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By Gabrielle Paredes

Throughout my life, I have always had an intense fear of needles. Every doctor’s appointment was always coupled with intense anxiety, as my heartbeat accelerated with the anticipation of having to get a shot on my arm, or have my finger pricked. Each yearly checkup always ended in a similar fashion: me, being gently awakened by a nurse after having passed out from getting my blood drawn, her arm outstretched with a glass of orange juice. So at the age of 20, deciding to get a tattoo was a big, huge deal.

On November 2, 2016, my father died from an accidental drug overdose. My world was turned upside down as I grappled with the heartbreaking loss. My father had been my biggest cheerleader, my partner in crime, and my best friend. He was the person who passionately sang Adele’s love songs with me, and my go-to person to spill all the latest family gossip to. From teaching me how to drive, to teaching me how to sneakily movie hop, nothing could ever break the bond and love my dad and I had for each other. November 2 not only forever changed my life, but it also changed who I was.

Image Courtesy of Tattoos Time

Throughout my father’s life, he had gotten several tattoos—covering his arms, and his chest. He even had a portrait of me, right on the side of his stomach. I’ll never forget the day he showed it to me: “I have a surprise to show you!” he excitedly declared as he lifted up his shirt. I studied it for a good minute, only to report that it didn’t really look like me. Her eyes were too almond-shaped. Even at eight years old, I was incredibly sassy. As I grew up, his tattoos had always been something that was naturally a part of my dad. From the fish on his arm to symbolize his star sign, Pisces, to my grandma’s name delicately outlined in cursive, and even the large skull covering his upper arm, all contributed to his uniqueness and identity.

And so, after my dad died, my aunt and I decided to get matching tattoos in his honor. Despite my intense fear of needles, a month of anxiety leading up to the appointment, and constantly reminding myself why I was getting a tattoo in the first place, the big day finally came for me to get my tattoo. I was both a nervous wreck and very excited.

My aunt and I got our tattoos to celebrate my dad’s 45th birthday. I got two tiny birds on my wrist, as a representation of my dad and me. I know he is a beautiful bird in heaven, soaring across the world, watching over me. When I wake up in the morning and head to my car to drive to work, and hear birds chirping or see a flock of birds flying in the late evening, I automatically look down at my wrist and smile to myself. My tattoos are now a part of who I am, and what makes me unique. Losing my dad was the most difficult and painful thing that has ever happened to me, but now I have a beautiful tattoo to remind me of the bond and love that we shared throughout our lives. And despite my intense fear of needles, and the fact that I almost fainted during the actual tattooing process, I know I will never regret it.

Iris was the associate editor at Her Campus. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in communications and gender studies, but was born and raised in France with an English mother. She enjoys country music, the color pink and pretending she has her life together. Iris was the style editor and LGBTQ+ editor for HC as an undergrad, and has interned for Cosmopolitan.com and goop. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @irisgoldsztajn, or check out her writing portfolio here.