This Tattoo Is Not Perfect

Yesterday, I bled for longer than I felt comfortable with. The area of skin wasn’t large, and I’d only had one small plastic flute of champagne before offering up the once-bare brown space on my finger to the elevated black cushion. The inside of my fourth digit, berry bruised and constrained by Saran Wrap, stung as the plastic rubbed. So much so that I blew on it pointlessly, rapidly flicking my wrists in an effort to shake off the pain. Whenever the tingles seemed to subside, a slight crook of the finger brought the dull throbbing back.

I was proud of it, though. I needed this. When I gritted my teeth together for the five minutes I watched the artist with sparse spots of undecorated flesh drag the pulsing needle around in thick, black leaky loops, there was a sense of pride. A thrill that crept up into a satisfied smile. I had taken a risk, one that hadn’t been planned for more than a week. Something far from my nature.

I slipped off the temporary protection and stared down at the raw, puffy flesh to read the words that now belonged to me: “Let go.”

I tilted my head at the peculiar new addition to my inkless right hand. You’re not supposed to alter the right hand, they say. The handshaking hand is how business is finalized, how people take you seriously as a professional. To see a right hand peppered with tattoos would somehow bring “good enough” down to “less than.” At least, that’s what I had been groomed to think before entering the creative space. I believed in these proper margins… until I just didn’t. These toxic formalities had to be flushed from me one way or another.

I’m not silly enough to say with conviction that I’m not a slave to fear and rigid rightness. I am. As a child, the points of my crayons seldom slipped beyond the given guidelines, and if it did, frustration would swell up within me like a sickness. Perfection was something I valued more than anything. I prided myself on not having anything for anyone to criticize. Praise for being the good one, the smart one, the helpful one, the obedient one, the reliable one, the talented one, the consistent one, the ideal one, was the ultimate prize. It was a high until it became a debilitating crutch; something akin to the metal edges of an Operation game board. One misstep resulted in a shock that said, you lose. You failed. That fear of losing, fear of failing, fear of disapproval, consumed me, choked me. Still chokes me, still consumes me. I don’t want to do anything that could possibly lead me into the land of the shamed, of the defeated, of the wrong, even for a moment. No risk means no failure right?

It’s nothing I’m proud of. It’s not a mindset I put on a pedestal. I am a tightly wound ball of taut “What If” fibers. A tangled mess of possibilities I haven’t even tried to unravel because I don’t know where the cords begin or where they may lead and I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t lead to perfection on the first attempt. I am held captive by myself, screaming from behind the bars of my own mind. That curious self is leashed tightly by my cautious self.

But freedom is not far. It never is. It’s just beyond the horizon of control, of knowing all the answers, of trying to take all the right steps. Beyond thinking my story would and should be one of errorless marvel. To believe in these overzealous desires is to be trapped in a lie. To accept the truth of stumbling, to master staggered steps and stand, is to be free.

This new tattoo of mine is not perfect. The first-love sparks did not arrive for me within the first seconds of seeing it. There is still purple smudging from where the stencil guided the artist’s hand. The “Go,” originally too large for my finger in stencil form, had to be free handed, so it is a (barely visible) font-size smaller than the “Let.” The line leading into the “T” has a little dip in it, evidence of when she shifted a bit reconnecting the line post excess ink wipe. Be clear, she is a very good tattoo artist. I am just critical. A self-deprecating perfectionist. And this tattoo is not perfect.

But neither is this life journey I am walking on. It will never be perfect. It can’t be. That is simply not reality. Not everything can be perfect, or even a version of it. Good things can, and often do, come from moments of imperfection. Opportunities. Acceptance. Clarity. Laughter. Surrender. And for all of those reasons, imperfection is perfect.

For me, this tattoo — this mirror of me — is perfect.