My Tattoos (and the Meanings of Them) [Part 2]

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You/DVP by Pup)

It occurs to me that I haven’t written a personal post in a while. Everything has been about writing because I’m trying to force myself back into the mindset – that way, when I end work in a few weeks, I’ll still stick to a rigorous schedule.

Still, we all have to take a break every once in a while. I’ve been working on a scene for the past few days and unable to finish it; maybe it’s time to indulge myself and talk more about me.

If you haven’t already, check out my first post about my YH8 tattoo before diving into this one, because I believe the ink on my body is a four-act play of transition from adolescence to adulthood, and walking in during the middle of the second act would be dumb (and bound to piss some theatergoers off).

So, act 2.

On my right thigh, just above my kneecap, I have a tattoo of the silhouette of a deer. It’s facing head-on, so you can really just see the antlers and the neck, with the two ears splaying out to either side. If you look at it upside-down, from my perspective, it actually looks somewhat like a penis.

(Would you believe I noticed that when first getting it and still decided to go forward with it? You should, because I really don’t give a shit about those kinds of things.)

Anyway, the silhouetted deer was the end of a very long battle for a family crest between me and my three brothers. Since his first tattoo, my older brother “Ram” has wanted to get a family crest with his two biological brothers and a friend of ours who’s so integral to our family that we introduce him as our brother.

The only issue was my little brother, “Antelope”. For a while he resisted the idea of getting a family crest tattoo; then he wanted a very specific style and location. In the end of things, we let him design the tattoos, and that’s why I have a penis on my leg.

But in all seriousness, I adore the tattoo. It’s so much darker and heavier than my YH8 tattoo – it’s almost like a brand on my skin. And that’s what I loved about it from the very beginning.

See, the first layer of significance was in the crest itself – we all four have a different “Buck” on our legs. It turns out that the males of many different animal species, among them deers, rams, antelopes, and goats, are all called Bucks (or if they’re not, then Ram bullshitted all of us and we believed it).

So we each got a buck that meant the most to us. I had the deer because it’s Reed backwards (derp) and also because I was the middle child, certainly not the shyest but definitely victim to middle child syndrome. My little brother got the antelope with the crazy curved horns because he’s the artistic one, and the finicky one. My older brother got the ram because he’s an Aries and because he might be the hardest-headed person anyone has ever met. And my brother-friend got the goat because he’s a goddamn goofball, but also the Greatest Of All Time.

So that’s the top layer of significance, the one I knew prior to getting the tattoo. But there’s always another layer that I only seem to discover afterward.

In this case, it was in the ‘branding’ effect. My family is… abrasive, to put it lightly, and we’ve gotten into more than our share of fights. But somehow, in the year or so after I got this tattoo, we seemed to be fighting more than usual. Antelope and my dad were at each other’s throats; I found that Ram, whom I had always looked up to, was making me more and more upset each time I saw him; and every trip home became a stressful event.

I struggled with this for a bit, all while looking at the goddamn black stain on my leg and wondering why I had gotten it, if my brothers and I were bound to upset each other to the ends of our lives.

Family isn’t an easy word to define, even when you’re close with yours. When I think of Ram, I think of so many things – the times he’s brought me to tears with arguments and discussions; the moment when, after the worst breakup of his life, I asked him why he hadn’t killed himself; the time when I was heartbroken over a high-school crush and he hung back for nearly an hour on his girlfriend’s birthday to keep me company. When I think of Antelope, I can summon up hateful confrontations and one-sided fistfights just as easily as moments of bittersweet emotion driven by texts about how much he looks up to me. There is no way to separate these muddled solutions of anger and joy, frustration and triumph, secrets and screaming matches.

There is only the word: family.

And family is branded into us, stronger than the bonds of friends because we can remember growing into ourselves alongside one another, loving and hating each other as we did so. Family is the social group you don’t choose – you’re stuck with them to the ends of the earth and the end of your life, even if they do blow out your candles on your birthday or hit you in the eye with a shovel. That bond is ironclad.

Or, at least mine is. And that’s where the realization came in. When I heard stories of friends’ fractured families – stories of true hatred untempered by something lighter. When I saw my uncle meeting his nephew for the first time at my grandmother’s funeral, after years of no communication. That’s when I realized that for some people, family is not what it means to me.

And that’s when I realize how lucky I am to have been branded. I would take on all that pain again, live through all those moments of black anger and boundless hurt, to be close to these three idiots I have to call my brothers.

I love you idiots.

Yours, sentimentally,

-R.R. Buck

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