The tattoo artist lined up ten miniature plastic cups filled with SkinCandy© ink. The colors so vibrant, exquisite, I was tempted to dip my pinky finger into the Candy Apple green, lick it off, and hold it on my tongue. Next I’d try Red Berry Cherry, Raspberry Jam, Candy Corn yellow, Tangerine, and Tastywaves. I liked the idea of sweet ink soaking through my skin, one droplet at a time, becoming a permanent glaze of hardened sugar.
“Will this hurt?” I asked.
“It’s different for everyone,” he said. “Women usually do better than men.”
The artist poured liquid green soap on a cloth, ran it over my ankle to cleanse it; to prepare the delicate skin for something permanent. He turned on the tattoo machine that mimicked the sound of a dental drill, but there was no Novocaine. I closed my eyes and imagined my brother, Rocky standing next to me, flashing that glacier-melting smile, saying, “It’s no big deal, sis. It’ll be over before you know it.”
“This is for you,” I said. “I was going to get Pegasus on my thigh, just like yours.”
“I like what you’ve picked better,” Rocky said. “Remember the song?”
I blinked back tears from the memory, not the pain from the needle, biting into my skin, moving up and down 50 to 3,000 times per minute. I wanted to feel the pain, to share my brother’s experience, etch it into my memory like our tattoos, like his: the dolphins, dancing bears, and Pegasus. Though he’d described the sensation to me any time I asked, now that he was gone, it helped me to feel closer to him. I closed my eyes, my breath moving in rhythm with the humming of the machine, the stop and go of the needle piercing skin, making wings.
Dragonflies collected me; I didn’t collect them. Long before I became familiar with animal totems and the divine messages they offer, before I was introduced to the spiritual meaning of the dragonfly, I had already received one dragonfly gift after another, in one form or another, since I was a child: pins for my coat, earrings, necklaces, Christmas ornaments, paperweights, towel hooks, stained glass pieces, canisters, plates, candle holders, scarves, cards, a painting. Year after year, gift after gift until I surrendered, and said to my friends and family, “Yes, I collect dragonflies.”
In 2005, I wrote a children’s book about fairies and a dragonfly. When my youngest brother, Kevin married Jessica, I wrote them a song for their wedding. The refrain going like this: the fairies and the dragonflies, the fairies and the dragonflies, the fairies and the dragonflies will lead you home. Rocky hummed and sang the chorus throughout the weekend. So when my sister-in-law, Galye said, “Why don’t you get something personal, like a dragonfly with Rocky’s name in the wings? I could hear Rocky humming that song, and I knew a dragonfly was right. Pegasus was his, not mine.
I went to my Animal Speak book and looked up the dragonfly as I had many times throughout the years. I read, Dragonflies remind us that we are light and can reflect the light in powerful ways if we choose to do so. “Let there be light” is the divine prompting to use the creative imagination as a force within your life. This is what the dragonflies and damselflies teach us. Life is never quite what it appears, but it is always filled with light and color. Dragonfly can help you to see though your illusions and thus allow your own light to shine forth. Dragonfly brings the brightness of transformation and the wonder of color. (Animal Speak, pg. 342)
Dragonflies live short lives. Once they’ve grown wings, they fly free for about 2 months; they know they must live to the fullest during their short lifespan. As they mate, either on branches or gliding through the air, their lithe bodies form the shape of a heart.
Now I carry my brother’s name around on my skin, etched into the filmy wing of a dragonfly; I carry his spirit around in my heart, BOTH to honor his life and as a reminder of how to live mine. He flew free all over the world, shining his light, sharing his laughter, embracing his one colorful, beautiful, precious life. My dragonfly reminds me that we are each responsible to believe in, and shine our own inner light to illuminate each other’s lives in the most magnificent ways. It’s our gift, and our right to embrace the fragile splendor of each moment, to share our creative spirits in our own unique way, and to live life to the fullest in the short time we are here.
I think Rocky whispered these lessons to me on the eve I got my tattoo, because I woke up at 3 AM and wrote them down:
1. If you’re not going to love with your whole heart, don’t bother
2. Choose JOY in each moment
3. Go after your dreams as if your life depends on it, because a peaceful life does
4. Take risks. The kind that make you sweat and laugh and sizzle
5. Don’t waste another second reviewing past mistakes, because they’ve made you who you are today
6. Make someone’s day better each and every time
7. Stop thinking about what you hope to do, dream to do, and just do it
When my youngest brother saw my tattoo, he said, “Fly free, fly often.”
Ahhh…yes, and lesson number 8: Fly Free, Fly Often.
I think I will for whatever time I have left in this one precious life.
And you? What life lessons would you add to Rocky’s list?
Thank you always to my readers for taking the time to read my thoughts on my journey since I lost my brother. And on another note, I feel blessed to have lived long enough to experience the joy of all those who have waited and waited and waited to marry their partners. Miracles really are always waiting for us right around the corner. Another powerful reminder to NEVER give up!
Love, light and blessings,