I go back and forth on whether I’m of the disposition to get a quote from American literature tattooed on my flesh, but if I were, the line would be from this passage of “Clementina” by John Cheever:
The room where she read these letters was warm. The lights were pink. She had a silver ashtray like a signora, and, if she had wanted, in her private bathroom she could have drawn a hot bath up to her neck. Did the Holy Virgin mean for her to live in a wilderness and die of starvation? Was it wrong to take the comforts that were held out to her? The faces of her people appeared to her again, and how dark were their skin, their hair, and their eyes, she thought, as if through living with fair people she had taken on the dispositions and the prejudices of the fair. The faces seemed to regard her with reproach, with earthen patience, with a sweet, dignified, and despairing regard, but why should she be compelled to return and drink sour wine in the darkness of the hills? In this new world they had found the secret of youth, and would the saints in heaven have refused a life of youthfulness if it had been God’s will? She remembered how in Nascosta even the most beautiful fell quickly under the darkness of time, like flowers without care; how even the most beautiful became bent and toothless, their dark clothes smelling, as the mamma’s did, of smoke and manure. But in this country she could have forever white teeth and color in her hair. Until the day she died she would have shoes with heels and rings on her fingers, and the attention of men, for in this new world one lived ten lifetimes and never felt the pinch of age; no, never. She would marry Joe. She would stay here and live ten lives, with a skin like marble and always the teeth with which to bite the meat.
The block quote is worth reading, especially if you think Cheever just wrote about trains leaving Manhattan, plus that one magical realism story about swimming in the suburbs.
You could say this is a story about a woman marrying well. But it’s also about a woman, who once had no choices, making one. Like any decision, this one comes with compromises, namely being married to an old guy. But it’s a compromise that allows her to live a fuller life and to never lose the passion to enjoy pleasure. The part of me that wants “and always the teeth with which to bite the meat” on my left ribcage woke up from a nap with the Sunday Times littered around my couch and needed a reminder to make the most of my day. But the part of me that will never get this tattoo knows its absurd to have a line from an obscure John Cheever story forever on my side when it’s already in my heart.