My mother is a spiritual tigress of a woman. Hair that spurs out of her scalp like fire, mouth like a grenade, and the hug of a down blanket when it hits below 30. She is an incredible site to see when she meditates. In the past 10 years, I've seen her deepen the taupe hollow orbs under her eyes and forgive her concealer for not covering them up, hands on her knees, covered in white flowing harem-like-pants, fingers praying aum, eyes shut and breaths quick and embarrassingly shallow.
After the divorce, after I lost myself in therapist-link diagnoses, after she bared witness to child abuse and while she derived a snarl-faced, creeping joy from calling my father a motherfucker over email for being a monkey hearted Muslim, she seemed to find herself able to create a center, even if just momentarily, through prayer. Breath of Life, I Bow to You, Ong Namo, Guru Dev Namo. A song by a white woman in a turban, so teary beautiful it made me sick and shrunken.
The summer before college, as most anyone who's been disowned by a father, I had no idea who I was or wanted to be. Sometimes that thought would drive me so contemptuous and numbingly, irritatingly, existential to believe that I was nothing but a computer program or a character in someone else's imagination. Some days I would, I do, forget I have a face. My mother says she believes in god but when she prays to Buddha she prays to a man who has no face. No body. No god-like qualities, no strengths. Nothing but an essence of subtle lovesong and the cycle of suffering. So I figured, if not to become myself, to become him.
Soon enough I knew the chants better than my mother. Knew Buddha's Mudras like his hands were my own, even kept my hair in a bun. I soon after chopped it off and killed it white and stopped being able to find the time to accept that life is suffering and the more one suffers the better they are living. Instead, like my mother to her emails, I was glued. Paper mache solid and stiff, falling over myself and learning nothing. I came upon the Eightfold Path.
For the full year preceding and through that summer, I'd given my body to different people who didn't deserve it. Because I forgot I had a face, and I forgot I had a body. The Path would tell me that in whatever I do, for it to be "right," it had to leave a positive impact on me and whoever was directly around me. I stopped having sex with people, stopped pinching my thighs, stop starving myself. I even stopped resisting the incessant urge to watch Shahs of Sunset and let myself feel giddy and gross in the lowlight of reality TV. Then I started throwing up while my mother played with her prayer beads in the living room, cried when I'd see myself in the mirror. I'd mother-daughter bond with my mom over the honeysuckle sweetness of being freed from yourself and gnaw on my tongue while she spoke.
I became obsessed with her name. Mani Bhatia, Om Mani Padme Hum, and the lotus infused membrane from which she must have been birthed. So psychedelically unfaithful to a peaceful religion and so daringly proud. And I became obsessed with permanence. I wanted guidance on my body. I wanted my skin to tell me how to care for a mind and soul I didn't recognize. I became obsessed with tattoos.
Every day the same tattoo shops would trace their names from my thought space and dribble down from my fingertips onto a sheet of paper where I'd been drafting the picture of my safety net to be inked on me. Did I want flowers? Lotuses? Were those too cliche? How about daisies? Is it selfish to have your own favorite flower on your body? It probably is. Mom likes roses, how about roses? No flowers, that's too ornate. I wondered how much tattoos hurt if I'd hate myself on my deathbed if my mother would still love me if I tattooed her name on my collarbone. But I have nice collarbones, do I want to cover up my collar bones?
My mother put a magnet up on our refrigerator that read the Ong Namo and I remember staring at it for so long she asked me if I'd fallen asleep or couldn't find anything to eat. I wanted peace, was obsessed with peace, craved it like my mother craved a faceless god through the voice of a white woman. To lead my life to benefit my own and the life force around me, if I can do nothing more than that, that was the best thing I could do.
I readily accepted whatever pain and whatever price it would pin me. The Eightfold Path in Thai Khmer Script down my back. I saved up money from holidays for months, begged my mother who'd, in her hippie dream state, agreed to take me to the tattoo parlor, and decided that once ink infused itself with apple-bruisey skin, I would detach from Buddha and wear my own face.
Ink is skin as much as skin is ink, as much as my mother loves prayer but only on weekend retreats to the Catskills where there is freshly made paratha. Hours of willithurt willitwork whowillibe doesblackinkfadequickly whoami amicoolenoughforatattoo risksoftattoos to culminate in finding my face and seeing my body.
My thighs remember the pinches my stomach now feels. I only throw up once every two weeks. I tell my mother I love her and tell her to listen to some Indian bhajans instead. I'm still obsessed with her name, the power of which lies within thin black lines will one day be scraped in. Permanently.