The Dove Tattoo
It’s been a week since I got a new tattoo, and it hasn’t stopped tingling since. It isn’t my first tattoo; I have a sleeve up my left arm, so I know how tattoos are supposed to go. You get it, it’s red and sensitive for a while, and then it calms down. It never tingles for this long.
This tattoo is more special to me than the others. In my sleeve I have roses and lilies, as well as a few hummingbirds and tribal designs. None of those really mean anything; I just fell in love with how they looked.
This new tattoo is different. Doves are my mom’s favorite bird, or rather, were, so I got one permanently on my body in her honor.
We were closer than anything and I loved her with all my heart. Six months ago, I learned she had stage four breast cancer. My whole world shattered at just the thought of her being gone.
Her chemotherapy worked at first, her cancerous cells disappearing completely, but just as fast as they disappeared, they returned even stronger. Everything had gone so fast. She turned into a bed-ridden, decrepit shell of the vibrant woman she once was, all in a few short weeks as the disease consumed her body.
I still remember the feel of her hand going limp in mine as tears clouded my vision and poured down my cheeks. Even thinking about it now, I can feel the tears well up again, and I fight to keep them at bay as I stare at myself in the mirror.
I pull my shirt down off my shoulder to expose the little bird inked there. It was never red, not even the day I got it. And getting it hadn’t hurt either. It had just tingled a little, the same as it was still doing. The tattoo artist had been so confused, just like I was. It’s not like it’s bad that it didn’t hurt, just really weird.
I reach my hand back to touch the bird and I swear it moves.
I yank my hand back, startled, but then slowly touch it again. I stare at it in the mirror and the instant I make contact with it, it starts moving again, slowly at first, and then faster until it’s twitching and hopping around on my skin like a real bird.
I’m so transfixed on the fact that my tattoo is moving that I don’t notice the warmth touching my hand until a few seconds later.
As I become aware of it, I realize it feels like it’s full of love and comfort, just like my mom’s hand used to when she would comfort me about a bad day at work or relationship problems.
I blink back tears as I say, “Mom?”
I gasp as the heat squeezes gently and gets warmer and I look down at my hand, but I don’t see anything.
I look back at the mirror and see something behind me. My eyes widen and my mouth drops open as my mom slowly materializes into a translucent form. Her hand is on my shoulder. Her eyes are alight with her pre-cancer vitality and she beams at me in the mirror.
I’m frozen in silence as she speaks. “I have missed you so much. It was so hard for me to leave you, but you should know, I was never really gone. I’m still right here, with you.”
The tears slip from my eyes. The ghost of my mother squeezes my hand again.
“Are you really here?” I ask, turning to look at her, but once I’ve turned around, I don’t see anything. I turn back to the mirror to see her raise her hand in farewell, still smiling bright at me, and fade away.
“I love you,” I whisper, but she’s already gone. I collapse into a puddle on the floor.
I feel her warm arms around me, proving that she never actually left, and I squeeze my eyes shut, willing her to come back to life, but I know that it’s too late.
I hear her whisper loud and clear, even through my sobs.
“I love you, too.”