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The Man With The Crossed Out Tattoo

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“Hey, Dan, you never told us what the crossed out the tattoo said on your neck.” I asked.
Dan replied, “it’s from the Bible Psalm 23:4. It said: ‘even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’”
“Why did you get it?”
“I won’t tell you.”
“Why not.”
“I just won’t.”

Dan, twenty-five, patted his rugged grey shirt hanged halfway down past his torn up khaki pants, and walked away. I watched the bright sun bounce off his baldhead, and his skinny figure toddled off. I realized that it been three days since we arrive in St. Croix, but the only thing I knew about Dan was that he was extremely nice. We had basketball matches everyday at four o-clock. Although he was far better than I, I always won because he let me. In addition, I remember that after returning from a walk on the beach, my friend left her bag on the sand. Without asking, Dan went and retrieved it for her. But Dan’s life was as mysterious as the crossed-out tattoo on the back of his neck.

However, after dinner, Dan decided to tell us his life story. My teeth pressed down on my lip, as I waited in anticipation for Dan to begin. I watched Dan open his mouth, and say:
When I was four, I was woken by a shouting argument at my dad’s poker party, and I walked into my family’s dining room. The dim light that was distorted by a cloud of smoke made it difficult for me to see anything. As I walked closer to the quarrel, the smell of cigars infiltrated his body, however, I was too frightened by yelling voices to notice. Undetected, I scuttled over to a corner and watched the dispute. My dad’s friends were screaming at each other for minutes. Eventually, the argument got so heated that one of them stabbed the other. I witnessed the whole thing.

After hearing this, my mouth collapsed five inches and froze; I was in disbelief. I tried to imagine witnessing someone getting stabbed at my age, let alone when I was four. Head and Body frozen with shock, I moved my eyes towards my friends. They all had the same expression I had of disbelief. I felt bad for Dan, and I began to ponder how this event witnessed Dan’s life. But my thoughts were interrupted as Dan continued his story.

At fifteen years of age, I sat at the bottom of Elliot Street with my friend, Laquon, at 2 o’clock in the morning one Wednesday. I stretched his legs out on the curb, and started to inhale on a blunt. I watched with amusement as smoke permeated the night sky. Simultaneously, Laquon unscrewed the top of a flask of vodka and began to drink. Soon, my throat ached for the vodka as if he was the Sahara Desert looking for water, and I asked Laquon for a sip. He said no; he wanted the vodka for himself. Anger started to stir inside my intoxicated body, and I started to yell at Laquon. Drunk, Laquon yelled back. Within minutes we merged into a pile of flailing fists, feet, and heads. Before long, a Policeman had stumbled upon the two and pulled them apart, and arrested Laquon and I for possession of drugs, alcohol, and disturbance of the peace.

I remembered seeing fourteen-year-old kids in baggy and patched-up clothes sitting on the side of a road drinking alcohol in broad daylight. I thought to myself, “Wow, those no-good gangsters are going to go no where in life. These kids were just like Dan…. was Dan a no-good gangster too? Is he still a no-good gangster?” I viewed Dan as friend, and a nice guy, but I was becoming skeptical of him. I thought he might still people who screwed up their life as a teenager, and now work as a cashier at a gas station. However, as Dan continued, my judgments quickly changed.

Now, ten years later, I am free of alcohol, drugs, and violence, Furthermore, I work for the same government that once put him in jail. I work with kids who are on the same path I was, and I try to turn their life around. But my biggest goal is to be the best dad I can for my daughter. I want to ensure that my daughter can have the best possible life she can have. Now, about the tattoo, I got it when I was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Then seven years ago, I had it crossed out because I am sober and not that person anymore.

I felt extremely bad for my previous thoughts; I now realized that Dan had not screwed over his life. But in fact, he saved it. He certainly was not a no-good gangster. Before, when I thought he was a nice man, I didn’t realize how nice he was. I realized, he dedicates his life to helping troubled teenagers. But most importantly, he changed his concern from drugs to his daughter’s livelihood. I don’t believe I was ever more impressed in my life than I was in that moment.

Dan turned his life around; he crossed out the tattoo on his neck, and he walked out of the Valley of The Shadow of Death. This made me realize that I could too solve my problems, no matter how tough they were.. I began to think about the problems in my life: bad grades, imperfect college applications, and not having a job. None of these problems held a candle to being addicted to drugs and alcohol. I realized that since Dan was able to fix his problems, I am able to fix mine. Consequently, next time I try to accomplish these tasks, I will remember Dan and force myself to accomplish them.

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