Read more of Taryn’s work at https://carryingjune.com/
I first noticed the tattoo on my arm during June’s treatment for neuroblastoma. I don’t remember if she was receiving chemotherapy. We were in the hospital, but which one? I can’t remember. Was it Portland or Boston? Once detailed memories are slipping away. Bleeding like an unrecognizable tattoo. Fading away into an unrecoverable abyss that is my mind.
The word tattoo is not the appropriate term for what it is I am referring to on my arm, but I like the implied permanence of the word. Tatuaje in Spanish. This is a mark. The word mark can be used to refer to a tattoo. I’ll stick with tattoo.
I don’t have any professional ink tattoos, and this is as close to one as they come for me. I’ve wanted a tattoo for as long as I can remember, but I’m as indecisive as the next person as to what I would get and where I’d place it. Indecisiveness stops me from getting a tattoo.
I fear the permanence of the ink. What’s worse is I fear the permanent ink starting to become dull and bleed into something I can no longer make out, and yet, still very much inked below my skin. No longer the crisp image it once was. I imagine touching up the tattoo one day, but then it would no longer be in its original form. For some reason, this terrifies me.
It’s the same reason a memory terrifies me. What is the original form of a memory? It’s the event. Doesn’t have to be an event. Could be a nuance, a sniffle, a look, a smile. A snapshot of any one thing that was a part of our lives. Now part of the past. A memory is made up of factors we can replay, but ultimately, details get left out. Unless we write them down, paint, draw, or photograph them, we may lose the memory. Similarly to how the tattoo will never be the same after its creation.
The details which make up a memory might linger with us for years. A scent associated with the event. The color of the sky the day she died. How smooth our favorite mug felt in our hands as we sipped morning coffee. When it comes to June, I didn’t think my memory would allow for details to drop off. What I have learned since she died is that some memories are not more loyal than others. A memory is not a moment in time we can presently return to without unintentional alteration’s regardless of who the memory is about.
The memory is of utmost importance to me because for a while I believed it was all I had left of June. However recently, I am discovering there is more.
The tattoo that I am referring to I discovered on my body several years ago is in its original form. It will grow into its potential with time. It will never disappear and the lines won’t blur. They will deepen as wrinkles do with age. The thought of this makes my body feel warm. An imprint of June that will never die.
A tattoo denoting what my body cannot forget because although time is unforgiving on the mind, it’s very giving to the body. Time gives us wrinkles. Time takes away from us too, but I prefer to focus on what time has given me. Disease took June, time did not. I look forward to what more life has to offer. I am perfecting the balance on the scale of life.
The tattoo represents what my body has endured. What I’ve survived. I am not discussing the black circles under my eyes from years of crying, although those too, I’m afraid, are now permanent.
I’ve learned in these last few years that the body moves forward with time but it is nothing without its past. Our bodies represent the culmination of life’s experiences. Individual markings on individuals. I see the tattoos all over my body when I step I out of the shower. I’m practicing noticing the marks my children have left me with gratitude and not distaste.
Caring for June was an experience that reverted me to my original form. June’s diagnosis stripped me of the outer layers I had padded myself with over the years based on who I thought I had wanted to be. When June became sick, I was reduced to my only my body and my motherhood. Everything else in life was cut away. Nothing else mattered. I became a one-dimensional snapshot of a human. A cardboard cutout. It was as if my body had forgotten my past. As if there was no future for my body. As if I became a memory of myself. Does a memory have a memory? Does a memory have a future?
When June died, she was far from her original form. The perfect baby I had given birth to only a year and a half earlier, had been altered by the toxicity of medications, chemotherapy, and surgery. Like a memory, like a tattoo, June would never again be in her original form. Still perfect, yet altered. The distance between June after chemotherapy from June before chemotherapy was obvious. The distance did not only grow between June and herself, but it was most obvious between June and her peers. The tumor robbed June of her potential to be healthy and grow like other children. The chemo robbed June of the healthy parts she had left like her hearing and fertility.
The tattoo I refer to is in the shape of lines. They can be found just above my left wrist on the inside of my arm. This skin is still some what supple because it’s the underside of my arm. There are no white spots where the melanin has died. The lines themselves look like I took a tiny X-Acto knife and made shallow cuts diagonally from the outer edge of my inner wrist up my arm. It’s a spectacular thing because I’ve never cut my arm as one would need to do to create this design. It evolved with June and with time.
I look for the symmetry on my other arm, but there is none. There are no fine lines and the skin on my right arm is bland. There is no symmetry to this tattoo. Symmetry is something a mother of a child with cancer often looks for in tiny lumps and bumps. Something a mother of a child who died of cancer looks for in herself and her living children. Symmetry doesn’t set off internal alarms. Symmetry is to be embraced. I can let go of the notion of symmetry here because I’ve finally realized the origin of this tattoo.
If you look closely, the skin on my left inner arm just above my wrist, under my watch band, looks like the skin on a snake that is about to shed. The veins give the skin a bluish hue just as a snake’s skin has before it sloughs off. The lines are connected by scales. The scales slightly less apparent than the lines. At times during June’s treatment, the mark of lines on scaly skin were bright red. It was a reflection of the time. The time I carried June.
Unlike the snake, I will not outgrow my skin. I cannot escape it although I’ve wished to. I do not need new skin to continue living. My skin may become worn out like a snake’s, but it’s the only skin I was given for this lifetime. The new me is learning to appreciate my old skin. The tattoo makes it a bit easier.
Today, a stranger may not see the tattoo from a distance. It’s not angry as it once was. I notice it in the light of the sun that shines through the window at the kitchen sink while I wash dishes. In the sunlight, it looks as if it was created with white ink. The scales become obvious. With time, this tattoo will not fade. If I had to guess, it originated when my first daughter was born. June solidified it’s existence when she was born and more so, after she became sick.
June progressed from a newborn to an infant and in that time she clung to me like an infant primate does to its mother. Initially, I was baffled, irritated, and confused by this behavior. Constantly holding June prevented me from completing daily chores and making meals. It became worrisome when I had to leave her with someone else and go to work. I’d peel her away from my body. My eldest daughter never attached to me in such a way.
June’s attachment became the natural process. I’d read articles and heard strangers whisper about how one should never constantly carry a baby around. A baby should develop independence, learn to crawl, and one day, learn to walk. June never met these milestones, but it wasn’t because I carried her.
June and I became one. She wouldn’t have it any other way. I had no choice, but to rise to the occasion. I picked her up because she needed me. Then I found out she was sick. It felt natural to continue to carry her for the rest of her life.
That is what I did.
My body will never regret not setting her down.
The tattoo on my left arm just above my wrist is the mark of June. It is made of lines created by pinched and twisted skin compressed by June’s body. For every day I carried her, the lines grew a little deeper. It’s a mark of proof that she did exist. She was right here. The mark of a memory. This arm lives to tell the story. It’s an imprint that will never be forgotten because as I age, so will my skin, so will the lines. I run my fingers over them and remember.
June is no longer here.
is never gone.