This weekend, I was with my adult (oh God I’m so OLD!) daughter, and we happened to find ourselves in an establishment that performs piercings and tattoos. We were looking at the flash art they have displayed on the walls, laughing and having fun, and I joked that I should have a butterfly tattooed on my face.
It was a really cute little butterfly!
I did not, in fact, leave the shop with new ink on my face. After a lot of teasing from my daughter and the staff at the shop though, I did leave with a little cartoon puppy on the inside of my arm. One that looks remarkably similar to my Jack.
It’s not a DaVinci, but it’s tiny, cute, and even though it’s just a piece of flash I picked out of a book, it means something to me.
The experience though, got me thinking…
I’m no stranger to tattoos. I now have four, and my husband has four as well. Over the years I’ve been subjected to the criticisms of many people when they learn I have permanent ink on my body. I say learn because almost all of my ink is hidden, and so I usually have to inform people that I have it. I’ve had family, friends, and even people I’ve just met who somehow believe they have a right to offer me lifestyle advice, tell me that someday I’ll regret it.
“You’ll regret it when you’re old, and your skin begins to wrinkle and sag.”
“You’ll regret using flash, and not getting ink that’s personal to you.”
“You’ll regret making a spur of the moment decision that’s going to stick with you FOREVER!”
“You’ll regret it when the ink blurs and fades and you’re stuck with a big blob of nothing on your body.”
This is the theme of most of the comments I receive. That someday I’m going to be filled with remorse and regret. I’ll moan and lament that I ever spent the twenty dollars to have a puppy the size of a postage stamp tattooed onto my body.
I don’t buy it though, and as usual, I’m going to tell you why.
Each and every one of my tattoos has meaning to me, whether they were flash art picked off a wall, or original artwork made just for me. Some of them have special meaning in the symbolism, but for each and every one, there’s meaning in the memory.
I got my first tattoo almost fifteen years ago. I was visiting John in New York, and we drove to a shop in New Jersey so I could get inked. I had been wanting a rose on my ankle for almost as long as I could remember, and I decided that while I was in New York, embarking on a new stage of my life, it was the perfect time to have it done.
The design has meaning, I picked a grey rose, and added a cross element, symbolizing myself and John, the man who helped me break out of a life that was killing me quicker than cyanide in my coffee. So every time I see it now, I think of us, and of the war I fought to save myself; to start again.
More so than the symbolism though, looking at the ink brings back a vivid memory of being happy for the first time in a long time, the drive to New Jersey, and the artist at the shop who made me laugh until I cried.
Honestly, the tattoo can sag and wrinkle, fade and blur until it’s an unrecognizable blob, but the feelings and memories it evokes, never will. I’ve been told it’s ugly, and perhaps to some it is, but I see only beauty when I look at it. It marks the start of a beautiful me, and I have no regrets.
My second tattoo is a back piece that I jokingly refer to as my tramp stamp. I got it on my thirtieth birthday, before tramp stamps were cool. It’s up higher than most of the stamps you see on girls, and peeks out over my waistband when I bend over and my shirt rides up.
It’s a bit of flash, with no meaning at all. Just a decoration on my skin. Every time I see it in the mirror though, another vivid memory of a day spent with the man I love comes to mind. He took me out the morning of my birthday, telling me he had a surprise for me. We drove to Wauwatosa, or Waukesha, or some other ‘burb of Milwaukee and ended up at a tattoo parlor. He hadn’t made an appointment, so the wait took about six hours. We spent the time sitting on a bench outside the store, just enjoying each other’s company, talking to strangers, and basking in the rare warmth of a spring day in Wisconsin.
It has no deep meaning. As I grow older and wider, it’s stretched a bit with my girth, and I have no regrets.
My third tattoo is a zuni bear on my thigh. It’s an original piece of artwork, made just for me, and has symbolism so personal and private that I won’t discuss it here. Again, it includes sharp memories of the day, the people, and the emotions of the event. It lost a bit of color in the healing process, is a little wonky where it covers some stretch marks, and no one ever sees it but John and I. Still, it’s beautiful, and vibrant, and so totally me that I have no regrets.
Last but not least is my new cartoon puppy. It’s the only ink on my body that is easily visible. I think my willingness to put it there shows that I’m moving on to yet another stage in my life. One where I do things because it makes me happy, and one where I don’t really care what other people may think about it. I’m past the point of having to worry about what potential employers may think. If they won’t hire me because of a tattoo that’s no bigger than a nickel, it’s their loss, not mine.
Of course it symbolizes my first dog. My vicious pit bull who I’ve come to love like a child. A child who will never leave me to go to college, or get married. My silly dog who gets bullied nightly by the cat, who would do just about anything for a butt scratch, and who taught me to not judge a dog by its muscled shoulders and big blocky head, even if everyone else does.
More than that though, I'll always have the memory of a day spent with my beautiful daughter, who’s now a grown woman and becoming more my friend than my child. I’ll remember the laughing and the teasing, and I know that every time she sees it, she’ll remember the same.
It can blur and fade, become an unrecognizable spot of color on my skin, but the feelings and memories it evokes will always stay the same.
I have no regrets.