TODAY IS MY BROTHER TJ'S BIRTHDAY. Just over three years ago, he passed away after a short, but sudden illness. He was only 30. Even though his life was brief, it was extraordinarily full. TJ was a poet, a rapper, a comedian, a loving brother, and a loyal friend. He collected people from all walks of life, and the viewing room at his funeral wasn't large enough to hold everyone who attended. TJ was so loved and is still very, very missed.
Right after his passing, I decided to get a tattoo in his honor. (He had quite a few of his own, so it seemed fitting.) To mark his birthday and celebrate his beautiful life, I'd like to share the inspiration and design process behind that tattoo.
TJ Tattoo: Part I
TJ filled dozens of journals with his writing and poetry. We picked some of his poems to read at the funeral, which was when I first noticed 1) how terrible his spelling was and 2) the goofy way he experimented with his signature, turning the cursive "TJ" into a smiley-face. (Ever the comedian, my brother!)
Being a tattoo-virgin and having absolutely no idea what the hell I wanted to have inked on me forever, I started thinking about his signature. Then I figured, what's better than his name, in his own writing? So I started playing around with that idea, combining it with his birth sign, the Scorpio constellation.
I narrowed it down to these three designs, all variations on his signature. My family weighed in and we all agreed that TJ's name in the stars was the best.
The forearm won.
TJ Tattoo: Part II
Getting tattooed for the very first time—I'm not ashamed to admit—scared me to death. But I knew it would be worth it. What I didn't know was that shortly after, I'd be planning my next tattoo. (It's like the Bare Naked Ladies said, "Call it impulsive, call it compulsive, call it insane; but when I'm surrounded I just can't stop.") My brother's favorite flowers were stargazer lilies. This is a photo, taken by my mother, of the ones that bloom in my parent's backyard. The summer after TJ's death, I was home when the lilies were blooming and I instantly knew what I wanted to complete my TJ tattoo: Lilies gazing up at my brother's name in the stars.
----------Important Side Note/Life Lesson: My friend Renee has a smart theory that when practiced, keeps impulsive/compulsive folks (like me) from getting tattoos they instantly regret. Her theory: You've got to want a specific tattoo for a year. Then you've got to wait another year before you get it.
So, that's what I did. I give infinite credit to Annie Lloyd at Three Kings Tattoo in Greenpoint, Brooklyn for the design and amazing detail work. I think TJ would be proud.
I would give anything to hug my brother one more time, to tell him how much I love him. But I know that where he is, he's happy (and probably still making tons of friends). I remember him especially today, but also everyday when I see his name on my arm. I'm reminded that life is fleeting and every moment counts. TJ certainly made his count and he'll never be forgotten. I love you, Bubba—Happy birthday.
My brother, TJ, on his 30th birthday with his gift, the original Optimus Prime.