The young friends, at their own celebration of Marika’s life directly following the memorial, mull around in tight groups. They touch the photos and memorabilia. They hug and hold each other. Several had gotten tattoos to honor Marika. Images and words etched onto arms and ankles, pigment mixed with blood. Some small part of Marika could be carried forever.
As soon as she was old enough to forego parental blessings, Marika got a cookie-sized Celtic knot tattooed onto her stomach. I’d always questioned my children, “What could you possibly put on your body that you’d want to have there the rest of your life?” Horrified by the idea, I would confront them using the word ‘permanent’ as if a tattoo was a perpetual stain on one’s presence. Not that anything, loved or loathed, could ever be permanent.
In May, two months after Marika’s death, for her birthday, I had her name tattooed on my left shoulder in Celtic letters. Greg, who’d already had a good deal of himself inked with warriors and skulls in homage to his fallen army friends, added a part of Marika’s Celtic knot to his haunting skin-story. Rachel got a Marika tattoo. And Kim. Then Taylor. And Julie. Even Laurie flew to Ithaca to get one from our now almost-family tattoo artist. The thought of our hearts and bodies indelibly etched with Marika was suddenly comforting. Bereaved mothers, other than wanting their beloved children back, want nothing more than to have their child remembered. So I loved those tattooed friends.
But at the end of June, one of Marika’s friends is found dead from an overdose. Several are heavily into drugs and alcohol. Marika had fought for each summer and for every breath in the end. Even though I know addiction is not a choice, I want to grab hold of her friends’ necks and shake them.
“This is it! This is your only life. It’s a time-limited offer. Non-refundable. It is a gift,” I want to shout. “How the hell do you get to throw it away?” I think of the parents, because to lose a child is to lose the center of your world. It is to lose your light and breath. “Look at me,” I wish I could say, “It’s June and I’m still frozen mud in midwinter. Like concrete. I died too. Would you do this to your parents?”
And then there are Marika’s words. Words I can’t ignore now that I’ve found them. She wrote this before she even knew she had cancer. Before there was any doubt of her not living a long full life. What am I supposed to do with these words? They scream to me:
“My words will hopefully live on long after I am gone. That is how I want to live. Forever. Words are immortal.”