20 Years in the making
Today marked an ending. Or a beginning. It marked both closure and a new chapter. Today, I got a beautiful cover up tattoo that was twenty plus years in the making.
In the Spring of 1992 I was living in London as an exchange student, a longtime dream of mine that almost didn’t happen. When I’d first posed the question to my parents they laughed. Way too expensive. But I’d figured out how to make it happen by convincing them that it would be cheaper to send me to London for a semester than to send me to UNH for that same semester. Being from New York, I was out of state at UNH, but by applying to SUNY Binghamton for my dream semester abroad, I became in-state for that semester and was able to sell it to my parents that way. Off I went.
As one does when one is 19, I almost immediately became romantically involved with a guy in my flat. He was an artist, and I was attracted to his free spirit and quietly rebellious nature. He tapped me on the shoulder and pulled me away from the group as we traversed a cobblestone street on our first field trip to Stratford Upon Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. We stole away and sat by a river, smoking a joint and laughing madly. It was a match.
One day he asked me if I wanted to get a tattoo. It being the early 90’s people were just starting to get them. It hadn’t yet exploded into the everyone and their mother getting one, but it was on the rise, and I was up for the ride. Sure, I said with a shrug of my shoulders, why not? And it was decided.
I didn’t ask any questions. I didn’t think about what to get. He said he was drawing his and showed me a quick sketch. I looked at it briefly and asked what it was. (Bad sign that I couldn’t tell by looking at it?) An eclipse, he said. He explained the symbolism: It's all about the feminine and masculine.
Oh, I said. That’s cool. I’ll get that, too.
He said he had looked up a tattoo artist and that the place was open until 6pm. (Why we had to go that day is still a mystery. Ah, the immediacy of youth). We scrambled out the door, grabbed a bottle of whiskey and took the tube out to somewhere. It was a lot further than we expected and when we got there, they were about to close. He did the talking. We want to get matching tattoos, he explained. The surly tatted up artist looked at us with disdain and grunted. He charged us our money, threw me in the chair, slapped a stencil of the design onto my leg and started.
No questions. No care. No humor. No smile. Nothing. I remember thinking hazily, wow, this guy HATES us. His disgust with these two (what must have looked like to him) children - was palpable. The place was dirty and seedy and all he wanted was our money. Correction, he wanted our money, and for us to get out the F out. He was mean.
I remember it hurting so horrendously, the physical pain greater than anything I’d ever experienced up until that point.
And then it was over, and off we went. Back to the long tube ride, the buzz from the alcohol wearing off, making me feel headachey and sick.
And I had a tattoo.
It didn’t heal right. I bumped it getting in the bathtub early on in the healing process and proceeded to pick off the scab. There was no internet to consult and we certainly didn’t walk out with any moisturizer or a list of do's and don’ts for healing your tattoo properly.
At that time, I didn’t know how to take care of anything, the least of which myself. I had no clue. I remember staring at it and staring at it and thinking - this looks really bad. But it was too late. When I mentioned it to my partner, he snapped Why does everything have to be so perfect for you all the time? It’s done. * That shut me up.
But the truth is, I never really liked it. I just didn’t.
So, I lived with it. I tried to like it. I kind of did. But any enthusiasm I mustered was hollow and flat. Honestly, it wasn’t the best drawing. It wasn’t a great design for a tattoo. And the tattoo itself wasn’t executed with skill or care or pride. It was just done. It felt reminiscent of being used and thrown away, in a situation I knowingly put myself in and asked for. I sucked it up, chalked it up and moved on.
Ironically, it didn't even really bother me all that much after the first few weeks; it was more like a vague nagging that I could easily ignore. To be honest, I didn’t even really know I could care. I was so disconnected to my body, so used to disengaging with it, that it didn’t seem to matter. Or I told myself that anyway.
In later years I learned to embrace it as perfectly symbolic of a certain crazy time in my life: my wild-child years, a reminder of how spontaneous and impulsive I was (reckless is another word I could use to describe it). I accepted it and was cool with it, appreciating it for that reason, a little momento of who I’d been.
I lived with it for years and years. The reality of life as a struggling actor in NYC made fixing or changing it not even a blip on my radar. I needed to pay rent, not fix my tat. Plus, I think I was secretly terrified to go down the road again. I knew I’d fix it someday, but was not intent on trying to figure out when that someday would be, or what the fix would look like.
Then about five years ago I decided damn it, I’m going to get this thing changed into something I actually like. It’s my body and I deserve to like everything about it.
This time I did research. I thought I had found my guy. I scheduled a consultation but when I met him, we didn’t connect. He was too cool for school. He was young and arrogant and barely looked me in the eye. I didn’t feel like I was in good hands. I finally knew enough to recognize that - and to care.
And, oddly, even after all those years of thinking about it, I still didn’t really know what to get. I had sort of decided on a raven - a bird I’ve always loved for a bunch of reasons - but at that point, it felt like a symbol of who I was, not who I was moving towards. He did the drawing and I hated it. I forfeited my $200 deposit and bailed hard. I didn’t lament it. Better to pay $200 to not make another mistake. I figured it was money well spent.
At that time I was going through a lot of personal challenges. It all seemed too overwhelming. I shelved it. I've lived with it this long, I thought. Someday I'll do it.
Cut to: Someday.
For a while now, I’ve been hip to the reality that “someday” is actually now. So, I've been on a mission to make those “someday” things happen. Plus, I finally knew what to get. No question about it.
This time I researched cover-up specialists - because that makes sense, right? (Duh, but seriously; I hadn’t thought of that before). It didn’t take long to find her. Her cover up work was remarkable. She had information on her website. She happened to be right here in the Valley.
And she was a she. **
She offered a free consultation and when I met her she was truly cool, internally cool, not bullshit cool. She was friendly and enthusiastic and genuine and she cared. And she’s been doing this since the 90’s. Perfect. I put down my deposit and picked May 11th as the day. I liked the double ones. Pillars. Gateway to a new chapter. A highly resonant number.
Today we made it right.
Today I took back ownership of my body. I'm finally adorned with something meaningful to me, that I can look down at and be proud, of every time I see it. It not only symbolizes a truly life changing time and person in my life, and the journey we've been on over the last two years, but a conscious, well thought-out decision made with care, and self-respect.
...A ROSE, for my daughter, Isabella Rose!