When I was a teenager I wanted to get a tattoo of a V with a circle around it on the inside of my left upper arm. The V was for my father Vernon who died when I was six years old by suicide. This interest/obsession started when I was about 15 years old and went on several years. While I came close, I never did end up getting the tattoo.
Over the past two years while writing Ashes in the Ocean, I’ve had time to reflect in depth on my father’s life and death, as well as the impact it had on my family and me. I didn’t write about this desire of commemorating my dad on my body but it’s something I reflected on often.
My adolescents and teenage years were full of all sorts of mixed emotions around my father and his death. Many of which I tried my hardest to suppress and avoid. My V tattoo was going to be a dedication to my father and what he stood for. I wrote about this phase of my life and understanding in my book saying, “He became a martyr to me, and in a way I began to worship him, or at least my memory of him and what he stood for. In my mind, this is what he stood for: Always be in control, always be the best; if things don’t go your way, just keep charging forward, and if they still don’t go your way, you can always check out. To me he represented control, power, and incredible will.”
Upon first glance, this dedication (the V) may look like it was coming from a sense of strength and power. However, I can assure you that my experience during that time of my life was full of fear and a sense of powerlessness. Instead of the V representing strength it may as well have been V for victim. This was a time of my life when I thought my dad’s suicide would control my path in life and ultimately my destiny.
Of course, much of this I was unaware of at the time and this victim mentality was going on mostly under the radar. Fast forward fifteen or so years to a recent conversation I had about this teenage phase of almost getting my V tattoo. I shared with my friend, Derek Abbey, about my dad and the tattoo and he rolled up his sleeve to show me a large tattoo of an upside down V with a circle around it on his left bicep. It was essentially the same tattoo I had wanted to get but with the V upside down instead of right side up. Derek went on to explain that his tattoo had multiple meanings for him. It was a Spartan shield which protected him during his service in the Marine Corps. And then he said, “and the upside down V is my reminder to never be a victim.” My mind was blown.
Hearing that helped me connect back to my time as a teenager and playing my role of perineal victim. If I were to get a tattoo today it would be the upside down V, with it the reminder to continue to cultivate a mindset of “Never a victim.”