We Mark Ourselves

My husband was in the hospital. It was his second day of what would end up being six, following a shocking onset of rhabdomyolysis. I was spending time in the clubhouse pool with our toddler and his mother, trying to ignore the dark thoughts.

I didn’t know my daughter was old enough to ask, “Is daddy going to die?” and though I doubted she fully understood the depth of her question, it rocked me to my core.

A lady approached us and asked about my tattoos. I welcomed the distraction from my daughter’s question.

My daughter loves my tattoos. She draws on herself like any other toddler, but I know it’s because she wants tattoos. Permanent isn’t a concept she knows. She uses washable markers and her marks are off her body after bath time.

Mine are permanent.

My first tattoo is a large, dark pink rose with dark green leaves. Under the tattoo in beautiful script are the French words, “La vie en rose.”

If you’ve never listened to Edith Piaf’s version of La Ve En Rose, it’s worth it to hear at least once. Classic, beautiful, and memorable. My dad’s mom, Mita, loved it.

Ma Mita is Spanish endearment meaning “little woman,” or as my Mita used it, “little grandmother.” She was little. And she was gorgeous. Olive skin, dark features, thick hair, a lovely accent, and a laugh that filled the room. She was one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met. La Ve En Rose became a song I associated with her.

My first tattoo is a combination of the things I love. Roses. Red. Passion. My Mita. Living life with positivity.

And it is a mark of my first real loss.

To that point I had not known the depth of longing for someone who was no longer there. The heat of my anger scared me a times. I would roll my eyes at the stupid sayings people threw at me as a way to make me feel better.

There was a new wound deep within me. It seeped for a long time. Until finally, I could shape that mark into something beautiful.

My second tattoo is a pair of clockwork angel wings on my left upper arm.

Clockwork because I have become a big fan of steampunk/clockwork art and literature.

Angel wings.

I explained to the lady, “I miscarried my second child at ten weeks.”

The lady’s gray hair spoke of the years of experience she had on me. She raised her leg and showed me three hearts with names. The top heart had angel wings. “These are my sons,” she explained. “I lost my oldest one.” She stretched out her arm. I love you was written in script and signed with a name. “My husband’s signature and name. I lost him two years ago.”

Tattoos have come a long way from their traditional use and social implications. From tribal designs showing where one belongs to frightening displays of criminal behavior to expressions of self. It’s not as easy today for the average person to ascertain the meaning behind any given tattoo.

Some of us feel the need to mark ourselves. Not everyone will understand why. Not everyone will understand what it was that lead us to express ourselves that way.

Tattoos come with a price. Monetarily. Physically. Emotionally.

I welcomed the pain. I needed to physically feel what my mind and soul felt. I knew breaking glass in my hand would not be safe. I knew drawing a knife across my skin to release the anguish inside would be seen as a cry for help. I knew trying to make my body physically feel the pain I held so deep inside would land me in a place I didn’t want to go. So, I had found an acceptable release.

What he was drawing on me, he was drawing out of me. He was reaching inside and finding the permanent scar within and shaping that into a permanent mark on the outside. One more approachable.

I somehow knew in the midst of the uncertainty that I would not need to mark myself or my husband. “No, daddy’s not going to die,” I found myself saying to my daughter later.

I hoped that I never had to mark myself for him, or for her. But who can know the future.

Did the lady who showed me her marks know what was coming? Did she have time to prepare? Part of me wanted to ask her more about what happened, but I mostly felt content in simply sharing our grief by explaining our tattoos.

We mark ourselves as an expression of what is hidden deep within: joy, sorrow, anger, sentiment. Regardless of what it is, who sees it, or who understands it. That mark will stay with us, always. Should Aylmer* try to remove our mark, we would meet Georgiana’s same fate.

* “The Birthmark” by Nathanial Hawthorne

What are your thoughts?