That Day I Got a Tattoo

Chelsea’s Review:  Now I know I should always have a plan when a friend wants me to go with them to a tattoo parlor, and I should also ask my mom the motivation behind some of her rules.

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Getting ink
photo by allef vinicius on Unsplash

As the ink artist continued to jab the forearm, puncturing the tender, white skin above the palm, David broke out in a sweat.  Whatever possessed him to render a brightly colored parrot into the sensitive flesh of his pale, little arm was beyond me.  He wanted to man up?  He planned on joining a motorcycle gang?  He was bored and had some extra money?

David was my upstairs neighbor but we were not close friends.  He came down to my door to tell me he was getting a tattoo and would I come with him.  His ulterior motive was to get me to get one of my own.  The idea appealed to me but for the life of me I could not think of what to get or where to put it.  I told myself I was going along to support David in his quest for manhood…or whatever this was.

We drove to a tattoo parlor on Long Point Road in a decidedly unstylish neighborhood in Houston.  It was the early 1980’s and my recently-formed inner-city urbanite self was stirred by the excitement of passing the bodegas, used car dealerships and fast food restaurants, skirting around the lumbering Metro bus to land in the parking lot of an abandoned strip center with a tattoo parlor, its last tenacious tenant.  There could not have been a better place to convince me to get a tattoo while simultaneously generating a low rumble of dread.

I was recovering from a protracted illness and was really bored.  My health was better, but I was a bit worried about dirty needles and hepatitis and sudden, tragic, youthful death.  I had to be really sure that this place practiced the appropriate proper hygiene and was not a gateway to the afterlife. After a thorough health-inspector-worthy grilling, I decided it was worth the slight risk.  The after-care brochure cinched it.  Feigning a chivalrous attitude, David offered to let me to go first!

 I didn’t say the word coward, but definitely thought it.  Is this why he brought me here?  If I didn’t faint or cry or grimace in agony, he would, perhaps, go ahead with his plan.  Having zero time to plan what permanent artwork would please me for the rest of my life and not send decent, potential dates running for girls more properly brought up, I scanned the parlor’s standard offerings. 

“What would my mother think” ran through my head as I selected a rosebud design.  Mom was strict about altering one’s body.  I had been denied the joy of getting my ears pierced until I left home and could drive myself to the mall.  Though she seriously disapproved or maybe because of it, all my mother’s children have tattoos.

Being able to hide the damn thing for the sake of my dear mother became a priority for placement.  So, where?  There were curtained booths, intimate settings for artist and skin canvas to work together away from prying eyes should one desire to get a tattoo in a place only a lover would discover. 

It had occurred to me that, seeing the guy I came in with, and correctly assuming I was a fairly naïve white girl from the suburbs of New Jersey, the tattooist suggested my shoulder blade as a point one could cover or uncover as needed.  Besides being a place with less sensitivity, pain-wise and no need for the curtained booth.  Sold.

If you have not had a tattoo, you may be surprised that the smaller the better.  It felt like pinching on my left shoulder blade.  It was over quickly.  My reward was seeing David get his tattoo. 

A parrot
photo by david clode on Unsplash

The inside of the forearm is a place of great sensitivity.  A parrot has many colors and lots of detail.  I sat next to my upstairs neighbor and talked him through it.  There was a lot of stopping and recovering. I was afraid he was going to puke or pass out.   “Think of all the chicks you’ll get,” I offered.  This seemed to render little balm.  I did not know him that well, he could have been gay, so I switched tactics and sang some Jimmy Buffet songs, offered up drinks of water and reassurance of his manly fortitude.  It’s what quasi-friendly neighbors do.

I drove home.  We checked in with each other from time to time to make sure we were following up on our after-care.  Mostly I yelled out my front door whenever I saw him that week to make sure he was doing it right.  I was over-vigilant about my own care.   I was eager to get to the point where I would wear my bathing suit out to the apartment pool and wow them with my ink. 

