I grew up thinking tattoos were only for men. My mom always expressed her disapproval of most tattoos, especially those decorating a woman’s body. My dad has an eagle with U. S. N. on his left bicep, a visual memento of his early-adult days in the United States Navy. (Many years later, he added a heart on his right bicep, a tribute to my mom.)
Growing up, I never wanted a tattoo; never wanted to alter my body in such an artificial way. If anything, my teenage/early adult years could be described as “very-mild-rebel.” I cut my waist-length hair to my shoulders. And when I was twenty-one, I decided to get a second hole pierced in my right ear.
Now, in my mid-thirties, my body has enough “tattoos.” There are the stretch marks on my stomach that haven’t completely erased themselves four years after my son was born. There’s the small white circular mark on my right wrist, a reminder of the needle that was inserted before my son was born and removed days after, when it was finally determined I wouldn’t need a blood transfusion. There are my birthmarks - one on my right forearm, one on my left calf. There are the beauty marks that adorn my right upper-arm, the left corner of my mouth, the left side of my neck. With all these “tattoos,” do I really need an “official” tattoo? The answer is no. No one really needs a tattoo.
A few years ago, I started to entertain the idea of adding a tattoo to my body. A small butterfly, a tribute to the woman I was who had emerged from the cocoon of girlhood. I was finally the most-at-peace with myself that I had ever been. I liked who I was. Was proud of who I was. This butterfly was a visible reminder that I was beautiful just as I am.
Almost three years ago, all that changed. I wound up in the emergency room with a swollen left calf. I was hospitalized for four days while doctors treated me. My health unraveled after that. Symptoms and pain worsened and began to spread. I spent one month dependent on a walker and wheelchair to get around.
I have since been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I am again a woman I don’t know, a woman who doesn’t think she’s beautiful, doesn’t think she’s adequate. I have legs that look like a map’s rendering of an interstate - red, blue, and purple veins criss-crossing around my leg. I have a scar, the result of a muscle biopsy. I have a countertop full of medicine bottles.
My diagnosis requires regular doctor visits and blood work, both of which left me in no rush for more needles.
A year ago, feeling hopeless, powerless, and not seeing any improvements in my physical (or emotional) well-being, I sought an alternative treatment. I now receive acupuncture treatments. And, I am learning that needles can serve other purposes, can be beneficial, can be sought-after.
I know there’s a lesson to learn somewhere in the midst of this medical odyssey I’m on. I think, actually, it’s a series of on-going lessons. So far, I’ve learned that I can’t plan everything, and the biggest things in life are really out of my control. Additionally, I’m learning (the hard way) that life is unpredictable, fragile, and I can’t always wait for later. Who knows if later will come or what later will look like?
My health and my appearance are out of my control. And again, I am turning to the idea of a tattoo. A tattoo is completely under my control and would be the only marking on my body that I would be responsible for. Placement, size, design, color. A tattoo, perhaps near my foot, would be my way of staking back my legs.
Back when I got my second piercing, I could give no explanation to the question of “Why?” except that “I want to.” It was one of the few things I have ever done that has no logical purpose, serves no real function, and was attained simply because I wanted it. I think this tattoo is something like that. It’s something that intrigues me and maybe it is a reminder that some things can simply be appreciated and attained because they are desired.