how many tattoos do you have?
i kind of have 9, but 5 of them really go together to make 1. so 5 total? as of a few weeks ago, i have 11. or 10. or 6. or 7.
for a while i’ve been putting together plans for new tattoos – 2 that make up 1. on april 3rd, i brought it all to denise, my friend and tattoo artist, and she made them happen.
in middle school, my buddy robyn and i got pretty obsessed with the early days of saturday night live. we loved dan aykroyd, jane curtin, steve martin, buck henry, candice bergen, bill murray, andy kaufman.
and gilda radner. come one. i wanted to be gilda radner. she was funny and bold and adorable all at the same time.
soon after we discovered gilda, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. i watched her continue to live her life as funny and bold and adorable. she died on may 20th, 1989. i carried her obituary in my wallet for years.
robynlee and kristelee. women on the verge of some delicious ambiguity.
after my own medical drama i came upon a quote from her autobiography. “now i’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. delicious ambiguity.” with that, gilda explained to me how to continue to live my life after it was radically changed by my brain tumor. my recovery wouldn’t have been the same without her.
so for years I’ve been wanting to get a tattoo of that phrase, “delicious ambiguity.” my tattoos are all symmetrical along my midline – balance is a big problem for me in my body, so i guess i’m trying to not make it worse. i thought about where was left for a “delicious ambiguity” tattoo. below my clavicle was a spot that appealed to me. so while i googled clavicle tattoo images, i thought about what could go on the other side.
a clavicle tattoo i liked (ignore the birds)
a few years back, i came upon the term “solvitur ambulando.” it’s latin for “it is solved by walking.” which made me think about the shift in how i think about walking. before my medical drama, i didn’t really walk. i grew up in southern california, so my instinct was to drive everywhere. i spent a lot of time in my car. then in 2009 i lost my ability to walk (and also drive). relearning how to walk took several years, a few great teachers, and a lot of practice.
dennis was my physical therapist during my stay in a phoenix nursing home. he spent a lot of time holding me up by a gait belt, making me look at myself in a mirror to convince my brain that, even though i felt like i was leaning way over to the right, i was in fact standing straight up.
the therapy folks at capri (that’s dennis in the middle) – this was the first time they’d seen me stand up with a walker
anne was my home health physical therapist when i got back to corvallis. she taught me how to get in and out of my wheelchair, crawl around on the floor, and walk around my parents’ pool table as i held on for dear life. she got me back on my feet with a walker, but walking was hard and scary (i envisioned falling through the windows of shops as i walked by).
anne is remembering teaching me how to crawl
next was brian, the second brian to appear in my life at the exact moment when i desperately needed him.
the first brian
brian wilson became my physical therapist after anne. i liked him right away – we laughed a lot (mainly at me) and i had a good time during my appointments. he started me walking with a cane right away – fyi, it’s terrifying to go from two-handed walking to one-handed. after i stopped seeing him in the clinic, we got together a few times for “therapy in the wild.” once we met up on a playground – he had always wanted to put me on a tire swing and turn me the opposite way from my vertigo to see if it would unwind my dizziness. it didn’t – but i was able to get on and off the swing without wiping out, so that was big progress. we played a little wallball with brian’s wife, brittany, and then he put me on a bike and ran around the playground pushing me like he was my dad.
good practice for when his new daughter, shelby, is ready to ride
to practice walking with a cane, every day i’d try to go for a walk that was a little longer than the day before – the “feeling stronger every day” plan. i remember exactly where i was when i realized that walking had gone from something that scared me to something i enjoyed. at the time, there wasn’t a lot that i enjoyed – generally, the things i did during the day were difficult and required a lot of concentration. but thanks to dennis and anne and brian, i had an outlet. walking became something that i did for fun, and when i had something on my mind. it was free, it didn’t require help, and i could do it wherever i was. i started exploring, and that was a huge part of my psychological return to the world.
brian and brittany at tumorfest
brian and brittany decided to move to montana, and i had dinner with them the night before they left. i was still carrying a cane but not using it – it was a marker that let people know that they needed to be careful around me, and brian really wanted me to stop. it was raining that evening, and since my left arm is too wonky to hold an umbrella, i had a choice to make – cane or umbrella. when i walked through the restaurant door, brian noticed right away that i didn’t have my cane, and he made a big deal about it. he realized that i had done a scary thing – his faith in me was the reason that i kept trying new things, kept trying to get rid of things that restricted me. he was the first friend i made who hadn’t known me before my medical drama, which made his faith in me matter even more – he was basing that faith in who i was after, which made me have more faith in myself. i really can’t describe how important he has been in my life.
so instead of trying to describe it, i asked him to write “solvitur ambulando” for my tattoo. it was an opportunity to take my unending gratitude and make it visible.
brian and robyn’s drafts for my tattoo
when my buddy emily and i went to the bay area a few years back, i bought lovely california poppies letter-pressed notecards. i love my home state’s flower, and when i thought about these clavicle tattoos, i envisioned the poppies on one side. robyn’s side, since we grew up in california.
for the other side, i wanted sweet peas (my favorite flower) in a similar craftsman style. i decided to put brian & the sweet peas under my left clavicle because my left side is the wonky one from my stroke.
i sent denise this drawing as inspiration
i gave some thought to the color of the flowers, and since i love the orange of the poppies, i wanted the sweet peas to also be bright and vivid. i found this picture and knew that it was what i wanted the sweet peas to look like.
i brought all of these ingredients to denise and she combined them and improved them. getting the tattoos took a few hours, but mainly because we were chatting a lot. denise has been and continues to be a big player in my recovery. my tattoos are lovely – exactly what i wanted but so much more beautiful than that. they’re easily concealed, but they also reveal themselves differently depending on the neckline of the shirt i’m wearing. the way denise worked the words in is exquisite (robyn’s response).
this evening denise is going to touch up some leaves and darken the poppies.
my new tattoos are funny and bold and adorable. and i’m grateful for the people who are all woven together in them.