I’ve long wanted to get a tattoo. When I was in college–well before it was cool to sport ink–a fellow TA had a tiny American flag in the shape of a heart on her ankle, and I wanted one, post-haste. However, not being much of a flag or tiny heart person, I couldn’t imagine what to get. Fond of ritual to a near-OCD fault, it would have to be something meaningful, marking a significant event that altered the course of my life.

No big, yes?

For the last twenty-two years, I couldn’t come up with anything. It was just as well, because in my early thirties I made a pact with my body no longer to cause it harm, even the aesthetically derived kind. No new scarring, no new piercings, even some of the old ones had to come out. Having withstood more than its share of family inflicted harm by the age of seven, the self-harming release that was my teens, and the chronic pain of my thirties and ever-after, my body said, “Enough.”

I listened.

I’ve led a fairly vanilla exterior, since. I’m not complaining, just saying in the world of profound body ritual, chameleon hair has nothing on writing a story on a body.


Last fall, the end of monochroma came into view. Over lunch and while discussing parenting, a dear friend reminded me how most of the distress of our lives and our ability to cope with it is set by the age of five, that our centers of empathy, compassion, and confidence are likewise, and what an accomplishment it is to reach that age without trauma.

Sacred Ink, S. Kelley Harrell, Intentional Insights, Soul Intent ArtsI didn’t clear five, though at six I made a profound decision about what seven would look like. The night before my seventh birthday, the last time I was hurt, I stated a very clear mantra, and decided to stop the abuse by all means necessary. Years ago, I wrote about that night and speaking that boundary in Gift of the DreamtimeWhat I didn’t write, what I couldn’t know even then, was how hard it was to be that resourceful at seven years old, to make that boundary stick. This, I learned only in the last year, watching my six-year-old twins.

I didn’t understand the stress I was under, the choices I had to make, the lies I had to tell, the people and dynamics I had to manipulate. How vividly I recall working it like a champ so that I would never be left alone with that man again, and I wasn’t. It truly was a feat of incredible skill, impeccable timing, and pure survival.

Children are capable of amazing and unthinkable potential.

With my friend’s words, it hit me what I would write on my body, and exactly where. On my wrists, the site of so many scars, I would write forgiveness of myself for the shadow behaviour I adapted to stay safe and sane. I would thank my family for doing everything they could to give me what I needed when they found out what had happened, even when nothing anyone could have done would have been enough. And I would write about forgiving life for nothing ever being enough.

I would thank the parts of me that got me where I am today, and vow their care and safekeeping, no matter what comes in my life. No more self harm.

I would write thanks to my spirit guides and ancestors, to the father of my children, and to my beautiful, safe, whole, happy kids, for a very honest and safe family life.

Sacred Ink, S. Kelley Harrell, Intentional Insights, Soul Intent ArtsI would write thanks to the loved ones and spirits who have protected my children. I would write true and clear joy to celebrate myself and their father for doing the very best we could to keep them safe, and the fact that it worked.

I would write the hard, though true, realization that I can’t protect them forever, that as they grow older and become more independent, I won’t be able to keep them from hurting themselves, from being hurt by the world.

I would write all these things onto my body, and it would hurt. It would trigger, but it would be okay, because pain is not a threat and a body’s not a target. It’s a page, a book, an entire library, written for life.

In barred owl feathers and branches, tent rune ciphers hinting Twinkies, so it was inked, mere days before my kids turn seven, with compassion, with intention.

Because this full circle has come full.

Because alongside the ill-gained scars, I will honor the wonderful passings of my life and let them mark me.

Thank you, day-saver Christine, cheerleader Susan, artist Chris, and the scheduling techs at Mad Ethel’s.