I was chatting to a good friend of mine a while back, and out of the blue, she asked, “What’s a good boy like you doing with a couple of foot tattoos?”
We were sitting down at Bondi Beach on the first day of summer.
It was a warm, balmy, languid morning.
Bondi was sparkling.
I was wearing my favourite Aussie attire.
A pair of boardies, a singlet, and a pair of thongs.
It’s our national dress, and as much as I love wearing a Hugo Boss suit, give me the thongs any day!
When I have my thongs on, I feel free, and is there any better concept than freedom?
Anyway, due to my thongs, my friend could see the tops of my feet.
A single red rose inked on the top of each foot, above the toes, with some simple words.
A rite of passage.
My tatts are not badges of honour or there to make me look tough or streetwise.
I’m not out to impress.
Because of the work I have done on myself, I do not care what people think of it.
My tattoos are as much a part of me as my curly, greying hair or blue eyes.
I don’t regret them, and they are my skin as are my freckles and scars.
Today, right now, and that’s all that matters.
Staying in the moment, I was able to smile at my friend, shrug my shoulders, and understand her view and her position.
Whether she had a position or even cared or was just making conversation.
Her point or her reaction or even her view of me didn’t matter.
In that moment.
Her view is not right or wrong, but hers and not mine.
And who I am and what my tattoos mean or portray doesn’t really matter.
It does not matter, so when you remove the energy, the ownership of the statement, or the reaction, you remove the potential for tension.
Easy, so easy.
Funny, it reminds me of the many times I have bumped into people from my past.
School and university mates.
Guys I played cricket with and against.
Friends of my ex-wife.
Memories of my past, and like footprints, the memories follow you until they wear out.
More times than not, the memories of others are not the memories of you.
They are neither valid or true, wrong or unfair.
They just are just that … memories.
As a public drunk and a reformed alcoholic and drug user, my reputation is formed on the memories of others.
Some of my former cohorts have formed views based on prior assumptions and rumours.
Some are based on innuendo and fact, so it’s not Dave the old mate or Dave the talented, young cricketer.
It’s not the successful southeast Asian businessman or David the loving father and generous husband.
It’s Dave the booze hound or Dave the coke head.
Some people believe once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.
In politically correct, bigot speak, “Once a loser, always a loser.”
And when I drank and drugged, I was a loser and I accept that.
However, it doesn’t matter if you have cleaned up your act or admitted your faults and changed your behaviour.
It does not matter that you have dedicated your life to the service of others, and it doesn’t even matter if the former cohorts who have formed those ideas are private drunks themselves.
All that matters is that you have gone public and been tagged a drunk.
It used to hurt and offend, but as I got further away from my last drink and won back my self-esteem, I got angry and plotted retribution.
I wanted to rip the heads off those smug, self-righteous bastards.
When I experienced my revelations and was able to put silence between the outside stimulus and my behaviour, I realized that a negative reaction from myself, even a feeling of hurt, was giving away my hard-fought freedom.
So I chose life.
When I choose life, it doesn’t matter.
Even when some of the people of my past stigmatize me and treat me like a mental patient as they lower their voice and talk slowly.
As if I am a broken baboon reaching out for a discarded banana, offered by a more advanced species.
I put silence between the space, smile, nod, and calmly say,
“It’s really lovely to see you again.”
And you know what?