It was an early finish tonight – home for dinner. And so, after a good scotch fillet and two glasses of 8% scrumpy, I think I’m ready to tell you about my tattoo…

The first thing you’ll have to understand is that I was a really lonely kid. A really lonely kid. Mind-bendingly lonely. My family moved around a lot throughout my formative years, and so I was always the new girl in class (as well as being the brainy girl). Life at school was not fun.

On top of that, for the first six years of my life, I was convinced that I was adopted and my parents just hadn’t told me yet. I recognised that other children had some kind of connection with their family that I seemed to be missing. I didn’t know why. I did love them. I desperately wanted to belong – to be “normal”. I was just always in the photo without ever really being in the picture. Much later on, someone told me that I was probably autistic.

At around that same age, I also loved the movie Annie (please don’t throw up!). My mother thought that I just liked the songs, but what really attracted me was the feeling that Annie and I were missing the same things in our lives. I used to sit outside the house and sing the opening song, over and over again, waiting for my “real parents” to come and get me.

Betcha they’re young, betcha they’re smart,
Bet they collect things like ashtrays and art.
Betcha they’re good. Why shouldn’t they be?
Their one mistake, was giving up me…
And maybe now it’s time, and maybe when I wake,
They’ll be there calling me baby…

I can vividly remember, after I realised that these imaginary people were never coming for me, just knowing with all my heart that one day I would walk out the door and never come back. I just had to walk away…

But I was never brave enough to go.

Until one day when I was eight. We were visiting family friends in California. They had a house on the edge of the desert, and my mother decided that we should all go for a walk to look at the scenery. We all went out as a family, and walked along, looking at the hills and the plants, and other boring, adult things. I wandered away a little.

The rest of the group was tracking alongside a small ridge, and I wandered across to the other side of this ridge. On the other side, running vaguely parallel to the ridge, was a dirt road. Along the road was a line of scruffy chaparral. In one of the trees, slightly off to my left, sat the biggest bird I’d ever seen.

I moved a bit closer, to get a good look at this bird. It was an eagle – big and dark, with a pale hood – a golden eagle. The scrubby tree bent under its weight. It was nearly as big as me. I just stood and stared at this eagle, and he looked at me – turning his head slightly as birds do. He had cold, mute, lizard eyes. I could not even pretend that he had a human emotion – he was clearly something completely apart from me. He was the most beautiful, most truly wild creature I had ever seen.

After staring at me for what seemed like minutes, the eagle took off. My heart sunk for a moment, as I thought he would fly away. But he didn’t. Instead, he flew over to the tree nearest to me, and perched again. He stared at me with his lizard eyes, and I stared at him. Then he flew on to the next tree, over to my right. He stared at me, and I stared at him. Then he flew to the next tree…

The first thing that popped into my head was a scene in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. In the book, a robin convinces the children to follow it by flying pointedly from tree to tree. Now this eagle was doing the same thing.

So I followed him.

As I walked down the road, he would fly on to the next tree, and then the next. I wasn’t chasing him – sometimes he would let me get a little bit ahead before he moved up alongside me. We were simply heading out into the desert together.

The whole time I walked, I really can’t describe how ecstatically happy I was. I had waited my whole life for someone to sweep in a take me away, and here he was. And I would follow him, wherever he would lead me. I wasn’t a stupid child – I was a Girl Scout, I knew that (if I just wandered off into the desert) I would die. I would die sooner rather than later. But I genuinely didn’t mind. It was worth it, just to be able to escape. At the time, it was the happiest I had ever been. I was finally going home…

Then I heard that voice. “Oh, there you are! Don’t wander off like that!”

It was my mother. She had walked over the ridge behind me, and caught me in the midst of my escape. I stopped. It felt like my heart about to tear itself out of my chest.

I will admit that my mind raced with several different options. I was fast on my feet – I had won prizes for sprinting, and I had a good 100 yard lead on her – she wouldn’t be able to catch me. But I knew that she would follow me. And then my escape, such as it was, would be filled with searchers calling my name… “We’re not mad. Come out. This isn’t a game.”… I seriously considered the rocks at my feet. Could I pick one up, unnoticed, and return meekly to my mother’s side – only to knock her out and run?…

Pained, I looked at my eagle, and he looked at me. His lizard eyes seemed to challenge me. There was no apology there, neither malice nor compassion – no pain from his side – just the sense that I needed to make a choice. He was offering me my dreams, if only I was strong enough to step forward and grab them…

I sighed. Deep. From the very bottom of my soul. The sigh of adulthood and real-world responsibility. The sigh of giving up. I turned on my heel and set off towards my mother. I glanced over my shoulder long enough to see my eagle fly away…

When I got back to my mother’s side, I muttered, “You scared him away.”

“Scared who away?”

I never answered her. She hadn’t seen him, and I didn’t want her to…

For years afterward, I often felt that I’d made the wrong decision. I prayed endlessly for my eagle to come back. I was still a child. I swore I would chose differently if only I had another chance… But he never came back.

After a while, I figured that I had to become my own eagle. I could wait forever for him to come save me, so I decided that I had to save myself.

When I was old enough, I tattooed that eagle on my body – both as a reminder of who I needed to be, and a reminder to take my opportunities when they come. He doesn’t give me strength. Instead he gives me motivation.

Whenever I see him, I know that sometimes you never get a second chance at your dreams, so you need to make them come true on your own.


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