Ocean Wave Tattoo

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The first time I remember being at the ocean, I couldn’t have been more than four or five years old. My family was at family camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and we were at the ocean for the “Beach Day”. Today that meaning carries with it the image and expectations of the rides and hype of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, elaborate sandcastle contests, and competitive volleyball tournaments. But in the mid-70’s, “beach day” was simply the day you spent time at the water’s edge, digging in the sand, looking for hermit crabs, and eagerly running away from the oncoming waves’ froth.

My family never spent time at the beach other than this one designated day each year. So I hadn’t had a lot of experience with sand, or waves, or the stinging sea salt spray that the air seemed to be heavy with. Nor had anybody ever told me that waves could be unpredictable, unexpected, and unforgiving.

I, in my eagerness and zest for life, full of an extrovertism that would quickly vanish in ensuing years, I stood at the water’s edge, bucket and shovel in hand, turning to wave at my mom and dad who, not being beach people themselves, were grudgingly “taking one for the team” and hanging out at the sea for a day.

It was when I had just stopped waving, and started to bend down to dig up the sand to fill my pail with hard, wet globs to carry back to our dry sandy spot, that it hit. I didn’t hear the roar, amazingly, maybe because I didn’t even know what to listen for. I didn’t feel the ground pulse underneath me, probably because I was full of the pulse of my own heart beating happily with life, and I didn’t see the receding water in expectation for a gathering wave.

I only remember being knocked off balance, and pulled out to sea by the power and relentless pulse of the wave that fully engulfed me in it’s angry embrace, seemingly mocking me for standing in its way.

I remember everything going dark, being strangled by the water’s curling and curdling grip, and struggling to gather my tiny frame. I willed myself back to shore with every ounce of energy I could muster, frantically fistfighting the heavy and heaving riples, stopping only to cry when I was safe on the dry sand. It was then that I looked back at the now  darkly mysterious and fully alive sea, finally fully grasping what had really happened to me, realizing that the enemy had almost won; I had nearly been defeated.

And then I don’t remember the ocean again really, for another 15 years. Until I was on my honeymoon with my first husband, in the Bahamas. I was already on edge and not myself due to issues written about in other posts. And I vaguely remember there being a tipped sign, barely legible, warning of dangerous riptides. And, much like the rest of my experience with him, this barely 48-hour-ed wife believed him when her husband said that she would be safe, to just ignore the sign.

So I walked out into the seemingly never-ending shallow waters, beginning to relax from the warmth of the tropical waters mesmerizing me with their sparkle. Only to then all of a sudden have my feet sucked out from underneath me, like a quicksand presentation running in slow motion. The tide yanked me back from behind, submerging  me to it’s depths, slamming me into the ocean floor with a power that created a sand paper effect over the entire front of my body. And for an instant, I was paralyzed, suctioned to the ocean floor in a magnetic grip.

Again, I struggled to right myself, and free myself of the gale.  I gasped for hair and choked on salty froth that had ballooned in my lungs and nose. It wasn’t until I reached shore that the sandpaper effect began to show pinpoints of blood from where the sand had been engraved into my skin. And I remember sitting on the dry, sandy shore, shaking from adrenaline, wondering if in some weird way,  the ocean was sharing a premonition with me of what this marriage was going to be like.

And then I don’t remember any ocean or beach experience for another 12 years. This time, I was alone literally, not just figuratively. But at this point, alone was the safest refuge I could find. When I finally left my first husband, under 100 pounds, hair falling out in clumps, six different kinds of hives all over my body, bruises and scars dotting my skin from the war I had been in for the last 12 years, I desperately sought solitude. And the place that kept drawing me to it was the ocean, with a yearning that filled me equally with awe and comfort, surrounding me like a blanket on a cool winter’s night.

Instead of fear or anxiety, the sea called me to it. The pounding waves anchored my broken heart. The rough, warm sand seemed to exfoliate the scar tissue both on my skin and my psyche. The pungest salt-filled air seemed to cleanse the muck and mire from my very breath. The sea was calling to me, the ocean was welcoming me home. The waves, in their angry rhythmic song, sang to me a lullaby.

And it was another 15 years later that I realized the sea had made me. It had been preparing me, from the very beginning, to know how to not only survive, but to thrive, when everyone around me was simply surprised that I was alive. When I should have been terrified of being pulled out to the breadths, or slammed into its depths, instead not only did I rise on my own, and survive the defining comb, but I actually gathered strength and found my home, from what many would flee from and simply randomly roam.

