I have a tattoo.
Just the one. When I was 21, getting a butterfly tattooed on my lower back seemed like a totally unique idea in the way that everything you think seems unique and magical when you are young and foolish. I hadn’t heard the term “tramp stamp” yet. A friend bet me I wouldn’t do it. (And telling me I won’t be able to do something is generally the fastest way to get me to do it.)
I don’t dislike tattoos in general. I’d actually like to get a few more. Sometimes, though, I feel like this one was a mistake. I’ve joked about getting some words inked in around it, “It seemed like a good idea at the time!” I wish I had thought it through more. What you want at 21 isn’t always who you are or what you need at 31 and beyond. We grow, we change, we awaken.
It isn’t a huge deal. I’ll have that little three-second twinge of regret, and then shrug, and move on.
I have that impulse, though. We all do, right? We have that impulse to erase everything that no longer fits. To have a do-over, a clean slate. I want all my mistakes washed away so whatever comes next isn’t colored by them.
I want to shake up my life
like an Etch-a-Sketch
and get to start again
without all the little bits of past mistakes
cluttering everything up.
But I can’t. Deep down I wouldn’t really want to. That lump in my throat, the knot in my stomach, that wishing for a magic eraser doesn’t make me grow. If I could erase my mistakes, I might forget them.
I might forget not to make them all over again.
So I’ll keep my tattoo, and all my scrapes and scars. It’s okay that I’ve changed. I don’t need to keep staring back in regret. Ending up somewhere different than you expected doesn’t mean you took the wrong road. It means you kept on going. You keep on going–that’s the point.
I can look at my tattoo and remember that even though 108 million other girls had the same idea–I am unique. I can look at the scar on my ankle and remember thinking I was invincible (and being wrong!) I can look at the scar on my finger and remember a great job with some wonderful friends and some funny stories. I can look at all the scars on my heart and use them as a map instead of going forward on autopilot.
So I’m keeping the tattoo. I won’t try to hide my scars. I know I still have more to come. And this part I can tattoo on my heart:
“I used to have a sign pinned up on my wall that read: ‘Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.’”
Things will come together and fall apart and come back together again.
I will take my three-seconds, fold up my regrets like a road map and dive right out of my nest into whatever comes next.
If I want to strip down to what’s essential, to what’s indestructible, I’m bound to get a few more scars.