What tattoos I have and what they mean:

I have four. The first one I got was a “tramp stamp” on my lower back at age 21. It’s an image of the Three of Swords Tarot Card. It’s 3 swords crossing each other at the tips while stabbing a heart. The card stands for “sorrow” which seems a bit morbid but putting it on my back was the symbolic piece to denote that I should always put sorrow behind me. I don’t think I had been officially diagnosed with major recurrent depression at that point so I was probably a tad bit too optimistic on that intent. That diagnosis would come a couple years later.

The second one I got is on my left shoulder/upper back. It’s a cross with the claddagh heart in the middle. The shape is based on a design I saw in Ireland. The heart is purple to denote Vietnam and the invisible wounds of PTSD my father had. There are serpents running through the cross, intertwined, which is the same symbol you sometimes see in the medical field. They are there to denote healing. Got that when I was 34 and I think around the time my dad was starting to acknowledge his issues.

38. Just found out dad had cancer. Was also in a very unhealthy relationship because this is exactly the time I decided to stop being a “good girl” who always followed the rules. It just wasn’t getting me anywhere and I decided I was allowed to wallow because of my dad getting sick. I had weeks before started going back to a therapist to deal with my “paranoia” that, based on my dad’s age at the time, he was due to start coming down with Agent Orange problems. I had read that they start presenting in the mid 60s. Though he wasn’t sick when I got my new therapist, I was so convinced he would be soon enough and I knew it would completely fuck me up so I was being proactive and willing to call myself paranoid. Not paranoid after all. I was only 3 sessions in when I found out my dad was sick. Sixth sense I guess.

Anyway, my parents had a house in NH at the time and a boat on the lake. The lake had this really cool spot called “the shallows” where you could anchor your boat and then get out and stand knee or waist deep. People talked to their neighbors, played fetch with their dogs and water games with their families. It was the place to be and the only place I would get out of the boat because I could see the ground clearly and it was just sand. I don’t swim where I can’t see the bottom and what my feet are touching. In order to anchor up, my dad would have to hop out of the boat and drag us to the perfect spot where he would then make sure the anchor was perfectly in tact.

The third tattoo is on my right shoulder and is of an anchor to always remind me where I am rooted with my family and that my dad is my anchor, always and forever, good and bad. Sometimes an anchor keeps you safe and landed. Sometimes it’s so embedded you can’t move and need to. Perfect representation of me and my relationship with my dad. The anchor is surrounded by rope so the tattoo itself is in a round shape. It’s big.

Tattoo 4. My 40th birthday present to myself and the only truly painful tattoo and recovery process I experienced. It’s on my left ankle and it’s the coordinates of where I was standing at the Boston Marathon when the bombs went off. 3 people died within feet of me and many others physically injured dramatically. I was a beer decision away from being one of them as I had been in all their spots only minutes before but decided at the last minute to pop into a bar for a beer. It was the only bar whose windows weren’t blown out.

Because of the shockingly accurate places I stood in several places from 30 to 5 minutes before it happened, it’s actually so freaky how close I was to being dead or injured. I mean super freaky….like it was a divine message I absolutely had to pay attention to. At that time I was going through the motions at work, about to pursue a licensing and career path I had no passion for but seemed the next logical thing to do and all my peers were doing it. After realizing how close to death I had just been, the idea of spending 2 months of my life studying was 2 months I didn’t have to spend on anything I didn’t feel an absolute passion for.

Instead, I went for a Masters of Science at BU and got accepted which was a truly joyous day. I was really proud of myself and excited to get started. Also on my ankle is the Latin phrase “Felix culpa” which can be interpreted as happy accident or fortunate misfortune which, to me, means that no matter what horrible things may happen to you in life, you have to find an upside or a goal or something to make it meaningful. I couldn’t just acknowledge 3 deaths and go back to my life the way it had been before 2:52 pm on 4/15. I got a second chance at life and I put a permanent reminder on myself that I would see every day to hold myself accountable. For all the people who like to label me a pessimist simply because I consider all possible outcomes as part of my decision process, I can think of nothing more optimistic than looking at my life as a gift and every decision I make has to be something which makes my life a higher quality and that I only pursue that which means something to me or my loved ones.

I don’t come from a tattoo family or background. I am from an upper middle class origin where people didn’t get tattoos and it hadn’t become the “hipster” or millennial thing to do yet. They all have them just because. Lots of butterflies, hearts, yoga symbols and rainbows which mean next to nothing. I was the first in my family to do it. My mother was unhappy about it. At least my siblings each got one too. For me, though, I live my life a little more balls out than most and I feel it’s important to mark my “stories” on my body in places (with the exception of one) where they are only really seen intimately by people I might actually care to share those stories with. It’s permanent because these stories are what make me who I am. They are permanently imprinted in my brain, my DNA. I am proud of them, even the dark sides of them which have made me stronger and more clear on how I see the world around me. Plus, when you are in as much emotional pain as I sometimes am, the steady pace and pain of a tattoo needle refocuses and kind of “numbs” the pain in your head by getting you to focus solely on the repetitive sting and rhythm of the tattoo needle. It’s a very different kind of release which doesn’t bother me that much.

Number 5….will happen this year or next. I am just deciding on the exact way I want it done and waiting until I get my credit card paid down better.