Monday, August 13, 2012

The Many Sides of An Ampersand

So one of the things I did this summer was get a tattoo.

I've wanted a tattoo since the very idea of tattoos was introduced to me. I think I was about...eleven or so. The idea of being able to doodle on myself and then have it stay FOREVER was something I always found intriguing.

And my goal to get one when I was eighteen had been put on the back burner when LIFE happened.

I knew that I would eventually get one, and then a bunch, but I just never knew when I would have the time and the money simultaneously line up so I could do it.


Then my little sister, Kelly got an internship at Premium Blend Tattoo in Manahawkin. Then. They asked her to tattoo. Then. They asked her if she had any guinea pigs.

I was her second guinea pig.

The whole experience was something so surreal and so precious to me that I will never ever forget it. It sounds kind of cheesy, right? precious, getting a tattoo? You serious?

Hell yeah I am.

When I was younger, it was always my dream to be a tattoo artist. When I think back to it now, I'm not sure I would be able to do it. I mean, drawing something for someone else that they may or may not like, and then having to tattoo it on them, thus PERMANENTLY marking up their skin?

Not to mention, most people irritate me.

And watching my baby sister do it to my own arm, I've never been more positive that tattooing is just not for me.

I was an emotional wreck as well.
I'm not afraid of pain; never really have been. That's not what I was emotional about.
It's the fact that seeing my sister interacting with the other artists there, and without maybe even her realizing at the time, seeing her in her element, somewhere she should be and somewhere she has worked to be her whole life as an artist--making art and getting paid for it--made me feel like a proud momma.

I'm not saying that I raised Kelly, or that I am her surrogate mother or something, but there's just this wonderful proud big sister feeling that overcame me, and continues to every time I see a picture of a new piece she's completed.

So, with the emotional wreck and proudness out of the way, here's what I got:

And people have been asking me things like, "what is that?"
It's called an ampersand.
And then they ask, "Why would you get the AND sign as a tattoo?"

Well, the short answer would be that I'm a writer, and that the ampersand is one of my favorite punctuation marks, and because I'm a nerd like that, I got it.


The long answer takes more explaining. And here it is:
It's no secret that Amanda Palmer is one of the most inspirational artists to me. She has a song called "Ampersand".
There are a few lines that have always stood out to me:
1) I have wasted years of my life
     Agonizing about the fires
     I started when I thought that to be strong you must
     Be flame retardant

2)  Nobody deserves to die
     But you were awful adamant
     That if I didn't love you
     Then you have just one alternative

And, of course, the chorus:
3)  I'm not gonna live my life on one side of an ampersand.

These three lines have been haunting me since I first heard this song almost four years ago.

The first represents who I was Before.
Before what exactly? I'm not sure. Just Before.

When I was younger, a teenager, I had this idea that I didn't need anyone. That if someone were to come into my life and ask me on a date, I would proudly say, "No. I don't need that."
I had such a negative idea of love between two strangers that I thought it could never exist. I always thought it was a lie that adults made up so they could justify staying together or getting married or whatever else.
I thought men were evil.
I thought I would never be with someone, and I was happy about it.

I didn't have many friends, and even with them I was completely closed off. I only shared parts of me that I thought wouldn't be judged, parts that were safe.

Then I met Sara, and Amy, and others.
And they made it okay. They made me feel normal.

Then Al entered my life.
And without getting sappy and emotional and dumb, I'm just going to say that he proved me wrong.
He was there when I thought he wouldn't be. He stayed when I was sure I would make him run.

When I turned 21 and moved into my dad's house, all of this progress was erased in a mere two days.
Thus enters line number 2.

I had grown up most of my life not knowing who my father was, really. And I wanted it. I wanted a father daughter relationship. I wanted to know who he was and I wanted him to know me.
And I found him.
And he was scary.
Yet he craved my company, my love.
And I couldn't give it to him.
No matter how hard I pushed and pushed the walls of my chest apart, my heart would not let him in. And there was this unbelievable amount of guilt that came with these realizations. The realizations that I had no father, that he's not who he appeared to be, and that I didn't love him were crushing to me.
So when I moved out, I had to deal with the walls coming down and trying to bury me.

I can honestly say it was one of the hardest times of my life.

But I also learned from it. I learned that I can love people and let them in, but I had to be aware that sometimes I have to let go. I can't risk my mind, my heart, my soul just to feel love from someone who could not, and didn't ever really know how to give it.

So that brings us to line three: I'm not gonna live my life on one side of an ampersand.

It seems simple. Don't lean on people. Stand alone and be yourself and you only need you.
And that's part of it.
But the ampersand on my arm also represents the times where I do need to lean on someone. When I can trust people and love and not be afraid to.

So, the tattoo is a lot for me.
My sister, who went through a lot of the same things that I did with our father tattooed it on me.
Amanda Palmer, whose music has saved me on more than one occasion.
Al, Amy, and Sara, and my other friends who have been there to listen and relate. The people who showed me and continue to show me things that I never thought I was capable of feeling, doing, or seeing.

It's a reminder. It's a thank you. It's forever.
And every time I look at it, I think of all of these things at once and am over joyed and overwhelmed.
For everyone involved with it, thank you.
: )