FIBONACCI Φ: A Starry, Scarry Midlife Crisis Story
By Krista Madsen–
When I decided two years ago at the age of 48 that what I desperately needed was a giant chest tattoo (a tattoo that was giant, not the chest), I had the pattern all ready to go. It is the Fibonacci sequence laid out in what is commonly called the Golden Spiral, and in this case, the pattern repeats one inside of the other and mirrors into what can almost resemble butterfly wings.
Fibonacci, Italian mathematician of the middle ages, identified his eponymous number sequence by contemplating, as you do, the rapid growth of rabbit populations. As outlined by LetsTalkScience.ca, he wrote in his Liber Abaci book, translated from the Latin:
A certain man put a pair of rabbits in a place surrounded by a wall. How many pairs of rabbits can be produced from that pair in a year if it is supposed that every month each pair begets a new pair from which the second month on becomes productive?
The solution to his problem comes from following a series of a numbers, starting with 0 bunnies, then 1 bunny, with each subsequent number of breeding bunnies the sum of the preceding two (0+1=1; 1+1=2; and so on).
As the Fibonacci numbers get bigger, the ratio between each pair of numbers gets closer to 1.618033988749895. This number is called Phi. It can also be represented by the symbol Φ, the 21st letter of the Greek alphabet. Phi is the Golden Ratio.
AKA the Golden Number, Golden Section, Divine Proportion. Plot this on a graph with one golden proportioned rectangle inside of another (how to do that here) and now you have this Golden Spiral.
Eventually math theory merges with scientific data when astute observers started to note the same ratio of 1.618 playing out in, say, the way a nautilus forms its shell or a galaxy swirls stars. The patterns of pine cones and petals. Pleasingly proportioned faces are said to abide by this ratio, as does balanced architecture. It’s all so beautiful and fascinating to me, these arcs of life and art connecting so many things as if by magic and math from the smallest particles of matter to the grandest cosmos—so, obviously, I needed this on my chest. Stars in Snail’s Sexes, as the painting goes by Joan Miro, pulling snails, sex, and stars onto the same canvas. Étoiles en des sexes d’escargot.
AND THE MADNESS
My daughters were appalled by my pitch. You’re too old for that, they said, since you can count on your kids to forgo politeness. And then there was one honest friend Kenny who grew up on Long Island and revealed this was giving him queasy flashbacks of the permanently over-tanned and deeply creviced cleavage skin of some old biddies he remembered. No, not me, not like that, I said. This will never crack, I don’t have cleavage to worry about, and also, who cares.
The reason why this complicated tapestry needed to be on my chest and not somewhere my girls preferred (like my back), was because I have scars I wanted to disguise. I suffer from an annoying combo of anxiety plus OCD that has historically manifested itself in me picking to death any perceived blemishes on my skin as far as I can reach. The worst aftermath of this is scattered via pocks of scar tissue across my neck and chest. The results of decades of unconscious wounding pinnacled to a point of shame and anger enough that I contemplated spending a few thousand dollars on laser treatments to repair it. But that’s not really my style. Instead, how about blessing the mess, if you will, leaning in. How about magnifying this constellation of scars into even more interesting art.
I visited Needles, the artist that came recommended for this type of fine line work at Peekskill’s Speakeasy shop. Needles, who is known for his Star Wars designs, wasn’t keen on putting this picky pattern on my mottled chest because it risked not coming out as finely as it required. The ink behaves differently in scar tissue and might go haywire, he said. I managed to leave the consultation with his hesitant agreement to proceed, convincing him perfection was never my goal so I could not be disappointed. This was still in the mask-phase of the pandemic, and he had a full neck gaiter pulled up to his eyeballs so I wouldn’t be able to identify him if I ever saw him exposed, except that his eyes seemed kind. It was similar to going to a doctor or a therapist and first revealing these scars; he made me feel safe.
I met with Needles initially in June and wouldn’t get back for my real appointment until the fall since they were still very backed up from being shut down for so long. But one day I got a call that there was a cancellation and I could come in late July. I had spent most weekends and vacation days of 2021 thus far slogging through heavy duty manual labor on the sliver of homestead I had just bought in the Catskills. The work had me energized and determined—I’m at my best when I’m embroiled in an overwhelming project. I had also just dared to put myself on a dating app after four years of being separated and basking in my solitude, when, facing enough friend-pressure and rising curiosity, it seemed time to burst my bubble. I decided with my life effectively split between two places two hours apart that it was more fun to put any romantic foibles into my mountain weekend time, and I found myself gravitating to tattooed-carpenter sort of profiles which are abundant in the Catskills. In July, my newly emerged heart had already been stomped by one dude with a tattoo on his neck that read “Chaos” (red flag?) who turned out to be a narcissist—overused word these days but he was textbook; I got schooled. Then there was the pasty, lumbering guy who showed up to my proposed picnic, for which I had a picnic blanket, with a plastic tarp he preferred to use. Nah, I’m fine, I’ll sit way over here. My friends would be upset to hear that I even entertained such dates in a place with no cell service should, for instance, a tarpist try to murder me on his nasty sheet, but somehow I have gone through life so far unscathed (save for these chest scars on top of heart aches). By the end of July, I activated another inked woodworker that had potential and we were starting to chat.
