I’ve been asked, time and again, “Is your tattoo real?” And by this, I think what they mean is “It’s not henna, is it now?”
Well, yes it isn’t. It is as real as the nose on my face. And it was something I had done years ago –at what I knew, in my bones, was an ending of a journey that changed me forever.
Two 6-hour sessions with a few months spaced between those 2 sessions. The first session was for the outline that ran beyond both my hips and that goes all the way higher than my belly button. And the second session was for the filling in of those outlines with vivid colors of things I love the most—flowers. Think coloring with crayons—only, with needles on your skin.
And it was on her birthday, on the last minute of that last session that my mother’s name was inked into my skin. Had she had lived, she’d have been 76 years old the day her name was permanently etched on her youngest daughter’s left hip.
Instead, all she had was 29 years and me, just 6 years with her.
I wept as her name was needled on me by exceptional tattoo artist Dyuntats Depasupil. And it wasn’t because it was painful. On a scale of 1 to 10, her name on me was like a 2. It was just incredibly moving—a sacred moment– to have her on me this way.
To honor and love her in such a wild way.
(Of what good is your love if can’t love the beloved in WILD ways no?)
So much of my journey to wholeness was to call to the fore the pain and grief I had buried because I lost her and how I tried to search for her in all the nooks and crannies of my life.
In the arms of lovers, in books, in mountains I climbed, the bottom of a bottle of beer (LOTS of them haha), in running under torrential rains, in people I loved and despised, in dark empty spaces of despair, in a sky full of stars and in burning sunsets, in close to everything that I wrote.
How so much about me was about losing her. If Mother-loss were a mountain, I was perched on it and it was how I saw the world. I had no idea that I did. And until I found the courage to face the grief that my 6 year old self could not face, all I saw around me was Loss.
In adulthood, I saw that I could finally bear the pain of losing her.
And if I’ve had to navigate my life with no mother to guide and protect me, this no longer was necessary. The time had finally come. I could now mother myself to healing and wholeness. And I could now face what used to be impossible to face.
It was at this point where I had my mother’s name inked on me. Do you see it? “Agnes” it says. That’s my mama’s name. It felt only right to mark the moment when a corner had been turned in a long tumultuous journey. And that I was now on high ground where Mother loss was concerned.
I think I will forever miss her though.
If you cut me open now, you will see that I am 9/10ths my mother’s songs and cakes she baked with me and sugar flowers we both made. So much of what she wanted in life lives in me. Her hands were in a constant flurry of creation and until she ran out of time, she created beautiful things that have outlived her. My mother had this fire for life and I have refused to let this fire die out. And until the day I breathe my last, I will keep this flame burning for us both. I will carry this woman till the day I cross the line.
But the altar of grief I built for her has now been dismantled and in its place, I have built an altar of love and gratitude to honor the woman who has propelled me to do great things with the life I share with her.
My mother never travelled out of the country in the 29 years she lived, for instance. But her daughter, her youngest girl has done it for her. I traipsed around the globe with her in my heart and I will continue to leave space for her each and every time I set foot on some strange land. There will always be this part inside me that says, “Ma, LOOOOOK!!” as I gaze at the majesty of the Himalayas or of the sky on fire as the sun sets in some secluded Negros island or the finish line of the New York Marathon.
And if she has never seen her beautiful apos, my children, always, there will be this part of me that beholds them for us both—with love enough for two—a mother’s and grandmother’s love to boot. Mushroom cloud!
And always, there will be this part of me that feels the comfort of a love that never dies. A love that reaches across time and space so you can almost taste it. And how, if you close your eyes, you feel that you belong to something bigger than the finite life you momentarily breathe in.
It was the writer Sylvia Plath who said, “Wear your heart on your skin in this life.”
I pat my tat with my mother’s name on me and I go, “Oh yeah.”
So you ask me, “Is your tattoo for real?”
I reply, “You have no idea, do you?”