Monday, October 29, 2012

TJ Tattoo

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.

Now that I knew what I wanted, the next questions was where I wanted it. I considered several different places, my shoulder, upper arm, but really felt that this tattoo was for me and I wanted it in a place where I would see it every day. (And, being the ├╝ber visual person that I am, I had to virtually tattoo it—using stock photos—to see where it would look 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.


  1. Oh my goodness. How beautiful, and sad. Beautiful design, and amazing way to keep his memory close. Thank you for sharing.

  2. That is wonderful. I recently lost my grandmother very suddenly, and unexpectedly, to a brain aneurysm. She wrote me a letter a month before she passed on; it had to be a God thing, because none of us knew what was about to come. I'm getting a specific line of it tattooed over my fingers, facing me, with her signature in her handwriting. Unless I loose those fingers, I'll never loose her last, important words to me, "I love you more than I can put into words."

  3. That's beautiful, Gabrielle. Love that's greater than expression is certainly something you can live your life by :)

  4. Maria, very late in finding your blog and reading this post. What a beautiful way to have your brother with you always.
    My son-in-law had their beautiful first child's name tattoed on his arm, after she arrived stillborn. It's a visual reminder that she did exist and she did matter.

  5. I'm late in responding as well, and usually don't respond, but felt a kindred spirit in you here, because I also have wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate my brother's passing, but never did so. It's the only way I'll get a tattoo, and it's nice to see your process and that you thought the design thoroughly. Very cool. I bet TJ loves it.