When I left my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky 12 years ago, I had no idea the budding relationships I would be leaving behind. I left because I wanted to see the world and gain a bigger perspective about the plight of current events. I also left because, like my dad, I have an adventurous spirit, and like my mom, I love my comfort zone, so I knew it would take more than just attending a new school to get me out of that comfort zone.
But with each move comes sacrifices. With each new turn, I was leaving behind opportunities to develop relationships further and explore new connections through those relationships. And while I have come to terms with leaving people behind for my own personal growth, there are two men, in particular, who I feel like I abandoned, and I am still trying to reconcile the significance of that sentiment.
During Labor Day weekend 2016, I visited my brother and a friend in Dallas. My friend had asked if we could get tattoos together. She knew I had been eyeing my third tattoo for a while.
We walked into the tattoo parlor a friend of hers had recommended with a posy of her friends and my brother. While we waited, we flipped through the artists’ portfolios. I started to lose my nerve.
Had I thought this through? Did I really want something so visible on my wrist? Would this affect future job offers? I could make it so small that even those against tattoos might deem it cute. But no, if I wasn’t really confident about this tattoo, about showing it to the world, then I shouldn’t be getting it.
And then I looked at my brother. He was 27 and just starting a new life in Dallas opening a store for the company he worked for. He looked lost and yet confident. Twelve years ago, when I left Louisville, he was about to embark on one of the most difficult years of his life. And I hadn’t been there. I was adjusting to college life two hours north in Cincinnati.
A visiting tattoo artist from Los Angeles approached my friend and asked what she wanted. We watched as she sat in a chair and had the image illustrated on her wrist. I supported and applauded her efforts and decided I would not be getting a tattoo of my own that day. I needed more time to think this through even though it had been five years since my last tattoo.
My brother stood next to me. He was the only one of us who didn’t have a tattoo now. Our 20-year-old brother acquired his first tattoo a few years ago. When I left Louisville, my youngest brother was only 10. We had never been close, possibly because we share similar temperaments and constantly fought over who got to be the boss. My other brother somehow always got caught in the middle.
But my youngest brother has endured his share of trials over the years, and as he gets older, those trials only seem to grow in size. I’ve tried to re-connect with them, and as we both age, this gets easier. But still, I missed most of his coming-of-age story. And I feel like I’m playing catch-up.
When I decided to leave my hometown, I thought I was opening doors for my brothers. I thought I was leading the way, but over the years, I’ve realized everyone has their own path, and that path may not necessarily resemble my own. Nor should it. I am very proud of my brothers. A lot of shit has been thrown in their faces, and yet they still get up every morning and try to make the most of the day.
So, when the LA artist then approached me and asked what I wanted, I thought: This is it, Tracy. Go big or go home. And don’t worry about how others will think of this more visible tattoo. Think of those you’re getting it for.
As soon as needle touched skin, I winced. And as he etched the tattoo on to my sensitive skin, it felt like someone was taking a knife and slowly drawing blood down my arm. Of all my tattoos, this one hurt the most. But as I focused on the pain, I thought of the pain my brothers had endured. I thought of my own pain, and how all three of us had come out okay on the other side.
We are still friendly towards one another. We certainly have our moments, but we’re trying to bridge that 12-year gap.
The Big Star
I’m glad I got the visiting artist from LA. He turned the idea of my tattoo into something much more. And I went with it. Because no matter what happens, every time I look at my wrist, I will be reminded of the bond I share with my brothers, and all the hardships we have withstood separately yet together.
Once the tattoo was finished, though, I felt regretful about my decision. Now I would have to explain to the world the meaning of this tattoo and wear on my arm the pain of leaving my two brothers behind. But when I showed the tattoo to my brother in Dallas, he smiled. This tattoo wasn’t showcasing my pain – it was showcasing our bond.
A few years after I left Louisville, during my sophomore year of college, I experienced my first long-term episode of depression, so much so that I eventually admitted to suicidal tendencies. My therapist at the time had asked me to make a list of all the reasons I wanted to live. Instead, I made a list of all the “reasons” I should want to live, but didn’t. Except one.
I didn’t want to set that kind of example for them, and I didn’t want to disappoint them any more than I already had. So, I continued to seek help and eventually developed some strategies for combatting the depression and its erratic existence.
This tattoo represents one of the reasons I now love my life even while coping with an incurable chronic disease. Since that Labor Day weekend, I have fallen more and more in love with it. And when people ask about the meaning of the big star, I joke that the big star is not me. Rather, it’s the three of us and the strength we have when we’re together.
While we may live in three different cities now, I do hope one day our paths will find us together again. For now, we have our stars.