Tattoo Day, in pictures. It was too image heavy to send in an email – I kept trying but it kept freezing up the app.
Sewing on the go train.
My view into the city.
Carbing up in Union Station. You need a good amount of carbs in your system, otherwise your blood sugar levels can crash – essentially you’re putting your body through trauma so it’ll fight what it deems to be an attack on the system. Some people report being extremely healthy after a tattoo session because the body is fighting to protect itself and thus becomes stronger immunity wise.
In the subway for a quick three stop ride. Normally I would’ve walked it but we’re pressed for time here.
Ugh. So much for pressed for time. Construction on Dundas!! That means I’m on a bus and buses make me pukey with how jerky and overheated they are. Also, construction. I hope I’m not late!!
So I didn’t get a shot of the front door. Oops. Also I made it on time!
Here’s what we’re covering up. It’s a 21 year old, poorly applied tattoo. I *could* have had it fixed but … that seems like too much work.
Here’s a panorama of the tattoo shop inside, where the tattoos actually get applied. The front of the shop is not visible in this picture but there are gorgeous plants out there that Ben (co-owner) is a master of taking care of. He’s the plant whisperer!!
Jacqueline’s area is in the corner on the far right, against the wall.
Note how it looks more like an art studio than the typical tattoo shop. It’s clean, friendly, and inviting.
Alright. This is the stencil. We’ve applied it to the leg but she’s realized the entire old Tattoo won’t be covered so she’s going to draw a leaf or petal with a toothpick and then she’ll trace the lines to cover that area.
Meet Jacqueline!! She reminds me of my friend Kate. You spend the day with either of them and they’re like the antidote to a shitty world or a shitty day. You leave there feeling lighter, refreshed, cleansed of the bullshit you don’t realize you’re bogged down with. I could spend all day with J. She’s incredible people. I know you’d love her.
Alright. It’s go time. Are you ready??
Outline of the flower is done. We chose purple because we needed to cover up the blue but we used four different kinds of purples…so it’s got depth and it’s just so pretty.
The flower is done!! You can’t even tell there was a crappy tattoo there before!! Also, her green leaves are incredible. I don’t know if this picture does it justice.
Switch positions and onto the hands, water, and petals. So this is a tender spot and where I start trying to find a way to accurately describe what a tattoo feels like after 6 hours. And I’ve got it. The burn you felt during a vaginal delivery is how a Tattoo feels after 6 hours. Raw. Hot. Sharp. You start attempting each Lamaze breathing exercise you know, and you invent your own, and then you have to remind yourself to continue to breathe.
The hand of the survivors with water flowing through their hands and fingers. Water is cleansing the soul, flowing through the fingers and it represents letting go.
Omg are we done yet ha ha she’s getting more ink for the hand of the one who has passed on. I’m sure my face was hilarious around this time.
Ok, here we go. We’re nearly done. She’s just doing the last of the hand now. The next four pictures are the completed Tattoo.
You can see how swollen my skin is. I don’t bleed much, I hold colour extreeeeeemely well, but I swell up like a balloon as soon as the machine turns on.
A lot of symbolism can’t be seen. The flower petals that have fallen are actually lighter in colour than those ON the flower, representing a loss of life over time, as time passes. The hand that is barely visible represents the hand of the lost loved one, always a reminder that she’s there, in my life, and always a part of me, of us. She unites us, in what was a hard and awful way but is now a beautiful way – there’s love, respect, friendship, and perhaps a need, too. I don’t know what I would’ve done without this friendship. It has made my burden easier to carry.
And so while the Tattoo looks sad, it’s about letting go of that sadness. Recognizing what happened, and not necessarily moving on (because I don’t know that you can), but accepting it for what it is. It will always be there but it doesn’t have to be a burden anymore. At least for me. It’s a transformation. Love, water, life, and death.
When you witness a suicide, you’re changed forever. You’re altered. It’s almost as if your DNA has been changed because things are no longer the same. The way you think, the way you feel, the way you approach life. The things people say. What once meant nothing to you now has more meaning than breath itself. Because sometimes you are left breathless by the tiniest of happenstances.
