What Tattoos You Have, and if They Have Meaning

I have two tattoos.

The first is three plumeria blossoms on my bicep. I got it while we were in Hawai’i on vacation. I basically picked some flash on the wall of the shop. Out of all the flash, I selected plumeria because John had shown a blossom to me at a park the day before and I really liked the way it smelled.

John got a tattoo at the same time; three turtles with faces on their shells to represent each member of our family. I ended up getting three blossoms to represent our family, as well.

My second tat is a red and blue Chinese-style dragon, and it’s on the back of my neck. It memorializes two people: My mom and “Kay,” one of my best friends. Both of these women died in 2003.

When I was a teenager, I really wanted a tattoo. Like, begging my parents, sketching out designs, daydreaming out loud nonstop about my potential tattoo. This, naturally, horrified my LDS parents. Mormons believe your body is a temple, and therefore a tattoo is essentially graffiti.

I would argue that if my body is a temple, I should be able to paint it lovely colors and put up artwork. I pointed out that cathedrals have elaborate carvings and grotesque gargoyles.

For some reason, these arguments did not fly with them.

In any case, my mom used to joke, “Sure, you can get a tattoo … over my dead body!”

She said the same thing about riding motorcycle, as it happens.

So that’s why the dragon is a bit of a memorial tattoo for mom. I got it a few years after she died, and in an ironic tip of the hat, I chose to have it done in mom’s favorite colors.

The design itself actually came from a dragon pendant Kay gave me when I was about 16. I used to have a real interest in dragons. I wore the necklace pretty much all the time, until I lost it. Kay noticed I wasn’t wearing it, asked me about it, and I confessed I’d lost it. She bought me a replacement, and in a few short months I’d lost that, too.

To my surprise, she bought me another replacement. I used to wonder why she kept buying replacements. Recently I realized it must have been because I loved the necklace so much, I wore it every day. I guess it made her happy, making me happy. Also, knowing that I enjoyed her gift that much.

Anyway, I lost the second replacement, and the third, and the fourth. I never asked for a replacement. I would lose it, and she would inevitably notice and within a few weeks or a month, produce a replacement.

At some point, she started joking that I’d need to get it tattooed on me to prevent me losing it ever again. When we were 22, she moved to California, and I moved to a new apartment with my husband and child. Of course, I lost the necklace during the move. Perhaps my infant son had tugged too hard on the cord and broken the clasp.

We didn’t speak again before she died.

I thought about the dragon tattoo for six years before I finally got it. I didn’t want to rush into anything. I couldn’t decide if I wanted a small black outline the size of a pendant in the dip of my collarbone, or if I wanted something larger and more colorful. I eventually decided on a piece on the nape of my neck, because I can cover it and be “business professional” by growing out my hair or wearing a scarf.

I sometimes think about getting script of some sort … perhaps the first verse of my mom’s favorite poem.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

— Lewis Carroll



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