when we decided to go to rome this fall, i dove into a search for local tattoo artists. i found a glorious one almost immediately, but it was clear that her style would make my back look funky: the blackwork i have is woodcut-inspired, ill-suited to share space with goddesses. i settled into following her on instagram and figured that would be it.

my beloved—yes, beloved—ladymag announced that it would be departing from print a few weeks ago. i sat with that news for a long time, and it hurt much more than i imagined it would; publishing has made me tremble for more than a decade now, but motherfucker, i thought the old girl would survive. i was its research chief for a long time, so i used to field the calls that had nowhere else to go: could you tell some more stories, the elderly readers said, i don't know where to go for stories anymore. my ladymag was no longer the one that published prestige fiction decades ago, but it remained, in These Modern Times, one that gave women a place to convene.

i stayed up for a long time and thought about that, and about a departing editor-in-chief's comment about how what she would carry with her from our office was the sound of women laughing. the sun started clawing its way over long island, and i wrote a note to the artist who was too intricate for me: hey, i have the good fortune to be in rome next week and, while i imagine you have no time, might you be able to tattoo a moth on my wrist? so many things happen to our bodies that we can't control, and fuck it, i wanted a beautiful insect on me. i wanted gorgeous vermin, i wanted to feel like myself. her first note came back the next morning, so i decoupaged a google image printout on my arm. three days later, just before we saw the magic flute for my birthday, she said she had time for me later in the week; a two-day job had taken her just one day.

joe dislikes tattoos—unfortunate, given that i had two when we met and have acquired several more in the decades we've been together—and told me, you don't have to go through with this if you don't want it. at that point we had been in rome for nearly a week, and a hummingbird hawk moth had visited our terrace's flowers for five nights. it's been three weeks, now, and the antennae peek out of my sleeve every day.


yesterday i swallowed the third of my four live typhoid caplets for our trip to india next weekend. i have developed a sort of affection for the weakened bacteria i've been consuming: it feels unfair, this bolstering of my immune system with little microbes that can't fight back. i am not interested in illness as a memento, though i have accepted scars and the detritus of fair-to-middling infections, but i find in the hour between ingestion and a meal that i have tender feelings for my monocellular fellow-travelers. we saw california-based friends for drinks and snacks this evening and i found myself wondering if the little guys were getting what they needed. do you want mashed potatoes? how about macaroni and cheese? joe warns me that my habit of drinking tap water as i please will not fly when we are in delhi and goa, and i know he is right. i hit the drugstore like a ton of bricks the other day, and i have blister packs to address any if not all modern conditions (election angst? let me dig, i feel that i have a scorching antibiotic for that).

i have spent more on fripperies for my dear friends' overseas wedding than i did for my own—to be fair, i bought my dress for the latter at the mall—and i am looking forward to being a semi-granny at the sangeet, and the mehndi, and the final ceremony.*

on infection, i have been surprisingly conservative about the tattoo i acquired in rome a few weeks ago. it is the first one i can see, you see, as it is on my wrist (the others are all on my spine), and i am experiencing the healing process in a heretofore-unplumbed way. he swelled a bit in the first few days and i sent a panicked note to my artist—i've abandoned my boy!—but i have settled into acceptance. the cilia on his antennae might not have survived the jazz club in rome, or the colosseum and the palatine hill, or the fact that i sleep with my left hand beneath my pillow and write with it as if someone on the other side of the world might need to feel my pen's pressure in order to keep going, but this old body might need to acknowledge wear and tear, and that my choices leave marks. jeremy dennis—not his name, not necessarily, but the names my artist and joe gave him—might be the product of his experiences.

i don't want to make too much of the fact that my latest tattoo artist was my first female tattoo artist, but i would be lying if i said the experience didn't feel different. no previous artist has asked me to be sure to have a proper meal before my appointment, or to bring something to drink while i was being tattooed. we spoke for our three hours together about freelancing, and companion animals, and bodily autonomy, and i think we meant it when we hugged as we parted.

*i apparently kept reaching for golden girls-esque wedding outfits. THAT IS FOR AN AUNTIE, the shopkeeper said. YOU ARE YOUNG. i disagree, but i bought a crop top, god help me.