What are the chances of it going wrong? I’d asked, back in September. In reply, Thad had stretched both his thick forearms out towards me, palms up, displaying half a dozen different images—a dinosaur, a sparrow, a weeping Madonna—all inked in hues of charcoal gray or deep black-green, pronounced against the bourbon of his skin. You think that I’d keep doing this if it were high? My skin is sensitive. I bruise easily, flush quickly. I’ve never done well with extremes. When it comes to wounds, I’m risk averse. I want to understand my vulnerabilities. I told Thad all of this, more or less: after I’d shown him countless images of Western Cypress trees [Cupressus macrocarpa a variety of chaparral native to the California coast]; after he’d enlarged my favorite photograph—a wide-stretched, old grove stunner from Point Lobos—then fattened the trunk, funked up the branches, and applied a stencil twice the size I’d asked for to the inside length of my right forearm. The stencil ink was loud. A dankish purple, abrupt against the pinkwhite of my skin. Together, we’d admired and critiqued my new reflection in the mirror as I rotated my arm outwards, then inwards, examining the way the branches reached towards my wrist bone, the way the skin and fascia moved in concert with a ghostly wind. I wore the purple stencil on my forearm until it faded. Then I made the appointment for today’s tattoo: the real thing.