“If you had to go into battle with only the things tattooed on you, would you survive?”
This was a post on Facebook, which I shared with the comment “in an ideal world it would work”
The post made me think. I even considered laying Growth aside to write on this, but I knew I was working on something important, so I finished it up and immediately started on this. Sometimes the writing bug is satiated and quiet; others it is just the opposite. Insatiable, obstinate, and a borderline obsession, beating at my brain until I get all the words out. So let’s get on with it.
There are varying views on tattoos. Either you love them or hate them it seems, there isn’t much of an in between. Myself, I’m intrigued by the stories that go with them. I’m equally intrigued by the individuals that when asked about the story behind their tattoo respond with “nothing really. I just saw it and wanted it.”
I don’t get that, but to each his own.
To me – and this is my opinion – a tattoo is a permanent statement about who you are, or were at the time the ink was set. The random pieces for just because don’t make sense to me. But as I said, to each their own. I like to hear that it’s a memorial piece, or a celebration, or in honor of an event or your child or sibling. I love the stories. Regardless of where I am, what I’m doing, if I see someone with a tattoo I’m itching to ask questions. What is it? When? Who? Where? What’s your story? Grocery store stranger or potential new resident, I want to know your story. Anyway, all of my tattoos have been done on my back. This way I can show them when and if I feel like it. They still are considered unprofessional in many circles, and frowned on unfortunately. And in fact, I was in a wedding once where the bride requested that all tattoos be covered, so I had to use makeup to do so. Luckily at the time I only had one small piece. You’ll understand at the end why I’m grateful this occured before my most recent piece was done. I decided a long time ago to express myself without infringing on others. It’s a tight rope walk, but doable.
I have been under the tattoo gun myself 3 times in my life. However, I have only two visible tattoos. Once upon a time I had my nose pierced, as well. Jobs I held forbade it though, and taking it in and out every day caused me to lose the only stud I had. In turn the hole closed. I miss it. It just isn’t worth the trouble, though.
Anyway. I’m not here to discuss the pros and cons of piercings and tattoos, nor my viewpoints. I have them. I like them. You can’t see them at work. Pretty much, that’s all that matters.
And you know I got a story anyway. Or three.
Eighteenish years old, with my best friend at the time, her getting a piece on her lower back. She thought it was pretty. It was a simple design, nothing that had meaning. Even then, I didn’t see the point. Would she think it was pretty in 20 years? Would she hate it? To pass time, I glanced through the tattoo examples on posters hanging on racks on various walls through out the shop. “You gotta get one too!” She urged me.
I debated, counted my money. Looked through the drawings.
Fuck it. Why not? I was of age, had some extra money, and I didn’t need to answer to anyone. Right? Haha. Right.
I settled on the simple peace sign. Black ink, the size of a dime. On my right shoulder. Later people compared it to a prison tat, due to its simplicity. I defended it. It was simple because peace should not be complicated. After it was done, after I sat and had a needle poked into my skin imbedding this image onto me for what I thought would be the rest of my life, I nervously called Dad and told him about it, worried he’d be mad. Because I was eighteen and didn’t need to answer to anyone, ya know. . . He asked me to come visit and show him, and once I did he assured me it was tasteful and laughed at my nerves at telling him about such a insignificant little thing as we stood on the front porch and he examined it in the warm summer daylight. He asked me the good parent questions, if the shop was clean and if they’d used a fresh needle and if I knew how to care for it. He told me he was a little jealous, that he’d been debating a pot leaf on his chest but didn’t want to advertise – this was of course before any sort of marijuana legalization was even a thought. He never did get his tattoo. But I got another one for him. Not the pot leaf – that described him, not me. But something else. I’ll get to that.
I carried that little over priced piece of art on my shoulder for roughly five years. I was marginally proud of it. It did stand for something I believed in, and the simplicity definitely conveyed what I said earlier – peace isn’t supposed to be complicated and flashy. It just is. As my little tattoo was. But it also wasn’t enough, at the same time. In those five years, I evolved. My definition of peace, at 18, was outside of me. World peace, fuck war, feed the hungry. At 23 I had a new view point on it. It was more personal and more complicated.