So I learned that the waves, like so much else in my life, had tried to break me, but instead they made me. And this tattoo is to remind me, when I feel discouraged and weary and sad, that my life has been defined.  And over and over in time, I have learned to see from what once made me blind;  and rather than becoming bitter, these sands have made me kind. Not the type of kind that pats your head, or speaks platitudes, forever being cliche. No, it’s the type of kind, that sees the light in the mind, and is able to identify what most see a common, as actually the sacredly sublime.

Barren Tree Tattoo

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The first time I ever recall “remembering” the leaves falling from trees,

their  autumn colors catching the glint of the early fall sun,

was the day my grandpa died.

For some reason his death reminded me of a tree.

Not the tree that is in full spring bloom, with aromatic flower petals perfuming the newness of the Spring air.

And not the tree, fully swollen, offering much needed shade on a hot summer day.

No. It was the dying tree, it’s leaves crisp and crackly, colored blood red, fire orange, and burnt yellow, that cocooned me that day, much like the flannel shirts he would often wear, me beckoning him to stay.

And seeing that I was cold, he would envelop me in one of them, a thousand sizes larger than what I wore….. surrounding me also with a warm, musky scent, the remnants of the aftershave he bore.

The tree reminded me of the colors of my favorite flannel of his, with it’s warm hues of late Indian summer…

The shirt that I then wore to bed each night, until months later, the worn raggedness of it, finally, was less of a covering, than no covering at all.

….And maybe that remembrance of the autumn tree, at so early a young age, was actually preparing me for winter trees, and the unprepared  deaths that lay ahead.

Trees, stripped of their fall explosions, standing stark and silent against harsh winter skies…..

Trees that once gave so much life, but now seem to have been shuttered, would become to me,  the strongest of them all.

It’s with THESE trees that I have felt the most companionship with, the most closeness with, in my life.

Many times in my  years I’ve found myself on dark, shadowless paths; journeys that most closely resemble the depth of the darkest days, and the months that stand silent, like timeless winter trees, even amongst the gales that scream.

These are the months, where seemingly nothing lives, nothing whispers, life seems to have been snuffed out before the night.

The days where there is no rustle, no ragged breeze, not one voice to be found  in life’s audience.

The haunting beauty of a leafless tree, seemingly barren of all life, standing silent in the raging storm….it draws me in, and holds me tight, and whispers it’s ok.

The beauty of a stripped tree, standing still , is that what you see is what you get.

There are no games, no hidden cues, no foilage demanding to help hide.

There are no lies. No cover-ups. No place for shame-blamed bruises to collectively reside.

So the winter tree, so plainly seen, helps me to breathe in, and just be.

It reminds me that, when all else fades, the root is what we see.

And the roots are made, not in the blaze of summer’s inviting gaze.

But insteaed they’re made, dug deeply down, through the piercing  of the winter’s glaze.

And it was in that season, one winter, or ten, that the tree gently whispered to me.

He said, “My dear, you stood on your own, unassumingly.

And you,through blizzards and freezes quietly grew….

And the best kept truth about enduring such pain, about being so gutted and thrown askew,  is that deep inside the tree, quietly, new life hibernates anew….

And not today, and maybe not the next, for the winter season is  not yet past….

But one day, the thaw will come, and the air will be birthed warm and new.

And that tree that stands, so silently, with seemingly nothing to show…

will one day, under the weight of it’s limbs, burst with a beauty that is fresh and aglow.

So stand strong, oh leafless one, when you feel most rejected, you’re not.

For much like a cactus, who stands dry and taut, seemingly dead to the uninformed touch..

Deep in your trunk, buried beneath, far from the external swell,

your life harbors a refreshing, lifegiving, drought-quenching,  well.

 

Boppo’s Tattoo

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You left us two years ago. You would have been 103 this year. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about you, or something that is a representation of you.

My memoir of you is not one of a kind old grand-pop that doted on his family. No, instead, when you died, the nurses in your care home commented that you had been such a sweet, old man. My mom and I had looked at each other skeptically, and then checked the paperwork to make sure we were talking about the same man.

