Sunday, June 26, 2016

On Facing Fears, and Former Students...

Unalome tattoos.  If it matters, mine is most like the far left image.  
We just returned from a week-long family vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  It's important to note that this is the first time we have attempted this as a family since the summer of 2009.  The significance of this is that that last summer trip really was a last summer trip for one of us.  That's not the focus of this post, but it does contribute.

I have this...problem.  Significant dates in my life, usually traumas of some sort, get tagged in my brain and remembered.  I have trouble remembering when the good things happen, but things that rip my guts out pop up in their little anniversary outfits and kick me in the teeth on a pretty consistent basis.  Sometimes the teeth-kicking is based on a calendar date, but other times, it's just the "oh, the last time I was here" thoughts that get me.  So, this was one of those things.  The last time we did this, Edna was still with us.  The last time we did this, things were very different.  The last time we did this, I was a different person than I am now.  But again, not the focus of the post, just the backstory.

Anyway, it was the same week seven years ago that we did this last.  To oversimplify, it's also a time of transition for me professionally and personally, and I also had some other "anniversaries" in my head rolling around, when I happened to come across an image of a tattoo that really called my name.  I've wanted a tattoo for a couple of years.  In fact, it was supposed to be my birthday present in 2014, but I just never got around to it.  No, that's not entirely true--I had plenty of time to get one, but I didn't know HOW.  The same fear, if you will, stops me from going to get a pedicure without backup from my girls.  I don't know how things are done, so I just don't do them.  Easy solution, but also the wussy way out.  So this tattoo yelled my name, and my ever-courageous (and sometimes slightly scary) baby sister made the appointment.

I could have chosen an ankle or a thigh or a shoulder for my first ink...but I rarely do things the easy way, and I chose my sternum instead.  Worrying about the pain a little, I had ONE cocktail before we left, and chose undergarments and a shirt that I thought would provide easy and modest access to the area. I had the distraction of a ceiling fan accident (another story) to distract me just before departure, and I was feeling pretty good, pretty decisive about the whole thing.  A rarity for me, so it had to be acted upon.  Not even learning that I'd have to disrobe before the procedure really slowed me down much--it increased the anxiety level, of course, but after all--these people are professionals!

Turns out, one is required to show ID before a tattoo, even if you're clearly over the age of consent, and when the artist read out my small town name as if he recognized it, warning signs went off in my head.  Nobody knows where this town is unless you've lived here, and if that's true, you've usually tried to forget.  But he knew it, and then elaborated by saying he grew up around here and...Went.  To.  My.  School.  You know, the one where I teach?  Oh, and, "You were my 7th grade English teacher!" And here are those band-aids to satisfy your modesty.  Band-aids.  The little teeny ones.  Which makes them the only little teeny things on my body, if you catch my drift.  I avoid the grocery store at home in order to avoid students and former students, and you're telling me I'm five hours away from home and about to set the girls free...and, eeeek!

If I've ever felt like dashing out of a place of business, that was it.  But I sucked it up.  I was on a mission, the tattoo was calling my name, and I knew if I didn't do it then, I'd never get that one OR any other one.  It had to happen.  So I sucked it up.  I held on to my shirt until the very last possible minute, covered up to the best of my half-naked ability, and counted holes in the ceiling tiles as I anticipated the pain that I hoped would distract me from my psychological discomfort.  And it.  Was a piece.  Of cake.  The pain was minimal, the artist was ultra-professional, even when I threatened to time travel and put him in silent lunch, and I love the tattoo itself.  (Shout-out to AJ at Wicked Parrot Tattoos in Kill Devil Hills, should you be looking for a vacation tattoo.)

Symbolically, it represents the path to enlightenment.  The curves and spirals are the difficulties of life, the challenges, the times we don't know where our paths are headed.  The top, the straight part, is where we figure our proverbial shit out, become "enlightened," if you will.  The dots at the top allegedly represent death, the end of the journey.  As I write that, I realize that it's like punctuation, and you know I LOVE that connection to the grammar queen in me.  I have dots at the bottom, too, which to me, mean that everything comes full circle.  Emotionally, it is even more significant.  It marks a time when I faced not one fear, but SEVERAL, and came out on the other end better for it.  It also marks this time of transition, a connection that I will always make when I look at it.  And it replaces some memories, or signifies them, in a way that I could never have done on my own.  Those are all my "squiggles," and my getting through them and coming out better and stronger on the other end is my straight line, my goal in life...and it's closer all the time.

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