When I was 21, I contemplated getting a tattoo. Luckily, I had the common sense to recognize that, at 21, I was unlikely to select something I’d like to wear on my skin
Now I’m 41. That’s twenty years of experience (for those of you who are math whizzes like me).
In twenty years, what have I done?
• I’ve gone to college. And quit college. And started again. And again…
• I’ve gotten married and divorced. Twice.
• I’ve given birth to a small human and raised him into a reasonably responsible, functional young adult.
• I’ve written and published a half-dozen books, twice as many short stories, and countless blog posts and articles.
• I’ve read too many books and stories and blog posts and articles to count.
• I’ve become friends with some of the very best humans on this planet.
• I’ve gotten my motorcycle license but never my own bike.
• I’ve paraglided at 3,000 feet above sea level.
• I’ve utterly failed at learning to ski. (Probably mostly because I really don’t want to learn how to ski. I’d much prefer to just never, ever see snow again.)
• I’ve built a home with my hands, my heart, my soul and my best friend. And I lost all of it.
• I’ve survived a womb that tried to kill me.
• I’ve completed scads of half-marathons and sprint triathlons.
• I’ve run on trails and roads and beaches, all slow and zen and Forrest Gump-like.
• I’ve danced, badly.
• I’ve traveled well.
• I’ve rescued dogs and cats and rabbits and pigs and other critters.
• I’ve tried to rescue men. (The critters are a better investment.)
• I’ve lost people I love to cancer and to suicide and to a crazy, sneaky pulmonary embolism.
• I’ve had my heart broken.
• I’ve broken hearts.
• I’ve felt hopeless, but I’ve hung on long enough to feel hopeful again, and I’ve learned: whether or not you want to, you always feel hopeful again.
Basically, I’ve done a lot of shit in twenty years.
Acquired a lot of experience. Knowledge. Lessons.
What do I still not know?
How to select something I’d like to wear on my skin for the rest of my life.
Here’s the thing, though.
I no longer give a fuck.
Hell, tell me I have to get dressed up for an event, and I can’t even select an outfit I’ll still be happy with when I see it in pictures later. Clearly, getting a tattoo is not for the likes of me.
Which is exactly why I got one.
After all, I love tattoos. Have you read Fifty Ways to Leave Your Husband? My hunky hero Finn is covered in tattoos. (That he’s a billionaire genius who also happens to be a dead ringer for Adam Levine doesn’t hurt, but I digress…) I have friends and family with tattoos, and I love the stories that go along with each of them.
Two of my sisters have tattoos in memory of our late father. I started to think that if I was going to get a tattoo at last, I’d like for it to have something to do with my Dad. The gears turned. I thought about why I hadn’t ever gotten a tattoo, and why now — in the thick of my fabulous midlife crisis, steeped in questionable judgment — might be the perfect time.
There are parts of my life that I really, truly would like to erase. Some memories hurt, others are embarrassing. I wish for the ability to wash them away and wipe my memory clean.
But the truth is, I am — as we all are — the sum of every single one of my experiences. The older I get, the more I understand how silly so much of what we worry about truly is. At 21, I worried about what a tattoo might look like on my 90-year-old self. You know what? Nothing is going to look good on my 90-year-old self. Not by a 21-year-old’s standards, anyway.
But when I bit the bullet and got my tattoo yesterday, I knew this: every time I look at this tattoo — and the ones I promise you are yet to come — I will revisit a moment in time, and the world of meaning connected to it. I might want to cover it up or change it someday.
But I hope I don’t. I hope that however it makes me feel, I have the wisdom to know that this ink went on in a heartfelt, happy moment — yet it is truly only skin deep. Like every other part of my body, it will someday be gone. It won’t matter what size I was or what my hair looked like or whether I covered my skin in art or left it bare. None of that will matter when I am six feet under.
Just an excellent reminder that this shell is the playground for the soul within. And playgrounds are made for fun. We really need to stop taking ourselves and our funny-looking bodies so damn seriously.
You may recall the recent post in which I discussed a ‘coincidence’ that blindsided me (if you haven’t read it yet, check it out here — it may not be my best post, but it’s one of my favorites).
That stanza from ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ keeps popping up in my life when I need it most, like an echo of those nights my father and I spent washing and drying dishes after supper, singing along with Simon and Garfunkel at maximum volume:
Sail on, silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
It wasn’t even close to my favorite song in our repertoire back then. But it’s funny how things gain meaning over time. When I turned 30, one of my sisters took me to see Simon and Garfunkel in concert. I’m pretty sure we both cried at this song. And it keeps finding me.
So there it is, on my left arm:
Close to my heart and in honor of my southpaw father. It’s a sentiment inspired by my Dad and printed in my own hand. The sailboat and the breeze in the shape of an arrow pointing forward are about as good as I get with the visual arts. I thought of asking Captain Bret, tattoo artist extraordinaire, to pretty it up. But I decided against it. It feels right to have it there just as I sketched it, imperfect as I am. I love the notion that when I am having a rough day, or when I’m struggling in a running race, I can look at it and feel my Dad cheering me on as he did in life.
It’s a nod to my past, and a promise for the future.
It’s also, I think, just about as badass as a tattoo featuring a folk song lyric can possibly be.