since this is largely about the tattoo, i’ll skim over the first part of the day. despite the unfriendly weather and terrain, ashes were scattered, along with a few silver dollars and some roses. it was harder than i thought it would be. we listened to one of my dad’s favorite songs as we drove away and i said good bye one more time.
then came the parlor. sadly, charlotte was not allowed, so we parted ways and ryan took her home. mom and i arrived at all star tattoo almost a half hour early, and filled our wait-time with nervous chatter. (oh, i forgot to mention that i spammed twitter and a friend’s site for parlor reccomendations, and all-star was the clear local winner)
after looking through a few portfolios, pointing out random pictures on the wall, trying not to stare at the other patrons who clearly knew what they were doing, and generally trying not to stick out too harshly, luke came out with a few different mockups of my idea. some had more embellishment than others, but it was pretty much what i’d asked for: the word serenity, surrounded by a bit of scrolly stuff. i asked for one last-minute addition: a small heart worked into the decoration around the word. after all, it was valentine’s day, it was partially in memory of my father, and even though my name has changed, i will always be a valentine.
after a briefer discussion and mock-up for my mom’s hearts, she was up first. hours and hours of “ink” shows had prepared me for what was going to happen, but watching him prep the needles made me a bit lightheaded. i put on a brave face, though, so my mom wouldn’t freak herself. the two interlocking hearts on her shoulder took maybe 5 minutes to do. she took it like a champ, with only a minimal amount of wincing. a day later, her hearts looked great, and like she says, my dad will always be there now, watching her back.
while we waited for luke to clean up his space and prep for my tattoo, my mood changed from nervous to “i want to be on the other side of this experience, so let’s get going already,” which was the exact mood i needed to be in. i asked him to put it on so that the words were legible to me when i raised my wrist and he gently recommended against it. “i’ll put it on backwards, if that’s what you want, but just know that people are going to tell you it’s upside-down.” i knew, but i didn’t care. it was for me. it needed to be readable by me. after he applied the stencil, he asked me to take a look in the full-length mirror. i checked out what the tattoo would look like as i casually rested my hands at my side.
“damn. it’s upside down.”
so luke removed the stencil and put it on properly. another check in the mirror and we were good to go. i warned him that i might get a bit woozy. i have a history of andrenaline rushes/let downs when i get shots, and i’ve actually fainted before. watching him prep my needle was making it worse, so i stopped watching, and started slowing my breathing and centering myself.
did it hurt? hell yes. at first it wasn’t that much, but as he went back over fresh lines, the pain grew. a couple of lines into it, i started to panic, because dear god, there was no stopping and there was no way i was going to make it but i had to make it because there was no way i was walking out with the scrolly bit of a “y” as my tattoo, but it hurt, and what was i thinking in the first place and… i closed my eyes to help me focus. a couple of lines later, i was properly relaxed. it was considerably easier to bear than labor pains. while he was still on the outside edge, i started to smile, because holy hell, i was getting a tattoo! as i was getting used to the rhythm, he moved towards the center, closest to my hand. i found myself needing to redefine my threshold of pain. like fire this was, shooting up my entire hand in a single instant. it wasn’t so much that he was drilling into my skin as much as he was digging into my skin, fishing up under a tendon and attempting to pull it out of my flesh. i went back to my happy place and waited for it to pass, reminding myself he was almost half way done. occasionally, especially when the pain spiked, i would realize i was “perfectly” relaxed and release the dangerous tension. and line by line, breath by breath, my tattoo was created.
to fill the time (which seemed like an hour, but was probably less than 15 minutes), my mother made some idle chatter with luke and occasionally with me. she asked him if the wrist was a particularly painful spot to get tattooed and he said “the best places usually are.” i confess i felt proud of myself, and for a brief moment thought maybe i’d earned a bit of respect from him. then i realized he probably sees his fair share of silly mother-daughter pairs and while we pay the bills nicely, are not “legit” just because we can stand the pain, or choose a visible spot ;)
at the 2/3 mark, i had surrendered to the sensations and probably could have endured a much longer session. by the time he had the outline complete except for the “S”, my un-inked skin actually started to itch, and i was anxious for him to scratch it with the needle. i was able to watch at that point, having properly transcended the pain. even when he went back over the middle section to touch up and shade i was more fascinated by the process than i was really feeling the pain.
when it was over, i was a bit giddy, equal parts impressed with myself for actually doing it and excited about the new pretty on my arm. after a brief photo from mom, it was bandaged up. we got a lesson in tattoo care (and i felt foolish for not researching that ahead of time), paid luke for his time, and walked out of the shop. as the numbness faded, a general soreness took it’s place and a bit later i could almost feel the skin throbbing under the cover. we stopped at walgreens for supplies, and as we were pulling out and my mother commented on her new appreciation for people who have multiple or complex tattoos.
and that’s when i realized i was already anticipating the next one.