One weekend afternoon my cell phone rang. I was in a bad mood – Matt’s dad and I had recently broken up, he was still living with us, and was seeing someone else and coming and going as he pleased. It was an annoying situation. So when I picked up my phone and my buddy told me he was driving into town to get a tattoo and asked me to go with him, I was all in. He already knew what he wanted and urged me to get something at the same time. This individual is the guy I’ve mentioned in previous posts – my former ex turned best friend. I brushed off the invitation to get something as well but agreed to go with him. With no remorse I informed Matt’s dad what I was doing and who with and told him he needed to keep Matthew while I was gone. If he could come and go as he pleased, so could I. At least he knew who what and where if there was an emergency. He was pissy, but as I walked out the door the fucks I gave were minimal.
I’m trying to think how to word this next portion, because it was all a blur. Once again I was counting my money and debating. My friend had driven home a good point. While we didn’t need matching tattoos, getting tattoos together, at the same time, would be meaningful. We surely had been through enough together and I knew without a doubt he would always be an important part of my life. He already knew what he wanted, a fairly simple design that he wanted on his ankle. I walked in with a price in mind, but that was it. I decided to just go with what I had and dress it up a little; add some vines and color somehow. The artist took a look at the insignificant dime sized peace sign, shook his head. And suggested that I cover it with something else. He proceeded to draw up a new design. He put in the vines, made a heart peace sign. . . It sounds kind of corny, but when he made the heart purple, it sold me. Purple was then and still is Matt’s favorite color. And I knew as soon as I saw it that this is what peace was to me. My child had brought new meaning to it. He was my heart, he was my peace.
I can’t keep calling this guy “my friend”. It’s making me batty. We’re going to call him Andy for anonymities sake. Andy had never had a tattoo, so even though he walked in knowing what he wanted and I had only known for all of about five minutes, I went first. Like the previous time I had been under the gun, the needle going into my skin didn’t bother me a whole lot. When I was 18 I had previously had some pretty painful experiences while playing soccer, and I had commented that the pain levels of getting a tattoo were far less. To quote me exactly, “I’ve been kicked harder in soccer.” This time was a little more as the tattoo was three times as big as my original. Which isn’t saying much, I know. By 23 I’d carried a ten and a half pound child inside my body, had been cut open to be relieved of the elephant. Half an hour under the gun was a breeze.
Andy didn’t do so well. I tease him to this day. As a matter of fact, trying to remember details I called him the evening I began writing this.
“Yeah, remember you went first . . .”
“Yeah and you almost passed out, ya pussy.”
“Noooo, I ate McDonald’s and it didn’t sit well.”
From my perspective, Andy asked the artist for a break because he was getting light headed. I give him shit, but his was around his ankle and directly on bone. I know that’s a painful place. I give him shit but I also would not ever get a tattoo there myself.
So, Andy and I got our tattoos. His being binary code for the word “tech” – he’s a fucking nerd like that – and mine was a testament to how much my son changed my life. This was almost ten years ago now, and I don’t regret my decision because indeed, Andy is still a part of my life. I didn’t get anything remotely close to similar to what he got, but it’s the memory – we got tattoos together. To me, that’s significant. Maybe I’m just sentimental. He dropped me off at home, I had a heated discussion with Matt’s dad, and went to bed. I called my own dad again the next day to tell him about it, this time not at all worried about his approval or lack there of. By now I knew that dad accepted me for who I was, and supported my decisions. Again I got questioned about how clean the facility was and asked to make a trip out so he could see it. And again he said it was tasteful and discreetly placed so I could cover it if need be. This would be the one I covered with makeup for my childhood best friends wedding a year or so later.
For years I wanted another one. But life got a little harder and a little more complicated. And I contemplated what it was I wanted. I definitely wanted a piece for my mom. Something for Aaron. But I couldn’t pin point what.
In the fall of 2012, shortly after Chase was born, Dad was given 6 months to max a year to live. Part of me was in denial about it. Not my dad. He was invincible. I knew his health was declining, but no fucking way was he going to die any time soon. Chase wasn’t even a year old for fucks sake, Matt only 7. My boys needed their Pawpaw. But also I began to mentally prepare for it, and Dad and I began to discuss the inevitable. Arrangements. “I don’t want to be a drag, but we need to talk about this,” he kept saying. And I’d silently cry through out the phone conversations about it all, but I knew it was indeed necessary and maybe even helpful to dad to know that things would be handled to his specifications when he was gone. I still lived my life like everything was okay though. I talked about it very little to anyone. And I tried not to think about it. I truly did not think that my dad was going to die.
