Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On Being Yourself...

It was Autumn, and I was a sophomore in college, living at UMass Lowell. I had homework to do, sorority projects to work on, friends to see, and beers to drink. But I’m over 18 now, I can do whatever I want, I’m a grownup, I thought. So I did what most new adults do when they have all the freedom they ever dreamed of right in the palm of their hand: I proved my age to the world.

I had my boyfriend at the time take me to get my first tattoo, and I sat through the pain like it was nothing more than a mere tickle, because adults don’t cry, I reminded myself. After the tattoo was finished and I paid the $90.00 I had been saving, we drove to my parents' house where I showed off my newfound rebellion in the form of a black Pisces sign on my left hip. “Mom, Dad, look what I did. Isn’t it great?” Surprisingly, they liked it. I didn’t know what to think. Was I secretly hoping they’d be disappointed, so I could come back with some strategic tale about how I’m old enough and can make my own decisions? Or was I happy with the fact that I just realized I had the coolest parents in the world? I couldn’t decide, but over the next four years, I got four more tattoos and proved to the world that I was myself, dressed proudly in my new ink, each tattoo symbolizing a different piece of my life.

It was Autumn again, except this time I was 26 driving home from my full-time corporate job, feeling much more like an adult than I did when I sat in that first tattoo parlor.  I picked up my cell phone, knowing I shouldn’t be using it while driving, but I can do whatever I want, I’m a grownup, I thought.

“Dad, I really want to get a new tattoo”, I boasted, thinking I’d hear “honey, you already have five, isn’t that enough?” in his typical I know you’re 26, but I’m still your father and have been around the block type of tone. And within the three seconds it took him to respond, I didn’t have time to plan out an emblematic-Holly-fashioned comeback. “Well that’s cool, sweetheart. Whatever you think is best. You’re an adult, and your mother and I know you make wise choices. However you want to express yourself is fine with us.” What?
I guess when I was a teenager, I never noticed how lucky I was. Taking the time to appreciate the freedom my parents gave me wasn’t something I really noticed, or held above other lessons they taught. But I’m a grown up now, I’m thinking, as I sit here and type this, and I have a little more experience under my belt. I can now reflect on the best lesson my parents ever taught me, even if it took hundreds of needles and permanent ink on my skin (which I will never regret) for me to learn.
So here’s a promise I can make to keep : people will always judge you. They might judge the way you dress, they might judge the friends you keep, they might judge if you’ve had one too many beers on a work night, have too much ink on your skin, or have made decisions they can’t even begin to understand.
But here’s another promise I can keep : what they think of you really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Your life is your own unique fortress to build, to break, to mess up and to live as chaotically and as colorfully as you want to. It’s your decision if you want to race through this voyage as rapidly as you can, or trail along unhurried, counting stars and grains of sand. If you want to focus on every breath you take, or want to pretend you’re not breathing at all, then do it. If you want to tattoo a f*cking novel on your skin, don’t let anybody stop you.