Since none of them are visible, I’m not sure those of you who know me even know I have tattoos.
If you ask me about any of them, I’ll probably give you the lighthearted story, the surface story, what they look like from the outside. One of them I’ll even laugh off as a joke. Of course, they’re all of those surface things, too. The decision to get any of them was pure whim. (And, I assure you, you don’t get a tattoo on an ass cheek without having a sense of humor.)
But underneath, in those layers of dermis stained with black ink, they mean something to me. They’re symbols and words that represent pieces of myself.
You see, they’re all things I’m afraid of forgetting.
They’re all things I’ve permanently inked on my body so as not to forget who I am.
I assume that’s why a lot of people get tattoos.
I’m a flight risk. To myself. It’s very easy for me to forget myself, who I am, what I’ve done, where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, how far I have yet to go, how I’m really just a particular arrangement of atoms occupying a particular time and space. I’m still not sure what I think about the idea of a consistent self-identity. Sometimes I’m not sure I have an identity at all.
I won’t tell you about my first two tattoos. I’m sorry, but I don’t know you well enough. I may never know anyone well enough. But I will tell you about my third. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. It bears repeating and repeating and repeating.
About 10 years ago, I wanted to die.
About nine years later, I got the following Wilco lyric tattooed on my side, “What would we be without wishful thinking.”
There’s a campaign, Project Semicolon, started by Amy Bleuel to raise awareness for mental health. People draw or tattoo semicolons on their bodies as a reminder to themselves, and to others, that the sentence continues.
“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”
Well, my tattoo is my semicolon. “Wishful Thinking” is my semicolon, because wishful thinking is my semicolon.
People have a tendency to pathologize anyone who isn’t happy, who struggles, who is susceptible to the claws of addictive behaviors, who admits to thinking about what the world would be like without them in it. But it isn’t always so easy to slap a clinical diagnosis onto someone, and I wish people would stop doing it to me from their armchairs.
I currently have none of the clinical symptoms of depression, but sometimes I still think about what it would be like to not exist.
Because the truth, and why I’m writing this post, is that the phrase that comes after the semicolon isn’t always a happy one. It definitely isn’t an easy one. It’s frequently a lonely one. It’s mostly an uncertain one.
But it isn’t a static one.
And sometimes it’s hard to remember that.
Which is why some of us need permanent reminders inked on our skin.