– Interactive Memoir by Kimberly Sheridan –
Below are three tattoo ideas with accompanying essays. At the end of the series, readers are invited to vote for their favorite inspired design. When voting closes in April, the author has pledged to get the tattoo with the most votes!
1. Sacred heart with fire, the eye of kairos, and a red thread – on lower sternum (In honor of divine timing, intuition, and the transformative power of love)
In early 2020 I started wearing a red thread around my left wrist. Legend states that we’re tied by a red thread to the people we’re destined to meet—every encounter was woven in a scarlet tapestry before we were born. I didn’t know what I was summoning or reconnecting to, but I was tying myself to something larger than myself. I also regularly pulled cards from The Wild Unknown archetype deck then. I don’t believe cards tell us anything we don’t already know somewhere in our hearts, but they can beat us to our own awareness or provide insights to meditate on. Kairos, or divine timing, presented itself six or seven times. The guidebook defined kairos as a secondary time continuum that goes beyond any earthly clocks or schedules. It’s about serendipity, synchronicity, and the opportune time for action.
It was the beginning of the pandemic and the message seemed to suggest patience and faith in cosmic timing. I didn’t know in the near future I’d reconnect online with a man I met five years prior who lived in New Zealand, one of the most locked-down countries in the world. Once we reconnected, it all made perfect sense. We were meant to be—the timing wasn’t right years earlier, but our season had come and the time was ripe; he was part of my scarlet tapestry.
As months of forced separation dragged on, the divine gift of our second chance quickly turned into real human frustration. The spiritual was getting roundhoused by the corporeal. A pandemic is a good reminder that life is short and it was hard to ignore earthly clocks in favor of mythic ones. I ached to be in the same space, to touch. I ached for mundane experiences where I’d be attentive to every detail—watching Adrian make coffee or pull on a T-shirt or look for keys.
In the absence of physicality, I wanted to get a tattoo, something to mark how much I cared about him, something of the body. The poet Louise Gluck writes, “I wanted it to leave a mark: / that’s how I knew I loved you. / Because I wanted to be burned, stamped, / to have something in the end.” I wanted to be stamped, wanted to have something tangible. I didn’t end up getting one but it was passion’s impulse and the most accessible solution I could think of.
One morning, I returned to the archetype guidebook and noticed a suggested “deeper dive” at the bottom of the kairos page, which was a work of art by Felix Gonzalez-Torres named “Untitled (Perfect Lovers).” This time, I looked it up: Two identical white clocks are displayed side by side, touching each other, and synced to the same time. In an accompanying note named “Lovers, 1988” Torres wrote, “We conquered fate by meeting at a certain time in a certain space. We are a product of the time, therefore we give back credit to where it is due: time. We are synchronized, now and forever. I love you.” I thought it was beautiful but the piece took on more complexity when I read that the artist’s partner had AIDS. Gratitude and grief go hand-in-hand, inseparable.
I knew the borders would open eventually and that Adrian and I would reunite. I knew the in-between time was likely a necessary crucible where we were just catching up to ourselves, to our uncommon love. Hardest of all, I knew that I didn’t know the timeline. None of my efforts or schemes had resulted in a sooner reunion—and any estimated date or government policy could change in a second, and did, often. By the time 2022 approached, I had stopped pulling cards. I didn’t have it in me to decipher meanings or guess at the universe’s next move, but I kept the red thread around my wrist until it finally unraveled itself. I didn’t have access to the kairos schedule but serendipity had smiled on us before, and hopefully would again.
2.) Graceland Chapel with four-pointed stars – on my left forearm. (In honor of my Las Vegas wedding, February 24, 2022)
We hadn’t seen each other in six and a half years when we got married, and we weren’t sure when we were going to see each other again after we flew back to our homes in New Zealand and Spokane, Washington. Las Vegas is the perfect place to get married when the stakes are high; the marriage didn’t feel like a big gamble, but everything else did. We were at the mercy of the pandemic and mercy seemed to be on a two-year smoke break. After a year and a half of long-distance longing and enough messaging to break the internet, we had to give up or double down. We doubled down.
