The Story of My Ink

Maybe you’re wondering why the title of this post has absolutely nothing to do with Crockpots. Maybe you’re thinking, “Hey! Where’s the next part of that story?!” Maybe you haven’t even been reading along and in that case, you have no expectations for today.

I never thought I’d be happy to not have someone following.

I talked to a friend last night who gave me these unbelievably kind words:

You don’t owe anyone anything.

And so, while I love you all dearly, she was right. I can’t write the next segment today. I’ve been dreading it all week. I’ve been up all night thinking about it. It has put me into such a dark frame of mind, that I think giving myself a week to breathe is the best possible thing I can do. Will I finish it? Sure. Just not today.

And that’s okay.

Normally, I’d be worried by now. I’d be pacing around thinking, alright, now you have to come up with a new game plan. You’ve got to write something else. What the hell are you going to say?

But I have more awesome friends who commandeered some of my posts last evening and asked for the tale of the tattoos. I always find it interesting, this idea that there is a story behind the ink on my skin. I suppose I’m rather jaded about it all, and without trying to sound like the bully of the tattoo world, I’ve seen too many things like this:

Girl walks into tattoo parlor. She says, “What’s the cheapest tattoo I can get?” 

Guy comes in with $50 and says, “Just put on something for that much.”

People staring at the pictures on the wall and saying, “How much is that? Yeah, I’ll get that.”

Girls lined up to get the same tattoo as all their other friends, because their friends have it, so they want it.

16338_103783859640047_3567523_nSo maybe that tribal armband really does have some significant value for you. Or maybe you got it because you thought it looked cool. I’m wondering if I gave my opinion on these things if I’d get my first hater comment. -Shrugs-

Been there, guys. The day I turned eighteen I set out on a mission: Do All the Newly Legal Activities. I bought a lotto ticket and cigarettes. I mumbled and complained that there wasn’t a presidential election going on so I could go vote. I got a bit tipsy (not legal) with some friends and headed to some seedy tattoo joint where I basically pointed at a picture of an alien on one of those big plastic, swinging art boards and said, “I want that, but with wings. I want it to fly.”

That tattoo means nothing. It had no significant story behind it. Some guy who proceeded to tell me about the seven children he had with seven different women tattooed it on my hip while I bit the back of my hand in pain hard enough to leave a bruise for days. People who have tattoos will tell you, there is something addictive about that pain. I mean, either you get a tattoo and hate the entire experience so much you never want to do it again or you get tattooed and all you can think about is saving enough money to do it again. I fell into the latter category.

Only a few months later, Triple A  took me to a parlor for my next one. Finally, I was going to have a tattoo with meaning. I was going to join the crowd of people who walk around with stories inked into their skin. Except my story sucked, and I didn’t want a tattoo.

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The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune’s spite; revive from ashes and rise.
-Miguel de Cervantes

Triple A and I had a “thing”, a saying. It wasn’t an “I love you” or some collection of pet names. He would say, “You belong to me.” And I would reply, “Always.” It sounds pretty, when you say it like that. It sounds like a sweet endearment. It doesn’t sound like the underlying threat it was. Those words, repeated again and again in my head, were a frightening combination. He had them tattoo the word “Always” on my arm. I was labeled. It was the equivalent of a branding. I had become livestock. Property. Owned.

I wasted no time at all getting that mark covered up after we separated. As soon as I had the money saved, I went in to my local tattoo parlor and said, “Cover it up. Please.” It’s a small town. They knew my story and I told them what it had meant, why I needed it gone. Erased. Eradicated.

Let me just say, my tattoo guy was awesome. He said one word, “Phoenix.” Rising from the ashes. Change. Growth. Rebirth. It was perfect. I sat back with something close to nirvana as that gun moved across my skin and wiped away the proof of who I had been, what I had done.

I had a bible verse slamming through my head, a verse I turn to often, regardless of my lack of belief. I grew up in a Christian household. These verses were ingrained into my very being. 

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. – Phil. 4:13

It became my mantra. The words pressing through my clenched lips again and again. It gave me the backbone to scrape away the sludge that was left behind from the last few years. I was wiping the slate clean in the permanent dark stains of red and black. The sting of the needle, the buzz of the gun, the pinpricks of blood that welled, the numbness in my fingers: it was a cleansing of epic proportions. I was new. Changed. A Phoenix.

206592_204583326226766_6395787_nSo then I went back and got flowers tattooed around it, because they were pretty and I didn’t like the empty white span of my skin around the Phoenix. See what I mean? This whole dance of deep meaning to aesthetic beauty is a constant in tattooing. Sure, some pieces have intense meaning. Others? Hell, they just look good.

But there are repercussions to getting tattoos, especially ones this large. I had to cover them for work. I lost opportunities for work, because of them. People look at you different. We’re in a generation where tattoos are not only accepted (for the most), but are insanely popular. However, that’s mostly in the tiny, hidden variety. When you turn every inch of skin possible into a canvas, you start to attract attention.

