In September of 2016 I spoke to my friend Kelly, a Chinese linguist who had been in Military Intelligence for years, and asked him about the symbol lì. Kelly explained:
“Lì is the character for “power” or “physical force”. Lì is added to some characters to mean the type of strength. Tì is the character for “body”. So “Tì Lì” means physical strength or power. So, there is no one word for strength, but many based on the type of strength being described. It also is general enough to mean “power” in its many forms. There is also something very beautiful in the fact that such a basic two stroke character can represent so strong a concept, literally.”
On that day, I carved a mental image of it onto my wrist. Something no one would ever notice, unless it was in a, “wow, have you guys noticed Beth is kind of fixated on her arm? It’s weird, right? I mean, we were talking, and suddenly her eyes just went to that spot again. Is that a thing? Is there some kind of wrist chakra? Like you stare and it’s activated? Or maybe she’s hinting that something is on MY wrist, but is too polite. Hey, would you mind looking at my wrist? Is there something there? I’m calling my doctor. It could be malignant.”
Whenever I felt I needed to be reminded that I was strong, I’d just glance down at my wrist.
For a while now people have insisted I am “strong,” even “courageous” at times. I’m to be “admired” for these qualities. I’m never quite sure if they genuinely believe that, or if it’s more in hope that the words will prop me up enough so that I can get up and persevere a bit more. Sure, there are days I feel strong. Days I greet with a mighty roar, but there are days I want to sit in the dark coolness of my bedroom and not be bothered for minutes on end. (Well, that idea always sounds great, and about 30 minutes in, I start getting bored especially when I haven’t settled on a decent movie to watch, and my only TV choice involves a Kardashian performing a keg stand. Which by the way, why? Does beer taste better that way? Are you joining a beer circus? What is up with that?)
On Monday, July 9th, the anniversary of Jay’s death, my friend April texted and asked if I wanted to finally get a tattoo – the thing I’d been talking about for two years. Over the last two years she and several friends had heard me carry on about various tattoo parlors, and a favorite artist I’d selected. They listened as the symbol morphed from a simple character to one where it appeared as if it had been torn from my skin, to a tribal phoenix, to a water colored phoenix, to the phrase, “I am the storm,” and then back to a simple character. No wonder I couldn’t commit.
My knee-jerk reaction was, “no, nope, I’m good, thanks!” Then the more I thought about it, the more I thought, “y’know, why not today? Today on the anniversary. A day where it would have the most meaning,” and I said, “yes.”
A friend once said, “you know in your heart that you are strong, why do you need a tattoo?” (That’s paraphrased a bit, but that’s how I understood them.) And my answer is simple: I don’t always see myself the way you do. I know. I’m not unique in this belief. Don’t we all see more in our friends and family than they’re sometimes able to see? We see their raw beauty, their own simple elegance, and just how truly awe-inspiring they are with their wings outstretched, and you wish that for a minute they could understand themselves the way you understand them – see themselves the way you do. So, this tattoo serves as a tangible reminder when they’re not around that I am strong, and it’s there for the days I feel I’ve lost my way – a silent calligraphy sentinel.
As to the question, “how did you choose your wrist?” Well, its always been there. The only thing that changed is now you can see it, too.
And I can see it when I can’t.
PS Thank you to DeAnne and April who chose to also get tattoos to honor those they’ve lost, which included Jay. I cannot begin to properly express how touching I found those gestures.
Through the years…
… and he was so much more than that one single event. He was beautiful, funny, and kind; the smartest person I knew. My favorite person. My best friend.
There wasn’t an official obituary announcing to the world the loss of my husband. Of all the things we had to deal with that day, and for the days that followed, this was one we pushed to the side. If you planned well, or worked with any funeral service, someone will likely handle this detail. We did not. We were reeling.
I learned that in trying to settle Jay’s affairs that there are companies who really would like one to prove a death has occurred by means of an obituary. I suppose a medical examiner’s report or a death certificate doesn’t carry the weight that an obituary posted in the newspaper does.
So, I give you this – for all the people who need one…
Jay Anthony Utz of Pflugerville, TX passed away on Saturday, July 9, 2016.
A memorial was held at 10am on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at Restoration Covenant Church in Round Rock with Jay’s aunt, the Rev. Marsha Emery officiating.
Jay was born in San Antonio, Texas to Lois and Samuel Utz on February 25, 1976. He married Beth Doughty on May 21, 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Jay is survived by his wife, Beth Doughty; his sister and brothers Enid Celeste Kowalik, Joel Samuel Utz, and Dale Eldon Utz; his parents, Lois Margaret and Samuel Franklin Utz; and his nephews and niece, Everett, Zachary and Katy Kowalik.
Beth’s aunt, Philis Goodwin read the following on Beth’s behalf:
Today we say goodbye to a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, and a friend who left us all too soon with so many words left unsaid, so many adventures left to do, so many wry/sardonic laughs left un-chortled, and so much love left unexpressed. For me I’m saying goodbye to my best friend, my confidante, my co-conspirator, my teacher, my hero, my voice of reason, and the only adult in the house. And today and for all the days to come, I’m also saying goodbye to my very favorite person in this world. The best person I know.
Monday was our 202nd Monthiversary which celebrates the day we started dating – it’s a ridiculous holiday unless you’re us. It also happens to be my very favorite. This was the day I’d try my level best to wish him a Happy Monthiversary first. I never really told him we were in competition, but still he almost always managed to win.
And this is also one of the thousands of things I’ll miss.
Jay was the person who stayed with me each night until I fell asleep. Then he’d be there when I’d wake in the middle of the night to ask important questions like: What’s the difference between alternating and direct current? Tell me about stationary objects in motion. And he’d patiently answer until I was satisfied I completely understood and I’d wander off to fall back asleep. I suspect he shook his head when my back was turned, but I have no proof.
On the plane Saturday I realized I didn’t completely understand how planes generated lift, so I made a mental note to discover this information on our ride home.
There wasn’t a ride home – not with Jay, not on this Saturday when my best friend felt he had to leave.
Someone suggested I might be angry, and if I’m angry about anything it’s at this faceless disease called depression. I’m angry that it took away the best person I know. I’m angry it made him feel worthless and that it blinded him to being able to realize how amazing he truly was. I’m angry that he tried and didn’t get the help he needed to fight it. I’m angry it made him see so much bad about himself when all I could ever see was good and kind and beautiful, and he was absolutely beautiful. It robbed me of laughs, of the one person who understood me, of a thousand inside jokes, and a thousand more kisses. It took away our ridiculous Monthiversaries, and it took away my favorite person.
I love you, Jay. You said I deserved better, but there will never be better than you. You are the love of my life, and I miss you so much.
Jay’s brother Dale also spoke and shared personal stories that helped further bring to life a person whom we will all miss dearly – with whom we’ll never get to share another laugh, nor enjoy another character like “Laguardia”.