the story behind my 3 tattoos

trigger warnings: baby/child loss, pregnancy complications, PTSD, pet loss, needles

The first time I got a tattoo, my sister and I went together, and basically screamed in pain the entire time. This was 2015. Five years later, I got my third tattoo, and beacuse of the pandemic, I had to go alone. So screaming in pain was a lot less acceptable, but still very much desirable. However, when the pain subsides and the bleeding stops and the tattoo settles into your skin – it’s worth it. And in a few months, I always feel ready for my next one. In fact, my fourth and fifth tattoo are already planned. I’m just looking for a single needle tattoo artist (if you know any good ones in the UK, let me know!).

I always take a long time to plan my tattoos. I don’t want anything I’ll regret. I don’t want anything that alludes to a certain period of time. I only get tattoos that I know (or hope) represent me now, five years ago, and will represent me in 50 years to come.

So if you’re curious what ink is permanently on my body – I’ll show you.

1. Foot Tattoo

This was my first tattoo. My sister and I got it together, and it’s so special to us. We got different variations of the tattoo (and I’ll attach both pictures), but they’re both about the same people: our sisters, Abby and Sarah. Abby and Sarah are our two younger sisters who sadly died due to complications during birth. Sarah died in 1999, and Abby in 2003. I won’t get into all the details of this, but I will say that I didn’t grieve these deaths properly until I was 18, even though I was 4 and 7 respectively at the time of them passing. Although I’ve always felt their missing presence, despite never knowing them personally, I do think it is a factor that makes Rachel & I so close. We were supposed to have three sisters, but we only have each other for sisters (and 2 awesome brothers, hi guys). We’ve put so much work into our relationship. Like a lot (ahaha). And getting these tattoos together was a way that will always connect us to each other and to Abby and Sarah.

My foot tattoo from afar.
Close up.
Rachel’s version of the tattoo.

2. Elbow Tattoo

Don’t get a tattoo on your elbow unless you want to feel like your bones are shattering beneath your skin.

Also do your research before you get a tattoo, because your tattoo artist might just do a terrible job and then deactivate all his social media.

ANYWAY. I still love this little tattoo. I found these little triangles on Pinterest – and I hate explaining it to people, because it is just random shapes that some people have decided have meaning. But I loved the look of them – these minimalist symbols – and the meanings behind them. In fact, I kind of want more haha. I like the learn and understand ones.

I chose create, express and explore. I feel these are three words that kind of summarise who I am and what I do on a daily basis. I pretty much create something new every day, whether it’s a writing piece, a photograph or a little line or a song. I use my work, hobbies and passions to express myself and my opinions. And as for explore, I’m constantly searching whether that means physically scouring new places, or travelling to fictional lands, or exploring the things I already love for some deeper or new meaning.

Ps. The tattoo looks okay now because someone touched it up – still not perfect, but I do love it anyway.

3. Upper Arm Tattoo

Finally, my new little tattoo! My fish. This fish, which says “noooow” in it (now), is from the book, “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki.

I’ve always been very conscious of time running out. I think this started when we were moving from Minnesota to Scotland, and I realised that life as I knew it was just going to end one day. Like a lifetime. Over. Just like that. I had this countdown on my camera (of all things), so every time I took a picture, it would flash: 70 days. 50 days. 40. 30. 29. 22. 18. 15. 11. 9. 8. 5. 3. 2. 1.

I don’t know how the countdown got there. I think my dad set it up so that the timezone would automatically change when we moved to Scotland, but it was more sinister than that when I was using my camera. I hated seeing that number get lower.

Since then, time has scared me. It scares me that everything has an end to it. Relationships. Education. Work. Meal times. Movies. Walks. Life.

And when I read this book, and got to page 98, I just felt seen. This author summarised my every fear – with this little fish.

If you've ever tried to keep a diary, then you'll know that the problem of trying to write about the past really starts in the present: No matter how fast you write, you're always stuck in the then and you can never catch up to what's happening now, which means now is pretty much doomed to extinction. It's hopeless, really… In Japan, some words have kotodama which are spirits that live inside a word and give it a special power. The kotodama of now felt like a slippery fish, a slick fat tuna with a big belly and a smallish head and tail that looked something like this.
NOW felt like a big fish swallowing a little fish, and I wanted to catch it and make it stop. I was just a kid, and I thought if I could truly grasp the meaning of the big fish NOW, I would be able to save little fish... the word always slipped away from me... But in the time it takes to say now, now is already over. It's already then... It was hopeless, like trying to hold a snowflake on your tongue or a soap bubble between your fingertips. Catching it destroys it, and I felt like I was disappearing, too.

Do you all want this tattoo now, too? Haha. It’s just such a beautiful line and idea, and I knew I needed it on my body. So I got it! I think, after everything that’s happened in the last two years (Ali taking unwell, losing Echo, suffering PTSD and anxiety, the pandemic), living in the now as much as possible has become super important to me, and this tattoo is a daily reminder of that.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my tattoos and having a nosy at them all. Let me know if you have any meaningful tattoos. 🙂

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