For over twenty years I’ve been telling my life story and marking parts of my life through tattoos. My tattoos are odd and eclectic and don’t much look like they go together, because they weren’t planned to go together. Each one represents the time when I got it – sometimes a specific event, sometimes the overall experience of that time in my life – with no thought given to what the next one would be, because there’s no way for me to know what the next one will be.
I knew that I’d want a tattoo to somehow mark Mom’s death, and I had no intention of rushing it but it’s fitting that the idea didn’t take long to form, because getting it is, for me, an important step towards being able to say “this happened and I made it through.” I’ll be dealing with it for the rest of my life, yes, and it will affect me for the rest of my life, I’m sure in ways that I’m not even aware of yet, but I made it through. I’ll continue to reckon with it however I need to, but it’s a story I can tell.
Mom loved cute bee designs. She’d kill the shit out of any actual bees in a heartbeat, but she always loved bee toys, decorations, art, etc., if the bee character was whimsical and had a sweet face. When I was a kid and she worked as a graphic designer for the library system she drew a coloring book called My Visit to the Library. There was a bee that appeared on every page – a simple, goofy little bee with her signature button face.
The idea of incorporating her fingerprint design into a tattoo actually came from the owner of the place where I had her cremated. He told me that he could take her fingerprints before the cremation, and let me know that I could have the designs made into all sorts of jewelry or memorabilia, and because I “had paint” as he put it, he wanted me to know that he’d seen people do some cool things with fingerprint designs in tattoos. That definitely got my wheels spinning. When it occurred to me that a bee body would be a great shape for a fingerprint design, with the lines taking the place of the bee’s stripes, I knew that that was exactly what I wanted.
Fortunately my friend/coworker Prudence is an excellent graphic designer/artist, and was more than happy to help me out with the design. I knew she’d come up with something I loved, and sure enough. She based the bee on the style of the bee from Mom’s coloring book, and incorporated some patterns from her fingerprints in a broad/stylized enough way that they look stripe-ish and aren’t too intricate to come across in a tattoo.
The picture was taken right after the artist finished it, so it still looks like it was drawn on with a Sharpie, as Matthew describes fresh tattoos. That was only yesterday, so it’s still super dark now, but also starting to get that fresh-healing look. But I’ve got it now. I’ve got my bee on my arm to mark what happened. To add to my story.