My Heart on My Sleeve

I must say, I was pretty nervous for this year’s batch of Spring eclipses. Last year’s packed a wallop that reverberates for me still, and just when I thought the world was rosy with possibility.

So far no terrible event or news has materialized. The winter hasn’t yet fully loosened its grip on the city, but what else is new?

My sister Erika’s birthday came around again on Tax Day. She would have turned 36.


with Erika and Claire in Brazil - New Year 2011

with Erika and Claire in Brazil – New Year 2011


It is strange to think that this year I will turn the same age that she was when she died. Three years. How swiftly time flies. How I wish I still had her companionship, her wit, her personality and sweetness. She cultivated her tender heart and opened it to everyone she met. She is so loved and missed by those of us to whom the world is a far less magical place in her absence. I have learned much about death through losing Erika, as I learned about life through growing up with her and emulating her.

I realize I never unveiled my new Erika tattoo or mentioned it here. I suppose in part because it isn’t really finished, but then, I’m not certain it will ever be finished, really. In the same way that I will be recovering from and coping with her physical absence from my life for the rest of my life, I will always wear a tribute to her on my arm. It is a part of me now, and as we approach the third anniversary of Erika’s death, I know that my grief will evolve and continue evolving for as long as I am on this earth, and though I can’t sit down with her or hug her or get a phone call from her, I can be reminded of her at all times.


Erika tattoo after 7-ish hours of work

Erika tattoo after 7-ish hours of work


People tend to think that it is Egyptian, I think without looking closely at it. In fact it is mostly inspired by Alfons Mucha – the art nouveau pioneer who designed many beautiful posters and whose graphic style I certainly admire.


Mucha's Spring

Mucha’s Spring


Erika was born in the spring and since that is the season embodied by this work of Mucha’s, I thought it was appropriate as the starting point for the design.


a little closer

a little closer


I wanted to frame her with the phases of the moon, as I have a strong association between her and the moon. I also wanted to show her love of animals, so I inserted her kitty, Rosie, into the flowers she is holding and with her other hand she is stroking the head of a fawn. We grew up raising deer and goats and the deer also represents her love for nature and wild animals, while Rosie represents her love for strays of all kinds, but especially cats.

Next to her is a stack of books, because she always loved books and read voraciously – almost compulsively. There is also a glass of wine for Erika’s love of and dedication to learning about wine and making it. It was in many ways a creative outlet for her, I think. All her powers of language and description were put to use in her studies of wine. In the background, vineyards represent her time in the wine country of California and behind that, the mountains and lakes of the Ozarks represent our upbringing in nature. On the other side of her, the background is the desert at Burning Man, with the Man as he looked in 2011, the year my sister died at the festival.

Spanning both sides of the background is a rainbow, which represents so many things: the miraculous in the quotidian, the natural, the ephemeral, the beautiful. Erika was the first person I knew to express strongly and proudly her support for the GLBT community. She was radical in many ways but it was always with an eye for fairness and equality and love.

After Erika died, when my parents and I were driving back across the country from California with the bulk of my sister’s belonging’s in tow, there was a solid 15 minutes where we were driving straight into a rainbow as the storm before us continued apace with our progress. Mom had already started to associate Erika with rainbows and we all felt it was her way of letting us know that she was ok.

I think that over the years I will color more parts and even add more to the design. I have my whole life to build on it, to remember her, to ritualize my grief through physical pain, transmuting it into beauty.


Erika on one of her last days at Burning Man - airbrushing and showing off a real tattoo - a butterfly

Erika on one of her last days at Burning Man – airbrushed and showing off a real tattoo – a butterfly


Erika was brave and beautiful and I can never really capture her brilliant personality and spirit, her fierce grin, her silliness, her sweetness.


To paraphrase Tenacious D, this is just a tribute to the real deal.


Tonight comes the second eclipse of the month and though it won’t be visible in this city, I wonder if it will be felt. For now I’m living with the allergies that are a product of this slow-in-coming spring,but I’ll take it, if it means weather warm enough for me to be out on the fire escape enjoying the out of doors again at last.

Love and miss,