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Because of you….I learned to deal with difficult people, and maybe even a little alarmingly, created the false impression that difficult men can be won over by sheer love and affection simply because, in spite of the fact that you were a workaholic, game cheater, violent alcoholic, bully, and an irregular person with an acerbic personality to the rest of our family and the rest of the world, I was your sweetheart. I was the one who, even when you hated the words that were spoken to you, and the decisions that were made for you….when I was the one that shared them with you, you grudgingly agreed, and treated me with respect and admiration; and maybe even love, impressed that I didn’t let your bull**** intimidate me or push me away.

You truly were a self made man, and your extreme value of education fueled not only my love for, but also my expectation for myself, of being a lifelong learner. It’s why, even now, I have dedicated the next four years of my life to get my doctorate; because one day, in a drunken hush of yours, you told me that I would never max out my potential until I had a PhD after my name, that you would be proud of me if I accomplished that goal. Because you knew the value of hard work, having worked your way up from mailroom boy at Wells Fargo, to VP of Western Operations. 

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Your love for travel and for the Sierra’s, particularly the Stanislaus National forest, has become a key backbone of who I am. Whether we were playing our weekly Scrabble game, or you were treating me to Chinese food, the times we went “deer hunting” to count the number of deer we saw on some God-forsaken wilderness logging road, or me calling some investment company for you and being surprised that the receptionist greeted me with, “welcome to the million dollar club, how can I help you?” ( a millionaire? You dressed like a longshoreman), seeing that no matter how dysfunctional you were in some ways, you were still an accomplished man ( the gift of money and math you did NOT pass on to me) and as someone who only ever “paid in full with cash”, who you were, and who I was TO YOU more importantly, played a crucial role in me becoming the person I am today.

Sometimes, I have learned, that you become who you are meant to be not just from those around you who LIVE righteous, holy lives, but you grow by parts of you being forged by rubbing up against those who chisel and grind us rather than hold and bind us. 

Our family has always joked that you reminded us of a blue jay, cocky, always squawking, a bit arrogant, lover of pine trees…. and with your hair, when uncombed, cocked upright in a blue jay’s fashion. Ironic, since you loved birds, always had Audobon books laying around, and knew the scientific name of every bird between here and the equator. Of all the birds that could have been chosen, you seemed to embody the somewhat annoying character of the Stellar blue jay.

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The symbolism of the blue jay represents

  • Energy
  • Clarity
  • Vibrancy
  • Advantage
  • Curiosity
  • Faithfulness
  • Intelligence
  • Communication
  • Determination
  • Assertiveness
  • Loquaciousness

All of these reflect you perfectly.

….It was last summer, as I sat on the porch of mom and dad’s house, the cabin that used to be yours, that a certain blue jay seemed to be talking to me. Whenever I went outside, it would come and sit on the porch railing, yakking and yakking. When I went out to the front of the cabin, it would follow me, like it was trying to give me a message.

On three different occasions, over the course of three months, this jay would come to me. The third time around, something became aroused in my spirit, a sense of familiarity…. of home, an odd scent  of vanilla tobacco and Irish Spring soap; the comforting texture of frayed flannel; the vibrant blue of feathers, ironic being that since you were colorblind, the only color you COULD see was blue; and the taste of Chinese food and Baskin Robbins, all places I remember you taking me as a young child.

And then, out of nowhere, I knew it was YOUR spirit. It was you. You were there with me. In that fleeting moment. It was like I could reach out and touch you. In that one second, a lifetime of memories filled my psyche, making time stand still. And while I’ve never been a believer in those we love coming back to love us, between worlds, I know that day that I was in the presence of something far more embracing than a snarky neighborhood jay.

For whatever reason, I’m glad that you came to me that summer. I’m glad I had one last chance to sense your presence. For in the more time that has passed since you left us,  every day the more deeply your legacy imprints me.

So this tattoo is for you. A blue jay feather. On my wrist. So that no matter where I go, I am reminded that just maybe, you see me.

This song will always remind me of you, Carrie Underwood, “See You Again”.

Celtic Nature Tattoo

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When I was a young child, I lost my grandma to cancer. I watched her slowly wither away.  I was devastated. I went from a happy-go-lucky child, to one who was almost obsessively  worried  with the fear of losing my mom too. Worry and anxiety dominated my life for several years after my grandma’s death. Then, again, as an early adolescent, I lost one of my grandpa’s to  cancer as well. He literally shriveled up to nothing right before my very eyes.  This pushed me into a second depressive state.

