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If I were keeping track, my most frequently asked question this summer would be, “What does your tattoo mean?”

For those of you who haven’t seen it, I have a tattoo on my upper back between my shoulder blades with the words, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

Honestly, I’m surprised at how many people don’t know what that quote is in reference to — only less than a handful of people have recognized it. I thought it was more well-known, but I sometimes have a tendency to find significance or inspiration in things that others might not.

“It’s from ‘The Outsiders,’” is my usual reply, and then the light bulb goes on and they nod to signify their awareness of the novel/film. Some, in what I’m assuming is an attempt to be polite (which is nice, but in this case unnecessary), leave it at that. Others develop another look of confusion and ask, “So, what does it mean?”

Well, my tattoo has many special meanings to me, so it took me a while to come up with a reply that didn’t require a lengthy explanation that told almost half my life story to random strangers. After enough inquiries and a few revisions, I came up with the most straightforward answer I could, “It basically means nothing good lasts forever.”

That usually brings an understanding nod, a smile and something along the lines of, “Yeah, that’s true.”

On a few occasions, the conversation continues when they ask why I decided to get that as a tattoo. I’ve had this answer waiting for years, as I knew as soon as my parents saw me with a tattoo, the first thing they would ask is, “Why?”

“Well, I’ve wanted it since I was 17,” I usually say, “and ‘The Outsiders’ is one of my favorite books. It’s also the title of a really beautiful poem.”

“I’ve seen the movie,” is a common reply, along with their opinion of the film — it’s generally well liked. “Well, that’s pretty cool. I like that.”

Yes, “The Outsiders” is one of my favorite books/movies of all time. Anyone who had Mr. Domeier for 7th and 8th grade English is at least somewhat familiar with it, and of all my middle school memories, that book has always stuck with me.

Not only is it one of my personal favorites, “The Outsiders” is a classic — published in 1967, the novel tells the story of two groups of teenagers (“Greasers,” and “Socs,”) and their rivalry due to social class differences. S.E. Hinton’s inspiration for the novel came from her frustration with the social divisions in her high school — something I can understand and relate to. Basically, the novel sends the message that no matter who you are or where you come from, everyone has their own problems and in the end, we’re not all as different as we make ourselves to be. Or as one character puts it, “Things are rough all over.”

The novel and film feature the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost. In the story, the poem is recited by Ponyboy to Johnny towards the beginning and quoted again at the end in another famous line from the movie, “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.” Many people are familiar with this, although I don’t think it’s really widely understood — to comprehend the significance of these words, you have to examine the poem itself.

The meaning of Frost’s poem, first published in 1923, has been studied by many and has various complicated explanations. “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is short, and the general theme is pretty straightforward:

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leafs a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down today.

Nothing gold can stay.

I could break down each line, but I won’t — a little time on Google will give you much better information than I could in this limited space. One interpretation that I did particularly like refers to the title and last line of the poem, “’Nothing’ of the last line receives special emphasis; the gold that cannot stay comes to represent all perfections.” (Mordecai Marcus)

Although it seems like a negative message, “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is just a reminder to myself to cherish all I have in life while I can, as much as I can, because — like the early leaves of spring lose their golden hue — nothing perfect will remain that way forever.

It’s also in memory of the loved ones I’ve lost in the past four years: my grandma, Billy Rosas, and Alex Reeves, three people closer to my heart than almost anyone else on this earth. Their deaths have affected me in so many ways, and when I lost each of them I lost a part of myself that I know I’ll never get back. This tattoo helps me though, as a permanent reminder of my beloved guardian angels. 

The font and location of my tattoo were inspired by a picture I saw online when I was 17, and when I won a bet almost four years later last March and was presented with the opportunity to finally get the tattoo I’d waited so long for, there was no doubt what I would choose. 

The day I got it done (well, night), I had printed out the picture along with a couple different fonts I liked, but somehow managed to lose them before my friend showed up. At the time, I was panicked — but now I’m glad I lost them. I wouldn’t want a tattoo replica of another person’s; although the words are the same, mine is unique its own ways.

I’ve gotten compliments, which I’m very appreciative of, but you have to remember the tattoo artist who spent almost three hours creating it. (Not only that, he brought his equipment from the Cities to my best friend’s house in Mankato, drew it up, and didn’t finish until almost 1 a.m.—and he did it for free) I’m just the canvas, my only job was to sit still and bear through the pain as he meticulously worked, forming a piece of art I waited years to get and will cherish for years to come.


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