My life in ink.

I have three tattoos. I got the first when I was 18, and my then-boyfriend, later-husband had decided that he wanted to be a tattoo artist. He ordered a gun and supplies from the Internet and set to work on himself, his friends, family, anyone who would sit still long enough. He had a natural talent for it; he really was quite good, despite a total lack of formal training, and I still think that had he seriously chosen that route and embarked on an apprenticeship, he would be an amazing tattoo artist today. But that wasn't the life he wanted. His tattooing addiction lasted just long enough to leave a lasting mark on my left ankle, in the form of an Egyptian ankh, my first tattoo. I choose the ankh for several reasons. An ankh is supposed to symbolize life, fertility, and vitality. It is shaped like a sandal strap, to designate the everyday, not in a mundane sense, but in a lasting, perpetuity sense. At least, this is what the ankh meant to my 18 year-old self, the naive girl who'd read much about the world, and experienced little. To her, this symbol was a symbol of hope and of reassurance. It meant, no matter what, the world will keep turning; life goes on. I was caught at a crossroads back then, terrified to take the next step, "knowing how way leads onto way," scared I would never get a second chance, and that I had to commit myself to one path for the rest of my life. I was wrong, as it happens. I keep the ankh the way it is, amateurishly inked, needing a touch-up, because it marks that specific point in my life. It's a chapter heading, a signpost, a marker of where I've been and how far I've come since.

Ooooo, pretty sock lines and leg hair!
sexy, sexy calf meat

My second tattoo is of text. It reads "simply live" in a black, curvy, sort of elvish looking font up my right wrist. I got this one in Chicago at the Jade Dragon (and  paid way too much for it) in 2009. At the time, my then-husband had just told me he had a crush on another woman (a crush that either already was, or, in any case later turned into, a full blown affair). I was devastated and my first instinct was to get as far away from him as I could. I wanted to get in my car and drive and not ever stop. Instead, I got in my car and drove to Chicago, to a dear friend who comforted me with food and drink and indulgently drove me to a tattoo parlor when I demanded it. "Simply live" meant to me at the time (and still does), to just keep going, no matter what. I knew I was headed for rough waters, and I knew there were going to be moments when I wanted to give up. I needed a reminder that all I really need to do is keep breathing, in and out. I thought of it as a tribute to my friend Molly, who had passed away unexpectedly in September of 2008. It was a way to keep her near me, to say that no matter what, I'm not giving up, because I know she'd do anything to will me the strength to keep going. "Simply live" also means to live in such a way that I pay attention to and enjoy the small things in life, the smell of the air just before a rain, the touch of my son's hand, the taste of ice cream. It's a reminder that I don't need more money, a bigger house, or a nicer car. Everything I need, I already have right here in front of me.

so crisp and new!

So my third, but likely not last, tattoo is also on my right arm. It is a dotted line that curves from underneath the "simply live" text to make several loops and end in a paper airplane farther up my forearm. I feel like each of my tattoos marks an important period of time in my life: the ankh, my adolescence, the beginning of discovery and experience, when everyday was full of possibility and so much stretched unknown before me; the "simply live" text, my young adulthood, the letting go of certain expectations, the loosening of ties, the acceptance that I cannot control my environment, only the way I choose to react to it; and the paper airplane, a new phase of adulthood, where I am learning to embrace fun as I see life through my son's eyes, where I am learning to accept myself and enjoy myself, where I am beginning to strive for my own happiness rather than the approval of others.



I love all three of my tats: they're like children in that I couldn't possibly name a favorite. As long as I keep living and growing, I'm going to keep getting inked. My tattoos are like ironic talismans against self-harm. They are permanent reminders of the impermanence of life, of the constant ebb and flow, the changing of seasons, the getting and the letting go. They provide me with perspective in times when I'm greatly in danger of losing my grip on it. They give me another medium through which to write my life and make it real.

1 comment:

chksngr said...

I love the "road map" of your life through these...and how you have reflected on what each represents.