The good, the bad and the ugly.
The story behind my black Lotus flower.
Tattoos are considered different things around the world. In some cultures, they are treated as symbols of status or standing, symbols of wisdom or enlightenment. They are seen as an art form, a tool of self-expression or sometimes, a simple fashion statement. In others, they are perceived as taboo, unholy, barbaric, or plain tacky. They are thought of as symbols that identify criminals, deviants, sinners or “bad” people of all kinds. My home town is (was?) one of those places…
I was born July 12th, 1989 in a small, conservative and tightly- knit community in a city in central Mexico you probably haven’t heard of. I was the second child to a young couple and their very first girl. And having been born into what appeared to be a “normal” family, my life started out like anyone else’s, I suppose. Except… it didn’t. Not really, or at least not entirely. You see, my parents had a complicated story themselves, and although it is not my story to tell, I will say this: they met, dated, had their families feud, married and had a baby by the time my mom was 18 and my father was 20.
The first 4 years of my life, I -obviously- can’t remember. But from the number of smiling pictures I’ve seen of us together, I’d guess they were pretty good. Or at least it seems like we had quite a few good times as a young family of 4. We lived in a small 2-bedroom apartment I can still remember; we enjoyed spending time outdoors and attending my father’s races and we even had a white French Poodle named Misty. She lived for 12 years and I -vaguely- remember the last time I saw her. Life was simple (-er).
Then, right before my 5th birthday, my younger sister was born. And after being the only “little princess” in the house, I became an older sister and a middle child, overnight. I still remember the day she was born like it was yesterday. I can’t quite place the moment when my mom left for the hospital, or how the day actually started. But I do remember walking up the ramp to the second floor of the hospital wing my mom was in, hand-in-hand with my new sister’s godmother.
I remember walking into the room and seeing my mom lying in bed wearing a hospital gown and feeling scared (or maybe just nervous?). Had anyone noticed the explosion of emotions going through my head? Was it obvious? Or were they busy gushing about the new baby? Did I let go of the hand I was holding, or did I squeeze tighter? I can’t know for sure. All I know is that after entering the room, it all became a blur. Until someone handed me a gift box and said something like “Here you go sweetie, your little sister brought you a gift”. I don’t remember ever opening it, or even what it was.
It was fun having a little sister. I admit, I felt a bit uncomfortable, nervous and even struggled a bit with the thought of losing my parent’s love and attention. For a little while, at least. But I was also learning about the joys of having someone to care for and -eventually- play with. I was also deeply curious about this little person that was now going to be my little sister. There was just something about it, calling her my little sister, that stirred up something inside me. Something that instilled a great sense of responsibility and duty in me. But I loved it. And I still do, to be quite honest.
The years went by. We played, we fought, we made up, we grew up, we bonded and we became best friends. In spite and because of everything we went through together, today we both know it was, has always been and will always be, us against the world. But sadly, our childhood was then derailed by the consequences of my father’s choices. While we were all busy being children, he was busy making choices that landed him in prison, for the first time. He went away for a year, when I was around 9 years old, my older brother 12, and my little sister was only 4.
That year, I can’t quite place much of what happened or what our everyday life was like. Sometimes, I think I can picture something with intense clarity. Others times, I can’t even seem to put together the bits and pieces of “memories” stumbling around inside my head. And then there are the times when I wonder if what I unearth from the tangled mess inside my head, actually happened. Or if I imagined it, leapt to conclusions or intertwined it with the stories I’ve been told about the pictures I’ve seen from around that time.
For example, I’ve seen pictures of one time we went to visit him when he was first incarcerated. He was being held in another state so I remember we flew and stayed in someone’s mother’s house. I remember the distinct smell of the place, it engulfed you as soon as you stepped inside. The whole house smelled like… old. I also remember that on that trip, we all had a fruit salad with a specific combination of ingredients for the first time. And that it, somehow, became kind of a weird tradition in our household. How freakin’ bizarre is that?
I’ve also seen pictures of us sitting and hanging out together inside the prison, in what looks to be the cafeteria or a dining area. My sister and I are even wearing matching cute dresses. There are also some of my father participating as an acolyte during a mass that was held in the prison courtyard during our visit. I believe we even had someone cut our hair while we were there? But nonetheless, I can’t ever seem to remember the way I felt through any of it. And that makes it a bit unreal, to me.
Sometimes, I will remember a specific moment so vividly, I feel like I am there. Like the day we went to pick him up from the airport and then found ourselves surrounded by press during one of our most vulnerable and private moments as a family. With people all around us, barking questions, snapping pictures, and recording our every move. And perhaps my memory isn't a precise depiction of what actually happened on that day, but that is the way I remember it. That is the way it felt, to 10 year old me. And I can see it -sometimes, feel it- as clearly as if I was watching a movie.
