I wasn’t going to write this post. If you’ve lost a loved one you might be able to relate. I wanted this day to be just another day in the long line of days that is my life. I’ve grieved all my grief and healed my pain, and he remains in my heart but as a friend of lifetimes. I miss him sometimes, and once in a while i’ll find myself wondering what we’d be doing now if he was still here. I don’t even know if we’d still be together. Perhaps not, who knows? But as it is, he and I are still in touch, through the dreams that have never left me. The feathers he lays in my path wherever I happen to be in the world. The books with his messages. The random things I find in impossible places. Eight years later and I’ve let go of all the anger and frustration i once felt towards him. I’ve learned the lessons of our relationship, and built a life around me that’s honest and independent and all mine. That I don’t share it with a significant other is less to do with my attachment to him (for I no longer am) and more to do with circumstances and fate.

I flew to New York last week for a few days, my 40th birthday present to myself. While there I got my new tattoo, the one I’ve  been planning for months. I’ve been searching for years to find the right artist, and when I discovered the work of Cris Cleen I knew I’d found my man. His style, his philosophy and the integrity I see in his work drew me in immediately, and when I saw his interpretation of a swallow, I just knew.

Swallows are a traditional tattoo motif — historically sailors used them to show off their sailing experience. From Wikipedia:

“Of British origin in the early days of sailing, it was the image of a Barn Swallow, usually tattooed on the chest, hands or neck. According to one legend, a sailor tattooed with one swallow had travelled over 5,000 nautical miles (9,260 km); a sailor with two swallows had travelled 10,000 nautical miles (18,520 km).Travelling these great distances was extremely difficult and dangerous in the early days of sailing, so one or more swallow tattoos denoted a very experienced and valuable sailor. Another legend holds that since swallows return to the same location every year to mate and nest, the swallow will guarantee the sailor returns home safely. A sailor would have one swallow tattooed before setting out on a journey, and the second swallow tattooed at the end of their tour of duty, upon return to their home port. It is also said that if the sailor drowns, the swallows will carry their soul to heaven. The swallow also represents love, care and affection towards family and friends, showing the loyalty of the person always returning to them. The bird also represents freedom and hope.”

To me, the swallow represents my independence and my freedom, a reminder of qualities I will always posess even if I fall in love again. She marks the completion of the healing journey I have taken, flying in the direction of my heart to show I will always return home — to myself and to my loved ones.

On a purely practical note, I placed her on my right forearm to balance the tattoo I have planned for my left arm. She’s my most visible tattoo to date and that feels right to me. I know tattoos aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but to me they are bold and beautiful, permanent adornment infused with meaning.

My love didn’t have any tattoos himself but he appreciated mine as they were a part of me. In the last eight years there have been many changes: my weight has fluctuated, my eyesight has worsened. My hair has sprouted grey in places and creases have formed where they weren’t there before… But this bird inked on my arm is the most radical change of all and it’s one he will never see — at least not with physical eyes. And that is as it should be, for this swallow will be appreciated by another lover one day, his fingertips tracing the outline that ghostly hands cannot.

And I welcome that day’s arrival with an open heart.