Ink is a vital element of my life. It is ingrained in so many aspects of my existence and personal inventory. It is my most beloved channel of communication, and extends into my appearance, though that is another method of conveying myself outside from within.
I dislike needles very much. I cannot handle something being taken from me in such a manner. I cause a scene, I act a fool. I cry and go white and plead for the “baby needle.”
But if you leave me something in return, I’m all for it. Draw me a picture, paint me a memory, leave me with something to capture the moment, the feeling, the brilliance of the moment, forever. I was interested in tattoos from my first sight of one – my mother’s. Inspired by a lighter, encouraged by a challenge, this was a personal matter offending her pride and I love her story of its reveal. She had something to prove and she did. I’m proud of that.
We’re often met with impulse and must decide whether to bow down or not. In many cases, we’re driven by the heart and hopelessly fumbled by the head, leaving us prone to “carpe’ing that fucking diem.”
Many times, for me, this has resulted in going under the tattoo gun, revealing something dark and deep, and bringing it to the surface so it can heal and start as something new. (My mother, only the once. Turns out her phobia of needles is truly phobic.) Tattoos are scars left on the skin from traumatic mutilation of the first few layers. They’re incredibly painful and yet, in their own way, soothing. A mark of a passage. Something has passed. Someone has passed. Something has caused me trauma on the inside and I need to share it on the outside to close the scars you can’t see.
My first tattoo was part declaration, part rite of passage. A butterfly on my ankle. My best friend inspired this decision; her parents had given her permission for her 16th birthday, and of course, if she had one, I had to have one, too because we were best friends and therefore secretly competitive in every single way. Knowing my mother was open to allowing me the privilege of self-expression, I decided to go for it. I made a good case for her to allow it and she did.
At first, we were going to go together, and we were going to get matching or corresponding tattoos. She was going to get the “chaos” Kanji, and I was going to get “harmony.” Of course, we both changed our minds later and ended up with two separate images and ideas, and I don’t think either of us regret our decisions. When my mother allowed me to be tattooed for my 16th birthday, for me, it was an expression of letting go. My father never would have allowed it, despite having two of his own, neither of them remarkably awesome or anything. In fact, he probably would have slapped me upside the head for asking and tell me not to cover myself in makeup like my mother because that’s trashy. So for me, it was an expression of letting go of his approval. It was a turbulent time in our relationship. I wanted to express that.
I was SIXTEEN, and I could DO WHAT I WANT.
My second one was a secret, a small scar of shame. A small heart, wrapped in a ribbon emblazoned with an A. I let it say what it said and allowed whatever interpretation anyone needed. I was seventeen, and this was definitely not something my mother held my hand through. In fact, I hid it from her because she had expressly asked me not to do this, and this was a critical point in my growing-up process. I emancipated myself and went through an intense period of rebellion and reckless abandon. At that point in my life I had made a 180 and chose to chase whatever – and whomever – could take me in the wrong direction. In reality, I belonged to someone and in my own sick version of the reality that the people around me were helping me create, I belonged to someone else. In either case, I was not my own. That tattoo is my equivalent of a branding and I wear it proudly like a battle scar. I carried that secret in the same pocket of my heart that held everything I felt for Fair Ginger Lover while I played pretend with someone else. Both of them A’s… and he who now holds me holds the privilege of that declaration of infatuation. The permanence of that ink is the permanence of my loyalty, and in some cases, my naivety.
The third piece is another declaration. This was a time when I needed to shout in order to be heard. I had to declare my freedom and my intent to continue on the path I chose. I think this signified the moment I dug in my heels and resigned myself to the prison of pretending I was totally in control. It simply reads “Free Reign” and that’s pretty much what it was. Completely out of control.
Then I became a bit addicted. It was an excuse to bleed, to hurt because I said so and not because someone made me. I desperately paid a sleazy man $100 to ink a rose through a peace sign on me. That was a pleading for mercy – a prayer for my own inner peace. Let something else hurt for a minute so I could forget everything else that made me cry.
