For the past seven years, I’ve wanted a tattoo. It’s not something commonly known about me. In fact, most of my family, friends, coworkers, even acquaintances who think they know me enough to get the gist of my reserved personality probably wouldn’t have thought I was the type.
Before December 31, 2010, I wasn’t the type. I didn’t run out on my eighteenth birthday to get a flower on my lower back. I didn’t go away on spring break in college only to return with a butterfly on my shoulder blade. I often shrugged at the idea. It was for the others. Not me.
But once we lost our daughter Sophia, it was a thought I couldn’t quite shake.
It was a notion that never fully formed, until now. I knew it would likely be the only tattoo I’d ever want. Something small. Delicate. A symbol of my daughter. If I couldn’t have her in my life, I wanted something I could wear with me everywhere I went. I’d likely put it on my ankle. She’d tag along to the grocery store, with me to work, even get soapy in the shower. I’d never have to worry I was going to lose it. It would never slip away from me. It would never take a final breath. Not like she did.
An exact image of what I’d get never formulated. For years, I mulled it over. Flowers seemed nice. Her name would be classic. Something in cursive, but one not too ornate. I wanted it to represent her–or what I imagined she would have been like had she lived.
For a while, the idea disappeared. I became pregnant–twice. I went through miscarriages–twice. Not exactly an ideal time to get inked.
My fourth pregnancy was wild. It threw me through some loops, took a strain on my nerves, and left me rattled. I felt hopeless and hopeful all at once. I fought negativity, and struggled to make it through daily life. Dread got me down. Fatigue got me down. Bloated feet got me down (literally).
But now, three years removed from the premature birth of my now toddler, the tattoo has re-entered my thoughts. No more excuses stand in between me and it. The spot on my inner left ankle is ready. The design–now one that includes all my babies–is ready. My desire is ready. But somehow, something still gets in the way. Fear, anxiety, nervousness. I never did this before. I don’t know what the inside of the shop looks like. I don’t know what the guy putting a permanent image on my skin will look like. I don’t know how much it will hurt, and will I handle the pain as I typically have a high tolerance?
Then the what ifs begin: what if I don’t like it, what if the dandelion looks funny, what if I can’t take the pain like I think I can, what if it is a big mistake?
The past few days, I have deeply entrenched in this plight. I have researched hundreds of images until I found one that is closest to what I envision. I have scoped out pictures of my Facebook friends known to be tatted. I examined the artistry of each design. The placement. I gauged just how much I thought it hurt as the needle hit their skin there. I longingly looked at the front door to the local tattoo shop when we went uptown to the farmers’ market. I sent a message online to the shop, and received a reply only minutes later. “Thanks for your message!…” it began. Seemed friendly enough.
Yet none of this has calmed my nerves. I dream about it. I internally fight myself: I know it’s something meaningful to me yet my anxiety is trying to make me back down.
Finally, this morning, I figured out how to calm my fears. Some of them, anyway. I turned on a yoga video. I stretched. I breathed deeply–ujjayi, or “the ocean breath”. The air filled my nostrils, and with a constriction of the back of my throat, was released with an audible wave. As my breathing washed over me like cold water splashing over the sand, over my feet, I realized how I could do something so unlike me yet make myself feel more comfortable.
The message the shop had sent back left me confused. Do I call? Do I need an appointment? There’s a deposit needed. An hourly rate. But it all depended on the type of tattoo. I had no idea.
I re-read the message. He said I could stop by and if they can’t do it that day, I could set up an appointment for later. It seemed easy. After all, the idea of making a phone call riles my heart rate. One to a tattoo shop made the palpitations nearly unbearable.
I set a day. My husband offered to go with me. I put in on the calendar. Ujjayi breath.
It may be something I don’t follow through with. Or, I may. It might be the best thing I ever did for my soul. Or, I may regret it. None of these things will be clear until I try. Anxiety attempts to take that away from me. Backing down would be the easy choice. It’s just a tattoo, I told myself. You don’t have to do this. But what would it mean if I did? And what about if I didn’t?
If it were just a tattoo, I wouldn’t care about it. If it were just a tattoo, I wouldn’t agonize for days at a time. If it were just a tattoo, I wouldn’t have kept the idea alive for seven years.
I never before thought about marking up my skin. I may never think about it again. But until then, I will see where this journey leads.
Maybe one day, the ocean waves will wash over the tattoo and breathe life again into my babies.