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Eight

 

I got my Tattoo when I was eight.

It appeared on the side of my wrist one day when I was playing kickball in the schoolyard and I jumped as if it had burned me. My best friend, Monica, reassured me that gaining my Tattoo was a good thing, but I was inconsolable.

“Oh, Jess,” my mother crooned when she picked me up from the main office later that day, the joyful tears in her eyes mirroring my distressed ones. “You’re becoming a woman.”

I didn’t know how to tell her that I didn’t want a soulmate, that I didn’t need one, that I actually wanted a Barbie dreamhouse and an inground swimming pool.

But she was too thrilled, bragging to every other mom in my dance class about my newfound purpose in life: Joshua, his name scrawled in cursive lettering Inked onto my skin forever. I glanced down at it often and tried to study it, tried to picture him as my husband one day. I knew I was supposed to be happy like my older sister was when she received her Tattoo- God, she practically threw a parade- but I couldn’t shake the blind, overwhelming sense of panic that consumed every cell of my body.

Forever is quite a long time, isn’t it?

(My heart beat and beat and beat.)

 

Eleven

 

When you’re Inked, you feel every emotion your soulmate does but bigger, somehow. Heavier.

(Everywhere.)

Like, when he was happy, I felt a sense of joy incomparable to anything I’ve ever felt before. Just, coursing through me, hot and warm and running wild through my veins.

But if he was sad, it broke me. I thought I was dying; nothing could possibly be good again. The pain was deep, sunken into every bone inside my body.

Joshua was sad a lot.

There was never a way for a person to communicate with their soulmate before their Meeting, but I wanted so desperately to let him know he was going to be okay.

Did he have a trusted pair of arms to hold him while he cried?

It didn’t seem like it.

One night, I decided to write him a letter. It wouldn’t get to him because I didn’t even know his address, but I felt compelled to tell him everything. I spent hours laying on my stomach, scribbling inside my journal with a blue pen. It was five and a half pages long when I was finished,but I just folded them up and hid them inside my drawer.

(My heart beat and beat and beat but I worried about his.)

 

Fourteen

 

Monica never got her Tattoo.

She was always a late bloomer with everything else, so we assumed she was just late for this as well.

But months of waiting turned into years and, eventually, she was diagnosed as an Uninked. Her entire family was devastated, but Monica handled the news quite gracefully, nodding at everything her psychiatrist discussed with her and her sobbing mother about support groups and therapists and you can still lead a normal life, even as an Uninked.

I pulled her into her room when we got back to her house afterwards. The entire day was a flurry of commotion, but this moment was calm, all that was present being us and the things left unspoken; she just smiled and shrugged her shoulders when I asked her how she really, truly felt.

“Honestly?” She sighed, playing with the ring on my middle finger, spinning it around and around. “I don’t think I was meant for the forever stuff, anyway.”

I tried not to blanch at the way she made her words sound so easy. So final.

“You seriously don’t care that you’re gonna spend the rest of your life alone?” I asked.

“I won’t be alone, silly. I’ll have you.”

My eyes widened as I searched for a sign of anything on her face- sadness, bitterness, anger- but she just looked happy. She really was pretty, her light blonde hair strewn over her shoulders. Her hands poked at my ribs and I couldn’t help the grin that slipped onto my mouth. She grabbed my pinky finger and held it with hers.

“Duh,” I finally said, rolling my eyes playfully. “But that’s different.”

“How?”

“Because-”

“Jessica Meyers,” she interrupted, eyebrows raised. “Are you telling me we won’t be in each other’s lives forever?”

“No! Of course we will.”

“So then how is it different?” She smiled, all teeth and sunshine and I had to look away from it or else it would blind me. I just shook my head and left it at that, letting her paint my nails and compliment my eyelashes for hours until I had to go home for dinner.

(My heart didn’t beat- it soared.)

 

Sixteen

 

I was sixteen when my Tattoo faded.

I was sixteen when my soulmate hung himself.

His funeral was small and sad and I dug up my old letters to place next to his grave.

(My heart beat but his didn’t.)

 

Eighteen

Monica asked me to be her girlfriend, and I said yes.

Joshua wasn’t there anymore, but I hoped he’d be happy for me.

I wrote him another letter.

(My heart beat fast.)

 

Twenty-five

 

I got married on the fifth of August.

Monica looked so pretty.

Inside my head, I sent a little prayer up to Joshua.

(My heart found another to love.)

 

Forty

 

On the morning of my fortieth birthday, Monica shook me to wake me up.

“Look at your Tattoo,” she whispered. Her eyes gleamed with unshed tears and I quickly glanced down, gasping as I did.

“Oh my god.”

There, underneath the faded cursive, read:

Thank you.

(My heart felt relieved.)

 

Sixty

Joshua’s message still remains in that same exact spot, and it glows whenever I feel his presence.

My oldest daughter often jokes that my Tattoo is haunted, but I just smile and agree.

Forever is a long time, but I don’t mind at all.

(My heart keeps beating.)

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