Teeny tiny tattoo

A few people noticed it.  Mostly to say, “What is it?”  The novelty wore off before the scabs healed and my anxiety of getting hepatitis waned.  The artwork looked better as the summer progressed.  I enjoyed having the tattoo even if just to say I had a tattoo.  I could easily hide it or show it off as I desired.  David also enjoyed his tattoo and I enjoyed keeping his ordeal a secret.  He eventually moved away.  I still had my tattoo to remind me of our little adventure on Long Point Road. 

A few years later my mother and I went shopping.  This was just before she moved back to her hometown in Maine, when spending quality time together was important to us.  I rarely thought about my tattoo by then, it was not where I was reminded of it on a daily basis.  She accompanied me into a dressing room area—one of those where everyone is in the same room trying on discounted apparel.  I took my shirt off to try on one that had caught my eye, never giving one second of thought to what my mother’s eye would home in on.  There it was. 

My parents were getting divorced.  My mother was moving far away from me.  She hated tattoos and she spotted mine right away.  I expected some sort of lecture, histrionics or display of displeasure.  She studied it a moment before rendering her verdict.  “Don’t tell your father.”  And I never did.

Cate

Now I live in fun and funky West Asheville, where there are more tattoos per square inch of skin than in any biker bar on earth.  My hairdresser Cate’s arm all by itself is a museum-worthy work of art.  Amid a virtual catalog of impressive images, she inscribed her favorite aunt’s name along the side of her forearm, a tribute to their strong bond.  The people in West Asheville are friendly and, when admired for it, open to explaining the significance of every inch of ink they cart around.  Some tattoos are frivolous (like mine!) and some are tributes and carry much meaning and poignancy.

I have considered getting another tattoo.  On my deltoid or some place else, where it can be seen or not seen.  This time I would get something more meaningful than that hastily chosen rosebud.  A Celtic knot or an Om symbol.  I’m still thinking about it.  There’s the cost and the pain to consider.  Or I can simply choose the cheaper and pain-free option of using one of those icons to embellish my website.  Too bad there were not websites at the time of this story.  I could have saved David a bit of cash and a lot of pain.  Then again, I’m sure he has enjoyed telling his own version of that day I got a tattoo.

Here’s to self expression in all its forms,

Cheryl

Guest Editor Chelsea taught me how to write tiny fiction, to go along with my tiny tattoo. What fun! 
That’s how I learned to keep my writing concise, except for the parts
where I need to ramble. Her editing suggestions are always spot on.  

9 Comments

  1. I guess I got mine in the early 80s while working as a suit & tie Engineer. I can’t remember who said “If you get a tattoo get it on your upper arm that way you can even wear short sleeve shirts and no one will see it. So I did. A large rose and musical notes. I can’t remember if either of my parents ever saw it since I too waited until I was on my own. I just can’t remember. Now tattoos aren’t a gating factor in the workplace. On the other hand, I got my ear pierced in the mid to late 70s. Back then there were other men who would be you up for that. I usually wore an earring to work and it never impeded my career over the decades. When my Father found out I got my ear pierced he said “Well, if that’s the worst thing you did after leaving home I can’t be mad at that” and then for decades would ask me every time he saw it “You don’t wear that to work do you?” You just can’t win. LOL

    • The Bear family parents were rather traditional, but showed signs of easing up later in life. I’m not sure what Papa Bear would have thought if he had ever seen my tattoo!

  2. He’d probably would have just shook his head then ask you about it for decades. 🙂

  3. If David had wanted to jump off a bridge,….? 😁. I like your 🌹.

  4. Uh… Not convinced! Ha… Maybe a temporary tattoo would do! Ha!

  5. i’ve considered getting a tattoo for years but, as a graphic designer, i could never come up with a design that was meaningful, beautiful and that i wouldn’t want to change in 18 months or so.

    i keep coming back to the phase diagram for feldspars. i prefer spiral and circular shapes but the triangle sweeps of the feldspars as they chill and the chemistry changes sticks with me.

    is that cate from union hill? they cut my hair, too. gorgeous, gorgeous tats and great sylist!

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