By Laurie Oien
Meagan, standing from the curb, could see the tattoo shop nestled between a pet shop and a floral store. The likelihood was too peculiar to overlook, and it reinforced her decision. She had walked past this tattoo shop a thousand times, but on this day, the interesting placement between the two stores seemed sublime.
She crossed the suburban street on this August day entering Ned’s Tattoo Nook carrying a picture in her hand and, at that moment, had no idea the connections her decision would bring.
Meagan’s only tattoo, a small rose on her ankle, honored her mother, Rose. Her mom had passed away from breast cancer 5 years ago. Meagan, at the time, was 20 and her mother only 47. Naturally, her funeral service bloomed with roses as this was her mother’s favorite flower.
After her mom’s death, her dad moved to Arizona, and he rarely came back to Minnesota to visit the town she lived her whole life. It’s an easy 30-minute drive to the city from where it’s situated in Midwest suburbia. Living here had its share of heartaches, but she was a young woman determined to find happiness.
Now, five years later, she had finally gotten to a place of acceptance. Getting her teaching degree and molding young minds had become her passion. But, it was her personal miracle that had overshadowed the losses she’d been battling.
Meagan’s petite and childlike style was never one for tattoos, but the significance of the rose had special meaning. She even surprised herself when she made the decision to get another one, much less, something so unusual and out of character.
A bell jingled when she opened the door. Slowly she closed it and shifted her view towards a wall displaying old posters of 80’s hair bands and the others of bodybuilding guys and ladies covered in tattoos.
She noted an old oak scent from the hardwood floors surrounding the room, which reminded her of the family vacation cabin on Rainy Lake. A soft buzz singing from the corner of the room is where a tattooed woman with purple hair, black tank top, and jeans hovered over a man’s arm intensely working on his tattoo.
From the back room and breaking through the shadows appeared a burly man wearing a red t-shirt and black jeans. He had a full, but nicely trimmed reddish beard, and his bald head looked waxed and shined. Meagan thought he looked like one of those WWF wrestlers. His puffed out chest stretched the lettering on his t-shirt that read, “If You Think It, Ned Will Ink It.”
Extending from his broad shoulders, in a Hercules stance, were his muscular arms draped in skillfully inked art right to his wrists.
“Hey there young lady!” His deep gravelly voice projected. “Would you happen to be Meagan?”
“Yes, it is,” Meagan said sheepishly.
“Well cool, I saw you were our next appointment. Nice to meet you, Meagan, I’m Ned.”
Meagan immediately felt warmed by his welcome. He may look like a wrestler, but he seemed to have the temperament of a jolly Teddy Bear.
“So, Amber tells me you were in earlier this week and interested in getting a snake tattoo. Is that right?” Ned questioned.
“That’s right, and I have a picture here so you have an idea of how I want it to look,” she said with certainty.
“I must say you don’t look like the snake type. Maybe a butterfly or rose would be your style.”
Meagan grinned through her brunette hair falling alongside her face. “That’s a good call because I have a rose tattoo. I know the snake art does sound unusual, but I’m pretty sure about this. It has meaning to me.”
“Well then, that’s all I need to hear Miss Meagan! If you think it, Ned will ink it,” he chimed.
Meagan’s eyes widen in surprise. “That’s funny – you called me Miss Meagan. My students call me that.”
“So you’re a teacher…that’s pretty awesome,” he hailed. “Take a seat and make yourself comfortable Miss Meagan; we’ll get things geared up and bring this snake to life. What kind of snake is it?”
Meagan thought he was a cool easygoing guy and had a way with words. She felt relaxed with him. “It’s a Hognose snake,” she answered back.
She sat down on the cushioned bench and pulled up the pant leg of her yoga pants directing with her hand how she wanted it placed on her leg.
“Miss Meagan you came to the right guy, so let’s load ‘em up and get this Hognose sketched out!”
Meagan felt a little nervous about the pain to come. Yet, this same leg experienced greater pain before. So, she knew she’d get through it.
Ned was busy gathering his tools and prepping like a doctor to perform surgery. His lighthearted demeanor had him singing along to the song, Every Rose Has Its Thorns, playing over the speakers. The timing seemed odd considering Meagan had just spoken of her rose tattoo.
Ned noticed the scar on her leg and questioned, “Miss Meagan, the guys at the gym call me Nosey Ned Head for a reason, and I noticed the scar on your leg…is that the mark of a snake strike?”