I felt robbed of time and the small things we would do together became magnified and sacred in their absence—taking a walk, laughing at a movie, drinking lattes. “Love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time. Marriage is not the end of romance, it is the beginning,” writes therapist and author Esther Perel. When I’d crumble during the endless wait for New Zealand’s borders to open, Adrian would say, “Don’t worry, we have the rest of our lives.” We decided to make the rest of our lives an official promise in the Wedding Capital of the World when he was finally able to book a trip to the US.
The online form for a wedding at Graceland Chapel made everything easy. Pick the wedding and photography package, check; upgrade bouquet, check; request complimentary limo, check. Livestream it to the world. Ability to cancel up to 48 hours in advance. We had ten days of reunion vacation before the wedding and a last-minute out if we realized we weren’t ready or had miscalculated. No out was needed. Together, at last, I slept through the night for the first time in over a year. On the third day of our reunion, Adrian proposed at my favorite meditation gardens in Los Angeles under a dome of greenery and a relentless blue sky. The wedding was all planned online but, in person, he got on one knee with an opal ring and we reconfirmed this was a hell yes—we were going through with I do.
Graceland was the ideal little Vegas chapel. There was a big sign with blue neon and Wedding Chapel spelled out in round white bulbs. The chapel had a stone clock tower, a white gazebo, and stained glass windows with doves. Also, there was an A-frame sign out front announcing that Bon Jovi had been married here and “Just Married by the King” T-shirts at the front desk. We weren’t married by Elvis but by the lovely owner, Dee Dee. She ended our sweet four-and-a-half-minute wedding with her final thought, “Happily ever after isn’t a fairy tale, it’s a choice. My hope is that you continue to wake up each day choosing each other.”
My other hope was that we’d be able to wake up each day next to each other. We’d spent sixteen days total together in person before this ceremony—six days in 2015 and ten days on this reunion trip—but we had communicated for countless hours to build a solid foundation and choose each other across 7,400 miles. Our story was an epic pandemic romance, but with plenty of obstacles to keep us grounded and force our growth. At times, it required as much grit and courage as it did love and passion. Friends told me, “I could never handle it” and “If you two can make it through all this, you’ll make it through anything.” Friends’ parents, with years of married experience, added, “That’s real love—true love takes work.”
Our elopement at Graceland was thankfully effortless, affordable, and exactly what we wanted. Adrian wore his first-ever brand-new tailored suit and I wore a beaded white dress, both of which made it safely after being folded in suitcases on airplanes and on a road trip through the American desert. Our friend who first introduced us in New Zealand in 2015 was our witness. She, her partner, and their baby (who they dressed in an Elvis costume, naturally) were our only in-person guests. I had the option to walk the chapel aisle alone and meet Adrian at the altar, or we could walk down the aisle together. Together was the only way that made sense. After our photoshoot, the Graceland limo dropped us off at our hotel and we shed our fancy clothes for our usual black elastic ones. Our friends had Chinese food delivered to the hotel and we ate in their room, sprawled out and cozy, sharing cold noodles and spicy beef and green beans. Our hotel was a comfortable distance from the strip. The rooms were peaceful and quiet but we could see the inviting neon lights from our huge windows.
The next day, Adrian and I drove to a famous bakery and bought a slice of their vanilla-with-strawberries wedding cake, a slice of chocolate cake, and an overflowing cream puff. At night, after a day of Vegas activities, we shared our decadent treats while laying together in our massive scalding-hot bathtub. We were half-asleep and blissed out, not yet used to the terms husband and wife, and not thinking about our upcoming flights home or the absence of a date when we would see each other again.
