t h e i n t i m a t e s t r a n g e r

Mother and Child

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After more than a year of “Do I really want another tattoo?”, “What and where will my second tattoo be?” and “Who will ink me?”, I had decided on the polar bear.

“Polar bear’s medicine includes the ability to navigate along the earth’s magnetic lines, introspection, ability to find sustenance in barren landscapes, purity of spirit, strength in the face of adversity, solitude, expert swimmer through emotional waters, finding one’s way back from the brink, communication with spirit, dreams, death and rebirth, transformation, creature of dreams, shamans, mystics and visionaries, defence and revenge……”

But it was really difficult finding an image that I would want on my skin and more importantly, could live with for as long as I breathed. As irresistibly adorable as I find polar bears, they just look fat/lumpy/shapeless from most, if not all, angles.

Or else there is too much desolation for my comfort.

I think the armoured bears in The Golden Compass are damn cool but too fierce, yes???

And then I found the mother and her cub.

I, who remain ambivalent about having my own children, was strangely drawn to this blissful scene of two sleeping bears, of a cub lovingly cuddled in her mother’s protective warmth, as a weary traveller is drawn to the welcoming glow from a forest cabin on a cold winter night.

At that time, I had thought it was my subconsciousness trying to express my maternal instincts, and my need to protect…. something. I thought it had to do with my growing responsibilities at work and the impending change in my role  — Queen Bee; Mother Hen; I the Protector and the elves my wards.

I brought this image to the tattoo artist, who had actually studied art at one of the local schools, for customisation. I had initially chanced upon A’s little studio by accident, while window-shopping after lunch on a work day.  I talked to him, looked at his portfolio and was pleasantly surprised that he also did pretty good animal and shading work. I liked his face, felt comfortable with him, and thought he could be the one.

I went away and it took me several more months of “Do I really want another tattoo?”, “Am I sure about the bears and where will I place them?”, “Do I really want this young guy who’s only been around a few years inking me?”. But I eventually decided on an image, returned with it to A and discussed in detail what I wanted. I liked the way he moved his hands and he had a very light touch that felt ‘just right’.

Another few months passed and A presented me with the sleeping bears in a decorative frame, incorporating my requirement for some kind of background symbolising the landscape (land/ice or sea) so that the snowy bears would be ‘grounded’. He decided on the element of water because of my affinity for the sea and came up with a frame of flourishes resembling waves. He also explained how he would shade in the fur.

A couple of days before Christmas 2009, I got inked again, almost 3 years after my first. The bears were done over 6 hours, with a few breaks in between, at A’s new studio. (Another odd coincidence involving geographical convergences, for retelling another time perhaps.) It was mostly painless. Like I said, A has a very light touch and it applies to his tattooing technique as well. However, the last hour or more hurt very much — perhaps my adrenaline had worn off or A was getting tired too.

So the last day of the year came, and went. It was mostly unremarkable, with a pinch of faint disquiet….

2010 got off to a good start on the work front. A very good start, to be honest.

Half a year later, my life as I knew it started to unravel, to my horror. My greatest fears had come to life — no, larger than life. You already know some of it.

I submitted myself to professional counselling in mid October 2010 (at my best friend’s insistence); even psychiatric assistance for a short while (I was desperate).

Things got worse for some time, actually. (My counsellor was very concerned that the sessions might have something to do with a particularly drastic step I took in late November 2010.)

Then it got better — no, better than better.

Life has been pretty good the past few weeks.

And I know now what I had first seen in the protective circle of mother and child —

What I had missed all these years;

The emotions and unhappiness I had buried and ‘forgotten';

The words that were never spoken and ‘lost’ (“Are you always this quiet?”);

The feelings I learnt to hide so well that eventually I couldn’t even feel them (I, Poker Face — nobody saw through the mask);

The times I was made to feel — no, told — I was ugly (regular, relentless reminders, and eventually, after years of harassment, a major surgical procedure at 24);

The times I was made to feel unworthy;

The times I was made to feel unloved;

The years I continued to believe nobody could ever love me, including myself;

The years I spent hating myself and perpetuating the emotional dramas from my childhood.

You see, I wanted to be that cub in my mother’s embrace. It was the picture-perfect childhood I wished I had.

And I didn’t realise it then, but the final framing of the bears set the stage for the forgotten emotional dramas I had to remember and relive the last 6 months.

I know the clock cannot be turned back and I cannot relive or reclaim those lost years. I also know that my mother possibly couldn’t have known any better — perhaps having never resolved, or even realised, her own emotional dramas, therefore revisited on her firstborn in the vain hope of reclaiming her own life.

I know the scars will always be with me — forgiven now but never forgotten. But I also know I can move on with my life.



* * * * *


There are no coincidences.

Only bears.

I ask of you — King of Bears, a boon of strength that I shall never fear again.

I call on you — Weaver of Dreams, for introspection and your wisdom, that I may embrace stillness and silence as you do.

I hear you calling — Protector. Survivor. Teacher. Healer.

I know you now — Spirit Guide.


Written by The Intimate Stranger

March 27th, 2011 at 4:32 am

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