We all wear the scars of time on our bodies: sun damage, stretch marks, crow’s feet, grey hair. Changes of body at the cellular level usually happen gradually. But sometimes the deepest and most visible scars are the ones that happen unexpectedly: a grease splash on the arm while cooking, a gash wound that never fully re-approximates, a mastectomy that was planned only a week ago.
Most people don’t choose to burn their arm while cooking and wouldn’t sign up for elective removal of a body part. Because most of us can’t choose our scars: what they look like, or how we got them.
I never planned on getting a tattoo. Probably for the same reasons many non-tattooed bodies choose no tattoos — I wanted to look “professional,” didn’t have a design in mind, didn’t want to be the lady in the nursing home with a saggy tattoo when I turned 80 years old. But when I was cut with the deepest emotional scar I could have imagined, the first place I turned to heal was to get a tattoo. I figured I would wear this emotional scar in my heart for the rest of my life — might as well wear it on my body too. I got my first (supposedly last) ink with a friend living out a similar unforeseen fork in the road. We re-marked the pain of our internal wounds with a deliberate, physical scar. It was downright therapeutic.
My second tattoo comes without drama initially, but has branched through time into a family tradition. My sister went to Tommy to design two “R’s” for her foot, representing our two family names. In the design process, Tommy drew an image that he thought was better suited for me than Glynis. She still got two R’s that night, just a different variation. I got the R’s designated for me later that week, and since then, multiple members of our family have each gotten a unique variation of the same concept. The double letter family tree tattoos are taking root one foot at a time.
The third, like the first, came from a place of great stress and despair, and marks the victorious end of a long professional battle. It fossilizes a concept and an idea that I had to fight hard for, with the assistance of more than one lawyer.
The newest comes from a place of pure joy and pride, marking the fruition of my goal to become a nurse. An amalgamation of anatomy, birth, and yoga, I wanted to appreciate my call to midwifery, my own good health, and my yoga practice alongside my love of nature. I asked him to fuse cardiovascular branches with tree branches, and somehow incorporate a grateful woman in the mix. Talk about a tall design order, but once again, Tommy came through. As my favorite five year old said, “it’s like a tree with a person tangled up inside.”
It is the biggest tattoo I have, but it hurt the least. Partially because I think in the last 5 years since getting the first one, I’ve accepted that these emotional and physical scars are unavoidable. There is no way over it except through it. Just breathe. That’s what I tell women in labor, and it’s what I told myself when the needle hit skin.
These are the only four scars I have ever chosen for myself, and I love every single one of them.
Some people hang art on their walls. Some people look at it in museums. I take Tommy’s art with me everywhere I go.