My Spring Break Story
If you came of age in the early 2000s, and you drank and smoked, and sometimes danced on the occasional table, chances are…you have a tramp stamp.
I earned my party girl stripes in 2002 on my spring break trip to Los Angeles with my best friend Shannon. Mine is a Celtic knot (of course) and hers is the Om symbol. I can neither confirm nor deny that illegal substances were involved in the making of these tattoos, but wandering around Venice Beach in the bright sunshine on the last day of our eventful journey to the city of angels, they seemed like a very good idea at the time.
We had originally intended to visit LA to scope out the city and find a place to live. We were both writers, artists, beatniks, actresses, musicians. At twenty-two we were so many things, but beyond anything we were both dying to get out of Texas. Shannon had the wild idea to move to California so we could become big stars, but I had been applying to graduate schools on the side. On the evening before we left (we were going to drive through the desert in the dead of night because that totally makes sense), I received a letter from Northern Arizona University with an offer of a full scholarship and graduate assistantship. I read the letter a dozen times, my hand shaking. There it was, my ticket out of Texas, the beginning to some great adventure in the San Francisco Mountains, and there were books involved. Books! There was great literature to study. Things to learn.
Shannon breezed into my apartment and saw the note in my hand. “What’s that?”
I explained to her what the letter contained, and her face fell.
“But what about LA?” she asked.
I grabbed my keys and hustled her out the door. “I don’t know. I need to think about it.”
But we both knew my mind was already made up. In the early hours of the morning with the flash of sixteen-wheelers beaming through my beat-up Dodge Neon, she would press me. “What are you going to do?” But I couldn’t answer her, the words catching in my throat. I knew she couldn’t go to California by herself, but in my heart I felt I had to take this chance. But she couldn’t let it go, her thin voice asking me between commercials on the radio, “but what about LA?”
The LA trip was a disaster. We were supposed to be staying in the Hollywood Hills, but we ended up in a dangerous part of the city with some old friends of Shannon’s. We spent the week passing a jug of white wine between each other as her friends snorted coke up their noses, this one dude droning on and on about how he once met Quentin Tarantino. My car was broken into, and we found ourselves taping up the shattered window after a midnight trip to the Home Depot on Sunset Boulevard. Definitely not the kind of glamour I had imagined finding there. The smog and the traffic made me miserable, and while LA is a great city for a lot of people, I knew I would never quite belong there. And as the week passed, Shannon knew it, too.
But on the last day of our spring break, we stumbled into the tattoo parlor, giggling and shouting, running our hands through the laminated binders, searching for designs. I found a swirling Celtic knot, a Trinity, and pointed my finger at it, nodding vigorously.
“This one,” I told the female tattoo artist.
She gave me a half smile, the bead on her lip ring glinting from the afternoon sun filtering through the window. “Come on back.”
It hurt like hell, but Shannon held my hand and talked me through it. She’s always been braver than I am. As the tattoo needle buzzed, the little stabs of pain pressing on my spine, she told me stories about her trip to Mexico, her soothing voice describing the crystal blue water, the clean white sand.
When the tattoo artist finished with us, we walked out of there new women, not sure where we were going, but grounded forever in this one singular experience. We kept lifting up our shirts and staring at each other’s tattoos in awe. They were so bright and beautiful and totally badass. You couldn’t mess with us in that moment.
Sometimes my tattoo peeks out beneath my shirt and people ask me what the Trinity knot means. Because I do so much with Irish folklore and mythology, I would like to tell them that it has an ancient pagan history, reflecting the triple goddess, which encompasses the maiden, the mother, and the crone. I would like to say how early Irish Christians borrowed this symbol to represent the Holy Trinity, but how for these monastic communities, the knot also came to be symbolic of infinite love, the past, present, and future all tied up into one. People expect a story like this. Something profound. Something spiritual.
But the real story is once upon a time, there were two party girls who thought they were on one journey, but ended up taking very separate paths. Shannon moved to New York, spent many years working in television, and later returned to Austin to start her own production company. I did go to grad school and found my own way, moving on to get a PhD in Irish literature and later rediscovering my love for writing.
But that silly spring break tattoo, the tramp stamp that dates me, marks me as a certain kind of girl from a certain kind of time, is bound with the ties of unconditional friendship. It was how we said goodbye, and how we found strength to face our uncertain futures without each other.