Tattoos, how I love thee, let me count the ways…
I really could, but I won’t cause that would take days. But I will tell you about my lengthy love affair with my “body of work” so to speak.
There was no defining moment that I thought “I really want to be covered in tattoos when I grow up.” I don’t even remember lusting after them when I saw them on TV or in the movies. But, let me tell you, when I got that very first one…it was magical.
I can close my eyes now and remember the smell of the green soap, hear the whirring of the tattoo machine, and the sweet anticipation of waiting to see if my tattoo would be everything I had dreamed about. (Spoiler alert: it was not, but my later ones would be)
There is something thrilling about being permanently adorned with something beautiful that you feel like your skin has always been missing. Big or small, beautiful or funny, meaningful or not, there is a moment where you feel completely empowered. And that’s truly all I ever wanted to be, more me.
My First Tattoo
The aforementioned first tattoo was about 2 inches by 2 inches. I was head over heels in love with a man at time who doodled a small cat for me. Cat of course was my nickname and I knew the minute I saw it. That was going to be it- my first tattoo.
There is something thrilling about being permanently adorned with something beautiful that you feel like your skin has always been missing.
I was 19 years old and had spent the majority of those years pretending to be who everyone wanted me to be. I was exhausted with being that girl. It was time to do something just for me, something that, at the time, I considered extreme.
An apprentice named Grasshopper tattooed that black cat on the back of my right shoulder. It took all of about 35 minutes. But I was elated. I felt brand new! The rush that I felt was almost overwhelming and my head was in the clouds for weeks.
It was a tiny, little hidden piece. No one ever saw it, and rarely anyone notices it now. But it was a complete expression of myself, hiding there just under my shirt just waiting for someone to discover it and see who I truly was. I thought, some years ago, about having it covered. It’s not great work, and its blurry now. But I was dismayed to find out that the apprentice who did it had died from cancer at a very young age. He had shared his first tattoo with me and me with him.
Shortly thereafter, I was dealt another blow when I was informed that the man who had designed it was killed in a motorcycle accident. We were, of course, no longer an item but it felt somehow vicious to cover it after that. So, it lingers on, a tiny beacon of a girl who didn’t know who she was and was desperately trying to figure it out.
I Want More
That euphoria that had flooded my cells for weeks eventually wore off and when it did I was intrigued to discover a growing desire for more. More of that feeling, more of that intangible empowerment and beauty I had felt after the first one. More of ME and my heart on my skin.
I happened to be hanging around the tattoo shop after getting a couple of piercings (yes, I had developed a taste for those, as well) and got to chatting with the head artist. He showed me a piece that he had always wanted to do in black and grey wash but that everyone always got in color. It was a beautiful piece of a tattooed angel kneeling, wings folded. He exclaimed that it looked “cartoon-y” in color and it took away the essence of the piece. He told me if he found someone to let him to do it his way, he would do it for free. Before the thought even formed in my mind the words were out of my mouth “I’ll let you do it anyway you want, right now.”
I was a new me when I walked out of that shop, sore, but electrified.
I watched him hop up and get started on a stencil. With a mix of emotions ranging from fear to absolute power, I felt lightheaded. I don’t think my first tattoo had even healed completely. This one was much much bigger about 6 inches by 5 inches.
I had no idea where in the hell I was going to hide this one. The artist told me looked me over and said “this’ll look great on your thigh,” so that’s exactly where it is. This tattoo sealed my fate as an ink addict.
It took two hours and I texted everyone I knew to come watch. Here I was, with my ass hanging out in an open tattoo shop and I wanted the world to know. I wanted everyone to come see my rebirth, the beginning of who I wanted to be. The beginning of not giving a damn what anyone thought about what I did with my body. I sat like a rock, not a single wince or whine and even a biker next to me watched in wonder as I took the pain like a champ. The artists remarked on how well I sat for it. I was queen of the fucking world at that very moment and not a soul could have told me otherwise.
More Than Ink
I didn’t realize then how much of myself is in that particular piece. A dear friend from childhood had died shortly before. I assumed I was just manifesting my pain in a physical way. Acting out against life’s cruelty, if you will. But it was and is so much more.
This tattoo is of the angel that everyone wanted me to be. The “good girl,” the girl that was seen and not heard, the one who didn’t take up too much space, who followed the rules and kept her head down, who didn’t cuss or yell, who never did anything so-called “trashy.” But she has a tattoo, her act of defiance against the gods, was mine as well. I was a new me when I walked out of that shop, sore, but electrified.
My body is my lifelong journal. All the entries are present and accounted for.
The next few years after that were a whirlwind of tattoos and piercings, some good choices, some not. Only two of which I have had covered due to poor artist choices. My tattoos have become bolder, more visible, and more colorful. Not unlike myself.
A Lifelong Journal
I cannot even begin to hide them all now, and I wouldn’t want to. Some women love jewelry and always have a beautiful necklace or ring on. My jewelry is always on. I have twenty tattoos now and they all mean something to me. A heart locket on my arm that I got with my ex-husband (that now has his name blacked out). The Jolly Rogers on my fingers that I got after I was robbed. The cat and dog voodoo dolls on my feet from when I heartbreakingly had to close my animal rescue. The cheetah print bow on my neck that I got with my sister when we went to Musicfest. I had my chest tattooed with tattoos for my daughter, mother, and father.
My body is my lifelong journal. All the entries are present and accounted for. When I pass my body will read as my epitaph, it can tell you everything you need to know and then some.
I may not have started out as someone who “wanted to be covered in tattoos” but I damn sure ended up that way. I intend to use every inch of available skin to its full potential. People have varied reactions to my ink. It ranges anywhere from disgust to completely enamored. While I appreciate the ones that like them, it’s not for them or about them. My art also easily weeds out the people in my life that cannot see past my surface. I have never felt more completely beautiful and fully me than I am in my tattoos. It will always be about being the me that I always wanted to be and I’m still working on her.
“The body is a temple, how many empty temples have you seen? Decorate the walls, my friend.”
Special thanks to Traci, Jake, Pagan, Ralph, Pirate J, Jolea, Jonathon, Martin, Grasshopper, and all of my future artists that help me to be even more me.