I’ve been keeping secrets my entire life. It’s what you do. Nobody ever explained the rules to me; I’ve always just somehow known not to betray the spin. Black is white. Up is down. Hot is cold—at least when it serves whatever (or whomever) you’re trying to protect. Sometimes it’s myself. Sometimes it’s my family. Sometimes it’s the person who needs me to buy in to their reality so that they don’t have to face the truth about themselves. I’m helpful like that, except that deep down I’m aware that I’m not really helping anyone when I betray what I know. Still, all too often I’ve sent my story to the backseat when it threatens the narrative of whoever’s driving. And just to be clear: I’m no victim. You might call me a lifelong volunteer.
It could probably be argued, however, that I didn’t have much choice when I was born. The story’s way too long to go in to here, but the short of it is that I was given a false identity at birth to protect the guilty. Let’s just say that revealing who I really was would’ve caused major problems for both my parents. So I lived with that lie until I was 21, at which point I started over in terms of trying to understand who I am.
And then there’s the whole lying to yourself thing. You know, denial. And it really works in a pinch if there seems to be no way out of a situation. Lying to myself has helped me to survive on many occasions. Whether it’s an illusion that things are okay or a delusion that things will get better, denial has kept me from having to feel things like sadness, despair and helplessness. Yet at some point you’ve gotta just own your story, tell the truth, and write a better one. I feel like I’ve been writing a better story for quite some time, but the owning and telling parts have been procrastinating, trying to figure out a narrative where everyone wins. When you tell the truth, there's inevitably someone who doesn't feel like they’re winning.
And that’s what led me to do what I did today. After contemplating it for more than two years, I finally got a tattoo on my forearm. And then I freaked out afterward because it’s visible. And permanent. Kind of like the truth, whether you assent to it or not.
Veritá is the Italian word for “truth,” and it’s highly significant for me on several levels. Most of all it’s a constant, indelible reminder to be honest with myself and to be a truth teller to others. It affirms that I don’t have to hide, or change my story so that others can feel better about theirs. It supports the idea that no matter where I’ve been, what I’ve done, or what has been done to me, it’s my story. And I get to tell it even if it doesn't sit well with someone else.
I got my last tattoo 10 years ago tomorrow—on my 45th birthday. I got this one on the eve of my 55th, as a symbol of my desire to cease hiding the parts of me that I fear will trouble or alienate someone. It scares the crap out of me, but here's the cold, hard truth: I’m running out of time. If not now, when? Here’s to taking risks where there’s no turning back, to finally affording yourself the luxury of veracity.