I got my first tattoo in June of this year, just shy of my 31st birthday. From the day I laid eyes on my first piece, I had always wanted to “get inked”. At the age of 18, the opportunity presented itself to me.
My twin sister, best friend, and I have birthdays within days of each other. For our 21st, we wanted to celebrate the beginning of the slow death of our teens.
Gifting ourselves with a sense of entitlement at being “grown up”, we decided getting tattoos would be the perfect way to shout: “Hello, fellow adults! We’re one of you!”
I have to admit, despite the fact that in my heart I knew one day I would be covered with a considerable amount of tattoos, I was not thrilled with the idea of getting one that day.
I had received the advice a number of times that tattoos should be meaningful. At the time, I understood the basic message behind this warning.
Still in my teens, I had nothing to contribute from a life that had not yet begun. It seemed disrespectful to my body in a way to mark it with an unoriginal cliché.
Tattoos allow a glimpse into your soul, your inner self, and my soul would be damned if it permitted me to get a tramp stamp.
When we arrived at the tattoo shop downtown, I backed out, using my fear of needles as a cover. I instead opted for a nose ring. I masked my true thoughts by stating a quick pinch was better than the discomfort a tattoo promised. My best friend agreed and, in the end, my sister braved the gun alone.
She decided upon a tasteful quote on her hip: “Justitia Omnibus”.
Justice For All.
I am still envious of her ability to choose such a poignant message at her young age.
She claimed the sensation could not be described, and needed to be experienced for oneself. That day, she had been speaking only of the physicality of getting a tattoo. Later, I would realize her words had a deeper explanation of the more important side of the affair: the spiritual.
Though I love all of my art, my first tattoo is the most beautiful to me. The day before my scheduled appointment, I found myself in the car with my then husband.
We had been pulling apart for some time, and I was unaware that our demise as husband and wife lurked close by. I suppose with most deaths, this is the norm. It is the hope I have for my own, anyway. Blissful ignorance until the end.
Years ago, I suffered a great loss: my four-legged son. After several years, the pain never left. For my first tattoo, I chose to get a small, tasteful memorial. On our way to grocery shop, we found ourselves embroiled in a fierce argument over this very subject.
You see, though it had been through stupidity rather than malice, my husband had killed my dog. I won’t touch on the story, but to say it caused us both trauma is an understatement. We had carried this with us through our marriage, and the ever increasing weight had become too much to bare for him.
“Look,” he began, unable to meet my eyeline. “I’d like it if you didn’t get the tattoo. It makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to see that everyday.”
The anger that roiled inside of me won’t be easy to forget. The man who took a piece of my world asked me not to grieve. For my son. I remained silent, knowing words could not form the message I needed heard.
The next day, I told my artist, Jordan, there would be a change of plan.
“Make it as big as you want. I’ll pay for the extra time it takes to draw it.” I slapped my naked forearm. “Right here. I want everyone to see how much I love him.”
The quizzical glance he gave me in response told me I was in for a long ride.
“For your first one? You sure?”
An hour later, he finished the new design, and I set off on adventure that would forever change me.
Over five hours, I watched the resurrection of the soul I had loved. The lines, the shading, the pain. All the facets of the experience came together to create magic; a rebirth.
As it unfolded before me, the ink pressed deep within my skin, he became a part of me. His image began to speak to me, as he once had in life. It told me to forgive myself. It told me that he senses my love. It told me to live free, as he did.
At the end of the session, Jordan wiped the stray ink clear. Amongst the swirls of white and blue, a beacon of what I want my life to be stared back at me through his eyes.
When I ventured out into the world again, my tattoo brandished, I knew all those who laid eyes on me could see me — -really see me.
Soon, within a few months, my divorce started and I found myself free to live as I wanted for the first time in nearly a decade. My first order of business: schedule and make deposits on four more tattoos.
As I healed mentally from my failed marriage, my tattoo did so as well. Through the trauma, my body and mind worked in tandem: shed the old, accept new growth.
We supported one another as friends should. I pampered them, cleaned them, made sure they would heal well. I gave them names, a purpose in my daily life. They continue to teach the lessons they were born to teach.
Patronus lets me know it is alright to grieve for those you love.
Blackjack reminds me how dealing cards taught me to be strong.
Enesco says to never forget to play your music, even if you gave up a career in the field.
Mileena tells me what it means to be a woman: beautiful, strong, and a little frightening.
Published shouts to the world that great moments can happen if you believe in yourself enough.
In the end, I along with my tattoos came out fine. Not as vibrant as before, but more beautiful still. The best part is, we did it together.
So, yes, they are my friends. Some of the best I ever had, in fact. After all, aren’t these all the things true friends are meant to do?