the girl with the dragonfly tattoo
I’ve never identified myself as a girl that gets a tattoo…at least not without analyzing the decision from every angle until I rationalize myself out of the idea. Frankly, I don’t even remember getting my ears pierced. Despite my mother making that particular choice for me at the ripe age of three days old, the flavor of that cultural tradition from my grandmother’s Brazilian lineage did not translate beyond some delicate ruby studs as a baby, which grew to an eclectic earring collection by my teenage years. For the dear readers who don’t know me, an indication of my typically reserved nature is exemplified by the following: at some point in the recent three-hour exchange with my tattoo artist-turned friend George, he asked me if I’d ever been a debutante, to which I sheepishly answered yes. To my credit, he clarified that because I said I had lived in Georgia, he associated that notion with a Southern rite of passage for girls like me. However, despite hailing from Denver, Colorado, it was not a farfetched impression. I recalled a well-rehearsed curtsey followed by a regal ball, donning a Cinderella-like dress that was subsequently preserved in an obtrusive, airtight box and stored in a closet until my mother finally mailed it to me a few years ago. To clarify, I do not regret or feel ashamed of that part of my history and how it translates to my current self-identity. And although I know that having been announced to society in formalwear has had no adverse bearing on the person I’ve become, much less a relation to my decision to get a tattoo, I cannot deny that as I was being newly inked this week, I felt a palpable rebellion against the prevailing persona that I’ve held for the better part of my conscious existence. The whimsical decision was a betrayal of sorts to my semi-conservative upbringing, and yet it not only felt liberating, but true. It’s not as though permanent body art is life-defining or exceptional. Nonetheless, for me, it was a totem on my evolutionary journey, or perhaps just a remembering of my genuine, intuitive essence.
Let me back up. As I write this, I am concluding a magical trip to Sedona, Arizona, where I spent nine days on a solo vacation. Although I’ve lived abroad and travelled extensively, there was something that felt uniquely daring, connective and necessary about an extended escape in nature, anonymously exploring a novel geography and topography. Prior to my visit, I envisioned Sedona and all its renowned magic as a portal of sorts: a place where the majesty of the red rocks has the power to shift reality. Admittedly, I came on a mission to extricate myself from my current state: one in which my life regularly feels habitual and lacking real significance. Moreover, I no longer have my mother—my best friend and confidant—to reassure me that everything is going to work out. I craved the famous vortex energy that I wished would nurture me in healing and illumination, or at minimum, lead me to a legit psychic.
It is no coincidence that I landed at a quaint, independent hotel appropriately named El Portal. In any fictional story, portals are doors or passageways that exist to instantaneously deliver their protagonists to an alternate reality, transporting them from the mundane to the fantastical, where there is a greater purpose to be realized. While I didn’t board the Flux Capacitor back to the future where life is suddenly perfect, I did learn one of the secrets to that transcendence I was seeking: be open and curious. I’ve had more stimulating, uplifting interactions in the past week than I can recall in the last year. And I believe this is not just a result of stepping outside of my traditional social contracts and constructs, but also because of the emotional aperture that I am exploring. This place has been a gateway as much as it’s been a mirror reflecting back more of who I really am: the one who engages in a profound conversation with a stranger at a bar; the one who prays with spirits of the rocks at an ancient Native American ceremonial site; the one who frolics barefoot in an icy creek; the one who capriciously tattoos her virgin skin. And yes, I am still the former debutante that appreciates a good manicure and balayage.
Dragonflies are often regarded as symbols of change, transformation, adaptability, and self-realization. From some Native American’s viewpoint, dragonflies represent rebirth and renewal. They are born underwater and spend most of their lives there, and when they first surface, they are almost entirely transparent. Yet when sunlight bathes their delicate bodies, they become the vibrant and enchanting creatures that are depicted across a multitude of artforms. I chose to tattoo a dragonfly on my wrist as an apt reminder that my mother is perpetually with me. Her wild beauty, her shapeshifting nature and her continuous reinvention are perfectly epitomized by this spirit animal. And as she always did in human form, mom’s soul continues to reinforce my own capacity to find the inner portal –to gently inspire my heart to shine with any color or persona of my choosing.
On my first evening in Sedona, I sat at a restaurant bar next to a woman named Irene, who was having dinner with her husband and one of her daughters. She passionately described her home here and how she lovingly toiled to cultivate the garden of her dreams in the backyard. In the next breath she told me that she and her husband would soon move to Florida because their developing health problems compelled them to be closer to family there. Irene’s early-onset dementia revealed itself within a few minutes of our exchange, and it seemed as if she was preparing for her final chapter. Before she left the restaurant, I communicated my wish for her: that she allow herself the freedom to be guided by what truly illuminates her heart. Later I realized that I was speaking to her as much as I was speaking to myself. How much of my life today is the result of my story of what is conforming and safe, or dare I say it, because of how I was presented to society before I even left the comfort of my childhood home? While Sedona may not have been the portal that Hollywood movies are made of, it did awaken me to a renewed perspective, and I am departing with a permanent souvenir on my wrist to remind me when I inevitably forget.
In case you are wondering, the debutante dress was surrendered to Goodwill after a failed attempt to sell it almost 20 years after the ball. I’m betting the tattoo is going to be a longer-term investment.
Dedicated to my luminary guide on this journey, Clint Frakes, founder of Sedona Sacred Earth