, because, why not? I determined that this was in fact a work of awful art, made by a presumably human hand. Whose, and for what reason, I wouldn’t know for some time.