When I first got my first tattoo I didn’t have the same thoughts about ink as I have now. I was a carefree 20-something feeling slightly rebellious and wanted in on the “tattoo club.” I didn’t consider what my skin adornment would look like when I turn 50-something, 60-something, 70-something, or beyond if I’m lucky. IF you know me you might be surprised to hear my life motto is: “I’ll deal with the future when I get to it” and I imagine it’s a good problem if you get old enough to be concerned with how a drawing on your skin has aged.
As I’ve experienced the privilege of slowly aging, I’ve witnessed mysterious additions to my skin I didn’t solicit. Freckles, moles, skin tags, wrinkles, sun spots … all in places I didn’t select and permanently on my body. Tattoos are no different from the scars of life: souvenirs of living, a reminder of a moment, a person or pet or symbol. After my thyroid surgery, I had a scar across my neck as if I’d been slashed. After my emergency c-section, I gained a perforated abdomen – all of which I had no control over. Tattoos are everlasting imprints we make to OUR BODIES by choice. (Correlation between tattoo lovers and control freaks?)
Tattoos serve different purposes to different people; fashion, wearable art, self-expression, therapy. Studies have found multiple tattoos can strengthen the immune system. A Harris poll in 2012 found that 21 percent of adults (1 in 5) have at least one tattoo, but there is still plenty of stigma, especially in the conservative corporate world.
My 40-year-old friend got a tiny heart tattoo on her wrist to commemorate her daughter’s birth. She’s had it for over seven years and she still covers it with a cuff bracelet or a watch whenever she sees her parents or goes to her finance job. I too hid my tattoo from my parents for a few months. The first time my mother saw my lower back piece, a match to the one my sister now also sports on her lower back, we were in our childhood backyard where my mother still lived. We had planned on going swimming and my sister and I both lifted our shirts at once, which added a dramatic flair, apparently so much so, my mother’s heart almost gave out on her when she realized the tattoos were permanent. She threw two glass plates against the deck, shattering them across the entire yard. Heavily buzzed, she began cursing us out.
I was 24 when I got my first tattoo, the one matching my sister’s. It is a tribal sun with the Chinese symbol for “big sister” in the middle (hers has the symbol for “little sister”) and within the rays of the sun, our initials (G & R) and symbols of our zodiac signs (Leo and Capricorn). We got the tattoo at the shop where my sister’s boyfriend worked as an apprentice so he observed while the lead artist worked on us. This would have been fine, but a second overly chatty apprentice stood over me, incessantly whining and complaining about his girlfriend as I tried to breathe through the pain.
Months before the tattoo I asked anyone I met with a tattoo what it felt like; the same way pregnant people suddenly become interested in everyone’s birth stories. People told me it felt like tiny ants biting or like shots or hits or cuts and none of those explanations turned out to be accurate. It was my sister’s second tattoo so she was more experienced. The tattoo artist insisted I go first and later confessed that he thought if my sister went first and I saw her, I would cop out. I knew, though, once I started, I’d never stop. Also, when I selected the lower back (sexy, hip, trendy) for a tattoo, I never considered which areas of the body hurt less, I simply knew where I wanted it. Turns out, lower back: very painful. Two hours later, though, the euphoria is indescribably addictive, which clearly explains the $2.3 billion revenue of the tattoo industry.
My mother has never seen my second tattoo, a tribal heart on my lower abdomen, now intersected by my caesarian section incision; a sliced scar I didn’t choose cutting through my perfect heart.
Before my first tattoo, I said I’d only get the one, but this was before I experienced the adrenaline and the coolness factor of the Tattoo Club. My second tattoo has my son’s initials on it. It’s been over six years, I have a daughter now and no ink yet branded on skin in her honor.
I’ve promised myself a tattoo as a present to celebrate the end of my 365 project. My writing project has been my marathon achievement and I want to document the accomplishment permanently – only not with numbers because that reminds me of the Holocaust (I don’t want to be the Jew who voluntarily tattoos numbers on her wrist). Lately, I’ve thrown around the idea of a word (duh: writer) and I’m considering “writer” in typewriter font … or else just “breathe.”
I have 14 days left to decide and a lifetime to live with it, love it and look cool doing it.