Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

On Permanence and Scars of Choice

The thing that gives me pause about getting a tattoo is all the awful things I would have gotten tattoos of earlier in life.

Think of photos of yourself in the 80s. Imagine if, somehow, that powder blue Don Johnson suit you loved, the one you wore with a white t-shirt and the sleeves rolled up, imagine if it never came off. It just stayed on your body, year after year, getting fuzzier. Tattoos are like that.

We all have tattoos already, of course. They’re our stories, our mental scars. The things we carry around with us, just under the surface. Your first breakup is always there, just around the corner in every relationship that comes after. Tattoos like this may not be seen, but they’re just as permanent.

The difference is, a tattoo is outward. It’s going to be seen, depending where it is, of course. At the very least, you’ll see it, and so will people you love. For some, it is quite literally wearing your heart on your sleeve. It’s a small sign to the universe that says, “This is me.”

Even if you have no intention of ever getting a tattoo, ask yourself, if you did, what would it be? How do you see yourself? What would be on your sign? It’s an amazing mental exercise.

Tattoos are even more complicated for my people. I have family members who had tattoos forced upon them. Their signs were a row of numbers on a forearm.

For many years, I said I couldn’t get a tattoo until my grandmother passed. She’s still with us, thank goodness, but her memory is shattered. Last time I saw her, she asked who’s son I was. If she saw me with a tattoo now, she’d forget a moment later.

When I met Heather, she had a few small tattoos. I thought they were hot. She always talked about getting more, and I was, to be honest, a little uptight about it.

Then we had the miscarriages. And I turned 35. And something changed in me. I could rationalize it as “taking control of our bodies” or some other hippy shit, but the truth is, I don’t know what changed. It’s still too recent.

My birthday present to Heather this year was a pair of tattoos. They’re amazing, and she’s not even done yet. Watching her go through the process of choosing her symbols, working with the artist, and committing them to her skin has been an inspiration.

I’m still scared of the permanence of it. But now I see it like this: Life is about collecting scars. Some of the scars are internal, some are external. Some you show to the world, some just to the ones you love. Some are forced upon you, and some you choose. It’s the collecting that’s important. If you don’t have scars, you’re not living.

I spent too many years avoiding risk, as if the goal was to leave a pristine corpse. Now I think, maybe it’s time to stop waiting. Stop avoiding. Go out there and get a scar to be proud of.

Our tattoos will be different. They will not be forced on us. They will not mean what they meant to my grandparents, or my parents. They will have a meaning that we create, and it’s okay if nobody else understands.

My first tattoo will begin this afternoon. It will be my sign to the universe. A scar of choice that I will wear on my sleeve. I still don’t know what it means, exactly, but I’ll have the rest of my life to figure it out.

And what is it? You’ll see. Soon.

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UPDATE: Please give a warm welcome to My New Friend.

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.