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My 1st tattoo and what it means to me

June 21, 2010

Yesterday was Father’s Day. I took my dad and stepmom out to brunch and over breakfast, my dad insisted that today was the day he was going to get his tattoo. After breakfast, my dad suggested we both get tattoos. I’d had a tattoo in mind for a few years now and nervously jumped at the chance. We went and brought our ideas to the fantastic Mehai at Fineline Tattoo on 1st Ave between 1st & 2nd St. He listened patiently, particularly when I hemmed and hawed about where to put my tattoo and how exactly it would be done. I think that I was just stalling since I was quite nervous.
I wanted a tattoo to memorialize my cousin Ariel (she always spelled it ärriel). Ariel died 5 years ago this June of a heroin overdose. I know even the mention of a death from drug overdose raises some people’s ire and recrimination, especially when it’s heroin but I loved Ariel and despite all her faults and problems, she was about the closest thing I had to a sister growing up. Ariel was a few years older than me and as a little kid, I idolized my tough tomboy cousin who would get down on the floor with me and play Barbies, even when she would rather have decapitated them and buried them in the yard.
We spent a lot of time with Ariel and her family, particularly after my mom and I moved to Cape Cod. I remember in my 1st few weeks in Cape Cod, wandering around Woods Hole with Ariel picking flowers from people’s yards. I knew I shouldn’t be picking other people’s flowers and voiced this concern to Ariel. In a very calm, matter of fact way, she explained to me that flowers were only the property of mother earth and we only had to ask permission of the flowers and make sure we thanked them. She then explained how to say thank you in a Native American language (what it was or what tribe I don’t remember) and we proceeded to go on our way guilt-free. I was a shy quiet kid and Ariel always made me come a bit out of my shell. Regardless of whether we were supposed to be doing the things we did, I was always so happy to be around Ariel and felt so daring and grown up.
Ariel eventually fell in with the wrong crowd, struggled with many problems including mental illness and ran away from home several times. I can still remember hearing that she had run away and was following around the Grateful Dead and then was going around the country as a street kid. I don’t know how I found this out but when I was 12 or 13, we somehow got word that she might be in NYC, perhaps in my dad’s Lower East Side neighborhood in Tompkins Square Park. That summer that I visited my dad, every slightly dirty punkish looking girl was Ariel to me…to the point of begging extra money from my dad to take different street girls to McDonald’s or just give them a bite to eat. I loved and missed Ariel so much that I just couldn’t hold back. I thought I had spotted her one day on the Upper West Side but it wasn’t her. I took that girl to McDonald’s and imagined I was helping Ariel somehow.
Ariel was in and out of rehab and overdosed a few times in the years following. After several years, she managed to pull herself up out of most of her troubles and set herself on a good path. She was clean and sober for over three years and I was so happy to see her again in Michigan. My daughter Celeste was fascinated by her tattoos and her larger-than-life personality and Ariel seemed equally as taken with Celeste.
A few days before Ariel slipped in her sobriety and died, I wrote a personal essay for one of my anthropology classes on a very powerful book on street kids in Tompkins Square Park. I wrote about how much I loved Ariel despite the lengths of time we would often go without seeing or talking to each other and how much of an impact she had on me, especially when she was gone. I tried calling her a few days before she died to tell her how much I loved her and was so proud of her. The next thing I knew, she had passed away, apparently she had slipped into some pretty dark and trying times and couldn’t hold back.
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss her and don’t think about her in some way, whether on a conscious or subconscious level.
Ariel was always pushing me to do things that were beyond my comfort zone, whether it was advisable or not and as a shy bookworm, I often needed that. Although sometimes I didn’t :)
It’s been almost 5 years since Ariel died and I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to honor her memory than by stepping outside my comfort zone and getting a tattoo in her honor. I’ve worn a bracelet in remembrance of her that came from an organization that remembers those who have died of drug overdoses. My tattoo is an interpretation of that bracelet. The top of my wrist says “Remembrance” and wraps around a bit.
Ariel, I love you lots…thanks for that one last step over the edge!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Marie Lannen permalink
    June 22, 2010 5:30 pm

    Thank you Tara, for this beautiful elegiac prose remembering your cousin, my niece, Ariel. Every street kid deserves love and at least a meal from Mickey D’s. I’m proud of you that you held street kids with a higher regard because of your longing for Ariel. The way that the mentally ill and street drug users in this country are treated is an abomination. Had Ariel lived in Switzerland she’d certainly still be here with us.

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