Oh how I just love getting asked this on a weekly basis…
Well – for those of you who have wondered (and those who don’t give a rat’s ass) – below I’ve laid out each tattoo and its special meaning to me. All three of my tattoos are on my right arm and belong to a theme: places I’ve lived that have impacted me in inexplicable ways.
Tattoo #1 – the key
Oh my beloved key. This one is a tribute to my second homeland: Germany. I first stepped foot in Germany when I was 13 years old. My family and I made the trip across the pond for the 2006 World Cup and I was absolutely in LOVE with the place. People were friendly, but not over-the-top, food was yummy and fresh and the weather was phenomenal – even in the summer, which was a major plus to this southern girl.
My junior year at KU, I studied abroad for a semester in Regensburg. I minored in German Studies in college and had planned on studying in Germany for a semester since I was in high school.
The six months I spent in Regensburg changed me in more ways than one. It was the first time I lived alone, and if you know me, you know I used to hate being alone. I did everything I could to stay busy and be surrounded by people to block out the damaging thoughts going on in my mind. I also first injured my back when I was living in Germany. There was no accident, no fall, just woke up one day with insufferable back pain and a searing burning feeling going all the way down my leg to my toes.
Great. Here I am, in this beautiful country, and I’m immobile. After three trips to the ER, two ambulance rides, three days in the hospital, a creepy male nurse who hit on me while changing my IV (and then proceeded to LOOK ME UP on Facebook from my patient file and BRING IT UP in conversation as if it was NORMAL), tests, MRI, etc. etc., I found out I had two herniated discs at the bottom of my spine. The doctor told me he wanted to operate on it but I said hellllll no! My family is 5,000+ miles away I am not having major surgery all alone.
Alone. Thats what I was – a 21-year-old American girl in a German hospital with no A/C, no hospital gown, just my three-day old clothes and a book: Eat, Pray, Love. (Shoutout to Elizabeth Gilbert because her book kept me inspired when I really wanted to crawl into a black hole and never come out.)
Fast forward to pain managed by drugs and several awesome weekends traveling Europe and I still had the most incredible six months of my life that year. Aside from my foreign hospital experience, I learned how to live alone and enjoy it. I learned how to converse with locals in German. I learned how to navigate cities where I didn’t speak the local language. I learned what it meant to truly o p e n your eyes and take in each and every moment; experiencing foreign cultures wholeheartedly. Once you immerse yourself in a new place, where you know nobody and have no connections, you find out how large our world is and how small you are.
So, why the key?
Well, Regensburg’s flag is this:
But, I knew I wanted mine on the outside of my forearm, so I opted to have just the one key. Here’s mine:
My first tattoo. My tribute to Germany. My reminder that I can get through anything and come out stronger on the other side.
Tattoo #2 – the diamond
The smallest of my three tattoos, but the one nearest my heart. In case you didn’t know, I was born and raised in Arkansas. My grandparents, parents, three of my four siblings and all my nieces and nephews still live in Arkansas. In fact, they’re all within a 3-mile radius of each other. I know…we’re almost annoyingly close as a family. But I LOVE us Barlings for it. 🙂
Arkansas is where I had my first school dance, my first kiss, my first hike, my first soccer game. Putting it shortly: I experienced a lot of life’s big “firsts” in Arkansas. Family means more to me than anything and my fondest memories reside in the Natural State. My diamond tattoo is a tribute to my childhood, my family, my home.
Tattoo #3 – the sunflower
“Despite knowing they won’t be here for long, they still choose to live their brightest lives.” – the sunflower, by Rupi Kaur
Wow. What a beautiful thought and one I like to apply to real life. Most people are here on this planet for 100 years or less and in the grand scheme of things, that isn’t a very long time.
Sunflowers have always been my favorite flower. I hate how over-used roses are and would rather receive a sunflower any day. I’ve always been drawn to them; their bright colors, big “faces”, long stems. They stand tall and regal – proud.
The wild sunflower is also the state flower of Kansas, where I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Those four years were a magical time. So many exciting and new endeavors. New friends, new hurdles, new accomplishments. My journalism career exploded at KU and I owe it all to my work at the University Daily Kansan.
Goals were made and reached. My life is forever changed after living in the beautiful hippie town of Lawrence, KS. My sunflower tattoo is my tribute to that stage in my life of constant learning and growing.
Well – there you have it: the meaning of my tattoos. Ultimately, these are for me and nobody else and if you have negative opinions about them I honestly couldn’t care less. 🙂