I navigate around tall buildings and size them up. Where is the roof? Where would a body land should someone decide to kill themselves? I approach my own and plod forward, pushing myself to walk where she died. At times I am sleep deprived, still afraid of silence, still waking up to non-existent people standing over my bed. I still feel her around me, no longer a pest but a guide. It is not actually her that I feel but the shadow of her, burned into my soul. She is with me, always.
Tonight, so close to her anniversary, a contractor needed access to the very roof she used to end her pain. I asked one of her (former) coworkers where the roof access was and advised there’d be contractors accessing the roof.
I don’t know if they’re as hyper aware of people being on the roof since she died but I know I would be were I them.
But then the contractor jokingly said to the coworker that when they were done they’d jump off the side of the building.
Something changes inside you when someone you know kills themselves. You are forever altered. And the look on her coworkers face was evidence of that. He is forever altered. I bit my tongue and didn’t tell the contractor off because how was he to know? How could he? You don’t know what another person has seen or felt and we cannot traipse around the world, for all our given years, on egg shells. Life is meant to be lived, enjoyed, loved. A simple comment that has such intense meaning for us but none to him. It shouldn’t be held against him.
And yet, it affected me still. More than I wish it could. And so I cried, losing my appetite as my tears fell into my pasta, I cried because I so wish his comment and her death could wash over and away from me. There is no 12 step program to death and grief. There’s no timetable of expectancy when it comes to loss and suicide. It just exists within you. Your DNA. Your fibers. It’s as much a part of you as your freckles and scars.
Tonight, after I took that first step in overcoming my fear of heights, I sat down for my lunch break and cried. When I could breathe again, when I let it wash over me, I checked my email. There was a message from a complete stranger who had read my writing – not even the good writing that has been hidden from view – saying that my writing was a gift. How could you have picked today, of all days, to contact me?, when I chose today, of all days, to take that step out there?
I am forever altered, yes, but on this day my heart is full.
Time is a thief. I have memories of my childhood that are beautiful and sweet but minute details have failed me. How a lamp looked. How tall someone was. What their teeth looked like when they smiled. Details that seem unimportant are lost to me.
Feelings we remember. We’ll never forget how something or someone made us feel. And we’ll never forget what it feels now to look back on a memory, as we remember it, as we experienced it, and as we experience it now.
Smells can instantaneously bring back to us our forgotten memories. The sandbox in our kindergarten class. The smell of my Nana’s perfume. The smell of my grandparents property in the springtime. I remember these things and suddenly feel in awe of how amazing the universe is.
But I feel cheated when I cannot remember, without assistance, the dimple in someone’s smile. When I can’t recall what my favourite lamp looked like. What hung on the walls above a couch. What the upholstery looked like on a favourite chair. It feels as if my brain and memory are cheating me out of a piece of my heart. These memories are insignificant in the grand scheme of things yet these minute details are the pieces of a larger puzzle. To lose those means to lose a piece of magic from my life.
It’s tragic that you can forget something that was so beloved for so many years. It’s a reminder of how easily we forget, and how much we take for granted: memory and memories.
2. celebrate or acknowledge an anniversary.
Origin: late, middle English. From old French observer. From Latin observare‘to watch’.
1. a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.
Origin: late 18th cent. From Greek, literally ‘wound’.
1. the act of killing oneself intentionally.
Origin: mid 17th cent.: from modern Latin suicida‘act of suicide,’suicidium‘person who commits suicide,’ from Latin sui ‘of oneself’ + caedere‘kill’.
*give (someone) greater knowledge and understanding about a subject or situation;
*give (someone) spiritual knowledge or insight
*archaic shed light on (an object)
Origin: Middle English (in the sense ‘make luminous’; formerly also as inlighten): in early use from Old English inlihtan‘to shine’
1. the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way
Origin: Middle English: from Old French langage, based on the Latin lingua‘tongue’.