“No, I wasn’t physically attacked by a snake, but the snake actually took part in saving my leg. Thanks for asking…Nosey Ned Head,” she said with friendly sarcasm.
“Awesome, well let’s get started on this snake hero…would you like me to put a cape on him?” Ned retorted with a joking snort.
Meagan laughed at his little joke, and, with an eye roll, she leaned back. Ned’s gentle and calming touch helped her slip into a quiet trance. Her thoughts drifted off remembering Tyler, a student from the second-grade class she had worked as a teacher’s assistant.
Tyler, a precocious dark-haired boy with big blue eyes had gently tugged on her sleeve the first day she arrived in the classroom. He latched onto her immediately and was eager to introduce her to Rambo, the classroom pet snake. He gave her a rundown of every detail he knew about reptiles. He may have known more than the guy at the pet shop.
In the months ahead, she had bonded with Tyler and found herself getting attached to Rambo, as well. Tyler was one of the reasons she decided teaching had been the right choice for her. He had shown how a passion for something can fill your heart and bring joy to life. Something she desperately needed after the loss of her mom
It was an unseasonably warm Minnesota morning in May, and Meagan had been helping Miss Jackson with an art project before the students arrived to class. The Principal, Mrs. Robbins, stepped into the classroom with reluctance in her voice; she told Miss Jackson that Tyler would no longer be coming to class. He had been in a terrible car accident. He and his mother were killed instantly in a head-on collision.
The news felt like a knife had penetrated her chest squeezing the breath from her lungs. Meagan’s legs went limp, and her stomach dropped in disbelief. She gently settled into the wooden hardness of a student chair by the bulletin board.
Mrs. Robbins encouraged Miss Jackson and Meagan to take time away. She would have another teacher cover the classroom. Miss Jackson said it was her place to stay and console her students. Meagan thought this had to be the worst day since her mother’s passing.
Mrs. Robbins leaned in and gave Miss Jackson a soft hug. “I’ll keep you notified of further information about this unfortunate situation. I strongly encourage you and your students to get some grief counseling. We’ll be sharing that information with everyone once we get it organized,” Mrs. Robbins said softly before turning to leave. “I’m so sorry Clare…and you, as well, Meagan.”
Miss Jackson silently walked to the window where she stood hypnotized, watching the children gather at the playground. They were both desperately trying to hold back tears.
The summer came and went, and a new school year was about to begin. Meagan, excited for the new school season, had been hired to be a full-time teacher. Tyler’s death still pressed heavy on Meagan’s heart, but if nothing else, she owed him for finding her passion in life.
Miss Jackson had put in her retirement notice over the summer break, and the school staff wasn’t surprised by her early retirement. This left her second-grade teaching position open, which was filled by Miss Mary Harper from the Kindergarten classroom.
Meagan had been hired to teach the Kindergarten class and was overjoyed to have her own students and to introduce them to Tyler’s pet snake. She had volunteered to care for Rambo over the summer months.
While Meagan was reflecting on the events of the past year, Ned remained poised over her leg and skillfully guiding his hand with artistic finesse. Ned took a moment from his concentration and noticed Meagan deep in thought. Being his nosey self, he couldn’t help but break the silence. “So, Miss Meagan, does your heroic snake have a name?”
“Yes, his name is Rambo,” she responded with a smirk smile.
Ned’s eyes beamed wide open, “Wow, that’s so bitchin’ cool!”
Meagan wasn’t offended by his lingo. He seemed honestly surprised and excited about the name.
“Sorry, Miss Meagan, for my outburst, but you see Rambo was my boyhood idol…I’ve seen all the movies!” Ned’s excitement continued. “Of course, Rocky is tops too. Man, Sly Stone was quite the iconic image back then – he’s the reason I got into bodybuilding.”
Ned remained diligent to complete the tattoo, and after the finishing touches were done, he gently applied a coating of salve and took a deep breath. “Miss Meagan, what do you think of Rambo?” “Does he look like the hero you envisioned?”
Meagan eagerly sat up and couldn’t take her eyes off of it. Just like Ned said, he brought it to life. She felt a mix of emotions including joy, strength, and courage. It’s almost like it had given her superpowers.
“I LOVE it, Ned,” Meagan bellowed.
“Yeahhh that’s the look I wanted to see!” Ned announced. “I must say, that tat is pretty tight.
Meagan smiled wide.