Then I began thinking of ways to display something good for a change. My daughters, the two good things I had done with my life thus far. My burdens, my hopes. My wings – and the chains at my feet. Which of those was true was decided by whatever mood I’d currently swung into. I searched high and low for a fairy I liked, one with open wings. Finally, I worked with the artist to create a fairy with open wings in which I created an exoskeleton out of the girls’ names and birth dates. It is my announcement of pride. See my accomplishment? Isn’t it beautiful? Look at something pretty and look past the ugly details of what I’ve become.
In 2007 I finally located my great-grandmother’s grave. It was an experience that uprooted a lot of oppressed grief during a period when I needed something to keep me grounded. I was losing touch and I remembered a quote she had on a tin, or a calendar or a magnet on her fridge. It said, “bloom where you are planted” and more than anyone else in my life, she believed that when I bloomed, I would be absolutely beautiful. She had unwavering faith in me and I needed to remember that, needed a daily reminder. This one hurt the most, the flower in full bloom between my shoulder blades. I cried harder for this one than any other, and when it was over, it was so bright and wonderful that I felt a sense of hope from it, and from there, a sense of healing.
With that curve happening, me finding my way back to certain people and rebuilding bridges, I wanted to go big. I wanted to fill prime space. I put a lot of thought into what I wanted to place there. A lot of lyrics came to mind, snippets of poetry, something I often related to. I wanted to declare this good feeling, this coming-to-terms with something important in my life. I was proud of taking that step. I took a defining line from my favorite song, the one I used to dance with my dad to when I was younger. “Take me for what I’m worth/But only love me.” It represents my relationship with my father. He is what he is and you can take it or leave it. Except, I’m his daughter and I can’t. There have been so many times when I couldn’t take it, and too many times when he has been unable to tolerate me. This has caused turbulence in our relationship throughout the years but in this moment, in the moment of sunshine as he hung up the phone after telling me he loved me, I knew what those words meant. We are who we are, and if we take each other for what we’re worth, there will be something there to love. We’re too afraid of disappointment. When I got that tattoo, I didn’t tell him for years. Not until he finally danced with me at my wedding in 2012 did I reveal that the words we were dancing to were etched into my skin, a reminder every day to stay true to myself and that sometimes, it’s okay to be a daddy’s girl.
In 2009, an honorary brother passed away. Two months past the ten year anniversary of the first time suicide touched my life, it returned with a vengeance. 2009 was a rough year. 2010 was undoubtedly the worst year of my life to date, and after two years away from the tattoo gun, I itched for it yet again. A lot of pain had been carried on my shoulders and my body took a beating inside and out. There were – and some will always remain – scars left from things we don’t talk about yet. So I needed something to bring it to a close. Bring those scars together to form something that could bring me above the pain. The sparrow on my shoulder was reminiscent of something my father once said about Jesus caring about each and every life, even the littlest sparrows. I felt like a little sparrow. Sometimes I felt forgotten. I did for those few years. I needed to be reminded that even though I was lost, I would soon be found.
And two months later, I was. We were married a year later and when my father handed me an envelope and slapped my new husband on the back, he told me, “Go do something stupid. I love you.” So we raced home from our honeymoon to make it to my favorite inkwell, and we made our love public and permanent with heart pieces. My initials are forever inked into his Zelda crest, and his are represented in three 8-bit hearts, him, my before, my after, my always.
It has been almost three years since I’ve been back. With the birth of another child, I am feeling a little obligation to add him to my canvas. As I’ve grown and evolved in mind and spirit, my opinion on my pieces has changed in a matter of taste, but there is no regret for feeling what I felt. Every time I sit in that tattoo chair, I realize that what I am about to do to myself is reckless and kind of dumb. But it is cathartic. I never watch, but I feel it. I feel it in my bones, grinding, leaving permanent scars. Something to show for what has happened.
It’s my way of keeping evidence. Of keeping track of my survival rate. I have a lot of skin left. I think that means there’s quite a bit of adventure left in me. That’s a comforting feeling.
-xoxo : )