Words can never explain or define our lives, our pain, our traumas, or our historical stories and the meanings behind them. We use words because we cannot yet convey to another person what it is we feel, how deep our love is, how deep our well of pain goes, or how, in the face of fear or danger, we found real bravery. We are as yet unable to pass on feeling from one person to another in the same way that we can easily pass on a word, a phrase, or a book. In this way, we can only use small symbols, letters, words, to pass on what it is we’re going through, what it is we live through, what it is we want to tell someone, how it is we want them to feel.
Some choose not to pass those words on at all.
We can never find the meaning or the origin of our feelings in the smattering of a few letters pressed together. We can never find the cause or the reason in those defined terms. It is, at best, a lame attempt to convey or understand. We will never find in them understanding or true knowledge – those we must find within ourselves. We will never know the why behind the words and their causes, what impact they’ve had on the writer and the reader.
We can and often do seek solace in those words, however. As writers and as readers.
I think of you, the words you chose not to share, suffering instead in an absence of words, in your silence; the words pressing forth from my own soul, in a chemical reaction to your silence and action, written words – an attempt at understanding my own pain and the torment I go through; the words shared with me from loved ones, mine and yours. In turn, I choose to share my words in hopes of enlightening others. I cannot ever understand but hope I can offer understanding. For others, yes, but mostly myself.
I have forgiven you. Now I must forgive myself.
I am damaged. Of that there is no question. I have been woven back together through sheer will to carry on, but I have not been woven back together properly. There are pieces of me in the wrong spot, out of place, shattered so completely that they are missing altogether. And I feel like I am lost. That there is a map to it all and I could escape if only I had the right page. But there isn’t and I’m still lost in this wasteland of empty space, alone with her, and an electric current that reminds me I’m alive but that that life is oh so fragile. Now more than ever I fear for that fragility. For myself, for my unanswered questions, for those left behind.
It could’ve been anyone up there. It could’ve been her, it could’ve been me. The wind rushing against her face. My face. It sometimes feels like it was me.
My thoughts, every day, are there, with her. I am there, with her and with me. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about it. And every night I am woken, still, from the sound of a body hitting pavement. So loud a sound for something so soft. Falling, weightless, like a feather. And then a door slamming in the dead of night. And it echoes. But it’s not a door and my eyes must be deceiving me. I could not have witnessed what I did and yet she’s there, and I’m here. And there’s a woman screaming outside but I’m not. How is it that I didn’t scream. How did I not lose my mind with grief and horror? I am on the phone and I’m still calm and I’m having to look at her face and now I can’t look away because I know her. I know her and I watched the last moments of her death. I watched.
And in the weeks that followed I became so immersed in her loss and pain, the pain she felt and the pain she caused me, that I was drowning and couldn’t get air. I was choking. I could feel the air, the life, the love leaving my body. I was shattered. It was then that I was woven back together, some pieces in all the wrong places, but I moved on. I pushed myself to exist, not because I wanted to but because I had people relying on me to continue. And it was horrible because there was such emptiness. My drowning had such depth that it took months to claw my way to the surface. And I lay there, unsure of how well put together I was, knowing only I had to accept it and move. Just get up and move. Move.
She was now part of me. She was the glue that put me back together and I hated it. I hated that I used her pain and our loss as the mortar for my soul, that cracked, fragile existence. She is part of me.
I live for them but she is the driving force, she is what pokes me in the back, pushing me, reminding me that it could easily have been me on that ledge. It could’ve been any of us. But it wasn’t. And it never will be.
Damaged though I may be, I will not let the shattering of my soul be for naught. She is my glue but they are my life and I live for them.
What Can Happen In A Second.
Five years ago, Lily’s life changed in ways she could never have imagined.
Her son, Jaden, was four years old when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and, two months later, he passed away in the arms of her and her husband, Jacob. They didn’t have time to process the diagnosis, never mind his death. Jaden’s absence became more and more heavy on their hearts and his room, untouched two years later, marked the grave they refused to purchase. It marked the death they couldn’t acknowledge yet sat in every room they existed in, dancing in their peripheral vision.
