Stories painted on skin, “I am enough”

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Melissa Dodsonmel_tattoo

~For My Mother, Irene

I’ve always wanted a tattoo. For as long as I can remember. I love the creative and emotional expression of them. I love the permanency of them. Especially when so many things in life are constantly changing, spinning out of control.

All those years of wanting a tattoo, but never getting one. I’m Jewish. And according to Jewish law, you don’t get tattooed. You know, the whole ashes ashes, dust to dust thing. My mom liked to remind me of this. Often. Her biggest argument being that I wouldn’t be able to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Well, I kind of gave up on that whole idea when I went and married a Catholic. But still, Mom let me know she was not in favor.

Mom was against a lot of the things I did. Or didn’t do. The high school (not so) sweetheart that she hated. The dropping out of school, and not finishing, and not getting a degree. My track record shows more things that I rebelled against, then it does those that I conformed to. And in most of those cases, turns out she was right.

Once, I got really daring and got my belly button pierced (hey, it’s all relative). It wasn’t a hit, but it wasn’t a cardinal sin either. It wasn’t permanent. It wasn’t ink under flesh, stained for eternity. It was a little whole in my belly. And it didn’t last too long, anyway. When I got pregnant and started showing I took it out for fear of the holes stretching too much. Much to the appreciation of Mom, as well as my conservative husband.

Fast forward 20 years. I’m 40. Mom’s 70. She’s just died. I’m shell-shocked. It doesn’t sink in, that she’s dead. Instead, all that keeps running through my mind is that now I can get a tattoo. It’s easier to think about getting tattooed then it is to think about my mom being dead. I’m hovering in this weightless plane. Numb. Unable to process her death. I want to feel something. I think about tiny needles pricking my skin. I can feel those. I’m free to get inked without the fear of letting her down. Of disappointing her. Free to do what ever the fuck I want for myself. Without her judgement. Without her guilt trip. Free to rebel and live with the consequences. Because, fuck her. She’s fucking dead. I can’t touch her anymore. But a tattoo, I can see it and touch it. It won’t disappear into thin air. It will stay with me. On me. In me. Part of me.

She’s dead, and I’m 42 and I still want a tattoo. I’ve never not wanted one. It wasn’t a passing phase in my carefree rebellious youth. I’m past that. The truth is that I really do like them. A well placed, well executed tattoo can be pretty damn badass, and sometimes even hot as hell. They have meaning. Symbolism. History. Reminders. Stories painted on skin.

She died. I live. I don’t need her permission anymore. I don’t need to be afraid, or rebel or give a shit what she’ll think or say. She’s dead. And so I got inked. A story painted on my skin. A story for her. A story for me. A symbol. A history. A reminder. A reminder of my Jewishness. A reminder of her. A reminder of who I was and who I am now. Permanency in a constantly changing world. A world where mothers die of cancer, way too early. A world where little girls are afraid to be themselves, living under a shadow. A world where now the shadow is lifted and I’m finding the me I’ve always wanted to be. This me who has only always wanted to wear ink. A painted story on my skin. Permanently.

A stack of books. Three books. Two closed. One open. Her story ended. My story ended, the part of me that died with her. A new story begun, the motherless daughter who remains. The word ‘Dayenu’, in Hebrew. The song Dayenu, her favorite song during the Passover seder. Translated, it means ‘I am enough’. I am enough. I. Am. Enough.

It’s been almost 6 months since I got the tattoo. Everyday, I miss my mom more and more. Everyday, I love my tattoo more and more. It’s not going anywhere. And every time I look at it, I have to lay my hand on it. On my forearm. Where I feel her and I hear her. Our story painted on my skin.


Copyright © behind-the-ink, Nancy Perlson