“I got this tattoo in Memphis, February of 2015. It’s a heartbeat of a dying person with a heart to the left of it. I have four brothers, but the youngest was my best friend, his name’s Jonathan. He passed away in 2015 from Marfan Syndrome. He was born with it; it’s a connective tissue disorder and he wasn’t supposed to survive to be eighteen. He exceeded that, but all throughout his life he had open heart surgeries, eye surgeries, and couldn’t finish school. It was a really hard life for him, I mean, he survived to be twenty-six, but it was really hard to watch him.”
“It was April of 2015, he was in town for a bloodwork checkup. I was at my high school’s field day.”
Brooke interrupted herself, “I always like to tell this little part of the story because it helps people to remember to never take what you say or do for granted. The last real conversation I had with Jonathan, I was really angry with him. So the last words he said to me was, ‘Go to hell,’ and I said, ‘Fine, I will see you there.’
“And then he left, he was in the hospital the next day. I went to the hospital, and all I was able to say was, ‘I’m sorry.’ I’ll never forget that because if I had not been able to swallow my pride and apologize, I don’t know if I would’ve made it.
“I got a call at seven that next morning from my uncle. He said, ‘I need to talk to you, you need to come over.’ I’ve never heard my uncle talk like this. I was like, ‘No, tell me, what’s going on?’ And he said, ‘Jonathan is not ok and they don’t know how much time he has.’ And I just started going crazy. I kept trying to tell myself, ‘It’ll be fine, nothing is going to happen to him. This is just a really bad scare.’ Later that day at the hospital, I remember listening to this one song on repeat waiting to see him and all these white coats come in, it was like a squad of them, and they told us that Jonathan’s bowels were shutting down, that they were looking for dead bowel pieces to remove them. I remember taking a doctor to the side, and saying, ‘Do not let my brother die.’
“Later that night, one or two doctors come back, I was still listening to the same song. And they came in, sat down, and grabbed my mom’s hand. I heard my mom scream. Jonathan did not have enough living bowel to revive him, so his fluids had become toxic. They said they put him on a ventilator to say goodbye, then we would have to pull the plug.
“When I went to see him, I remember Jonathan felt so warm. I said, ‘I love you, God loves you. Don’t give up on this, you can come back to me. Stop playing with me.’ I needed him to know that he was loved, that he was not worthless. I was just begging him to come back to me, even though I knew he couldn’t. The priest came in, my other brother read Psalms over Jonathan. I couldn’t believe he was dead because he was so warm. And I remember not wanting to be in there when they pulled the plug.
“I went home on Monday. It was awful. He died on the 20th of April which everyone knows as 4/20. I will forever hate that day, I hate that my brother’s death is on the same day that celebrates something recreational. It makes me really angry.
“It didn’t really hit me he was gone until I laid the baptismal garment over his body for the funeral and put the letters I had written for him in his coffin. Before, it had only seemed like a bad joke. I felt a piece of me die as I covered him for the funeral. I can’t even describe it, it was so painful.
“So in February, I told my mom that I really wanted a tattoo for Jonathan. I don’t know who I am anymore, but I know that Jonathan’s death wasn’t God trying to spite me. I’ve been revived, I feel like I’ve been drowning for so long but this tattoo is almost like Jesus pulling me out of the water and saying, ‘Hey, this is not you drowning anymore. This is Jonathan being able to live a better life.’
“The two on my wrist are very new, I got them last month. I was on my way back from a spontaneous road trip to Atlanta. I was scrolling through Facebook, and an old friend of mine had died. He was one of my first-ever crushes in first grade. His name was Eddie.”
“Eddie went through some stuff, he became transgender around seventeen and became Chloe. I completely supported him, I thought it was a bold move. But Eddie had a lot of depression issues, which I can relate to. But he lost his battle. The fact that I knew about his depression but didn’t try to help crushed me. So the triangle represents Challenge. It’s dedicated to Eddy. People tell others with depression to just grow up or take medications. But this tattoo is about challenging the stigma and talking about depression and talking openly with others.
“The box that people think look like a laundromat means In Progress. That one is for me, personally. I’ve been through a lot in life; bulimia, depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, my brother dying, my mom and dad having issues. I’ve always let that bring me down. I’ve always let that define me as unworthy, unlovable, untrustworthy, uncommitted. It’s so difficult to look in the mirror and see myself as lovable and deserving. So my tattoo is just to remind myself that God has done a lot, and He is not done with my recovery, He is not done healing me. God is the main theme of my story. He is that small hint of hope when I’m crying on the floor. He reminds me to laugh off anything embarrassing, He reminds me that I’m not an embarrassment. That I’m not worthless, that I am still a work in progress, and He is working in me, on me, and through me for others. My story is important. So that’s what Challenge and In Progress mean. It’s to remind people that they are not done. The people who are still recovering or struggling from eating disorders, it’s to remind them that their weight does not define their worth, that is not their identity, God is still working through them. Through an eating disorder, OCD, even the stain on a white shirt.”
I asked Brooke if she had anything else to share. “My favorite Bible verse is the one I read to Jonathan right before he passed away. It’s I John 3:2. It says, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children though what we will be has not yet been seen, but we do know when Christ returns we will be like Him. Because we will see Him as he truly is. This hope makes us keep ourselves holy, just as Christ is holy.”
Thanks to Brooke Meadows for sharing her story.