Murphy Row: My Stupid Little Tattoo

I have a tattoo. Some people call it the dumbest tattoo they have ever seen, some people never even notice it. I see it every day, and it helps me focus on being the man I want to be. It inspires me to live my life in the way I see fit and reminds me of the limitations of life. I understand my tattoo might not be the coolest looking tat ever inked, but it helps me to be me and I think that is the real point of the tattoo.

My tattoo is clearly visible every day of my life, yet nobody notices it but me. There is a freckle on my left hand that sits where my thumb and index finger meet. Tightly drawn around the freckle is a black ink outline. That is it. That is my tattoo. A thin black outline of the freckle on my hand.


You never quite know what weird quirks you’re going to learn from your parents, but if you aren’t observant you may miss a lesson designed perfectly for you. My mom would do this weird thing every time she had to remember to do something out of the ordinary, like mail the bill or set the VCR to tape ‘NYPD Blue,’ she would leave a can of tennis balls on the kitchen table. The logic was that when she saw the tennis balls out-of-place it would trigger her to think, ‘why are these tennis balls on the table?’  After her memory was triggered to remember she needed to remember something, she could always get her objective done on time.

To many people this method might not make any sense, why not just write yourself a note? The answer, a note is only as good as remembering to look where you have written a note. For much of my life I wrote notes to myself, and by the time I needed to mail a bill or set my DVR to record ‘Law and Order SVU,’ my life had taken me away from where I had written the note. Notes may work for some people but they just did not work for me. I remembered my mother’s method and applied the concept of my life. Put something out of the ordinary in a place you will for sure see, and then when the object stands out to you, allow yourself to have the thought ‘what did I need to remember to do today?’

Unlike my mom, I am rarely in one place enough during the day to simply leave a can of tennis balls in one spot. For this memory trick to work for me, it would have to occur on my body. Knowing that the location would need to be a place that came through my field of vision often, I looked down at my hands and found a freckle on my left hand. I would draw a black circle around the freckle, and any time I saw the circle on my hand I would remember what I had to accomplish that day. This convoluted method of tricking yourself into memories basically got me through college.

After college I found myself struggling to focus on my life. I found myself struggling to accept that my adult life was really mine to control. I found myself struggling to remember that this is the one life I have, and this body is the one vessel I have to navigate it with. I needed to find a way to keep the idea that my life is only mine to live, in the forefront of my mind. I knew it didn’t need to make sense to anyone else but I knew it needed to work for me.

I found a tattoo parlor with the lowest shop minimum, $40. I sat down and explain the tattoo I wanted, which took about four times as long to explain as it did to actually get tattooed on my body. The tattoo artist kept making sure that this simple circle around a freckle was all I wanted. When he was satisfied that I actually knew what I was asking for, he put the needle to my skin and the tattoo was finished in an instant.

The tattoo makes sense to me. It is so small and nondescript that even I can go days without noticing it. Then it catches my eye. I see it and think, “Why did I get such a simple tattoo?’

I have the tattoo because there are things about my life I need to remember. The circle around the freckle represents what it always has, that there are things I need to accomplish. I have goals both long-term and short. I have dreams big and small, personal and professional. I have learned that if you do not keep these goals in the forefront of your mind, it is too easy for life to obscure your true objectives.

The fact that the circle is tattooed in permanent ink is symbolic as well. A tattoo feels like a permanent decision, but in reality the tattoo will decay with the body. While we are young, this existence feels permanent, but it is anything but. Our time is limited and if we cannot keep this fact in the forefront of our minds, we can be tricked into the delusion of immortality. Even shy of immortality, we can be tricked into the delusion that we have plenty of time left.

I do not need a reminder of my mortality to be aware that I will die. I need a reminder of my mortality, so then I remember to live. Each time I looked down at my tattoo is a moment just for me to remember who I am and who I want to be. Each time I see the ‘permanent’ ink I added to my body, I am reminded that I alone will inhabit this body, and this body will perish. No matter what happens I will die with a circle tattooed on my hand. Whether I accomplish my goals or not it will serve as a reminder that at least at one point there was something I wanted out of this life.


  1. This cracks me up. I love your little tattoo. At first I thought you were going to tell us the Dermatologist had circled it for removal, but I like that you went out and got this little tiny tattoo as a reminder. Your Mom sounds fascinating, I like her the way she thinks!!!!

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