The Girl With The Upper Back Tattoo

Posted on October 17, 2016


This is in memory of Lynne Sharkey, the bravest woman I knew who fought cancer on and off for 20 years.

We got our tattoos together in a roadside parlour on the outskirts of Philadelphia. The guy – les artistes- had an inked bald head, I recall a cobweb above his ear and a tear drop by his eye. The place was perfect for my first tattoo and you got that. I was 24 and you were 54.

I got a unique design I drew with you in your living room of my parents and brother’s initials, placed just around my bra-line around my left shoulder blade. You wanted a Maltese Cross, in memory of your motherland, to cover up your mastectomy scar. It came out looking more like the German Iron Cross and gosh we laughed, I couldn’t believe you were so chilled about it, and I howled with laughter as the words “it reminds me of the nazi’s” nervously tumbled out and you then wet yourself saying “i’ve got a nazi emblem on my boob!”. $100 later we were chowing down philly cheese steak and smoking a small blunt you had sneakily acquired from our tattooist. You were incredible to me. 

We met when we were 20 and 50 – the 30 year age gap never even a thing to me. Thanks to my Dad we were set up, like on a blind date – “you’ll get on well” he said, “go stay with her in the US she’s one of the good ones in the family”. And it was like love and first sight. I was accepted into a new set of members of my own family in a way i’d never witnessed before.

I had made a new soul-friend. I could talk to you for hours about all kinds of things. Oh how we laughed and laughed and cried. You were the most terrifyingly cool, refreshingly honest and brave person I had ever met, and I couldn’t believe that someone your age could be so awesome… I mean, at 20, I was young and never had a friend my parents age. It didn’t make sense. I used to wish I could talk to my own Mum in the same way I could with you. You knew the real me, when it felt like my more immediate family just saw a 15 year old with growing pains in a 20 year olds body.

You never judged me you see, you didn’t try to mother or control me or tell me i’m doing things wrong or ought to be more careful, you had that privilege of not technically being my parent that meant you got to enjoy a relationship with me based on the sheer unadulterated fun that comes with true friendship. I hadn’t beat you down with my teenage years I suppose.

Do you remember watching movies and smoking homegrown marijuana from your garden? Or the time we ran out of wine and raided your cupboards to find that old bottle of merlot from the 1980s, telling ourselves it was “vintage darling” only to spit it out and chuck it all down the sink it was so vile?

You were there for me at key milestones in my life – 20, 22, 24, 27 – and perhaps they are the only few times we met, but it never felt like that. You were in America and I was in the UK but we talked and dreamed about meeting up in Malta or other places and I always tried to find a way to visit if I was passing through. I’m sorry I didn’t make our Skype date last weekend. It was a precious opportunity and I took it for granted. I’m so so sorry.

But over the years we wrote letters, we Skyped, talked on the phone and stayed in touch all these years. I’m now 37 and on my birthday, just days before your birthday, i’m realising the world has lost another legend but the universe has gained a new star.

Posted in: Journal, Stories