the anchor and the helms wheel

I asked him on our way if he was nervous or scared.  Surprisingly–to himself–he was not.

He sees flashes of his dad in pictures of himself, in the laugh of his son, in the smiles of his aunts and uncles, in the gait of his brother.

The design he had emailed back and forth on for months–even years–with his best friend and graphic design artist rested in the space beneath the radio in the dash.

He can feel his father on the breeze off the lake, in the waves lapping against the beach, in the embrace of his grandmother.

I had joked with him earlier if he needed to shave his leg himself  and if he was ready for the fun of stubble on his calf as the hair grew back.

There is an emptiness in the dark of night when he wonders what it would be like to have his dad around to help with basement remodels and yard projects and son-rearing.

He is remarkably calm and even jovial as he cracks jokes with the artist and gets settled on the bench.

He has no idea how much he is his dad right now.  Facing pain with a smile and a joke.  Making those around him comfortable in the presence of what will be HIS pain.

He is deep in thought as his wife and the artist chat and joke and discuss the process. It’s good that she came.  It’s good that she is there with him for this.

Even in the pain he can feel his dad.  Each week, in the same arm, a needle was stuck.  But it was not infusing ink under his dad’s skin.  It was poison that was being injected.

Sooner than later–after winces, but no sound–it was over.

His dad is his guide.  Even in spirit.

His anchor and his helms wheel.

His Pops.

This week’s prompt was to tell a story–fiction or non–about a tattoo in 300 words or less.  This is a true story from my imaginationFor a picture, go here.

About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.


  1. this was beautifully told. thank you for sharing the story behind and of the getting of his tattoo.

  2. Hey Katie:

    I did this prompt, too. I love your poetic prose here. It’s amazing how — when we have to keep it short and tight — we have to pick the words with the most punch.

    It is a great exercise.

    Look for me over at Write on Edge.

    See you later… Monkley-Butt. 😉

  3. oh, as someone who lost her dad..I can relate. Maybe not with the ink but with the feeling that you want something to remind you, to stay.

    this was so gorgeous. Thank you for writing and sharing it with us.

  4. See and that is why I love you.
    I also love tattoos that have so much powerful meanings behind them.

  5. Beautifully written. What a wonderful tribute to his father, and I loved both your story and his story explaining its meaning in the other post.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Love this.

    Love you.

  7. Oh I just love this.

    And I love that you GET tattoos.

  8. I love the meanings, yours and his, behind the tattoo.

    Dealing with hair growing back after a leg tattoo is horrible. Women can’t shave til it’s healed. Just horrible!

  9. We need to see this tattoo!

    Shaving my leg for my tattoo was a mess.

  10. beautiful!

  11. terrific story…makes it beyond special

    good post, Katie

  12. Wow! What a powerful post about what a tattoo can mean to us! Very beautiful and poignant. Thank you.

  13. this is so touching and love to feel privy to his thoughts as he was getting it. my dad died as well, had chemo and was in the navy and before I even saw your husband’s post I knew what the image was. wonderful job!

  14. This was beautiful.

    And also why I haven’t yet gotten that first tattoo I’ve been considering.

    I have nothing that would be so meaningful.

    So lovely.

  15. Such a precious story. It is so easy to forget that tattoos can mean so much.

  16. This was beautifully written, Katie. Thanks for sharing. And it’s a beautiful memory of your FIL that will stay with you both always. I love it and send much love.

  17. I love all the layers of story, the pain of his father being gone mixed with the pain of the needle and the lovely stories of his father. It felt rhythmic like waves which was a wonderful tie in to the nautical tattoo. Well done!

  18. Really beautiful, Katie. In so many ways. xoxo

  19. Awesome, Katie! I love how you expressed the connection your husband has with his father even in spirit. I could feel it. Beautiful.

    I could only imagine the love and pride you were feeling as your hubby was going through this.

  20. This is really beautiful, Katie.

  21. This reminded me of that show The Deadliest catch, and that one boat captain died, I could imagine his son going and having this done!
    Beautifully written!

  22. I remember when you wrote about this tattoo before. So much meaning and love and memory, and also hope, because he who is at the helm? Looks forward and charts the course.

  23. Katie! This is so beautifully done! I adore the back and forth style, so poetic, and let me in just a little bit more- which you know I love!

    I clicked the link and the tattoo itself? Is perfect. Beautiful tribute!

  24. Katie, this was amazing. Much love to Cort. I would love to do something like that.

  25. Beautiful. I love the back and forth…I really the depth it adds to the piece. Thanks for sharing the picture as well, I enjoyed being able to see it.

  26. As someone that has ink forever on my feet (two small stars in memory of my parents), I love this and I get it. Nicely written, Katie.