The tattoo mystery

Tattoos are like scotch. You try it when you’re 15 and its disgusting, never to be repeated, ‘who does this?’ type of experience. You look at people who drink scotch – out of choice – and think they’re batshit crazy. But those who like it, wow, they like it. The same goes for tattoos.

Girls in college with little dolphins on their ankles or butterflies on their necks.. this tattoo was like their first taste of ‘scotch.’ It declared ‘I’m a little bit crazy!’, ‘I’m alternative‘ or ‘I’m grown up’. Most of the women I know with tiny tattoo memories went with their sorority sisters (an image which makes me shudder for a host of reasons), were hammered (ditto) and wouldn’t repeat the experience. Its their one lasting memory of a wild night and mostly they titter and change the subject when you bring it up. They prefer red wine these days… scotch isn’t for them.

Then there are those of us for whom the first tattoo, that first taste of scotch, was a life changer.
We got our tattoo and liked it. A lot. And like scotch, we want more.. even if, in our heads, we’re not really scotch type people.

For those who’ve never gotten a tattoo, it may be because you think they’re ugly. Many women do and quite a lot of guys. No matter how they start out, they end up looking like blue smears after a few years and the biggest worry everyone seems to register is ‘what would that look like when I’m 80?’  Frankly for me, I’m more concerned about what my mental faculties and feet will be doing at 80, but if its your butt that’s the concern… well, I kind of get it. After all it might spoil your Miss America, Granny Edition, chances.

Other people hate tattoos because of the inference they carry. Historically the mark of carnie’s and freaks, tattoos have been around since the 1800s and still seem to carry the stigma of ‘not for normal people’.  These days tattoos are mainstream, almost a uniform for bike messengers, yoga enthusiasts, biker boys, rockabilly fans, and of course hookers, college kids and ex cons. One of my doctors has a tattoo. And yes, so do I.

Is it simply a uniform of ‘non conformity’? A way to say ‘Hey everyone.. I’m different… just like y’all’ You have to wonder. I was bare skinned until 38 and now they’re creeping up my arms and down my back. So what happened?  Is this just a mid life crisis gone permanent? What happened, to make this happen? (something I’m sure my mother, friends and lovers have questioned).

I’ve always thought that tattoos look ugly. I dated people with tattoos and the moment the shirt came off and a tattoo was revealed, I found it pretty icky (one guy’s Japanese fish turned my stomach and quite put me off sex). The only good tattoos I saw were attached to tanned, dark haired hot guys with muscles. In which case, they probably could have been wearing a severed goat head and I wouldn’t have noticed. I rarely saw a tattoo which made me think ‘I want that’ and yet. And yet. I always found them fascinating. Not fascinating enough to want one.. Jesus no, my mother would kill me. And people would think X, and boyfriends would think Y, and employers would think Z. Nope. Tattoos were for other people. I certainly couldn’t risk all those opinions. What would people think of me?

And yet… I loved the idea of permanently marking myself. I think it goes back to the fact that I’ve writing on myself since I could scribble. Anyone who knows me knows I typically have something written on the back of my hand (I have the memory of a kitten), and its extended for 30+ years. Of course no-one wants ‘pick up loo paper’ on their body forever, but I’ve written it as a reminder on my hand on more than one occasion. Seeing something written down typically triggers a thought, a feeling, a memory.. and yes, I always remembered the loo paper.

At the age of 37 and 11 months I decided to bite the bullet. Get a tattoo. I finally had cut the umbilical cord and figured I could stand the motherly rage, and I wanted to see what it felt like to be ‘inked’. Everything  on my body is heading south anyway, so adding a tattoo wouldn’t really make much of a difference. ‘But what will it look like when you’re 80?’ is much easier to respond to when you’re already half way there. If people can make it past my varicose veins, my crinkly knees and my weird toenail.. well a drawing on my arm isn’t going to change much. 

I didn’t expect the pain. Or the joy. I think its the endorphins rushing as a response to the pain, but I love it. You could tattoo me all day. Its totally addictive. The first time I practically fell asleep as the guy carved into my neck. The second time it felt better than sex. The rush. The high. The ‘going inside yourself’ that happens automatically after the first 10-15 minutes. My last tattoo took 4 hours and I was in heaven for most of it. When she finally laid down her ink, I felt as though I’d run a marathon and just had the best date of the year. I was stone cold sober, but wow I felt drunk. Thankfully I trust my artist and I know she’s not going crazy while I’m away with the fairies.  And the results are oh so pretty.

But with every good thing in life, there is always a downside. I’m only 5 ft 2 and there is only so much skin to go around. I know I can’t keep going. I have no desire to join the circus or become unemployable, and frankly, I still don’t really like most tattoos.  So why do it? Why not just join the Catholic church, or a BDSM club, ride my bike a little harder or take up needlepoint?

There are nicer drinks than scotch. Less ‘burn-y’. Cheaper. Leaving you with less of a hangover. But people still drink it.  And there are plenty of ways to get my kicks in a less permanent way.
That’s the mystery of the tattoo. Ask anyone why they get more and more tattoos and each has a reason. But if most of us are honest, we don’t really know why, its just a compulsion to scar ourselves different. Maybe we’re wearing our insides on the outside? We’re beautifying something we don’t consider beautiful?  Or maybe we just need to remember something. A lover, a moment, a day.. or simply to pick up more loo paper.

I’ll raise a scotch to that.

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