Blood has always fascinated me—and from what I can tell by the vampire craze that’s taken the globe in recent decades, it fascinates all of us. My favorite part of my body has always been the inside of my wrists, where blue veins stand out so starkly on pale skin, spreading out like spilled ink on blank paper. Throughout human history, blood has remained as the symbol of our being; of the lineage and essence perpetually surging through us all, hidden underneath a thin outer layer which is more fragile than any of us would like to admit. For human beings, blood has always represented the ties we never asked for—the family and life we had no choice in being part of.
Family was the first pack we ever learned to follow as Homo sapiens who took their first upright steps 160,000 years ago. At a time when very little kept you from being eaten, or hungry, or dead, the only security to be found was in the arms of your fellow pack members. And we clung to that—clung to them. Modern human beings like to think of cavemen almost as a different species entirely, like some embarrassing past we should forget. We’re better than that now. We are civilized men. We dress ourselves up in the clothes other people tell us is fashionable, follow laws that other people decided were just, and celebrate technologies other people invented as though they’re our own personal triumphs. All the while pointing back, laughing at our ancestors’ simple-minded behavior.
Say what you will about cavemen, but at least they knew what blood really meant. Cavemen knew the cost of selfishness, because it usually meant your own blood splattered all over the ground, the rest of your pack having turned you out, a tiger chewing up your insides. Morality, to a caveman, was never some flimsy set of rules you could either opt in or out of. Morality was the difference between being alive and being dead, the howling of wolves or your family’s arms holding onto you. I don’t know what it was that went wrong, but despite all the clever inventions designed to keep us connected—to keep us from forgetting the fact that our survival depends on one another—the human race has never been more alone or capable of ignoring each other’s pain. Forget about any notion of a human family (which is a dream I often like to tell others about)–I am frightened by how easily we can forget what it means to care for the people who run through our very veins. Human beings are creatures of habit, often getting lost in our own minds, not bothering to glace at the people who are there each and every day, loving us fiercely and beyond all logical reason. Sometimes I wish we could all go back to being cavemen, so we might remember what a life is worth, what blood costs.
In my family, blood has always promised me two things: the people who love me through and through, and the diseases that threaten to rip it all away. Blood is like that. It makes your cheeks pink, your heart flutter—it makes you pale, sweating, puking because a parasite hitched a ride on your blood cells, spread throughout your body. But family’s kind of like that too. No one makes you more crazy, so enraged that you foam at the mouth, just want to scream because your mom keeps reminding you of the errands you need to run, your sisters won’t stop bitching you out for still liking that stupid boy you had the misfortune of developing feelings for, and your father’s yelling over it all at the top of his lungs about some inconsequential mistake you made…
But…those arms, their around you, and they’re the only ones who never loosen their grip. You remember Christmas morning, when you were so ready to take a shotgun to that god damn radio playing that same god damn song over and over again; and so obviously all that’s left to do is grab the nearest sister and dance around the kitchen like a bunch of idiots, singing along with Mariah, cause all I want for Christmas really is you, you people with me in this kitchen—laughing at how dad’s big smile immediately disappeared when we tried to get him up and join in.
Since I was born, my sister Stefanie and I have held each other the tightest. In fact, sometimes we hold each other so tightly that it can turn into a strangle (those who know us know exactly what I’m referencing). My mom says that when I was born, I was Stefie’s little doll, getting bathed and dressed and brushed by her tiny little capable hands. I can’t remember any of that, but every time I go into her room—sweaty, panicked, tousled—and blurt out, “Help me, I’m ugly and don’t know what I’m doing and you need to make me look good, like right now!” I realize none of it ever stopped. Because family is like that. We think we grow older, change, but then you go back home and remember you’ll always be a kid in grown-up clothes. As my big sister, I’ve spent most of my life trying to be Stef without letting other people know that’s what I wanted. But that seems to have worked out for the best in the end, because whenever I forget who I am or how to look anywhere but at the ground, I simply turn my head and stare up at her. When I can’t face the others, I face her. Because seeing myself in those beautiful, big blue orbs, I’m called back home from oblivion.
As Swiss-Brazilians who later moved to America, my family members and I have never found true acceptance anywhere. But we never really minded all that much either. Instead of cowering, raising our white flags—“Okay, okay, we’ll be just like you!”—my family and I turned up our noses, held onto each other tighter, and told the others, “You are jealous of love you cannot have. You are afraid of what you cannot categorize. But mostly you are all threatened by what you can’t cut down—of what is strong and unbreakable.” Alone, as I feel the heat of everyone’s gazes, fumbling to find words that might explain me to them, I forget. Without those arms keeping me upright, I slump over—can’t get up, don’t know who or what I am.
But then I just have to look down at my wrist. And there it is. That blue-branched tree sprouting on the inside of my arm, alive with my essence, with their essences. It is the tattoo I never had a choice in getting, the one that promises me a love that never dies, a reminder that kindness is most powerful, and that I’m stronger than the others.
Gently tracing my fingers along the twist and turns of my veins, I know that I can’t ever lose the ones that have always been inside me. The ones who will forever remain a part of me.