A fifth of November I won’t soon forget.

Today is the day I finish  my tattoo. I didn’t choose the date on purpose, I swear.

I planned my back piece for ten years. I thought about it. Obsessed over it. Poured over it’s meaning and symbolism. The dogwood tree for my mother. For the guidance she provided in teaching me about the natural world. It also stood for my Catholic upbringing. For the tree on which Christ was crucified. For consequences. For the way in which our actions can cause ripples in the lives of our inheritors. The dogwood is the first tree in this region to burst forth in springtime celebration. It’s life is brief. It is small and delicate. But it endures harsh winters. The tree on my back is a permanent reminder that spring is coming. And that fragile-seeming things can endure great hardship.

I have always maintained that tattoos are a way of finishing a body. Of putting the final flourishes on when you are incomplete. They mark the way through your life. They are also a way of taking the body back, be it from some type of trauma, from illness, even from ourselves.

I have not always loved my body. It is probably fairer to say that I do not always love my body. It is not my friend the majority of the time. It fights me. It is tired when I want to work. It does not fit into the clothes I want to wear. But it is so vital, so important. Marking it, finishing it, serves not only as an artistic act but as an act of claiming this thing I ride around in. This is my body. Tattoos seal my body to myself. They make me present inside my skin.

Anyone who has gotten a tattoo can attest to the fact that they can also be transformative. When I started it three years and two months ago, I was on the verge of ending a terrible relationship with an emotionally abusive sociopath. I walked in feeling sad and defeated. Something in the motion of the needle and the act of drawing on and making permanent this idea that had been dwelling in my brain for a decade… activated me.

I walked out of the tattoo parlor 8 hours after I walked in with a spring in my step that I had not had in years. The next day I packed up my most vital stuff in big ass trash bags, grabbed my cat, and moved out to my parents’ house.

My tattoo changed my life. It helped me to lay claim to my body. It has helped me to sort through my past. It has moved me forward in ways I find difficult to express.

It’s been over three years. Today it will mostly likely be finished. I cannot wait to be finished.