On my left wrist, scratched into my skin is a red heart with angel’s wings. I had it done on my 45th birthday at The Illustrated Man. It was the last birthday I spent with my late husband.
His birthday present to me was a fountain fashioned from a vase and a bowl, cobbled together to resemble something more elegant, more classy. The pump was noisy, louder than the gentle trickling sigh of water. Green mould gathered around the grey stones in the bottom. After a while I stopped turning it on. The cat used it as a giant water bowl.
When I remember that birthday, there is a quiet sadness that sits under the bright lights of my new and different life. A grey blanket of soggy melancholy wraps itself around my feet so I have to drag them into the day.
The winged heart tattoo reminds me of that last birthday. How can you ever know when it’s the last time? It’s not until afterwards that you can pinpoint the last kiss, the last time you shared a bed, the last time you saw someone alive … and the last time you saw them dead.
When I look at that tattoo I remember how he never liked it. Not this one or the one before it. I can’t remember if there was a reason. At least I know he didn’t come up with the normal objections – common, tacky, rough, unladylike – he just didn’t like tattoos. So the day he turned up with his own tattoo, a week after I’d left him, I was surprised.
Although I never told him, it was a beautiful tattoo. A Celtic pattern of curves and lines, arcs and points encircling his upper arm and creeping up on to his shoulder like ivy scaling a wall. It can no longer picture it exactly in my mind and there is no record of it. All I have is the impression of waves and thorns, of Gothic churches and pagan ceremonies. He didn’t have it for long. It was still raised from his skin, unhealed and unsettled on the day he died.
I used to think the inking of a tattoo on the skin was an attempt at immortality. Something permanent in a changing world; something predictable, enduring and constant. A tattoo is the closest thing to forever.
My husband wasn’t looking for immortality, he was looking in the other direction. I’m beginning to think his tattoo was an attempt to change the nature of his body so he might like himself more.
It didn’t work.
Do you have a tattoo? Does it have a special meaning?
20 thoughts on “Marked in Ink • a Search for Immortality”
tattoos have so many meanings – different ones for every person I’m sure. I did a post a week or so ago on mine (my husband didn’t like them either – but hasn’t gone out and had one done yet!) I’m always amazed at people who say you’ll regret getting one – I have no regrets at all – they are reminders of watershed moments in my life. great post Katie (as usual!) and I loved the pictures! ~ Leanne
…reminders of watershed moments in my life
Yes, I agree.
I had my only tattoo – a sort of phoenix/bird in the small of my back in various shades of blue – done at the grand old age of 42 with my Mother in law by my side! It was something I wanted for ages. Like my navel piercing at the age of 36 with my then 4 yr old son holding my hand – a spur of the moment wild thing whilst out shopping! Husband is totally cool about both! ???? Then again I wouldn’t have had either done if I wasn’t confident that I could pull them off without looking silly.
I didn’t have my navel pierced until I was in my forties. It’s funny how it takes awhile to feel comfortable in our skin.
Yes, my tattoo has meaning, it’s a lotus flower referencing yoga sutra 1.3 to remind me that we are all one. It was my gift to myself for graduating yoga teacher training and is on my inside ankle (not the outside) so that I see it and remember when I fold forward. Sounds snobby now, but 10 years ago when I first got it, I didn’t even talk about it to others, it was so personal.
Sounds nothing but lovely to me ♥
I have so many tattoos – – but you’re right none of them were intended to make me happier with either my vessel or who I am. They all mark special events and have a really important meaning to me.
… none of them were intended to make me happier with either my vessel or who I am
Yes to this.
Your tattoos are amazing. I stand in awe.
Hi Katie….I’m one of those people who doesn’t have a tattoo and only marginally like them. I’ve seen some that I’ve thought, “I could do that” but maybe because I have so many freckles all over my body, I’ve grown comfortable with having my own personal body art for my entire life. I also have a couple of scars that I’ve even thought about covering….but then I feel I’ve “earned” those scars and that it would be a disservice to them to cover them up. When you think about it, maybe some of my growing wrinkles are the same? I can certainly see from your perspective why your wrist tattoo holds such bittersweet memories. In some ways my scars and wrinkles carry the same sort of milestone memories. Ultimately they remind me that “i’m still here–no matter what!” ~Kathy
Thanks for your comment, Kathy. I think you’re right about wrinkles and scars – they remind us of our history and our ability to survive.
I’ve always wanted a tattoo but it’s because of its permanence and my need that it be significant, that I haven’t been able to decide on one!
It’s hard to decide, but even if you find the perfect one, it won’t be exactly what you would have done ten years later. The point is, get what you want right now and in the future you’ll just see it as a part of your personal journey.
I’ve got one on my calf. A big ‘P’ for my last name and then first initials of my wife and kids down the side. I spent several months away from them for work and wanted them close. Now my wife and I are having serious marriage issues and I want to get a small tattoo on my left inside wrist, where a watch would cover it if necessary for work. I want the initials N.M.L. (No More Lies) something that both my wife and I are working through, since we have both had affairs. Did your wrist tattoo hurt? Thanks for the article. It was very good.
I had a tattoo on my back first (a lizard) and I have to say the wrist tattoo hurt way more than the one on my back — but not unbearable — it was fine (and quick because it was much smaller).
It’s never “just a tattoo.” I loved this tale and I can’t tell you why because I’m not certain…. But I do.
Thanks Carol xx
Frankly, I’m scared of tattoos. I see folks with body art all over them and all I can think is how much it must have hurt. I’m not normally a weenie about pain. But I’m not wild about seeking it out, either. It could be my very sensitive skin that’s speaking here or an intense reaction to one of my mother’s aphorisms of long ago: “Suffer for beauty.” I still think that was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. A rare exception since my mother is usually very smart about life.
You made me smile with “the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Tattoos are a bit painful, but not as much as you might imagine.
I have 8 tattoos and they continue to get bigger and bigger as I go along in life. I started getting tats at the age of 20, long before it was such a “trend.” At 40, I think of the journey and what they meant to me now and how they remind me of all the things I have survived in life.
A few years ago I completely covered my chest in one large tattoo. It is a combination of song lyrics made into pictures to create one piece. I wanted it on my chest so I could see it every day. I need to remind myself that my life is worth living and no one is going to ever try to put me in a box again and make me feel any less than I deserve.
I got my first and only tattoo as soon as I was able to drive while recovering from colon cancer resectioning surgery. On my left wrist, in my own handwriting, I had tattooed the words “Be Set Free”. Diagnosed with cancer changed my perspective on life … it scared me to the core … I prayed and vowed if I could be rid of it I would live better,, live fully appreciative moreso than I was.
It’s a mantra for me everyday that we create our own chains in life and to live free and unbound is the only way to be our full and true selves.
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