3.) Solace in the Wind sculpture and silver fern – on my left shin. (In honor of my new home in Wellington, New Zealand)
I moved to Wellington, New Zealand (Aotearoa) the month their borders opened. The goal was to get here for so long that I didn’t think much about what actually being here would be like. First step: be together. Second step: everything else. With a May move, I knew I was going from one winter into another as I transitioned from the northern hemisphere to the southern. I had only spent ten days in Wellington in 2015; it was mid-sized, on the water, and the windiest city in the world. The country had wonderful coffee and many sheep and an abundance of beautiful spots I had thought I’d never be back to explore. With a population of five million, the whole country has three million fewer people than New York City, and 327 million fewer than The United States.
After a thirty-four hour journey with stops in Los Angeles and Fiji, I touched down and prayed that at this final threshold, customs wouldn’t find a reason to not let me through. Adrian was waiting, with lilies, for me and my trolley of four bags that contained all I now owned. I headed to the wrong passenger side of the car for my first international blunder. We drove back to his, now our, rental house which I had only seen in the background of video-chats and tried to piece together in my mind. Along the way, I saw parts of the city I’d seen once before with the vague familiarity of a dream.
The best part of being in New Zealand was what I expected—time with my new husband. We walked the winding hills down to the water; we cooked together with the music pumping; we had coffees and morning meditations; we went to the gym and ate breakfast in the car; we spent time with his family; we cleaned and reorganized; we tooks naps; we simply enjoyed doing two different things but in the same room together. Our lives, united and under one roof.
There were also the disorienting parts. I quickly realized I never felt more American than when I wasn’t in America. Somehow, I also felt more and more like a New Yorker as my time away from that past home had only grown. Relatively small things took adapting to: Totally different stores with different brands and where does one even buy mascara? The books sold are different authors and the UK covers are different covers and why is a book $40 NZ dollars? I began to learn that even though our countries speak the same language, of course, there are still cultural differences. Multiple fellow expats told me about the Kiwi tendency to “beat around the bush” and I thought, Oh no, I consider truth and freedom to be my life’s mission—will I be expected to dull down or tiptoe around truths or embrace societal conventions? I wasn’t the norm in my country either but I mostly knew where I stood and where I fit.
The life of an expat is one of being in the in-between, both here and there, possibly belonging to neither. Probably, the balances shift over time. I’ve never felt a strong allegiance with my homeland and I didn’t hesitate to leave it, but I also find myself unreasonably excited when I see a Spokane author in a used book store.
At forty, I started over. Starting over was not new to me and it always required time. There was no way around the time it took to build a new life with a new career and new local friends. This move was going to require the most patience and surrender yet; I wasn’t allowed to work until I had a visa approved, I needed to learn to drive on the other side of the road, and most crucially, I was entering an existing family unit. There were so many elements out of my control that at times I could think of no other word for myself but powerless.
I’ve associated Wellington with its waterfront Solace in the Wind sculpture since I first visited. The naked bronze man by Max Patte leans out over the bay, eyes closed, with his hands back behind him. To me, he’s always represented leaning into the unknown, believing the wind will catch you, or freefalling into the blue. Whatever happens, it’s okay. In 2015, I walked by him the night after I had met Adrian and felt changed. I knew I needed to trust the process with our magical encounter, not knowing that process would break us apart, bring us back together, force us to endure a pandemic, and have us finally eloping in Las Vegas. At the beginning of a whole new chapter, I finally saw the naked man again, this time as Adrian and I skated past him on the waterfront walkway, this time with Wellington as my new home—and once again, needing to trust the wild wind and lean in.
*Voting for this feature officially closed 4/19/23, with option 3, “Solace in the Wind Sculpture” receiving the most votes. We will continue to follow Kimberly’s journey as she pursues this design, adding images of initial drawings and the final tattoo. New visitors to this page, meanwhile, can continue to offer their feedback on the interactive poll.
Kimberly Sheridan’s work appears in Entropy, The Big Smoke, and University of Hell’s essay collection, 2020* The Year of the Asterisk. She wrote a column Tattoo Ink for The Big Smoke USA. Kimberly holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Eastern Washington University and served as the managing editor of Willow Springs. After many years in New York City, Los Angeles, and Spokane, she’s recently relocated to Wellington, New Zealand. Find her at kimberlysheridanwrites.com