I have one tattoo. I only have one tattoo because I vowed that if I ever get ink, that I wanted it to symbolize something that deeply resonated with me. The backstory for my tattoo is rich with detail but it does take some explaining.
So when someone asks me what does, Keep Digging, mean I pause to think about how I want to answer and proceed with my explanation. Most of the time it’s a flippant, elevator speech, condense version. The following is not …
Summer of ’94
Yes, I’m old … YES, I’m THAT old. In my previous post, I mentioned a mountain bike that my parents gifted me as a graduation present versus the vehicle I had requested. NOT only was it a mountain bike, it was purple-people-eater in color. If you’re following closely, that means it’s the second item that’s emasculating to a young man in his teenage years.
Regardless, I wanted to do a shakedown tour of my mountain bike. It was a hot day in Mountlake Terrace, Washington State.
My attire was appropriate black spandex, with a white tank top – stylish, I know! I won’t talk about the mullet I was rocking at the time. So here I was bombing down the streets of MLT like it was the not-yet-invented X Games in the summer heat. I would jump my new bike off of curbs, and generally anything I thought was acceptable.
Then it happened.
I encountered the perfect downhill curb to jump. I pedaled faster, drew back on the handlebars, stood on the plastic pedals and soared through the air. Then I landed. Not only did I LAND … it was immediately into the hurt locker.
The pedals succumbed to the jarring motion, and snapped off. I struck the ground with my tennis shoes but not time for me to avoid pulverizing my nut sack on the extra large support tube!
I couldn’t react quick enough before slamming into the back of, ironically, a Pinto. My forehead and body slid up the hatchback side before my world suddenly went black.
To this day, I have no idea how long I was unconscious. No one witnessed the incident, no one drove by, nothing! I sprawled out, spread-eagle half on the sidewalk, half underneath the mustard yellow Pinto.
I sat up and surveyed my bike: bent wheel rim, and busted plastic pedals. This’ll be expensive to repair. And it’ll be difficult to explain that I didn’t do this deliberately. I am miles from home in the sweltering heat.
An expletive or five escape my lips.
My left shoe is squishy. Like a pool of liquid, kinda squishy. I dared to look down. Blood is trickling down the puncture wound. An arrowhead shaped piece of shrapnel was embedded into my calf.
My immediate reaction wasn’t to pull out the piece. I knew it was acting like a plug to the closed-pump-system otherwise known as my bloodstream. I took my tank top off, and thought, if I’m gonna lose a limb to blood loss then I’d rather it be below my knee instead of above it.
I tourniquet just below my left knee. I pick up what’s left of my bicycle to soldier home. If memory serves me well, I got about 1/4 mile before a faded mint-green Ford F150 pickup truck rolls up real slow. The tailgate is off, the back bumper is solid metal with rust, and driven by a guy with a longer mullet than me!
He asked, “Hey man, wanna ride?”
I thought, Great! I’ve crashed and damaged my bike miles from home only to be abducted by the guy from Deliverance! What I replied with was, “Yeah. I mean yes, please. Thank you for your compassion.
For the next 8-minutes we said nothing to each other. I merely pointed the directions to my house. Once we arrived, I hopped out, the unidentified driver exited the truck and deposited my busted-ass bike on the lawn.
I shut the passenger side door, and look at him. With this Southern, Elvis like snap of the fingers to point at me, he said, “Now you keep digging, ya hear?”
“Got it, keep digging,” I grumbled. I limped inside to address my battle wounds.
Time To Keep Digging
In 2008 I was struggling with life amid a divorce to a marriage that shouldn’t have happened. Thoughts of harming myself became a daily occurrence. By July 6, 2008 my ex-wife and I were barely speaking to each other while we lived in the same house.
July 6th is her birthday so I usually budgeted $100 for her birthday gift. This year she flew off to be with her boyfriend. I thought, I should get a tattoo with this money!
I sat down at my computer, opened Photoshop, and stared at a white canvas for what seemed to be hours. What should I get? For 100 bones, it won’t be much, and it won’t be color, I continued to talk to myself.
My mind landed on a memory of Dale Earnhardt, my all-time favorite sports hero. It was 1994, Darlington Raceway. He was trying to catch Bill Elliott at the time. The race was quickly coming to the end, he had pitted about 5 laps ago, and the tires were already chewed up badly.
He keyed the microphone, “The tires are worn, I won’t be able to catch him. The car’s too tight as well.”
His crew chief at the time was Larry McReynolds. He clapped back, “Well, you ain’t pitting again so that’s whatcha got. You’ll just haveta keep digging, Dale.” [Dale placed 2nd that race]
There it was. An instant epiphany. Keep Digging it was.
Circle of Life
I chose several font faces, printed them out and drove to the nearest tattoo place (no longer in existence, by the way) I explained what I wanted, showed the artist my piece of paper, and all that was needed was placement. I knew the perfect place!
Left calf, just above the scar of the injury that could’ve ended my life. And since I’m choosing life over death – ha, ha pun intended – this tat placement would be apropos.
So anytime those dark thoughts of self-harm crept into my reptilian brain of mine, I would stare down at the words “Keep Digging“. I knew I had to find the inner strength to continue with life. Summon that mental fortitude needed to get the task at hand done.
Now that I’ve answered the What’s That Tat question in a long-winded explanation, you might have a slight appreciation for those particular words.
At least, I do.