The only time all five of my tattoos are visible is when I’m naked.
This summer, I started payments on my funeral arrangements.
It occurs to me that one fine day, this body will be cremated, along with its five tattoos.
Things feel urgent, knowing I, like everyone, have only a limited amount of time to share my beautiful nakedness with another.
The last time a lover beheld all of me was last summer. I feel a little soul-sick for that time. And if time won’t travel backward, as I have so ardently asked it to do, then I long for another series of fleeting, precious moments when I get to share my nakedness with a lover again—a new, different lover—and get to see his.
I believe that without hope for this, my will to live would dwindle.
By nakedness, I suppose I mean vulnerability, and the revelation of my unabashed desire. This is, to me, what is so cherished in the sight of a man’s erect penis when he wants to have sex with me: a vulnerable declaration.
I suppose, too, while I keep my story mostly hidden, some part of me longs to share these hieroglyphs with someone besides myself.
When I hold my right hand above my head, my five tattoos make a ribbon—if that ribbon were wrapped around me from the inside of my left ankle, up around my left leg, twice around my torso and up around my right arm to the inside of my right wrist.
In a bathing suit, you can see three or four, depending. Only when I’m naked are they all visible.
Together, they are a visual journal of the things I’ve felt necessary to remind myself of over the course of my adult life.
Age 18. The same tattoo artist who did a piece for John Cougar Mellencamp did my first tattoo in Indiana. He said Mellencamp cried. I did not. That has always been a point of pride for me.
I got an ankh. The way my senior ring had, not my specific extracurricular activities emblazoned on its side, but a vague nod: “Memories to remember.” Like that, at 18, I was vague, poetic, and hopeful I would do something with my life. So, the ankh is the symbol of life. It’s on the right side of my lower belly. It was aspirational: I hope I live my life.
Age 28. I was in Boston, deep into my Saturn return, and in the midst of the start of my first divorce. I had been working with a local artist to design my second tattoo, combining a sistrum, clouds, and trees, when a fire broke out in my bedroom. I took a long shower and left a candle burning too high on top of its own wax, protruding from the glass meant to protect it.
My altar burned to ash. It smoked out the entire house and cost me 500 dollars to repair. It could have burned down the house if everyone hadn’t been home. I got smoke inhalation. I went back to the tattoo artist and asked him to add flames.
Now, this part of my life makes that earlier part of my life look like a cakewalk.
This tattoo on my upper back answers the question, “Who am I?” This is a delicate question—one so intensely personal I can’t do it justice here. Suffice it to say, I’m a performer who gives a damn.
Age 38. Granny had died in September 2015. It was late 2016, early 2017, and I was living, and struggling, in Taos. My question was, “What the hell am I doing on Earth without Granny?” It was a sincere question; life on Earth made no sense to me without her here.
The question held a not-so-subtle nod toward wanting to follow her into death. So, I got curious instead: “No, really, what am I doing here, with my life, without Granny?”
My third tattoo, on my left rib cage, is a statement of purpose. The Two of Coins from Tarot. It’s the balance of yin and yang in Western tradition.
It’s also what I’m up to: juggling opposites.
What we’re doing while we’re alive is juggling opposites. That tension that we feel, that we get so annoyed by, is life itself. So, I’m here. I’m still alive, juggling opposites, without Granny, and doing the best that I can.
Age 40. Then I got divorced a second time, and thought I would actually die. I fell down the week my ex-husband drove away. I was at a conference in Washington D.C., carrying two coffees back to a session, when I fell down. I caught my shoe on a break in the concrete and fell straight to my knees. His leaving literally brought me to my knees. More death before death.
What occurred to me as I healed was that I had never really thought about how I love. I was just reaching and grabbing at whoever was sweet—and around. Getting attached to those lovely people caught in my wide net. Compatible never occurred to me.
My fourth tattoo, on the inside of my right wrist, is a quill and ink; it’s how I love. It’s writing, but it’s also the feather lightness and the inky desire of love—combined in one. Both a flock of birds taking flight and a flood inside a volcano—that’s how I love.
Now, when I reach out with my right hand to grab at a man—I notice. And wait. Are you grabbing at someone you actually love, or just at someone who is there? A reminder.
Age 41. Then, less than a year later, still in Taos, I did love someone. For two months. He left, moved home, and we were going to try the long-distance thing.
Suddenly, he completely broke it off with me, and I wigged out. He was a teacher of mine, but I also had little energy to take care of his huge emotional needs at the time. My punishment was not only that I was left again, but that (as a bonus) he cut off all contact with me.
So I thought, now I really have to die.
I fought for love, I had love, and I lost it. It was my fault; I had handled it badly.
I had a moment crying out on the mesa, when I genuinely considered suicide. I decided, no.
That’s when a voice inside me said, “Okay, if you’re not gonna do that, then you have to love me. Part of that is, you have to forgive me. You have to forgive me, or this (you and me) isn’t going to work.”
My fifth tattoo, inside my left ankle, is a winged scarab beetle holding the sun and the moon. It’s how I forgive myself. In other words, it’s a depiction of how I turn sh*t into gold.
These are my five tattoos.
It strikes me now that all of them are the union of opposites. Male and female. Fire and water. Yin and yang. Quill and ink. Sun and Moon. I love hybrids. Unity of opposites.
I got my second tattoo retouched this year. I’m thrilled that, from 18 to 41, all of the images I’ve been called to tattoo on my body have been hybrids. Not a single word.
Now, I have a sense of limited time. I’m going to die. Someone is going to push a button and cremate this lovely body with all of my reminders on it. I feel sad about this fleetingness already, and I feel an urgency to share my naked self before it’s too late.
In my dream of it, I stand before this man naked, displaying the ribbon of my five tattoos.
“I set out to live my life.
This is who I am.
This is what I am doing.
This is how I love.
This is how I forgive myself.
And I love you.
What’s your story?”