I have a tattoo on the inside of my left ankle. It’s an M-dot symbol, the official brand of Ironman Triathlon. I got it three or four days after I got married, at a tattoo parlor in Key West, in the middle of a hot and humid June afternoon. My husband — a word that still felt new and delicious at that time – has the same symbol on his left calf, and I remember remarking to him “well, we’ve got matching tattoos – now this marriage will never last!”
(I appear to have been mistaken.)
I don’t know that I had always wanted a tattoo. In truth, I was fairly petrified and when my husband (“husband”!) pulled the bandage of a few days later I refused to look at it, refused to even look down my leg, so sure I was that I had made a huge mistake and would hate it, hate it, hate it.
(I love it.)
I never considered putting a tattoo on my back or some other part of my body that I couldn’t see — any tattoo I got I wanted to be something I could see all the time, not something that was just on display for other people. And I do see mine; briefly in the dark light of 5am as I tie my shoes for Crossfit, in meetings at work as I cross my legs and my pants ride up just a bit over my ankle. It’s now a part of me, just as I wanted it to be; a reminder that once upon a time I stopped being sick and became an athlete, and I finished not one but two Ironman races, and I did so along side some of the best friends I’ve ever had. It’s a reminder of how much I love the life I created for myself, and of how weird life is, that a nerdy bookworm drama geek could become the type of person who competes in races that take longer than 12 hours.
(About a year after getting my tattoo, I ran into an ex boyfriend at a coffee shop. “Wow” he said. “You ruined a perfectly good leg with that ink.” I stared at him for a minute, this person whose approval in all things I used to crave, and smiled. “Well, my husband absolutely loves it” I replied. Yes, this ink does indeed serve as a reminder of how much I love the life I’ve created.)
I’ve been thinking about ink lately, especially coming from watching the Crossfit Regional Championships. These competitions are filled with beautiful, beautiful shirtless bodies, some with such impressive tattoo work that I can’t help but be envious. I want to know when they got theirs, I want to ask if they considered what it might look like when they’re not 30 and a Crossfit King and no longer have a body that they want on impressive display. I want to ask them about their stories, what kind of jokes they cracked with their tattoo artist while they waited one, two, three hours for them to finish.
But I also think about the timing of getting inked. My tattoo reminds me of a good time in my life, but if I had gotten when I just started becoming an athlete, when I still on the cusp of invalid, would I remember more the old me? Would it serve as a reminder of the bad times, not the good?
I need to fix my m-dot. I want it outlined in black, a detail that got lost in communication back in Key West. (“I can’t outline it now” said the tattoo guy. “The black will bleed into the red. If you wanted it outlined you should have told me before.” Pro tip: Functional communication skills are an important life skill, in marriage, careers, and in discussing permanent brands one places on one’s body.) But I’m hesitating on fixing it; I’ve placed so much power in the story behind how I got this ink that I’m worried about adding to it. What if the narrative changes to me, what if it becomes a reminder of some harder things I’m dealing with now - do I wait until the storm has passed, so that when I catch a glimpse of my ankle, the only thing I do is quirk a slight smile, and remember how lucky I am?