jessica tholmer
Updated August 27, 2015
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I have a couple of tattoos, or I guess I should say a few. I have stories for each tattoo, which is not necessarily how I feel tattoos have to be, but it is true for all of mine.

I have a tattoo that says the word, “brighter,” something from a Tupac Shakur song, written in my own handwriting, reminding me of a time I needed to make it through a brighter day. I have a tattoo that says, “you really are a gem,” also in my handwriting, that reminds me that Lauryn Hill wants all of us women to be gems and not hard rocks—something I need to hear literally every day. I have a lightning bolt that represents Harry Potter and some stars on my back that resemble Rihanna’s, but that also semi-reference Titanic. OK, now that you know all of my tattoo secrets, let me tell you about the only one that chokes me up.

I have a friend, a really good friend, who was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when we were both pretty young. We weren’t sure what it was at first—maybe lupus, maybe rheumatoid arthritis, maybe something new and she’d get it named after her. What she did know was that she would slowly lose the use of her hands over the years. What she did know was that she had to quit the barista job we shared because she was not able to touch extremely cold or extremely hot items—something that makes working a very hands-on job impossible. What we did know was that she feared not being able to hold her own baby one day. What we did know was that she feared losing her beautiful penmanship—something rare in this day and age. Her handwriting is noticeable, unique, important, and gorgeous.

This friend of mine is a trooper. (I won’t say it is because she is a Leo, but it should be noted that she is a Leo.) Everything this friend of mine says and does and experiences is with a sense of humor and a heaping dose of strength. She casually mentioned one afternoon, not even knowing what she was to be diagnosed with, that she wished she had a tattoo in her own handwriting. She didn’t have any tattoos, nor was she ready to commit to one, but I had a couple. Without hesitation, I volunteered to get a tattoo in her handwriting. She was touched, and immediately agreed. I never thought twice about it. I love script tattoos and I had had a quote in mind for awhile. It made sense to have it in her handwriting; I wanted to preserve something for her and show her how much I love and respect her.

I had just finished The Autobiography of Malcolm X for the third time. Malcolm X has always give me my words, my encouragement, and my hope. Though you can google “Malcolm X quotes” and come up with hundreds of results, the quote that stood out to me this particular re-read was not one of his most famous ones.

“Stumbling is not falling” stuck out to me this time around. I don’t know if it was because of what I was experiencing at the time, or if it was because the sentiment was too deep for me when I was younger, but I could not get the line out of my head. Though I was not going through anything close to what my friend was facing, I happened to be a 20-something growing through the motions of life. Stumbing is not falling is something I reminded myself of on a daily basis. When my friend was in between diagnoses, I kept thinking of the quote. She was stumbling (by no choice of her own), but she was not falling. It all made perfect sense for me.

Maybe it is my favorite tattoo because it hurt the most, but getting a tattoo on the side of your right foot is not the same as getting a massage, y’all. It hurt, but it was so much more worth it for that. My friend’s gorgeous script is on the side of my right foot forever, and her handwriting will be around for as long as I live, and that message is something I think about every single day of my life.

My friend is doing well. She had her first baby this year and I am happy to report she has been able to hold her. I don’t know how life would be without my hero’s words in my dear friend’s handwriting permanently on my foot. I am so lucky.