When I was 21, my ex-fiance wanted me to get a tattoo of a sort of scroll with his name written on it. I had been scouting tattoo parlors solo around the Portland/Beaverton metro area, wanting someone to ink my own design but C insisted on trekking along and drawing his scroll/name on different bits of scrap paper for the artists to look at. Thankfully, I never got that one, even after he spit on the notebook paper with my design, crumpled it up and threw it at me while we were on the bus, yelling that I didn’t love him.
That was in 2012. In 2017, I got my first tattoo; I now have 5 and I spent years researching the body placement, pain level (yes it’s all relative, but some body parts and places with more bone or nerve endings are just gonna hurt more than other places), and design of each one.
July 2017 on the side of my right thigh: “And his tune is heard on the distant hill, for the caged bird sings of freedom”
Taken from Maya Angelou’s poem, Caged Bird. I discovered Maya Angelou around 5th grade, around the time I first started imagining a world without the burden of caring for me and my tornadoes. Different memoirs peppered my mom’s bookshelf and I devoured each Maya Angelou work I could get my hands on. She was the first writer I resonated with, teaching me how to turn pain so sharp it silenced you in public and private, and harnessing it into your writing. I recited her poems in front of my 5th grade class, using her prose and style to influence my own.
September 2017 on my right wrist. I was more nervous about this one, mainly because of how much more visible it would be, and there were moments I was worried about being judged, especially at a predominantly White workplace. Right before the appointment I thought, black woman and with tattoos? Do you like making things harder for yourself?
However, it was meant to represent the strength, perseverance and graceful stature of self. I had heard about the semicolon tattoo project about a year before and had been randomly designing something surrounding that premise.
Semicolon: when I wanted to cease living, I decided to keep on going. My sentence could have ended; however, I’m still here to write another chapter.
Infinity symbol with a cross: faith in self is eternal, and all things that last forever go through ups and downs. Which creates the wings of the butterfly: the most painful part while in the cocoon is the creation of the wings, transforming the old into the new. Without pain, the butterfly couldn’t fly.
January 2018 on my right ankle.
I was inspired by Tupac’s The Rose that Grew from Concrete, which I first read when I was 8 or 9 years old. Wanting something that was a manifestation of growth, I looked up lotus flower designs and brought it to the tattoo artist. She offered to customize it after I explained I wanted an abstract lotus flower.
Personally, the ankle was the most painful out of them all, especially since the bottom half is right on the bone. My brother went with me for them all, and with this one he automatically held my hand after seeing the look on my face, and gave me a concerned side eye when I said the pain felt cathartic. “Y’know, the good pain.”
September 2018 on my right arm.
Blossoming orchids to symbolize coming into my own womanhood and defining my own elegance, decorative nature and splash of odd beauty. I chose orchids specifically because they were the first flower I thought of when thinking of elegance, and I always thought they were a sort of odd beauty.
I love all of my tattoos and the meaning behind them, but if I had to choose a favorite, top prize goes to this arm candy.
May 2019 on the top of my right thigh, above my knee.
I emailed the tattoo artist with a picture of a lotus flower and semicolon, and she offered to again customize it. I told her I wanted a semicolon and the rest was left to her interpretation. There’s a freckle on my right knee, so I wanted it high enough to not cover the freckle but I did want the tail of the semicolon to line up with the freckle.
I wanted this lotus to be in bloom and for the overall feel to be a little brighter. It’s been a long, uphill, sometimes seemingly impossible climb on this journey to believing I’m whole and worthy as I am, but more and more I’m beginning to love the quirks and many oddities I have and overall, just feel in bloom.
Also, FYI, all tattoos were done by Beeker Wagner at Blue Geisha Tattoo in West Seattle. I knew I wanted the script of my first tattoo to be on the side of my thigh, and decided on right over left since there is a freckle on the side of my left thigh. I like all my random freckles and didn’t want to cover any of them. After, I got the rest of my tattoos on the right side since it felt more cohesive and aesthetically pleasing.
Do you have any tattoos? What’s the story behind them? Let me know in the comments!