Tim was not one for symbolic tattoos, even though he had lots of them. When I met him, I was pro tattoo but hadn’t actually taken the leap. Neither had many of my friends. In fact, my only real experience with tattooing was going with my best guy friend in high school to get his back done. He almost passed out, and I had to go to the grocery store next door to buy him a Sierra Mist to get his blood sugar up.
I got my first tattoo, a horse shoe, in 2011 by an artist Tim found in Austin. It was on my foot, hurt like a bitch but only took 20 minutes to complete. After years and years of trying to figure out what I liked enough to put on my body, I loved the little horse shoe. Whenever I wore flats I could see it as I walked, and I thought “Yes I’m cool and part of this sub-culture!” You know, because I’m an exceptionally cool person like that.
Tim was much, much more tatted up. When I first met him they were jarring, but after the years I didn’t even really see him anymore. He had…
- 50’s blonde pinup girl on his calf (I told him it was me… it wasn’t)
- Celtic knot on his shoulder
- Pacific Northwest Totem kind of artwork on his other shoulder
- Blue flame skull on his chest
- Red flame skull on his chest
- Giant line of Japanese mask on his back… that I hated very much and told him so
- BT’s portrait on his upper inner arm
- Doctor Who Dalek on his lower arm
- Robot riding a motorcycle on the inside of his lower arm
After he died, I pretty much immediately knew that I wanted to do a companion to my horse tattoo on my other foot. That became my “Ponies” tattoo, which I love. It’s perfect and it’s the missing puzzle piece to my horseshoe tattoo. Even though it’s in his handwriting and is partially a memorial to him, I always knew that I wanted to do a second, larger tattoo.
Though I like ink, I’ve always hesitated taking a major plunge with larger work or work in a more visible place. I used to tell Tim all the cute little tattoos I wanted to get, and he would say “You know it’s really trashy if you just have a ton of tiny tattoos.” Thanks, love.
With that in mind, I knew that I wanted to do a larger work that made me think of him. The problem was, I had no idea what to get. I floated a ton of ideas around, but nothing seemed right. The more I searched for a deep symbol that represented my relationship and loss, the more I realized that there wasn’t one. Plus, Tim was not one for symbolism when it came to his art. Upon meeting him, I would ask about each tattoo, “So what does this mean?”
“Nothing. I liked it.”
“I saw something similar in the shop and thought it was cool, so I got one.”
For someone who had spent years trying to figure out what was meaningful enough to tattoo on myself, this concept was baffling to me… but it did help me make a decision for my tattoo. When searching for galaxy tattoos online since stars had a special meaning to us, I came across a simple elephant filled with galaxy art. For whatever reason, the idea stuck and I made the appointment.
Since my artist has a several month waiting period, I had some time to think about my tattoo. I’ve been asked by some, “Why an elephant?” My initial response is mostly, “Why not?” but there’s more to be said (there always is).
Tim always liked elephants. When we used to go to zoos together in our travels, he would always want to linger by the elephants and watch them lumber around. It wasn’t that I didn’t like elephants, but I was drawn to more exciting animals like playful otters and awkward giraffes. He liked the slow and peaceful beasts, and I learned to appreciate them more.
One thing I have always loved about elephants is their ability to remember and mourn. When I was in high school and super into my art days, I did an ink piece of an elephant. It was referenced from a photo of one hovering over a skeleton. The idea that this animal could feel more than most was fascinating to me. I’ve also said on more than one occasion that I have the memory of an elephant, because I don’t forget much that was important to me.
Of course we all know I’ll never forget Tim.
The last thing I added to my tattoo concept was the last few words of one of my favorite poems, John & Mary by Stephen Dunn. It’s my favorite kind of poem – one that starts with simplicity and even a little bit of frivolousness, and ends with a deep punch to your heart. I had those punching words ascribed on my arm forever yesterday.
Waking up this morning, I love my new tattoo even more. It feels nice to have something permanent and visual to remind me of him, but it’s also a tattoo for me. I loved this poem before I ever met Tim, and it brings me comfort now. I like looking down at my shoulder and seeing the little trunk curl upward at me as the starry animal keeps steadily walking forward.