In February the following year, I rode with a friend for her to discuss a tattoo she wanted from an artist a mutual friend had referred her to. While there, I broached the subject with him about being unsure of what I wanted but knowing I loved the roses I’d seen that he’d tattooed on others. And music notes. I wanted music notes. “Anything else?” He asked me. And boom. It hit me. “Yes. A guitar. Music notes, roses, and a guitar.” He agreed to draw it up for me, and I put money down on the art. This guy was a serious artist, I could tell from his shop, his books of stuff he’d done. And I went back in March with my friend for hers to get done, and watched as he did her sleeve. I looked at what he’d drawn up for me, then a black and white pen drawing, and knew I was in for not just a tattoo but a seriously beautiful piece of body art. And I was getting it for dad. Because dad gave me my love of music. Because my fondest memories are of listening to dad play his guitar and watching jam sessions with my family, and listening to new music with him. And because before he died I wanted him to see this and know it was for him. In April, my friend came with me – the one who had originally came in to discuss her tattoo with the artist. Her husband came as well. Chases dad and I were exploring working things out and he showed up towards the end too. The previous day had marked six years since my mother passed, and I like to think they all knew I needed the emotional support.
Almost four hours under the gun this time, more intricate by far than either of the previous two. More color, more design aspects. The first one was the size of a dime. The cover up not much bigger than a tealight. And this one stretched from the top of my left shoulder to just above my ribs, under my shoulder blade.
Motherfucker. With that capital ‘M’, if you don’t mind.
As he tattooed the top of my shoulder it felt as if the needle was driving into my neck, and I knew I’d gotten in a little over my head.
He did the outline in one shot, and let me go outside for a cigarette. One hour down. He had explained that he was going to free hand the color, and while that made me nervous a little I had seen him in action and was anxious to see the final product.
It all began to blur, and by the third hour my friend was holding my hand and handing me tissues, her husband cracking jokes and both he and Chase’s dad were trying to keep me distracted with random conversation. I swore at them, and threatened them for making me laugh when I had been instructed to stay still. My friend kindly covered for me, explaining to the artist that it was for my very ill father and it was emotional for me. No. I appeciate her for covering for me, but truthfully as worried as I was about my dad and as sad as I was about my mother, my only thoughts consisted of getting through this. It was painful. The little ones I’d had done previously hadn’t prepared me for this. Think of how horrible it is to have someone slap you, poke you, whatever, continually, non-stop, in the same place. Now add a needle.
Once finished, and photos had been taken, and the man paid for inflicting tremendous amounts of pain on me, we headed to get food and a couple drinks. But the experience had left me drained. The adrenaline, I’m assuming. I was done for by 830pm.
And it was worth every second of pain.
I cannot convey how insanely proud I am of this piece. It’s beautiful, tells a story. I endured 4 hours of pain plus the healing time. The money spent.
And when I showed Dad, and all he could say was “Wow.” . . . And the shocked look when I told him it was for him. . . “But. . . Why?”
“Because.” Was all I could say. I couldn’t find the words at the moment.
Because, dad. Because if you hadn’t instilled this love of music in me, I wouldn’t have music to lean on in my darkest hours. Because now that you’re gone, all I have sometimes is music. Because you showed me how important music is for the well being of the soul. Because of all the times you lulled me to sleep with your music. Because of every time I hear a song and want to share it with you. Because when people ask me about my tattoo I can tell them about the wonderful man who inspired it. Because all you were and all you mean to me deserves this memorial. And because I wanted to show you before you left how important you were – are – to me.
Dad played hide and seek with the reaper for two years after that tattoo. But finally he grew too tired to keep fighting.
Every poke of that needle was worth being able to have such a beautiful memorial to my most amazing father.
I haven’t gotten anything done since. I need something still for my mother and brother and my Chaser. If I’ve learned anything though, the inspiration will strike when I least expect it.
Body art is different for everyone. Mine have a story, have meaning. Yours might just be something that caught your eye. Or you may find the idea of a tattoo horrible, trashy even.
Mine give me solace. To each his own. Live and let live.
So, to go back to the beginning.
If you had to go into battle with only the things tattooed on you, would you survive?
A guitar. Some roses, vines. Music and heart and some peace.
Man, that’s what I go into battle with every day if my life.
And look at me. Surviving.
Having tattoos is a way of suffering for the things that mean a lot to you – Amy Winehouse