I got this tattoo almost three years ago, in November 2011, two months before the fateful first date that brought me to my current boyfriend.
I tell the story behind the tattoo in my Thought Catalog Books ebook Sex & Cupcakes in the essay "Wearing My Tattooed Heart On My Sleeve," the bulk of which I wrote soon afterward. Here's a snippet:
I don't hate my heart for failing me, for leading me down so many dead ends, for being too impulsive when she should be cautious, patient, watchful. Well, that's not entirely true; today, while I'm in a good mood, I don't blame my heart. I can forgive her her fanciful whims, her childlike earnestness, her belief that next time will be better. I've spent so long hating my heart's lack of reason, wanting to slice her up, banish her back to a simple biological role and let my head make the big decisions, but I can't. That's not who I am, not deep down, and now, not on the surface either.That too was rejected from Modern Love in The New York Times (I can be stubborn and persistent, but I've given up on that hallowed section for now), but was a major turning point for me. I didn't know who I was looking for exactly, when I sat in that chair, I just knew I was going about love the wrong way. I knew it wasn't supposed to be something where you gave 100% and never felt secure. I knew it was supposed to improve my life, not make me feel so off balance and uncertain.
I started 2012 adamantly not looking for love, or at least, that kind of love. I want to fix my stumbling career, I wanted to explore. I booked a trip to Hawaii for a week by myself, on my piddling budget, using frequent flyer miles and a very cheap AirBNB rental, amazed that I, who was struggling on the personal and professional fronts, could do that. But that first date happened just before my trip, so I wound up in a romantic, beautiful setting alone, but not single. There's been so much that's happened since then, paths that my wayward and sometimes impulsive heart has led me, that I didn't know were possible. This weekend we went to a wedding and as we were sitting at the bar talking to a fellow friend of the bride, she said, "How long have you two been married?" I immediately said, "Oh, we're not married," because it just seemed like such a foreign thing to say, and yet it wasn't, not really. That happened once in our first year of dating, checking into a hotel for a staycation, and I laughed about it. Then I wasn't sure exactly where our relationship was heading.
This weekend, hearing it felt like a compliment. My thoughts on marriage have changed and grown as I've learned from those around me, though I still think its benefits are too often wielded like an evil weapon that can boomerang back to hurt people whose only crime is love, but that's another story. I used to tease my cousins that they were an "old married couple" and now I've become part of one. We each have seats on the couch, we have little rituals and nicknames not just for us but for aspects of our house. We say hi to the squirrels and groundhogs and occasional cat that wander into our backyard. I'm sad I won't get to give out Halloween candy to the umpteen little kids in our neighborhood. When I sat down at Sanctuary Tattoo in Portland, Maine, I wanted that physical pain to take away my emotional pain. I wanted to give myself a way of reclaiming my heart and not trying to shut it off. But I wasn't sure at all what that would look like.
The farther I get from that moment, the more I realize how clueless I was. This, the real life everyday silly mixed with serious, opposites attracting kind of love, wasn't something I could plan for. It sometimes still stops me in my tracks. My life is very different from what it was that day I sat down in the chair. My routine is different, my location is different, my work is different and my job is different. I joke sometimes that I write so much about my boyfriend because most days he's the only one I see or talk to. Except when I'm in New York or traveling, I'm not usually meeting up with friends. It's a quieter life, a homey, cozy one. And I love all those little things, that together add up to something far greater than the sum of its parts. My heart isn't immune to getting hurt, to emotional ups and downs, but I also know I can weather them better than I knew in 2011. I'm more sure of myself, more certain that the kind of unconditional love I was looking for actually exists, no matter what flaws or obstacles or issues I have.
I joke when I visit that Portland, Maine is my home away from home, and it feels that way. I feel very me when I'm there. I feel welcomed and peaceful, and who knows? Maybe someday it will be my actual home. I like carrying a little bit of it around with me, where everyone can see it.
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