But eventually, life went on, the subject and narrative changed and we moved on; everyone else seemed to as well. But the memories lingered, like they always do… Then, strike two came. He once again made choices that landed him in prison, for a second time. Only this time, I was 14. And I definitely wasn’t too young to know, not anymore.
He was incarcerated in another country and for a much longer time, so that also made it way worse. But what hurt the most, was the realization that to him, we were secondary, like an afterthought. And that given the chance, he would -without exception- chose someone, something or someplace else, over us. His -now, former- family. That, and witnessing firsthand what his choices and their consequences, kept doing to my mom. The absolute worst.
So, after a bit of a rocky start, a complicated childhood, an imperfect and bumpy life, a whole bunch of obstacles and basically, the absolute shitstorm (pardon my French) I’ve had to live through, while being misjudged, criticized, labeled, singled out, betrayed, mistreated, misunderstood and so much more, I’d learned to kind of adapt and survive. But that wasn’t true to being myself. So, I finally decided to “fight back” and do something meaningful that I wanted for myself. Without ever, giving a second thought to anyone else’s opinion. It was about control. Oh, it absolutely was!
It was about taking back some of the control I felt I’d lost while essentially growing up without him. It was about fighting the demons that had taken over my head; about regaining the strength to rebuild the parts of myself I had destroyed or abandoned for fear of sparking further rejection. It was also a way of putting myself back together after struggling for years with self-esteem, eating disorders, abuse and anxiety. A way to boost my confidence, an exploration and an outward expression of my personality and my individuality.
It was a constant -and permanent- reminder of what I was capable of, of my immense strength. And to me, it became a beacon of light in the cave of darkness and oppression I felt I lived in. But it was also about empowerment, inspiration and hope. By and for myself. So, in a town where I was already being singled out for something I knew in my heart had absolutely nothing to do with me, I went ahead and I got a tattoo. And I was instantly part of the ones considered rebels, misfits, delinquents or whatever. But I wasn’t worried about that. I could not have cared less about what anyone else thought. I was however, deadly afraid of my parents finding out.
Mind you, I was already 18 when I got it. It had been completely legal and done by an absolute professional that had been recommended by a close friend of mine that I trusted. But I still lived in a very conservative city, in my parent’s house while they continued to support me. And tattoos in my household, like in our so- called “tightly- knit” community, were considered a huge NO. So, I was always walking on eggshells, afraid they would find out. But I was careful enough that I managed to keep my deep dark secret hidden for about a year without them realizing it.
Until one day, when I was outside in our backyard play-wrestling with my older niece and she pulled back my hair. She saw the damned thing and started screaming at my mom (her grandma) to come see the “stamp” on my neck. Shouting, at the top of her lungs to come down and make me show her again. So, I bolted and left her in the yard screaming, and went hiding in my bathroom. Hoping the whole thing would magically disappear.
Eventually, my mom came to my room and very calmly (thanks, mom!), asked to see the so-called “stamp” on the back of my neck. She asked if it was real and when I told her it was, she responded with something like “Well, I don’t like it. And I don’t approve but, whatever. It is your body.” I was in utter shock. But I loved her so much for it. Maybe to her it wasn’t that big of a deal, but it filled my heart with love, acceptance and pride all at the same time.
Back then, when people used to ask why I chose a Lotus Flower, I used to say that I chose it because it signified strength. Or that it meant I endured and survived a specific hardship, or something of the sort. But I never really shared the whole story. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to share it, yet. Today, I am 31 years old and my father has once again landed himself in prison and been released, for a third time. Once for every decade I’ve been alive. Surreal, right?
But now when people ask, I can proudly say that the reason for my tattoo, is all of it. All of what’s happened to me, and what I have lived through and survived. That is why I picked a Lotus Flower as my first tattoo. Because unlike any other flower, it blooms every single day from underneath the toughest, thickest and darkest mud. And it blooms perfectly clean, unstained and unburdened by the heavy mud it went through. And in my mind and in my heart, that represents who I am. Or at least, that is what I strive to be.
Someone that comes from where she comes from. But that is by no means defined by what happened to her. Someone with immense inherited -and learned- strength and resilience. Someone that will never give up on herself or her dreams. Someone who blatlantly refuses to accept defeat. Someone that makes mistakes, but is always willing to learn and try again. Someone that will always stand for what she believes in. Someone fiercely loyal. Someone with a voice that she’s no longer afraid to use. Someone that’s been through hell and back, on more than one occasion. Someone fearless. Someone in love with life an with an unwavering will to live, fully. Someone deeply hopeful. Someone happy. Someone free. And that, is me.