I don’t often look at my other tattoo, the one on my lower back, a “tramp stamp,” though we didn’t use that term back when I got it in my 20s. The colors are still vivid, though, and I always laugh when I remember the day I got it, and my friend described my face when the needle hit the most sensitive spot. I got it at a tumultuous time in my life, when I was making reckless choices. It’s part of a daring period that I seldom think about, as I seldom look at the tattoo, but am so glad to have in my history.
I still match my jewelry to the six silver loops in my ears. I frequently change the two earrings in the traditional spot in my lobes but the rest, the ones extending up into the cartilage, are just the silver hoops. I sometimes wonder if it’s time to take them out, if I’m too old to have eight earrings anymore. But no. I’ve been collecting those piercings since I first got earrings at 12 at the local mall, right up to getting the cartilage piercings at a tattoo parlor in Georgetown. I’m not ready to let them go.
My navel ring is gone. I maintained it through my first pregnancy with a special flexible piece of jewelry, but I took it out before they wheeled me down for my emergency C-section. While I miss that reminder of my 20s, in its place I can see the thin silver threads of scarring from the seminal moments of my 30s: the surgeries that brought my children into the light.
I look at my face every morning. I’ve always worn makeup, so I’ve always communed with my features, observing their evolution. Last year, I succumbed to vanity and begged a cosmetic dermatologist to fix the heavy droop of my left eye, which is racing toward old age faster than my right. A touch of Botox in key places and my eyes are equally wide again, a last grasp at the symmetry of youth. Around the eyes, though, are a web of crinkles that don’t smooth away in repose anymore. There are shadows in the creases reaching from my mouth to my nose that I can fade with certain Instagram filters but never in real life. I could ask the lady who does my Botox how to fill in the gaps, tighten the slackening, but it’s easier just to smile more, hide the lines in happiness.
My body is a map of my life. Marks remain from my teens, my 20s, my 30s. I imprinted moments and moods on myself with needles and ink over the years. Now, one year into my 40s, nature is doing the job piercers and tattoos artists once did. You can see where I squinted into the morning light at my son’s first soccer game, where I laughed at my daughter’s attempts to sing Disney songs. You can see where I cried when my grandparents died. You can see the marks in the softened skin of my hands, the place where my husband put rings on my finger. Time’s fingerprints live side by side with the ink and metal—and tell just as precious a story. I don’t want to hide that tale.
I’m not ready to erase my past. I’ll keep my tattoos, my earrings, my scars, my wrinkles, the map of my journey so far.