Great Article by Mark Morford from the SF Gate Chronicle
Hey kids! Love will destroy you!
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I’m guessing 17. Maybe 16. Although I must admit I’m finding it very hard to tell anymore because the older I get the more I notice this odd, unstoppable inversion taking place in my wayward perceptions, rendering my ability to accurately assess the ages of members of Generation Facebook wickedly futile.
Anyway. There they were, the pair of them, right next to me on Muni recently, two loud, gum-snapping, shamelessly teenaged girls, both dressed in some sort of adorable sweatshop clown chic, nearly identical in getup except for the fantastical color schemes.
Imagine: sausage-tight velour sweatpants — one bright orange and the other bright green — rainbow print shirts and orange gloves and yellow shoes and striped choppy tiger-print hair, both basically looking like a Lite-Brite exploded all over a box of crayons, and both girls texting like mad and yelling across the aisle to each other in that hypercondensed, consonant-slurred teen gibberish that makes you sigh and smile and worry just a little about the fate of our flailing species.
But that’s not what I noticed most. One of the girls, the one in the orange pants and the short, fruit-stripe hair who was standing right in front of me, I couldn’t help but look down and realize she had something inscribed high up on the back of her neck, just beneath the hairline.
It was a tattoo. A bad one, naturally. Crooked, wobbly, amateurish in that way that makes me sad because I fully believe bad tattoos are a scourge on the American animal and crappy tattoo artists should be punished and get their goddamn slacker butts to art school, and Something Must Be Done.
Anyway. High up on the back of this girl’s young, perfectly smooth neck, in large, clunky script, I saw these words:
“Love is pain.”
Next to the words, a small, red cartoon heart torn in two, serrated like shark’s teeth, a droplet of blood pouring out.
I blinked. Love is pain? Really? Can that possibly be true for this shiny tiny teenaged creature snapping her gum and misspelling her text messages in front of me? Such a harsh, declarative statement, such a dour and irrefutable pronouncement, made before you’re even old enough to buy booze or porn or cigarettes, when you’re still full of energy and potential and friendships, and you have what, about 70 more years to go before you even have a clue as to what your life was all about?
I found myself flashing back to about eight years ago, when I attended some sort of delightfully mushy, yoga-filled, trance-dancey, patchouli-‘n’-Ecstasy New Year’s Eve party thing, and I remember meeting a very young friend of my then-girlfriend, a sweet, dreadlocked, hippie-ish seeker dude who must’ve been about 22 or 23 at the time. My ex was talking him up and asking how he was doing, and he got this dramatic look on his face, scrunched and painful. “Oh, you know, just dealing with all my sh-t, lots of peeling away, lots of hard work to get through it all.”
I remember my reaction. I remember this big internal recoil, struggling not to roll my eyes and shake my head and slap the kid awake. I mean, come on. You’re 22. You don’t have any sh-t yet. I knew he’d never even been married, no kids, divorces, mortgages, spiritual crisis, age issues, body breakdowns, addictions, health problems, asylums, dumb tattoos on the back of his neck. He was from the north shore of Chicago, fer chrissakes. Not exactly drug-addled povertyland. Hell, I was only in my early 30s, and even I knew the basic rule of life: Dude, you have to actually live a little first. You have to earn some sh-t before you can claim to be digging out from under it.
I don’t taste quite that flavor of judgment anymore. At least, not as frequently. I’ve come to realize that the darkness takes many forms indeed, from abusive childhoods to karmic repayments to all sorts of trauma of varying degrees and maturity levels, and that, in many ways, your life can indeed be piled high with horror and sadness by ages far younger than 22. All paths are unique, individual, unknowable from the outside.
But can you really believe, in your core being, in your whole world, that “love is pain,” before you’re even old enough to buy a goddamn vibrator? Can this be your great, fist-raised statement to the world? Sure it can. It’s just a bit, you know, immature. Premature. And wildly incomplete.
A dozen questions drifted through my bus-bored mind as we lurched from block to block. What does she really know about love? What happened to her? What triggered the idea for such a lousy tattoo? She seemed healthy and vital, all faculties intact, no major limbs missing. Abusive father? Alcoholic mother? Both? Slew of skuzzy deadbeat boyfriends? Beloved puppy got run over by a Buick? I wanted to lean over and ask. I wanted to know what inspired such a fatalistic worldview before she seemed old enough to even have a worldview.
I also pondered what might happen to her in the coming years to make her regret that tattoo. Maybe she’ll get out of the housing projects. Maybe she’ll build her own loving family. Maybe she’ll meet a fantastic spouse who shows her love is many things indeed besides a source of pain, even though we still have no clue what the hell most of them are or what it all might mean, and in truth that’s what makes it so goddamn tasty and slippery and addictive, how it hits us square in the divine mystery spot in our deepest core.
(BTW, I also acknowledge how it’s entirely possible I am way, way overanalyzing. Her phrase might just be, say, some dumb Rhianna lyric. A Jay-Z song title. A cheeseball line from a vapid vampire movie. Hey, impressionable young girls with no real life awareness are right now getting far, far dumber things tattooed across their bodies in the name of soap-opera romance and malformed identity. But what sort of column would that have made?)
What I do know is, it’s taken me many, many years indeed to figure out exactly what love is (God’s Viagra, obvs). Pain is just one of its many dark incarnations. But pain is also a choice. This is something you can only realize over time, and which you can never know at age 16. You can actually choose how to use, or be used, by love’s insane, impossible, narcotic energy. You can, every day and every moment and every breath, decide which of its billion catchy little slogans, if any, you wish to abide.
Love is pain? Hell yes. But also: Love is bliss. Love is energy. Love is divine. Love is all you need. Love is perfect. Love is magic. Love is God. Love is Hell. Love is like oxygen. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is a many- splendored thing. Love will keep us together. Love is madness. Love hurts. Love bites. Love stinks. Love’s a bitch. Love is a battlefield. Love is blindness.
Girl better have a long neck.