I have a tattoo of an ampersand on my ankle. The little black symbol confuses people and that makes me chuckle. When people ask what it means (and boy, do people ask what it means) I usually just say “it’s from a song I like”, which is not untrue, but is also not the whole story.
Growing up I was naively and somewhat embarrassingly romantic. Between the ages of twelve and seventeen I lived and breathed regency and gothic romance novels and probably would have sold my brother to trade places with Elizabeth Bennet or the young protagonist of “Rebecca”. I wanted to marry young, preferably to someone who could be described as “brooding”, and I wanted to have at least five children and I wanted to make them all wear matching dungarees and I wanted to make jam. The jam was important to fifteen-year-old me, for some reason completely unknown to present day me. I also wanted my Mr Darcy/ Heathcliff/ Mr Rochester hybrid to wear thick wool jumpers and if at all possible to be at least six feet tall and extremely skinny. I couldn’t say for certain what made me change my mind about this bizarre future I had mapped out for myself, but at some point in the last few years I began a complete one-eighty turn on my stance on romance and relationships. And I think it began with one song.
“I’m not going to live my life on one side of an ampersand” is the lyric that inspired me to not only allow a 250lb bearded man to repeatedly stab me in the lower leg, but pay him for the privilege. A quick Google search reveals that there are many interpretations of the line out there on the world wide web, but this is mine. I don’t want to go through life only as one half of a whole. Mr & Mrs. His & Hers. Ross & Rachel. There was a time when I was convinced we all needed to be with someone, and that if you hadn’t found your person, well you best just keep looking. Now I know I am complete all by myself. Where I used to romanticise being completely dependent on another person I now strive to be as independent as I can. I love the person I’m with, I love being part of a tight partnership, and honestly, I love being in love. But I love myself more. My little ampersand reminds me that I am enough on my own. Even when we are one half of something, we are still our own whole. The swirling black ink acts as a reminder that I cannot be defined by another person. I am with my partner because I want to be, not because I need to be. And all of this meaning and strength and sentiment is so nicely wrapped up in a tiny punctuation mark on my right ankle.