Countless times I’ve been asked what the tattoo on my hand represents. In preface to the response, let me say that I am a man who holds deep meanings as key to the definition of my character. I was never the type to think of getting a tattoo, but certain life events prompted me to brand myself with a symbol of multiple meanings to remind me of past mistakes and to stay optimistic.
Usually when someone asks I give one of two responses: “What do you think it means?”, or “It’s complicated”. That all depends on my mood and my interest in the other person. If I ask the former of the two, I gauge the rest of the conversation by their response. When I hear that it looks like a Cancer survivor ribbon, or a Bring the Troops Home ribbon, I generally lose interest. When they say it sort of looks like the symbol for infinite, but not quite, my interest is piqued and I know I can speak on a intellectual plane. I usually refrain from doing so because most people either can’t handle it, are turned off by it, or assume I’m overly uptight because I speak that way. It’s generally refreshing to find someone that I can speak to on such a level.
One of the funnier questions I’ve gotten about it was from a co-worker who asked if it meant I was part of some assassin’s guild or the like. I found that quite amusing.
Why did I want to get it?
Years ago I dated a girl that had many hidden problems. Nevermind what those were, but I can guarantee they were pretty severe. I knew I was heading toward disaster, but I didn’t care. Once while taking some of her things from another ex, I was having trouble pushing the Rubbermaid containers into the tiny trunk of my previous car, a 2005 Mustang (GT :D). So I pushed harder, and the box finally fit. In the process, I scraped up my hand on the deck of the car, leaving what would become two light spots on my hand after the scabs healed. When she left I was really hurt, and I would often look at the spots and immediately feel down. I had to do something, so I began to think of what I could cover these spots with.
At that moment was born the idea of the infinite loop, half closed. I first drew the design around the spots in pen, and hesitated to make the leap to a firm commitment by having it tattooed. Then, one day in a fit of spontaneity, I was driving home from my previous job at Detroit Public Schools and noticed a tattoo shop on Woodward. I stopped, signed some forms, and had the chance to back out when I was told it would be cash only. I didn’t have cash, so I walked to an ATM nearby.
When I came back, I paid $50 for the first real life-long commitment I’ve ever made. It took about 20 minutes and my mind sunk into the pain during the process. I remember watching people walk outside the tattoo parlor from a second story window, as the pain became a warm numbness and no more than a distraction.
What does it mean?
So that’s the background story. The meaning of the tattoo itself is three tiered.
1. The closed loop is the past; I had to move on and not dwell on the past. The point where the two loops meet is the present. The unclosed loop is the unknown future; forever trailing to meet the present, and fading into the infinite past.
2. Strength and Honor. I draw strength from my past, stand at a crossroads in my present, and will honor someone in my future.
3. The open loop. When (or if, it seems) I find “the one”, I will Honor her by closing the loop. Marriage is a sacred institution and one that I hope will be forever binding. Such thoughts held by men are ideals, and will not often come to pass. It would be nice, though.
Update: 10+ years after writing this, I should probably update it. “The one” would better be written “soulmate”, or maybe that’s what I meant all along.
So there you have it. The next time someone asks what my tattoo means, maybe I’ll just give them this URL instead of replying “it’s complicated”. Because it really is.