My tattoo appointment was at an odd hour during my workday the next day. With a job not typically prone to chest tattoo absenteeism, I decided I was going to happen to call out sick. Serves me right, because I actually got sick. (I suspected my body betrayed me on purpose so I wouldn’t feel bad about fibbing.) I started getting feverish and wonky and had a fitful night’s semi-sleep, hot and cold and too hot. When I woke up and called out sick (for real now!), I was feeling just as bad but not enough to cancel such a coveted appointment. With a few hours to spare before I had to leave, I did my due diligence on the guy I had been texting. Of course, I don’t meet men in the woods completely blindly. Once you glean enough geographic/biographical info from a personal ad and some chatting, you can Google. My cyberstalking revealed that my potential suitor—I’ve lost track of his name, we’ll say Dave—lived in the village of Catskill, went to a certain college to major in medical illustration, and of course became a carpenter. Pretty specific. So I plugged all that in and soon found a Dave in Catskill, same small college, same weird major, same career—totally different profile picture. This Dave had a kid and a wife, a big beard and belly. It was time to drive and I thought I was going to throw up. I remember screaming some expletives while I raced up Route 9, holding back tears and pounding the steering wheel. This was all too much. I wasn’t cut out for this unarmed exposure to wild bears crap. Better to go back to hiding in my bunker. But not before I confronted him. I texted Dave, you’re married, WTF?
In the tattoo chair at last, temples throbbing, I didn’t worry that I was potentially contagious with something nasty since everyone was masked and Needles was garbed and I had passed the Covid test, though I was worried that I might die in that chair. The awful buzzing began and the terrible discomfort of the vibrating needle moving across perhaps the most sensitive area of thin skin, over clavicle bones, from shoulder to shoulder. I had taken nothing for pain since it’s not recommended and nothing for my unknown illness. The rock music was blaring, the electric needles at four different tattoo artist chairs around me screaming, and all the artists talking loudly with their own strewn clients. My Needles, merci dieu, was dead quiet. Any more noise entering my already aching brain and I might have imploded. As soon as he apologized that he doesn’t do smalltalk as he works, I inserted my headphones so I could play something soothing to stave off my nervous breakdown.
During intermittent moments when Needles was not dragging ink through my red chest, I could check my phone. There was a message from Dave while he switched needles. To paraphrase: No, I’m not married, what are you talking about! I explained I looked him up and found this other Totally Different Ugly Dave with a Family. Again with my, WTF?! This interminable goddamn inking, all these crazy curvy lines, just kill me. Later I see that he replied, oh, that’s just my friend Dave. I wrote, no way you have a friend Dave who also majored in medical illustration at the same college, lives in the same place, and works with wood. He said, it’s true. I asked, why? Who followed who, how did you become the same person as your friend or your friend the same as you, or did you both decide to twin everything together at once? Why do you share everything except the beard, belly, wife and kid, or I guess that’s why you need to catch up on this stupid app? “My” Dave said he was the younger one and he followed his friend’s lead. Through all of those major life choices, year after year? Yes. That lost him a lot of points since now he was sounding like a really unimaginative sheep. But at least he wasn’t in the market for a home-wrecking. So carry on? Sorry. Foolish stalker in this torture chair. The buzzing, the music, the antiseptic smell, my fever, my sluiced skin, racing heart, terror. All eventually subsided, after a few hours. I got up, barely able to stand, only slightly on fire.
When I think of being middle-aged, I think of this scene as perhaps the epicenter of my era, an opera that has all the senses and nonsensical, everything swirling around me as if downing the drain, but then, pause. A moment of clarity, a clean amazing tattoo of these patterns of our universe, along with the rare awareness that I’m in a story I will tell someday, now sealed under seething saran wrap.
Within weeks my tattoo was less raw and more healing, but I now had large red splotches forming on my legs and back. Suddenly, after a month of not feeling right and getting weaker, when I went for a jog at the end of August I couldn’t even lift my legs to leave my driveway. I happened to have my annual exam the next day with my general practitioner and she surmised immediately that I had Lyme. My first season owning land in the mountains had welcomed me with Lyme. I thought back on all the ticks I brushed off absentmindedly, and even the one that stuck unnoticed in my calf for however long until I ripped it out with a grimace whenever that was. Apparently, I worry too much about some things and not enough about others. With the first pill of Doxy treatment I popped that night, all symptoms went away and I felt like myself again, instantly. In fact, I felt better. The best I’ve been in my life.
I met that doppel Dave and he was just as much of a dud as I imagined. Shorter than he foretold, of all things to lie about after such a saga. I was beyond him now, all Fibonaccied like a shell ever-growing more sections. I was now the giant.
The next Catskill carpenter I connected with on the dating app (because if everything is a pattern, patterns repeat), noticed the outer edges of my tattoo when we first shared pictures of ourselves from our phones. It was Halloween by now, my picture was me in a vampire costume with fake fangs. He didn’t mention any of that but only asked, “is that Fibonacci on your chest?” Oh my heart, my skin, he knew what it was. Fibonacci was our founding moment.
Krista Madsen is the author behind wordsmithery shop, Sleepy Hollow, inK., and producer of the Home|body newsletter, which she is sharing regularly with The Hudson Independent readership. You can subscribe for free to see all her posts and receive them directly in your inbox.