Through both of these experiences, I internalized my worry and fear, so much so, that for several years my doctors thought I had a stomach problem. I was tested for stomach cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcers, colitis, celiac disease, IBS…..every possible digestive condition possible. And every test came back negative. The reason for my ailments? I was LITERALLY internalizing all of my stress and worry into my stomach and digestive tract. My stomach was eating toxic emotion for every meal, every day.

It’s also why, when I went through the stress of my first marriage, I dropped nearly 60 pounds, from 160 to under 100, in a few short months time. I simply stopped eating, and literally “lived” off the stress hormones.

During my first marriage, I also developed extreme TMJ. I would grind my teeth, and clench my jaws so intensely from the stress I was dealing with, that my jaw would simply lock shut, causing excruciating pain. To this day, I wear nightguards in my mouth every night, and I have a heavy duty narco-psychotic RX, that is for a short term use, to loosen the muscles in my jaw, for those now rare instances where the TMJ rears its’ugly head.

After I left my first husband, I broke out in 5 types of hives, resulting in my family rushing me to the ER. Every possible test was run for what could possibly be causing my rashes. The diagnosis? All my tests came back negative. The extreme stress I was under caused my body to simply flip out and basically set off emergency signals. The RX given? Eliminate stress from my life.

I had a skin cancer removed from my face at 37.

I went on HBP medicine at 38.

I had to go to physical therapy at 39 for a shoulder injury I had experienced at the hand of my ex-husband, only to suffer the muscular consequences almost a decade later.

Without hair dye- I was almost completely gray at 40, stress induced I’ve been told.

At 41 I had ovarian cysts that ruptured, causing me excruciating pain.

I could go on, but I think you’ve got the picture. You can experience so much stress in your life, endure so much trauma, that  at a certain point, your body will simply say, ENOUGH. It will go on strike. It will flip out. It will check itself into rehab. It will say to your mind, “I’ve put up with you, now you need to listen to me.”

And while I’m a hypochondriac ( hey…..I pay $2,000 a MONTH for Kaiser coverage for my kids and I, so I’m going to darn well go to the doctor whenever I FEEL like it), I have also become a growing believer in Eastern medicine too. I don’t want to treat my ailments simply by reactively popping pills. I want to get myself holistically healthy from the inside out. I want to prevent as much, if not more, than what I am simply reactively medicating and treating…. I’ve already started using essential oils daily (if you’re interested, I’m a distributor of doTerra Essential Oils), and they make a big difference, in certain areas of my physical and emotional health.

I’ve  also recently started studying the ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda. I’ve learned that my dosha is a combo Vata/Pitta dosha. The elements that I primarily embody are represented by  air, space, fire, and water. Noticably absent is earth, which is the dominant element in the third dosha, Kapha. Earth is the grounding, balancing element, offering stability and steadfastness of nature. And while I’ve learned to be very stable and steadfast as a parent, it is not my natural bent.

And then it dawned on me…. It’s the reason why, every opportunity I get, I want to be in nature. It’s why I love gardening, and find it so therapeutic. It’s why I love walking barefoot in the sand and dirt. It’s why, growing up, you’d more often find me in my tree house or backyard lawn than inside in my room. It’s why I always need to see horizons in my vision, why my house decorations reflect mountains and beaches; and why, if I ever get the option, I choose sunlight over fluorsecent lighting any day. It’s why I’d rather camp in a tent than be in the highest, most beautiful fancy hotel room,at any opportunity.

And then it dawned on me….. All of this is why this tattoo, with its’ shades of brown and green, has always brought me such pleasure. Because the earth, browns, greens, natural fibers, and being able to be in places where I am surrounded by greenery and granite, bring me so much joy…because they balance me out. They strengthen areas in my own psyche where I’m weaker. They literally breathe life into my soul. And it’s why, since I’ve been a young child, I have loved the lyrics to the songs I sang in my church’s children’s choir,“Down By The Creek Bank” and “Ain’t Gonna Let the Mountains Praise The Lord”.  And it’s why three of my all time  favorite Bible verses are, ” But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand  Isaiah 64:8“; ” Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness  and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19“; and “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land  and will strengthen your frame.You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.Isaiah 58:11.”

The very rocks cry out, reflecting the very essence of God Himself; and it’s in that Rock, that I find my strength. Namaste.