The Family Tree of Flowers Tattoo
By: Jayden Ison
A family tree can illustrate many things about the past. My mother and father came from two separate worlds, from families that taught me tradition and heritage. My thick hair came from my mother’s mother, my freckles from her husband, and my dark hair from my father’s side. Those things you can see, but so much more comes from the invisible roots.
Growing up, I was a loner. I would play in the backyard and climb the Magnolia tree. I would hide from my parents and watch them look for me from above. It made me feel free to be invisible and to swing down from the branches whenever I was ready. It did not take long for them to begin checking that tree first when looking for me. At the age that I am now, I don’t see much that has changed. Still hiding from the world until the bravery creeps up and I’m ready to step out and speak up. My past makes me who I am, and my experiences have been the seeds that planted my beliefs. When I think of these experiences, I think of my family and those invisible roots.
When I turned twenty-three, I booked a session with a tattoo artist I had come to know well. I remember the feeling I had walking into the shop. The butterflies swirling around my abdomen, adrenaline down to my toes, and pain in my cheeks from smiling from ear to ear. My friend tried to make me feel comfortable as I sat in his chair, but I had to concentrate on sitting still. The outline was set and suddenly all the butterflies settled. I felt as if I was taking my body back from all those invisible roots that had grown beneath the surface. All anyone could see was the branches of a tree, full of freckles and thick, dark hair blowing in the wind.
My tattoo artist began to stick his needle in my upper arm in the shape of an orchid. The flower of my older cousin’s choice, who had passed away years before. The white pedals covering the church at his funeral brought me strange thoughts of gratitude. This blue and white flower placed over a healed scar from my own affliction, to which I shared with my cousin. I saw him, but never knew how he felt until later. This reminded me to look past the surface of others and try to connect with their roots. I sat in the chair with two months of sobriety, which isn’t much, but it was the most I had ever had.
I chose another orchid for my other cousin who was too young to choose his favorite flower when he died. His orchid was placed on my shoulder, closest to my head where the tumor grew and took his life at thirteen. His old soul and calm nature soothes me to this day and reminds me to take it easy and never to take the day for granted.
The next were two red roses for my sister, who I loved and admired, but disappointed so many times. Our relationship plagued with love and hate. The times we talked and laughed together, that undeniable bond and riddled language only we know how to speak had been overshadowed by the distance created by disease. My thoughts of her remind me to take pride in new relationships and to repair old ones because the disconnection of one day can turn into years. Nothing is ever worth the lost time for someone so special.
Between those, two purple Lilies for my mother and father, who had been to more funerals than they should have. At the very end, when nothing was left, they still showed up to give me peace and love, which is the truest beauty I have experienced. Even with their faults, the mistakes they’ve made, the anger they caused, and the trials they’ve passed down, I see them as human, like me. Trudging through life and knocking things over as they pass by, but even in the darkest of times, there they were. This reminds me to show up for others, especially in their dark times, when sometimes all you can do is show up and sit next to them.
The last one, in the very center, was a crimson Magnolia, for me. The heart that has kept beating, even when it shouldn’t have. Those moments that I cherished and think of often, where I was safe and protected from the world. When my childish enthusiasm kept me smiling, even when I was alone. I never want to take myself too seriously, and this always makes me think of the light-hearted girl I was, and to always take care of the strong woman I’ve become.
Now, writing this, I smile at my past and gaze over at the daily reminder on my arm. What a beautiful family tree of flowers still thriving with the roots I have planted myself.