I tutored for a long time and I will never forget the woman who came into the college sobbing, because she couldn’t find work. I sat there, watching her fall apart across the desk from me. She had passed her classes, but no one would hire her as an accountant.

I’m going to assume it had less to do with her abilities or qualifications and more to do with the gigantic spiderweb that was inked across her neck. It was impossible to miss. Impossible to hide. And unfortunately, it doesn’t fit in the set parameters people have in mind when they think of certain professionals like bankers, real estate agents, lawyers…accountants. That’s just the nature of the world. If someone asked you to write a description of a stock broker, would you describe them in a business suit with a smoking skull tattooed on their hand? Probably not.

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But I wasn’t going to be an accountant. I was going to write. So, I started a literary collection that is no where near complete. I fell in love with the Dothraki language and culture in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. The first time I watched the show and saw the scene where Khal Drogo does his speech, my heart began to race, my palms were sweaty. I was leaning forward in my seat, gripped and completely lost in the moment. I didn’t even read the subtitles. The speech was so powerful in its delivery that I UNDERSTOOD it. The final line, “Asavvasoon” was the promise. “As the stars bear witness” (translation). Powerful words. Intense. I loved the way it rolled off my tongue. I went out and laid back on a table topless while the tattoo guy kept saying the word over and over again and shaking his head.

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I finished my second book, got labeled as a feminist, and rushed to the parlor to get a femfist tattooed on my arm. I circled it with the line “Out of the ash I rise” from my favorite poem, Lady Lazarus, by Sylvia Plath.

I wanted more. I started compiling ideas like an image hoarder. I scratched lines in books under phrases and quotes that struck me. I started talking to my tattoo artist about my writing, about what it meant to me, about the process. He helped me develop these pieces.

That first moment when a story comes into your head. The way it takes over and it’s all you can think about and you stay up all night running through the possibilities, excitement permeating through your pores. The utter Possession of it.

The structure sets in. You start building the world, the characters. They take shape around you and suddenly it’s like you have vomited out the very core of yourself and the pieces are up and walking around, living, breathing beings from the deepest recesses of your psyche. You are the Architect of everything.

1277872_651854771499617_395627962_o1277885_651854768166284_1662637219_oThat calm that settles in. The turning of the page, your lips moving, the story seeping out. The release of it all. You are the Storyteller. It is yours and you are giving it, finally.

He got all that for me. He gathered what I was, what I felt, and put it on my skin where everyone else could see it.

And be confused by it, because the idea that I’m going to take what’s in my head, make it pretty, and expect people to understand it is ludicrous.

And it hurt like hell. Just saying. The thigh is a pretty painful place to get tattooed. I sighed in pleasure and at one point promised to kiss my tattoo artist when he wiped a cool cloth across my skin. The husband laughed as I moaned like a slut with every pause of the gun.

So do my tattoos speak? Sure. They have stories, some important and meaningful, some silly. Does anyone else get the story just by seeing them? Not normally. I either get compliments or complete avoidance. Small town thinking, I certainly don’t fit in here. It’s been made painfully clear entirely too many times.

I left the last college I was at, because regardless of my talents, my intelligence, my overall friendliness (I really am a pretty nice person, dammit), I was ignored. Ostracized. I was the only person there with bright dyed hair. I never saw anyone with tattoos. I was one of only fifteen “nontraditional” students. I was one of about five who didn’t live on campus. I was older than some of my professors. I had children. No one wanted anything to do with me.

I remember the first day on campus. It was a family day, where everyone was there with their parents checking out the campus and the dorms. I was in a sea of khaki pants and polo shirts. And there’s me. Purple hair, tattoos. A husband with dark, tanned skin and long black hair that was partially shaved. A daughter with purple streaks in her hair. A son with a Mohawk.

People stepped off the sidewalks to avoid our path. The day I left that school, heartbroken and angry, the husband showed up and helped me do that walk. He yanked his shirt off, let all of his tattoos shine bright and drew everyone’s attention away from me.

He’s pretty awesome like that.

I mean, when you see a collection of skulls and flames, of demons and quotes from Revelations, and words like “evil” tattooed on someone, it makes an impression.

People see the husband and say he’s intimating. Frightening. They think he has a bad guy attitude.

I laugh at that. While the husband isn’t anyone to take shit off of anybody, he’s not all that they think. He’s got a vicious tongue and the wit to knock someone flat on their back and send them running away in torrents of tears, but they always deserve it. He doesn’t do it for just the hell of it. He’s actually a pretty big teddy bear at heart.

People see his tattoos and they tell a story. It doesn’t seem like a pleasant one, and honestly, the husband’s story isn’t pretty. But he’s not what they see. He’s this:

Which is why I married him...

Which is why I married him…

Herstory Lesson: Tattoos are a permanent tale on your skin, but don’t expect the rest of the world to be able to understand the story they tell.

Featured Here: My Tattoo Artist, the one and only Irish Buddha

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