“You’ll regret it. You’ll regret it for the rest of your life,” my mother stated emphatically as she shook her head at me and walked away. This was after I proudly showed her my first tattoo, after returning from my solo trip around Europe at age 22. It was a bright orange, yellow and red butterfly, perched cheerfully on my tanned right shoulder.
“What are you going to do when you’re a professional?” my mother called over at me from the kitchen.
“I’m never going to be a professional!” I yelled back at her, as I dropped my oversized backpack on the floor and kicked off my Birkenstocks.
It turned out my mother was not wrong in that regard. I was a lawyer for many years, but my happy little swallowtail never got in the way of a single deposition or oral argument. To me, that butterfly is a permanent reminder of one of the most significant periods of my life. She stands for a part of myself I never want to forget—that carefree, independent, brave gypsy soul who traveled alone by train from country to country, city to city, stopping on a whim whenever her instincts spoke to her.
I remember feeling like I was introducing myself to myself during those months. I could go for days without speaking to anyone, or I could make a new friend on a boulevard after learning a few words of that particular language. Most importantly, I became my own closest comrade. I grew to enjoy my personal companionship as I climbed the steep staircase of the Belfry in Bruges, sampled various shellfish in Bergen, and breathed in the scent of tulips in Amsterdam—which is, by the way, where I got my butterfly tattoo while SOBER (for that particular hour anyway).
I relish the memories I have of those days I backpacked throughout Europe at age 22. It is a version of Devin I want to carry with me always, and I do so in the form of a small winged creature on my shoulder. She is a little faded now, but still spunky, and I see her every morning as I dry off after my shower.
“Hello there, adventuresome self,” my now 44-year-old self whispers. “Let’s do our best with this day, shall we?” So no, I have never once regretted getting her.
My second tattoo I got the week before I got married. I was 30 years old for that one. My husband and I got tattoos as wedding gifts to each other. (“Haven’t you heard of the tradition of jewelry, Devin?” said my mother.) Brian and I got married two months after 9/11. Obviously it was an emotional time, and we took that into account as we planned our wedding and made decisions about our tattoos. I chose to get another butterfly, this one with stars and stripes on its wings. It’s on my left hip (and yes, it hurt!).
Very often you hear cautionary tales about getting tattoos to symbolize relationships. Tattoos are usually permanent, relationships quite regularly are not. Sadly, after 10 years my marriage ended in divorce. However, I can honestly say I have never bemoaned this tattoo either. I view it with neither sadness nor remorse. My divorce, though more painful than getting the tattoo itself, was relatively amicable, and my ex-husband and I remain on good terms. Most importantly, we have an incredible 9-year-old son together, and we raise him as a team. Brian and I communicate on a regular basis, he is supportive of my new life, and I can say wholeheartedly that I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I don’t regret my marriage to Brian, and I don’t regret the fact that I have a tattoo memorializing our time together. My marriage may not have lasted, but certain amounts of goodness did, such as our son and a friendship, so I have no problem with a tattoo reminding me of those things.
My second tattoo also brings to mind how united and resilient our country was during a shocking and somber time. I felt proud to be an American during those months following 9/11, and that is a feeling that one wants to last. Ironically, my first tattoo represents being proud of who I was while traveling in foreign countries, and my second signifies feeling honored to be a citizen of my homeland. Now at 44, twice the age I was when I got my first tattoo, I am still happily sporting both. And I am thrilled to say neither are wrinkly!
Many people (hi, Mom) are adverse to tattoos because of their permanence. But that is exactly why I like mine. In a world where much can be fleeting, I take comfort in the fact that my butterflies stick with me at all times. I am not even certain where the photo albums from my trip abroad or my wedding are. And I don’t know when I’ll have the chance to go back to Europe again. Who knows if I’ll get married again either. But rest assured, my butterflies will never fly away.