How Tattoos can Heal Us

17 Jan

After the death of my beloved dog Molly nearly four years ago, my health took a nosedive into unfit territory. I lived in dark sadness on which I’ve only recently started to shed light. I gained a significant amount of weight specifically around my midsection. I consoled myself with sugar. I pushed loved ones away.

Things started to turn around over the summer when I finally got my memorial tattoo of my best girl’s paw. She would always sit on my left side, and anytime I reached my hand down, it was met with the softest of fur and sometimes a cold nose. That’s where my tattoo had to be.

I only had a cast of her paw because of the sweet vet tech who heard me cry out that I didn’t have a print of her paw. My boyfriend had smooshed his pup’s paw in purple paint (his grandmother’s favorite color), and had it tattooed on his forearm years ago even though his girl was still alive. I was so jealous that he had that reminder, and that I wouldn’t. When I picked up Molly’s ashes, the cast was in the bag. I cried even harder.

She was a big girl, a black lab retriever, but just a paw print on my thigh would seem out-of-place. I decided to surround it with a wreath of flowers. There had to be roses because my grandmother, my mother, and my cousin’s daughter were all roses.

I asked my father to take me to the man who had done my first tattoo – a week after my 18th birthday. He had to do this one too. It was important. We went to the shop one afternoon. I explained my idea. The artist nodded and sketched. Asked lots of questions. And when he was all set up, I didn’t move. I sucked it my breath, closed my eyes, and listened to the constant buzzing of the needles piercing my skin over and over.

For three hours, I sat still. I never sit still. I am always in too much to sit frozen, but I did it. The aching knees, and warm flesh, the itching toes and throbbing hips did not deter me from remaining motionless. This tattoo was too important for breaks.

We had talked of colors, and I watched him mix pinks and greens, shades similar to those on Molly’s paisley collar. I didn’t know what parts of the final image would be each color, but I could wait to find out.  He took his time. Rolling back on his wheeled chair to get a better view. Shading in leaves with multiple greens. Making sure the paw was perfect. And when he was done, he sounded nervous.

The moment I looked in the mirror and saw the final piece, I broke. Ugly tears. Quiet sobs. Without words, I threw myself at the man who tattooed me, a man my father rides Harleys with, a man who doesn’t mess around, and hugged him. I could feel his surprise, but wouldn’t recognize that it was there until afterwards. “Thank you for giving me my girl back,” I cried.

In that moment, I felt like she was with me. I fought back the urge to rub my leg knowing that it needed to heal first. But she was there now. Right where she had been for fifteen years.

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