One day Greta Samson awoke to discover that every text message she had ever sent was tattooed over her entire body, from her brow to the web of her fingers to the soles of her feet. Gazing at her naked back in the dresser mirror, she was astonished that the text had not been reversed, which made her question her vision and then her own sanity.
This reaction was followed by the even greater shock of realizing that her innermost thoughts now lay exposed for all to read. Her love life, exchanges with friends about where and when to meet (RUOK? RU cmg 2nite? XOXO), opinions of her boss, her analysis of others’ personalities and problems, and all kinds of random and sometimes urgent thoughts from her past now had permanence. They permeated her skin with bright blue, the default color she had chosen for her messages.
Walking around her bedroom that morning of her transformation, she felt like her skin had turned into brittle parchment, as if she could flake into tiny bits if someone touched her or came too close. She had become an ancient object inked with words that even she had forgotten, suddenly unearthed and exposed to the light.
Feeling very alone in her unfathomable predicament, she texted her best friend Brittany. Immediately, she received back an unprecedented Error message stating that she had already reached her allotted memory space.
Unwilling to accept her state, Greta wondered if this experience was in reality a nightmare from which she hadn’t yet awakened. When more than an hour had passed with much pacing on her part, she was forced to rule that out. Could it be that she was panicking needlessly and the words would wash off? Asking herself why she hadn’t thought of that sooner, Greta rummaged under the kitchen sink for the strong brown soap that her mother had given her for dissolving fabric stains. She jumped into the shower, allowing herself to hope. But after vigorous scrubbing that left her skin raw, every text remained as clear as before.
A slim, lithe young woman, Greta now felt weighed down by years of nearly constant verbiage. Her fingers used to fly over the screen of her phone at record speed—she always had a lot to say regardless of the subject, and when she ran out of texting acronyms to express certain thoughts, she typed out full sentences the old-fashioned way. Who had been receiving her communications? She recalled the faces of her brothers and sisters and closest friends, but knew there were so many others she had texted—colleagues from long-ago jobs, nameless friends of friends, even airlines, banks, the phone company.
Because the texts didn’t appear chronologically head-to-toe and weren’t grouped in any way, she felt she had become the embodiment of chaos. From a literature course she recalled that the word came from the Greek khaos, “abyss, that which gapes wide open, is vast and empty.” Yes, that’s me, Greta thought ruefully as she read her side of thousands of exchanges, remembering only the more recent ones. She noticed that her messages were passionate, filled with capital letters and exclamation points. To whom had she made these urgent pronouncements? What was she so excited about? She didn’t know.
Greta wondered why she once had such a compulsion to text every passing thought to someone or other. Maybe one of those “someones” along the line had reached a limit, a person with the creepy power to send her words back to herself, to incise them even onto her tongue.
Greta lived alone in a small apartment in a mid-sized East Coast city. She earned her living by working mainly from home—churning out blogs at all hours mostly for tech companies and up-and-coming fashion designers. She had enough food to last her a couple of days. But by the third day, she had to venture outside to replenish her empty refrigerator.
On the street, her fears were realized: people’s eyes widened, and then the strangers skirted past her. Some turned around for a furtive second look. Should she carry a bell like a leper in biblical times, warning the townspeople of her approach?
This morphing was a catastrophe! The certainty of that conclusion was like a blow to her psyche. Greta was rushing back to the refuge of her apartment when a TV reporter and camera crew covering a feature story nearby happened to catch sight of her. The reporter, assigned to the culture beat, had recently read a new book stating that for the first time in history, more women than men in America sported tattoos. She wasn’t one to let a media opportunity literally pass her by on the street.
Desperate for anything that might lift her despair, Greta agreed to an impromptu interview. Always quick-witted and, of course, never at a loss for words, she pretended that she had visited a tattoo parlor over the course of several years “in order to memorialize the written word and its primacy in human relationships.” She went on to say, “Conversation between people is sacred. It shouldn’t be fleeting. This is my way of paying homage to the Word.”
After the TV network posted the segment on its website, it went viral, making Greta an instant star but one with the intellectual aura of a hip sociology professor. She relished the attention for as long as it lasted, which was more than a weekend but less than 15 days.