Feuilly probably hasn’t thought much about getting a tattoo, since they’re expensive and who has the money for that? He’d been living hand-to-mouth for so long he sort of missed the point when he could start to afford luxuries. But when the thought does occur to him that this IS a thing he could do, he could go out right now and get a tattoo on his body, he quickly falls in love this the idea.
It takes him forever to decide what to get, though, and it’s a running joke in the group that he’s never actually going to be able to go through with it, because he won’t be able to decide. At one point, Bossuet and Bahorel both offer to pay for an additional tattoo (for some reason, Bossuet has some disposable cash at the moment), just because they’re afraid if he has to narrow it down to one thing, Feuilly’s never going to do it. But he doesn’t want to get the words unless he really loves them enough for them to be the only ones he ever gets.
Because of course it’s going to be words, what else could it be? He goes back and forth between a lot of things. At first, it’s quotes from the people who inspire him, words that keep him going and give him the strength and courage to dream of a different world: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” “It is in giving that we receive.” “What gives light must endure burning.” Then he thinks maybe that’s too holier-than-thou, to put these words on his body as if labeling himself as a perfect representative of social change or something. (He admits this worry to Enjolras, late at night–only the fact that it’s 2 am brings it out–Enjolras trips over his tongue trying to find the words to convince Feuilly that he so does not need to worry about people taking it that way. Feuilly’s still not sure.)
So then he goes to words that are just beautiful, things that have stuck with him, lines from poems his friends have shared with him, scraps of stories that meant a lot to him. He flirts for a few months with “There is a crack in everything / That’s how light gets in.” Then he considers “Made weak by fate and time, yet strong in will / to strive, to seek, to find / and not to yield.”
But there are so many beautiful words, and it’s hard to pick between them, to say THIS one, this is so beautiful I want it with me forever. And in the end, they’re just words, and maybe theyre reaching for the beauty that fills the universe, but they can’t ever really get there, and after all there are more important things than beauty.
When the right idea comes to him, he sleeps on it barely three weeks before he finally gets the tattoo: A very small cluster of stars on his left shoulder. They’re simple and really pretty, like a little scatter of freckles, but everyone’s a little surprised that he didn’t go with words, like he’s been planning to for ages. Enjolras asks him one evening, and Feuilly explains that the stars stand for a story–something he wants to remind himself of, that can’t be summed up well with words.
He was 17 and in 10th grade–and just barely so. This was right around the time he started to realize that the one he was hurting the most with his bad choices was himself–but he wasn’t there just yet. He was still really angry, just at everything in general; he was fighting a lot; he was skipping a lot of school. He ended up staying after school for this science expo not actually because he was interested in science but because he’d pissed off a kid in gym that day and was avoiding him so he didn’t have to fight (because his foster parents were going to take away his phone if he fought any more that month).
But the old dude at the astronomy table didn’t know that. He looked at Feuilly, slouching around between the exhibits, and he didn’t see the three-inch-thick disciplinary file, the foster care paperwork, the scars on his left shoulder from his stepdad. He looked at Feuilly and saw a potential future scientist. And that’s how he talked to him: He showed him photographs of Jupiter and the craters on the moon and Saturn’s rings; he explained the data from the state university’s most recent experiments; he pitched the local observatory’s summer camp for young astronomers. At the time, Feuilly was laughing inwardly at this clueless old fart who actually thought that he was interested in this nerd stuff … but afterward, it stuck with him. The old man thought he was the kind of person who could be an astronomer. And who said he wasn’t?
It wasn’t life-changing–at least, not in a big dramatic way. He didn’t break down in tears or discover some long-suppressed dream of becoming an astrophysicist. But he did start to question some of the assumptions people had about him–things he’d come to believe about himself. When he took the end-of-year exams, he asked himself who said he would never pass a final, and he sat up straight and actually read the directions (he still failed, but with much higher score than he’d ever gotten–enough to convince him to do summer school and try again on the exam in August). When he saw posters around school about college applications and the FAFSA, he asked himself who said he was the kind of person who couldn’t go to college?
And that’s what Feuilly wants to remember every morning when he sees those stars in the mirror: How much it meant to have someone look at him in a different way. He wants to remember how far he’s come, and how lucky he is that his life turned around the way it did. He wants to remember that people really can change. He wants to remember that the same thing that was true of him is true of the people he works with every day: No matter how they seem on the outside, everyone has incredible potential inside them–to love, to hope, to grow–and that they deserve to have other people recognize that in them. He wants to remember to see everyone around him the way that old man saw him that day.
It takes half an hour to tell Enjolras the whole story and to explain exactly what it means to him. Much easier–and less painful–Feuilly says, laughing, to get seven little stars than to try to get all that down in words.