Illustration #1: To Elise

Posted: February 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

I’ve decided that it would be interesting for me to discuss the illustrations that adorn my body. I have been getting tattooed since I was 18 years old and each of my illustrations has a story. Granted, some stories are more thorough and more thought out than others but nonetheless there is something there to be said, to be heard. I thought long and hard about this, as to whether or not to share my stories, after all, my illustrations are just that…mine. But the more I played around with this notion, the more enticing it became simply because I get to relive those moments in time. Those decisions that led me to the tattoo artist (usually Matt). Several of my illustrations have very heavy intense stories and I was not prepared to talk about them today. Also, the first tattoo I ever received later proved to be a colossal mistake and has since been covered up with another design. I’m not ashamed of that by any means but the problem lies in simply that I do not have any photographs of that tattoo with me here in Wellesley. They reside in a photo album, boxed up and temporarily taking up residence in my in-law’s vacant living room. I seriously doubt Matt wants to spend an afternoon rummaging through old pictures looking for that” one shitty tattoo shot. ” While starting with the first tattoo would be logical it is not feasible.

So instead I will start with a small illustration but one that has big meaning.  The tattoo of “Elise.” This illustration is found on my left wrist, nestled right above a small bat tattoo (he will be introduced at a later date). The color of this particular illustration is purple. Why? It was at the time Elise’s favorite color and she picked out the ink shade.

I am assuming that most of you know that Elise is my niece. I am also going to assume that if you are reading this then you also know that I am not a kid-person. Luckily, I married someone who also does not want kids so that makes our lives really perfect. However, I love my niece. She is one of the most remarkable human beings I have ever had the pleasure to know. The story goes like this. My sister got pregnant her senior year of high school. You can imagine how thrilled my parents were about this little adventure. I was a freshman in college although I was 22 years old. The year was 1998. Because I knew that my sister was not ready to have a child, I offered to take the baby and raise it as my own. Say what? Yeah, I know. Not sure what I was thinking there, only that being 22 sounded more parent-like than 17. She refused my offer however she did let me pick out the name of the baby. I love the band The Cure. My favorite Cure song of all time is “Letters to Elise.” So her first name became Elise and her middle name was chosen by my sister to be “Marie” after my middle name. Elise Marie. Because my sister was not married, Elise took our family name and became Elise Marie Rogers. I thought that the name sounded so eloquent and in fact, still do.

Throughout my sister’s pregnancy, I read to Elise inside the womb. A little Pablo Neruda, a little Anais Nin, a little “The Little Prince.” I loved the idea that she could hear me, that she was surrounded by beautiful words.  I had read an article about how listening to music could create an environment around the fetus that could potentially lead to the child being musically inclined. I thought instead, “what if I read to her and she becomes the next greatest novelist, poet…” So I chose to read instead of hit “play” on the CD player.

She was born on September 10, 1998, exactly one week ahead of my own birthday. She was absolutely perfect in every way. Because my sister did not have a job or anywhere to live, she stayed with my parents and Elise became known as the “community baby.” She was raised by a handful of people, from all walks of life, from all age groups. But Elise and I had a special bond from the very beginning. Maybe it was my reading to her but whatever it was, we have always been close. She’s  more like a little sister  than a niece. And as she gets older, she will become more of a friend. Up until about ten years ago, her and I always shared a birthday party and they were always so fun. Now, we celebrate them individually because I feel strongly that she should have her own moment in the spotlight, even if it is just once a year.

So back to this illustration. Where does it fit in? Well, Elise was born on the tenth of September and I always told her about her “golden year.” This is a very special year when you are the same age as the day you were born. I told her that we would do something very special for her on that birthday because it was magical. I held up to that promise and when she turned 10, Matt and I paid for her to participate in a Dolphin Adventure at the Indianapolis Zoo. Elise had always been fascinated with dolphins and we thought that the opportunity to not only interact but swim with them could potentially be life-changing. We wanted her to see that something you are passionate about could lead to a career. If she loved dolphins and one day studied them in school, she could work with them and make a living doing something she loved.

Along with this, I also wanted to capture who she was at 10 years old and for me being a writer, the written language is such an essential part of who we are. Beyond that, our signatures say so much about us as they change and mature as we grow older. Our signatures capture a moment in time, forever preserving us. And of course, names have power.  So I had her write her name in black permanent marker and Matt tattooed her signature just as she wrote it. I think for someone who was only 10, the signature in cursive looks so wise. But then, she is wise.

She was with me the day I got the tattoo. She was very excited and nervous for me. I sat down in the chair and Matt put the stencil on. Elise sat next to me holding my hand. Telling me, “Squeeze my hand as hard as it hurts.” Now keep in mind, I have many other tattoos, some on my chest so I am no stranger to pain but I didn’t tell her that. After the stencil, she said, “Was it bad?” I said, “Um, sweetie, he hasn’t done anything yet!” She thought he was finished and I thought to myself, “if this was all there was to it, I would be covered in tattoos by now.” Such is life.

The tattoo took less than 20 minutes. I held her hand and she was mesmerized by the tattoo machine and the entire process. She spoke of when she got older and the dolphin tattoo she would get. And of course, the only person she would ever get a tattoo from would be her Uncle Matt. We pinky-sweared on that.

Elise is now 13 years old, will turn 14 this year. I can’t believe how fast she is growing up. How smart, funny, sensitive, and truly beautiful she is. She is a wonderful person, someone the world deserves to see and hear. But the reality is, she is kinda of shy, awkward, stutters when nervous and is made fun of because she is not the ideal body weight. The life of this middle-schooler is not easy, both outside the school and at home. So much of what this poor kid has endured could make a PBS “after-school” special seem tame.

I wish on those occasions when she calls me to cry over something that someone has said to her, I could say, “squeeze my hand as hard it hurts” and that it would make it all go away.

Instead, I tell a story…

  1. Suzanne says:

    Such a beautiful story and she is such a sweet girl!

  2. Britney says:

    This is such a beautiful story. I’m so glad you decided to tell it! Even though I don’t know Elise, I remember the day you told me that you didn’t want kids and I was astounded because I knew how close the two of you are! I’m so glad that you two have each other!

  3. Erin says:

    I loved this blog… great story. 🙂

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