On the front porch of her family’s home, Angelica Nuñez proudly showed my partner Bette and me her new tattoo.
We got to know Angelica and her 9-year-old sister Rebeca three years ago when we stopped to buy Kool-Aid that Rebeca was selling by the curb near our Northeast area house. Rebeca adopted us as her grandparents. So did Angelica, who’s 17 now.
Bette is used to being called Grandma. She has four daughters and five grandkids. It’s taken time for me to realize that when the girls say “Grandpa!” they’re talking to me. Neither of my two daughters has kids.
With their mother Hilary’s permission, we’ve done what grandparents do, taking the girls shopping and even to black-tie events. They have had us to their house for parties with friends and family.
We try to enlarge the girls’ lives with people, contacts and expectations, and the girls certainly have made our lives richer. So Angelica was happy to show us the tattoo on her left forearm. It was different from any I’d seen. Two hearts with the tips touching each other stretched across her arm in the form of a loving infinity sign.
The tattoo included two crosses and a semicolon. I asked Angelica to explain what it meant and why she got it.
Angelica, a high school senior, said it symbolizes the struggles of many teens. It was gratifying that Angelica was comfortable sharing the story of her tattoo with Bette and me. She wanted others to benefit from it, too.
“The heart is because I have learned to love myself little by little,” Angelica said. There are two hearts because “there were also people who helped me to love myself and who love me.”
That made sense. But I didn’t understand the semicolon.
“The semicolon is important because it represents support for all of those who have gone through depression, self-harm, attempted suicide or committed suicide,” Angelica said.
She explained that she used to suffer depression, used to do self-harm and on Aug. 12, 2015, a friend, Jose, 19, committed suicide. Angelica also felt that she had no purpose in life and she was just taking up space. That’s why the semicolon is an important part of the tattoo.
“It symbolizes more to come and continuing to keep on going,” Angelica said. “It’s a reminder every day that I can keep on going even though I may feel like giving up. It’s my reminder that I have a life to live and a purpose here.”
I asked what that purpose was. Her response was excellent: “I don’t know yet. But I’ll find it.”
Angelica said 2016 has been a growth year for her. The crosses symbolize her faith.
“I believe in God so I knew he had a lot to do with my deciding to continue living and helping me gain strength,” she said.
Before Alzheimer’s disease erased her memory, and then took her life in 1994, my mother used to tell my siblings and me, “Always remember that you are never alone.”
I once thought she meant there’d always be people we could depend on when times were bad. But as I got older, I realized she also was referring to the faith in God she instilled in us and how it would carry us through our worst moments.
Mom was right, and so is Angelica. Other tattoos that Angelica showed Bette and me were on her left ankle. They were the names of her older brother Alex, who lives in California, and Rebeca.
“I may not show it but I do love them,” Angelica said. “They make me mad sometimes, but I do love them.”
Tattoos are something my generation didn’t rely on for expression, but it’s different today.
“They are a beautiful form of art, and they last forever,” Angelica said. “They’re a permanent reminder that I look at every day.”
They enrich her life, and that’s all that matters to those who care as we do.