“If you don’t mind, Miss Meagan, I’d love to know about Rambo’s story and how he became a hero.”
Meagan, pleased by his interest, shared the story. She told Ned about Tyler, his love and obsession with the pet snake, and about Tyler’s accident and how his death affected her.
She had Ned’s full attention and noticed he looked like a little kid in a giant body sitting squarely in anticipation of her every word – as if conducting a storytime session in her classroom.
Before summer break ended last year, she wanted to get a head start in her new classroom and get organized. She brought Rambo the snake with her so he could adjust to the new aquarium in her classroom.
Meagan continued her narration. “I had put the snake in an empty box and placed him on a student desk while I got the aquarium ready. I noticed the aquarium sitting high on a bookshelf, and without even thinking about the consequences, I used the bottom shelf to get a lift up to reach it,” she said.
“In hindsight, it would have been wise to get a step stool. I thought with one quick hoist, I could reach for it. Unfortunately, the bookshelf teetered forward from the wall. I lost my grip and balance, then the whole thing came crashing down collapsing on top of my leg,” she expressed dramatically.
“Whoa, that must have been a real railbreaker,” Ned reacted.
“Yeah, then I felt an excruciating and cutting pain in my leg. In the collapse, the aquarium shattered with a piece of it slicing into my leg. The large piece of furniture rested heavy, and I wasn’t able to lift it to off,” Meagan articulated.
“Miss Meagan, I wish I had been there, I would’ve dug deep to lift it off!”
“I know you would have.” Megan gushed peering at his muscular form.
“So, how did Rambo come to your rescue?” Ned asked.
Meagan explained that when the bookshelf fell, it had caused the box sitting on the desk to topple over on the floor. Rambo was free to roam. Desperately trying to free herself, and losing a lot of blood, she was getting weaker by the minute. Meanwhile, Rambo escaped the classroom leaving her lying on the floor all alone in a pool of blood and in shock.
What happened next was extraordinary.
“Next thing I knew the paramedics were putting me in an ambulance. I was told later that Rambo had escaped the classroom and slithered down the hallway and showed up in the boiler room where a mechanic had been working on the school HVAC unit.” Megan recalled.
She continued, “I guess he freaked out to see a Hognose snake slither by his feet, and that’s when Rambo made a U-turn back out the door. The curious mechanic stepped out into the hallway where Rambo had stopped, almost as if waiting for the mechanic to follow. And, he did follow! Rambo glided down the hallway with the mechanic following behind steering him right back to the classroom. That’s when he found me, and the rest is a miracle. I had been saved just in time before losing my leg and my life, for that matter.”
Ned rallied with a fist pump. “Yeahhh, that’s our Rambo. What a great story!”
It was the beginning of a new school year and tonight happened to be Meet the Teacher Night for students and parents. Meagan was excited to begin her second year teaching Kindergarten at Woodhaven Elementary. She felt more confident that it would be better than last year when she hobbled around with a cast and crutches. This time she felt self-assured and had a meaningful edge to her posture. No sooner had she laid out the name tags on the table, when her first student walked into the classroom with his dad.
Smiling, she greeted the little boy. “Hello there, I’m Miss Meagan, your new teacher and what is your name?”
The boy appeared timid and stepped closer to his dad using him as a buffer. Looking up at the boy’s dad, Meagan couldn’t help notice he was quite good looking. He had rugged good looks and dreamy blue eyes that seemed to be checking her out too.
“Hello, Miss Meagan, I’m Justin, and it’s nice to finally meet you,” he announced. “I’ve heard a lot about you, I’m Tyler’s dad, and this is my youngest son, Tommy.”
Meagan, nearly speechless, muttered a response. “Oh my goodness…umm, yes, nice to meet you, I’m Miss Meagan.”
Justin, chuckling, “Yes, I know that.”
Meagan, embarrassed by her stupid reaction, quickly changed the subject. “So, Tommy, it’s very nice to meet you, and I’m just thrilled to have you in my classroom.”
“We heard that you have been taking good care of Tyler’s snake,” said Justin. “Is Rambo here tonight?”
Meagan still feeling a little flushed, but excited to show them Rambo’s brand new aquarium, directed them to the back of the room.
Justin peered behind the glass to see a happy and healthy Rambo and said, “I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you chose to keep Rambo and care for him. Tyler always spoke about you and how much he loved you as a teacher.”
Meagan’s heart melted. “You can’t even imagine what he meant to me.”
