The difference four years can make

No matter where you go, you are what you are player
And you can try to change but that’s just the top layer
Man, you was who you was ‘fore you got here
— Jay-Z, Public Service Announcement
Atlas, holding up the universe. Not exactly subtle.

Atlas, holding up the universe. Not exactly subtle.

I got this tattoo four years ago today: it was my third, and opened up the gate for the more than one dozen that would follow. Tattoos for me are often cathartic, helping me get out of my heart and mind things that trouble me. The pain is penance. The marks are forever reminders.

When I got that one I was going through a lot. My marriage was crumbling. I'd just pushed my entanglement with Girl past the Rubicon--there would be no going back. I was crushing under the weight of expectations, mine and others. I was stretched by stresses I couldn't endure and was crying out. I was scared shitless of judgment, of breaking promises, of leaving people behind. I wanted to know what it all meant and spent countless hours trying to understand and getting no closer.

Changes had to come.

And in the days and years that followed I made significant changes. I divorced. I fell harder for a woman than I ever had before. I got high. I wrote. I spent time reviewing what I'd done, where I'd gone wrong, and what I needed to do to be where I was supposed to be. To be me, someone I liked.

I made more changes. I walked away from Girl. I left my high-paying job. I traded my house and stuff for a backpack and saw (at least some of) the world. I met new people and found a relationship that actually worked. I turned 40, and I was happier than I ever could have imagined being at 36. Then I made more changes because there was more I needed to see. And that was very hard. But people touched my heart, and I got some things published. And I learned the meaning of life, which is pretty great no matter what you have to go through to do it. 

I came back home to see the people I loved and missed. Then one of them died before I could, which shook me to the core and made me question a lot of things. I'm still dealing with it.

Four years gone since that tattoo. And in that time I've often thought of Jigga's lyrics, is he wrong or right? After all, haven't I changed tremendously in the last four years? Or was I, before that time, trying to be something I wasn't--just trying to change the top layer, and thus, in the time since, realized who I was and am and shaped my life and behavior in ways that truly reflect that?

I don't know--and I'm okay with that.