Life is a book full of lines, paragraphs and chapters. With each line is a different event, a different experience, a different part of me. There are lines that take up whole pages and chapters that explain a different part of my story. With each biography, novel, memoir, there is a beginning, a middle and an end. With each turn of the page the next fragment of a tale.
My body is the same. There are scars and wrinkles, each reminding me and others that I have lived, I have experienced, I have suffered and I have enjoyed. Each of these marks remind me that I am me. What they cannot do is tell the story of how, why and when. Tattoos can provide this missing element. They can make available an emotion, a reaction, an acceptance. Words on a page are of no use if your imagination does not conjure up an image. My tattoos are symbols, reminders and keepsakes of the people lost, the parts of me nearly lost and the acceptance of who I have become.
Upon my left upper arm, close to my heart but still within sight is my brothers name. His date of birth and his date of death.
My brother was taken away from me and my family in a freak and tragic accident. There was no warning, no feeling, no chance to say goodbye. At a time of mourning, of excruciating pain I felt anger and frustration at having so much to say but no way to say it. I had no words to signify exactly how much it hurt. To portray to others how much I needed him back. Unfortunately, as many ill understand, there was no way to do this, but there was a way to have a part of him in constant sight, in constant closeness, even if it was just a name on my arm. It was possible for me to touch the healing tattoo and feel physical pain, much more reassuring than emotional. I could put my hand on my arm and feel close to him, as though he would be in the room with me if I was thinking about him. Without my brother I was lost.
With only two years between us we grew up attached, we did everything together. We played board games at night when our parents slept. Laughing so hard when my dad’s hairy legs appeared through the door to tell us off for being too loud. We played out on our inline skates on Christmas day, the path recently tarmacked so we glided. Bike rides to the nearby castle where we spent hours climbing trees and into derelict buildings. When we moved to a new house and were bullied by the neighbour’s children, we went out together, made sure we were never alone and protected one another. If anyone wanted to be friends with one of us, they had to be friends with both.
When I began work, I used each pay packet to buy a takeaway and rent movies which we watched together every Friday night. Getting into trouble again when our parents realised, I was hiring 18+ movies.
When I had a big argument with the first person I lived with, he ran faster than my dad drove and tried to protect me. My brother was the only one allowed to fight with me. When I was doing a paper round each Sunday morning, out in the streets at 6 am, he would get up with me and help me. Not because he wanted some of the money but because it was dark, and he did not want me out there alone in the dark. He was my brother, my protector.
I was not an easy teenager, most would say I was stubborn, rebellious to put it nicely, I am sure people would choose much harsher words really. If there was a risk, trouble, anything, I was in the middle of it. I was fearless and I made some stupid decisions while growing up. Some of those decisions led to events that I have had to receive therapy for. Others just an extreme teenage risk. Within therapy I began to use my drawing to describe my feelings. I found it easier to talk through writing, drawing or anything that did not involve opening my mouth. Contained in these pictures there was a regular sight. Bats. Bats would be flying around over the safe place I had created, they would be swooping to catch me when I was feeling happy, to destroy what happiness I felt, they would be watching me ready for any opportunity to attack me. Bats were a symbol of my shame, my guilt, my past. They were the thoughts that crept in at night or when the hours were silent, the images that vividly lit up my nightmares. A time came when I was no longer prepared to allow my past to control my present or my future. In a moment of inspiration, I booked a tattoo space and had two large bats and some smaller ones placed upon my back.
The positioning of them is very important. Having explained this story to some people before, they think I am crazy to have an image that triggers harsh emotions attached to me permanently but to me, I was owning my shame and guilt. I was taking the power away from the bats by saying that I accept that they are a part of me, my past and my choices. They are what made me who I am, and I am proud of who I am. I will carry those bats with me with pride because I fought, I survived, and I will not allow shame, guilt, pain and memories to destroy me and my happiness.
I was maybe a little fast off the mark with that one though as I hit a low point. I may have owned my bats, but I could not own the people who caused the bats to fly. During a time when I was in court fighting for the custody of my children, I nearly slipped into a deep depression. I allowed my ex husband to tell me that I was a failure, a weak person who would hurt my children. I allowed it to continue for a while but then I stood up and said no more. I am me! My experiences, choices and events from when I was a teenager had no bearing on my ability to parent. In fact, it makes me more understanding, more open, more available to them. Cue the next tattoo.
On my inner wrist lay the words “Never Give up”. Once again purposely positioned so that when I lean my head in my hands ready to cry, the tattoo is within direct eyesight, reminding me that I never gave up before so I will find that extra fight, I will be the stubborn person that I am and fight until I can fight no more.
Following a further failed marriage and once again finding myself tormented by my ex husband I was managing ok but felt that I needed a little extra support, a little extra strength. That was when I booked in for the one on my inner right wrist. This tattoo has a symbol to remind me to have faith, love and hope. Above this are the words that my therapist told me about when I was grieving for my brother. “It was then that I carried you” from footprints in the sand.
These tattoos are my story. They are the images that belong with the words, the scars, the wrinkles and yes, the grey hairs. My tattoos are my support, my encouragement, my saviours when times are difficult. My tattoos are me and they help me to hold what is dearest to me close.