Justin hung on her smile, and he smiled warmly in return. His attention went to Rambo, and he reached into the aquarium to stroke his back. At that moment, Meagan was stunned to see the tattoo revealed as the sleeve of his t-shirt pushed up over his toned arm. “It’s a snake tattoo,” she mumbled under her breath.
“Oh, you noticed my tattoo…I got this in remembrance of Tyler,” Justin said.
“Is it supposed to be Rambo?” Meagan asked.
Justin amused, “well, sure I guess it could be. Tyler really had a thing for reptiles, so I thought it’d be a great way to keep his love and memory around me.”
“Yes, I can relate,” Megan added.
“I’m a firefighter, and Tyler named Rambo after a story I told him about a rescue we had on the job. The intense rescue involved a school bus, and the children on board were at great risk,” Justin explained. “The mission was accomplished safely and everyone survived, but it involved a lot of heroic actions from first responders. Afterwards, the guys back at the station dubbed it the Rambo rescue, because of its daring efforts. So, when the snake arrived in the classroom, Tyler remembering the story, begged Miss Jackson to name it Rambo,” Justin recalled.
Meagan was quite dumbfounded and enlightened by this amazing story, she immediately thought, when the time is right, Justin will certainly be surprised to hear her Rambo story.
It was late October on a beautiful sunny day when Meagan crossed the suburban street heading to Ned’s Tattoo Nook carrying a box in her hand.
Opening the door, she was tickled to see Ned sweeping the floor and rocking out to the song, Pour Some Sugar On Me. He looked up and his eyes brightened.
“Well, hello Miss Meagan, it’s great to see you! What brings you in today…let me guess, you want a tarantula tattoo, and his name is Rocky?”
Meagan giggled, “No, no unusual ink today, but I do have something special for you.”
Ned, a little surprised, but not holding back his curiosity, walked closer to meet her.
With the box clutched in her hand, she offered it to Ned. Taking the box, his eyes swelled in disbelief. It was a Rambo action figure sealed pristinely in its original box.
Meagan, a little choked up, “I spotted it at a garage sale this summer and thought of you. I mean, how often do you run across a Rambo action figure?”
Ned looked dazed and shocked. “This is unbelievable; I don’t know what to say, Miss Meagan.”
Meagan had a pretty good idea what he’d say, and she responded with a resounding, “It’s bitchin’ cool, right?”
Ned burst into laughter. “Exactly, it’s REALLY bitchin’ cool!”
Ned gave Meagan a big muscle bound hug and told her to come back and visit anytime. She could keep him updated on anymore heroic snake stories.
Meagan agreed, and as she turned to leave, she watched him eagerly putting the Rambo action figure on the shelf next to his trophies.
Stepping onto the sidewalk and delighting the sun on her face, she felt pretty good about life. Then, interrupted by the phone buzzing in her pocket, she saw the caller’s name, and a brilliant smile spread across her face.
“Hi there Justin…sure that sounds perfect…alright, I’ll be ready at 7…see you later, bye.”
Stopping to look at the horizon, she thought about Tyler and silently thanked him for watching over her. If death can cross over to any other form, she stood convinced. These last five years have really tested her. But, meeting Justin, and all the wonderful people that have come into her life since, had surpassed even her expectations.
Standing on the curb, once again, she acknowledged the divine placement of the tattoo shop and how it was nestled between a pet shop and a floral store. Except, this time, a sign in the floral shop window caught her eye.
Taking a second look to scrutinize, the sign was hard to ignore. Its red neon light read, “Fresh Roses Are Here,” flashing on and off rapidly as if the message was meant for her directly.
Squinting against the sunlight, with tears pooling up in her eyes, she gracefully gave a pause to the heavens and whispered, “I always felt you were near. Love you, mom.”
Laurie is a blogger, writer and contributing author to the anthology, Feisty After 45, released by Mills Park Publishing. Laurie resides in Minnesota and enjoys finding creative ways to write about everyday experiences for her blog. She spins stories about life with a humorous twist and a little pinch of dramatics. She’s also been a contributor to Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and Midlife Boulevard. You can find her enjoying the theatre, collaborating with other writers in a writing group, spending time with her husband and two children and will never miss the opportunity to delight in a daily dose of dark chocolate. Now, that her kids are grown and off to college, she hopes to travel more and write entertaining stories from her adventures.
Laurie’s Blog: www.asquareofchocolate.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/asquareofchocolate/
Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:
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