On the third anniversary of Jaden’s death both Lily and Jacob took the day off from work but didn’t tell each other they’d done so. They each spent the day in solitary meditation. Lily had gone to Jaden’s favourite beach and Jacob had walked through Jaden’s favourite playground. Jacob felt the eyes of each parent staring at him, silently telling him to keep his infectious death away from their children. His heart heavy with pain and sorrow, he got back into his car and drove to a pub close to his old apartment and drank in the corner of the bar, where it was dimly lit and no one, but the waitress, could see his tears.
Lily, back from the beach, her face stained with tears and her feet wet from the ocean, turned her cell phone back on. She had 27 missed calls on her phone, all from the Queen’s County Medical Hospital. Her husband had been in a car accident and could she please come quickly.
When Lily arrived at the hospital she was out of breath. She’d been yelling the whole way to the hospital, “Not this day, not this day, not this day…” It had become a mantra, to keep her remaining family intact, to try and cheat Death from taking more of her heart away. After Jaden died she was sure Death had taken the whole thing. That her chest was nothing but an empty cavity.
The doctor took her to her husband’s room and pushed papers into her throbbing chest, asking her to sign it for organ donation. The nurses were saying her name but all she could see was her husband, tubes coming from his mouth, blood all over his swollen face and chest.
Lily could hear nothing but a roaring noise in her ears. She was sure this was Death, coming for her husband. Though she couldn’t see Him, she felt Him in the room with her. It was a dance she knew too well. She heard the doctor’s voice speaking to her, explaining the accident, as he knew it to have been, but she comprehended little. All she knew was that her life had ended, this very same day, three years ago. How she had managed to carry on, how either of them had managed to carry on, she could never fathom.
Now, she could see very little. Her vision was blurry and all she could hear was her own heart beating in her ears, her own blood coursing through her veins, the beep of the machine that was keeping her husband alive and out of nowhere, her name, a question. “Lily?”
The priest, Father Patrick, who had sat with her and Jacob when Jaden lay dying, was here now. She blinked when she looked at him, the tears starting to flow freely now, and said, “Jacob…”
Father Patrick took her in his arms and, as they were going to take her husband away for his organs, her knees buckled and the reality of her grief, of her empty heart and sorrowful soul, knocked the wind from her chest. She couldn’t breathe.
Almost a year later, after speaking with Father Patrick before the anniversaries of the deaths of her husband and her child, she had made a final decision. She’d spoken to Father Patrick about the decision she’d made and asked him if it was selfish. He could only tell her that she had to do what she felt was the right decision.
For years Jacob had been promising to take her to the Grand Canyon. She decided to take the trip herself, carrying both her husband and her child in her heart. As she slowly climbed to the top of the cliff, the wind was roaring in her ears. She could feel Death. Again, they were doing this strange, yet familiar dance.
She spent quite a few minutes sitting at the top, looking over the beauty of the land, taking it in one last time. Her first, and her last sunrise in the Grand Canyon, had been spent camping here. She’d never seen anything so breathtaking. She was sure she’d never see anything so beautiful again.
Finally, at the same time that her husband died, she took a step and leaped off the cliff. The wind, Death, roared beautifully in her ears and she laughed. She laughed until she cried and screamed goodbye. She screamed goodbye to her dead child and husband, she screamed goodbye to the house she’d sold a month before, she screamed goodbye to the life she’d lived.
She closed her eyes for she knew the end was near. She could see it coming and braced herself. In the darkness behind her lids she replayed her favourite memories of when they were still a full family. Full of love, full of laughter, full of life. She smiled softly and the tears, locked behind those closed eyes, made the memories seem like a watercolour painting. “Goodbye,” she whispered.
The snap of the bungee cord forced her eyes open and, as she dangled there, she said goodbye to the ghosts of her husband and her child, the life she’d lived with them, and the life she’d lived in their absence. She apologized to them both for choosing life.