Inked up


Ryan Stanley

Natalie Merrill's second tattoo was inspired by her time spent in California. "It's one of my life goals to be brave because I think oftentimes people don't take chances or don't do things because they're afraid of what could happen or they're afraid of failing, but at the end of the day," Merrill said. "You have to take risks because you won't accomplish the things you want to accomplish." The audio video teacher said the phrase "be brave" came from a bracelet she owned.

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Teachers and students explain tattoos

‘Be brave’ are the two words written on a faux leather bracelet once owned by teacher Natalie Merrill. While the bracelet was lost forever, the words were not.

Merrill, an audio-video instructor, along with computer science teacher Elise Calhoun and senior Alaistair Hernandez, have at least one tattoo. Each one has a story and inspiration behind it – good or bad.

Love, family and strife

“I have four tattoos,” Calhoun said. “The first one is on my lower back.  It’s more of a decorative piece. It has three Chinese symbols that stand for mother, love and child. It has my son’s name and my mom’s initials. I got that after she passed away.”

Calhoun lost her mom, grandmother, cousin and best friend’s husband to cancer, which inspired a cancer ribbon tattoo. However, Calhoun said her most meaningful tattoo is on her wrist–the Roman numerals for 2003.

“The first one for 2003 is a semicolon,” Calhoun said. “That’s the semicolon movement, which is a depression awareness movement. 2001 is when my son was born, and 2003 is when I actually sought out help for my depression. It’s just a nice little reminder to ‘take a breath. You can get through every day, and tomorrow will be better.'”

Teacher Elise Calhoun’s “2003” tattoo is written in Roman numerals.

Sisterhood and bravery

In 2015, Merrill texted her sister asking if she ever thought about getting a tattoo – the answer was yes.

“It’s in Greek, and it says ‘forever,'” Merrill said. “My sister has one that says ‘always.’ We’ve always said the phrase ‘forever and always, we are sisters.'”

Teacher Natalie Merrill’s “forever” sister-tattoo is written in Greek.

In 2017, Merrill moved to California, leaving her friends and family behind – a decision she said included stepping out of her comfort zone. Merrill wore a bracelet with the words ‘be brave,’ written on it that served as her reminder to take risks.

“I was playing beach flag football, and one morning, I had been wearing the bracelet,” Merrill said. “I didn’t even notice I guess it came off, and it was in the sand and gone forever. After that, I was like ‘I’m just going to permanently put it on my arm, just to serve as a constant reminder to always be brave.”

The tattoo is in her handwriting, which makes it feel personalized, and it serves as a reminder of her two years spent in California.

“It’s one of my life goals to be brave because I think oftentimes people don’t take chances or don’t do things because they’re afraid of what could happen or they’re afraid of failing. But, at the end of the day, you have to take risks because you won’t accomplish the things you want to accomplish,” Merrill said. “What’s the worse that could happen? I think you learn a lot about yourself, and you grow as a person when you’re brave.”

Merrill said her favorite part is the meaning behind her tattoos, and she doesn’t plan on anymore as two is a great number for her. But for Calhoun, four will soon become five.

“My next plan is it’s going to be a heart, but it’s not going to have a heart outline,” Calhoun said. “I have the word love in my mother’s handwriting, my father’s handwriting, my son’s handwriting, and my husband’ s handwriting. I want it to be filled in basically with the word love repeated over and over and over again so that when you see the words it will form a heart.”

Different perspectives, different meanings

Hernandez, who has an owl and multiple smaller tattoos around his hand and wrist, said he likes the way tattoos look on his body, but they also have meaning.

“I have these tattoos – the religions – because I really want to dive into religion; what it means to everyone, not just myself,” Hernandez said. “The owl represents a night-owl. It’s always in the dark, and also, owls represent wisdom. I really like to engage in learning from darkness or the opposite of what people perceive as light and happiness.”

Senior Alaistair Hernandez’s owl tattoo with four eyes.

Hernandez tattooed some of the smaller ones himself, and he plans on keeping the bird trend by having a raven tattooed on his arm.

“At first, I did have some regrets because it’s such a huge tattoo, but then it grew on me, and I don’t think I’d like to take it off,” Hernandez said. “The way I see it, it’s a part of me now, and it’s a form of expression that would lose its value if I just didn’t have it.”

Hernandez displays his crescent and star tattoo. He also has a cross on the opposite side of his hand.

The four owl eyes represent viewing the world through a different perspective. But, with such a visible tattoo, Hernandez had to adjust.

“People around here are really accepting, but I do feel like I’m intimidating sometimes, and people see me as way older than actually,” Hernandez said. “It’s just a thing I have to deal with now.”