Although I grew up in a fairly religious environment, none of it really seemed to stick. My brothers and parents are all firmly on the Mormon bandwagon while I do my own thing. At family gatherings, we steer clear of politics and religion lest I end up on the losing side of a "them vs. me" kind of battle. So you can imagine their reaction when, at 19 or 20, I told them I was interested in getting a tattoo someday. (I think at the time, my dad - mostly jokingly - tackled me and pinned me on the ground and threatened to take a pink pearl eraser to my skin if I got one.)
Over the years, I searched for that perfect design. I wanted it to reflect me, an experience of my life, a facet of my personality. For a long time, I wanted a sea turtle. And then a sketch from one of the Gryphon and Sabine books. For some reason, I kept putting it off - perfection is so elusive. And after years of hearing people - my peers even, say, "Can you live with that forever? Do you know what that will look like when you're 60?", I became a little intimidated. But when my life went through some serious upheaval, I really thought about the reasons I wanted one. And I decided I could answer yes. I didn't want one to keep up with a trend or because all of my friends had one. It was because I wanted to remember.
I've always had a mediocre memory. I can't remember what I did last weekend or what I had for breakfast that morning. I can't remember what type of deodorant I buy at the store, even though I've used the same brand for over 8 years. I love my camera phone because it makes it easy to bring along with me the exact picture of what I want, just so I won't second guess myself when I get there. I write and I photograph because I want to remember. So why wouldn't I want to remember those big, life-changing events in such an intimate way? I once heard someone describe their tattoos as a roadmap of their life - what they had been through and even sometimes, when they had done it. All these years later, that idealogy stuck with me.
A close friend told me about a tattoo artist she was dating and I stopped thinking/overanalyzing/being scared and I went in to check out his portfolio and see what he could do for me. I went in wanting a bird design and he worked with me and sketched out a few things before I picked out the one I liked. He reworked the sketch over the next week and when I came back in, it had gone from rough draft to final and was in full color. I loved it.
Nothing can really prepare you for an experience like this - you just have to do it. Sure there are things that hurt and can probably help you gauge what your tolerance for pain is: a piercing, a brazilian bikini wax, childbirth. But until you actually have someone put ink into your flesh with a needle, it's really hard to empathize with someone who's done it.
I went into the shop and my artist got me prepped. I was scrubbed down and shaved, like I was being taken into surgery. When I get nervous, I get quiet. I get cold and clammy and sweaty. I make sarcastic jokes, but don't smile. I was glad a friend was there - I definitely appreciated the moral support. Mike came about 1/2 of the way through. The outline was the worst. Egads. But when he started on the color, it was too light, not the vibrant, bright blue we had talked about. He switched to a better blue, but warned me it would probably need to be touched up in a few weeks. After that, there were no more problems.
Mando, My artist
The first cut - Yeow!
About 3 hours after I first sat down in the chair and felt that sharp sting of the outline begin, I was done. I was pleased with the outcome. I was ready to be done. But I also realized, it was something I could do again.
I'm already working on my next design.