NEW GROWTH FROM DAMAGED SOIL

This week I got my first tattoo, an almond blossom bough: white flowers, coral-red center—

“Look at this picture online,” said Roni Falgout, legendary artist I had waited months to work with, “The center of the blossom has some yellow in it too, even streaks of green—“

“Beautiful, “ I said, “You’re the artist.”

Yes, and, she emphasized, this was about me. Every aspect had to be precisely what I wanted: color, form, positioning of the design in relation to the scar from my left breast mastectomy.  I felt proud to join a growing legion of women who find beauty, value, and self worth in celebrating their bodies as they are, rather than opting for artificial implants that conform to a cultural and often male-centric image of female beauty. Not to demonize women who choose reconstruction. It is a powerful choice for many women. Not for me.

“New growth from damaged soil,” I told Roni at our first consultation. I had clipped a bough from the pear tree in my back yard and photographed it on my left breast. “Like this, only with almond blossoms,” I had said.

“Why almond?”

“It means Hope and Awakening.”  It is also a symbol from my play, On the Doorstep of the Castle, signifying feminine freedom to claim your unique value and destiny.

This all sounds very fine and lofty, but when the day came to actually ink the tattoo, I was terrified. I was knocked out for the mastectomy surgery—I would be wide awake for this one!

“It will really hurt,” said my oldest daughter, who sports three tattoos.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” said my husband, who has no tattoos, “It will be excruciating.”

My youngest daughter, bereft of tattoos, simply looked at me out of the corner of her eyes and whistled.

Roni also looked at me out of the corner of her eyes, but she smiled, “It’s 90% mental. You’ll be fine.”

And I was. It hurt, but like one continuous bee sting. I soon abandoned my meditative coping strategy and started sharing stories with Roni. We laughed so much I was afraid all my giggling body would disrupt the tattoo. It didn’t.

At one point it suddenly hurt a lot more, like the pen was going all the way through my body.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Right over the scar. You ok?”

“Yeah—“ I whispered, “I can do this…” I slowed my breath, picturing the color she was putting on the leaves. Earlier she had asked if I wanted to go with lime green, “Or, I can do this darker, antique-y, avocado color—“

“Roni, I’m already an antique.”

“Lime green, then,” she chuckled.

It was all over in an hour and a half. Since then I’ve been learning about aftercare for a new tattoo, and I feel a simple joy each morning when I look in the mirror: that such a beautiful, permanent thing could emerge from a part of me that was permanently taken away…..

A final surprise: I feel connected to every blossom I see. I pick up a leaf in the park and feel as if I’m holding a part of myself in my hand.  I have always loved nature, but now, I am no longer a passive observer. I am nature.

It has also shifted my experience of grief and loss. Those whom I love, who have passed back into the mystery of nature,  now feel in me, as never before. And my own mortality is not frightening. The leaf in my hand is not separate from the lime- colored leaf on my left breast. All one substance, in the palm of the divine.

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