Inner Strength (Short Story/Under 750 words)

I knew it was a mistake as soon as it was over.  What possessed me to do this? Looking down at the dark ink on the inside of my wrist, I shook my head at myself.  Tears welled up in my eyes as regret took hold.

The tattoo artist looked at me with concern. “You alright?” he asked.

“Yeah, sure,” I answered, trying to keep my composure. It wasn’t his fault I was an utter failure at being spontaneous and free-spirited. On a whim, I had decided to “live a little” and step outside of my comfort zone. I couldn’t even do this mid-life crisis thing right.  What had seemed like a cool symbol of inspiration and maybe a tiny bit of rebellion now seemed to mock me and my attempt at “wild and crazy”.  The tattoo itself wasn’t so bad. He had done a beautiful job. The Chinese character for “Inner Strength” had somehow seemed a meaningful choice at the time. Stupid margaritas.  After paying, I gathered my things and made my way back out to my partners in crime, my best friends since high school, Susan and Kate.  Neither one of them had been quite as free-spirited, despite their share of the margaritas.  I envied their unmarked wrists and wise fear of needles and rebellion.

“Did you get it?” Susan asked as I walked back into the waiting room.  

“Oh, yeah, I got it,” I said with a regretful sigh. I stuck out the offending wrist for their inspection.

“I like it!” Kate said excitedly. “Did it hurt?”

“Hell, yeah, it hurt,” I replied. “Why did I do this? Why couldn’t I just have gotten a new haircut, or taken a painting class,or something like most women do at this age. This is so permanent and  . . . there. My stupidity for all the world to see.  I’ve doomed myself to long sleeves forever.”

“It’s not that bad,” Susan said, trying not to laugh. “I think it looks cool.”

“Cool, yeah, right. Except it’s on a middle-aged woman’s wrist,” I said eyeballing it from every angle. “That might cancel out any cool factor.”

* * *

As the days passed by, I thought about my tattoo less and less. People hadn’t been quite as shocked by it as I had feared.  It blended in unless I pointed it out.  Life marched on as it always does, until months had passed.

Soon, other matters occupied my mind. Matters of life and death that stop you in your tracks.  My diagnosis of breast cancer arrived a week before Christmas.  In a heartbeat, my world changed. The boring days that I had taken for granted became precious.

As the I.V. drip sent the poison into my veins, I tried to be upbeat for Susan and Kate. This was my fourth treatment, and they had been there for every one of them. Keeping me company, they were always offering me ice chips, companionship, and laughter.

After the fifth treatment, my hair started falling out. Kate brought me a beautiful blonde wig.  Once I discovered I looked more like Miss Piggy in it than myself, she brought me a bright red bandana. That worked. I rocked it.

“You’ve definitely got the face for short hair, or in this case, no hair. You have a gamine quality to you that makes you adorable,” Susan said to reassure me.  Her words were deeply appreciated, as I felt more like Mr. Clean than gamine.

By late spring, I was bone-tired. I had given it my all and didn’t know how much I had left.  Each day was beginning to be a struggle. I could see the worry in their eyes when we were together, despite their attempts to hide it.

“Hey, are you awake?” Susan asked as she and Kate came into my bedroom a few days later.

“Sure, come in,” I said.  

“We have something to show you,” Kate said as they walked to my bed. They turned their arms over at the same time. Tattoos that matched mine decorated each of their wrists. The one I had gotten that night after we had a terrific dinner together with so much laughter and way too many margaritas. Remembering feeling alive and reckless enough to be a little bit crazy made me smile.  I hadn’t thought about that wonderful night or the stupid tattoo in months. Overcome with emotion, I hugged them and sobbed. “Inner strength” was now the most beautiful thing in my life.


  1. This is such a heart touching story.

  2. Really nicely done--the choice of "inner strength" and they symbol/symbolism of the tattoo.

  3. Great opening sentence, and the details you give us of the little things that change after the diagnosis are genuine - taking health for granted, all the precious boring days.

    1. Exactly, the mundane becomes sublime. Thanks!