The Story of My 10-year Old Penguin Tattoo

10 years ago this week I called my oldest friend Angie on the phone scream-crying rage and sadness. My lover had died, and I learned about this on Livejournal. I had spent the weekend before with him in his small college town. I have a vivid memory of being alone on a dark highway in central Illinois, feeling excited to arrive. We had a great time and I thought sleeping in his tiny bed in his tiny dorm room was fun, having been out of college for several years myself.
What happened to him I will never understand, and that has fueled a sense of loss and fear of intimacy for a decade now. What I know has been pieced together via social media forensics–something I excel at now. I didn’t meet his friends in Illinois and he didn’t meet any of mine when he came to Michigan. I believed, at times, that I had made him up. When my computer crashed and I lost all the emails and IMs from him I thought for sure it was all in my head.

10 years later the loss and fear weigh heavier than the memories of being with him do, and that has to shift. Now. Not a moment later.

It appeared that he killed himself. It appeared that he did that exactly a week after I left. It appeared he did that after calling me and several of his friends and other lovers. We talked about mundane things. It appeared that he did that after IMing with me that evening. It appeared he was found by his ex.

We were not in love but I liked him a lot. When I got back to Michigan I said I needed space because I was having feelings but we were long distance and he was tackling some things in his life. I remember feeling happy that he called, regardless, that next Sunday.

Some parts of his story, even what happened in death, do not add up. I knew more than some, but it was clear in the messages in the weeks that came that there were a wake of people, mostly women, left extremely confused. Left like me.

I have tried not to say much about this openly because I wanted to avoid hurting people’s feelings because of his indiscretions, and I didn’t want to open up any drama. I hope 10 years later this is drama-free. 2015 me needs to let go of this feeling of total loss and betrayal. I am tired of intimacy being a struggle. I’m tired of fear driving me to do things like make sure my current long-distance partner met at least a couple friends last weekend. See, this one isn’t a figment of my imagination.

10 years ago next month my sister tried to convince me not to get the tattoo I have on my wrist. She said “won’t you get tired of it?” It was the right sisterly response to an impulse tattoo on a prominent place.  But the truth is I haven’t. I don’t ever tire of seeing it. Sometimes I falter at the description, usually giggling, “I really like penguins!” (true) instead of explaining that it’s the emoticon package he used on his Livejournal on each post. Today when I see it I can almost imagine that he was real and laughing at a silly nerdy joke and using the “happy” penguin on a post.

I am shocked at how much I’m feeling the 10 year anniversary. This has prompted me to try to write about it, which I rarely do these days (my love of writing online and Livejournal died with him, sadly). I am sorry he is gone. I am also sorry that this has hurt me for so long. I am happy that it finally feels like the memory of his smile could eclipse my tears. That is progress. This is the kind of progress I wish he had experienced.



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