The other day I went to a cafe near Foothill Avenue. The barista had a tattoo that hung in a gentle, drooping arc under her neck – Life, love and pain scrolled in large acrylic letters. I couldn’t help myself. I read out the tattoo aloud, then asked her why she had it.---
“The death of a loved one,” she said.
Part of the reason it struck me so forcefully was that I’d recently finished a cover story – Dangerous Liaisons – where I’d interviewed a man in jail by the name of Isaac Lopez. Tattooed across his throat is his mother’s first name. She had been murdered by his step-father – the man had slit her throat -- and Isaac, then 17, found the body. Like the barista he seemed to wear it as a badge of honor, as an explanation, a statement, an act of intimate confrontation.
Isaac’s ex-wife, Candace Lopez, said he’d told her he planned to have his mother’s name tattooed even bigger. Almost like a scream.
Despite the clichés, grief is something that never ends. I wrote a feature about Jason Ermer (pictured above), an Iraqi veteran who killed himself. The story, Diary of a Suicide, came out last November. I never knew Ermer and yet still I feel his presence, the vacuum his death left behind.
How Jason’s parents, widow and daughters feel almost two years after their loved one walked up a North Ogden hillside and shot himself I can’t imagine. They don’t wear his name or a statement of their loss on their skin. I wonder what would drive someone to do that, whether with those words etched in your skin greeting you in the mirror every day, the grief comes any easier, the knifing pain of loss any duller.