Saturday, January 29, 2011

My Tattoos

I have seven tattoos and am nowhere near done. I started at age seventeen with a blooming sunflower stretching across the right side of my lower back and top of my butt. Not quite a tramp-stamp, it actually saved me from that now dreaded lower back tattoo many girls my generation are frequently left not so proudly sporting. My senior year of high school I guinea-pigged it with my friend's tattoo artist boyfriend and let him create permanent art on the back of my body. The second I felt the intensity of those multiple needles piercing and poking into my flesh, depositing eternal ink strokes deep within my dermis, I was hooked. It hurt so good! I suffered through the sitting, the involuntary flinch of my skin crawling and the spearing into each pore of flesh produced a desirable pain. What imprinted on my mind as it drifted past the haziness of whatever Valium induced trip I was on were the smells and sounds. The buzzing tattoo gun and billowing cigarette smoke, the blaring punk rock music and distinctive scent of disinfectant and ink.

My next tattoo came a year later in the form of a flower encrusted inner ankle. My father lectured me about regretting these tattoos when I was older and I told him, confident and sure my 18 year-old self had it all figured out, "I will never regret a single tattoo, because to do so would be to regret who I was in my youth, and I am never going to be that person!" Oh the poor guy! The bouquet of purple irises, future theme for my far far away wedding, was secured deeply within the layers of my skin my sophomore year of college. Nestled between my shoulder blades, the graceful stems stood proud and tall against the creamy flesh covering my spine. The next one was either the small leo symbol above the sunflower on my back the ink fell out of immediately, leaving only an outline, or the design of my own creation, a turquoise and brown marbled diamond of scar-tissue resting on the inner top part of my left arm.

College ended and life started and money went dry. I sat stagnant with the five I had until we were living in San Francisco a few years later and strolling through Haight Ashbury one lazy, sunny Sunday afternoon. That experience left me better off with a beautiful yellow and orange calendula with drooping, lush petals encased in a teal border enshrined on the top of my right arm, just under the shoulder. I had now entered the realm of the visibly tattooed. Never again would I be able to hide behind the innocent illusion of my blonde tresses and pearly white smile. As long as my upper arms were showing. I had proclaimed an eternal edge, risk to my persona. It gave me a certain notoriety and served to stereotype me in a completely different way than ever before, and I kinda liked it. It felt good to put the inside me on the outside of me.

In 2006 my husband and I were anticipating our 5th anniversary and wanted to do something to commemorate our union. I was about a year into CFS/ME, still working and yet to fall flat on my ass from full-blown Fibromyalgia. The Sacred Heart called out to us as a tribute to the blessing of our marriage, and we each commissioned a representation of this beautiful image suitable for our person and gender. His was strong and masculine, stemming down from the base of his skull, the large cross at the top merely an outline against the licking, burning flames. His heart was dark and troubled, and his thorns long and sharp. Mine was a more classical depiction, a soft red heart dripping nectar from the wound, flames securely enveloping the small wooden cross above it. My fresh green thorns tangled into a matching blend of our initials, mimicking his barren dead shards.

They are both beautiful and we wear them proudly, but it was damn near the most painful self-inflicted thing I have ever done to myself. Tattoos may hurt so good, but a tattoo with Fibromyalgia on the inside fleshy part of my upper arm was hell in a hand basket. I had to dig my nails into my stomach to counter balance the pain. I practiced what I imagined to be Lamaze breathing methods to create distraction. I forced myself to lie still and not move, all the while crying out inside from the searing, burning pain. About 1/3rd of the way through I realized this was a very bad idea. Wrong place, wrong artist, wrong time? I don't know but it was just wrong. I looked down and he was nearly done with the outline. What the hell was I going to do with just an outline? When would I ever want to come back and finish it? So I guided my husband to continuously squeeze the shit out of my hand and settled into blinding misery. Near the end, as the artist was coloring in the contours and shadows up in my arm pit, my body was involuntarily writhing. The tattoo had become so red and inflamed, an oozy gush of a mushy bacteria filled petri dish. Red hot infection was radiating around the brilliant glow of my newly crowned Sacred Heart. I had to treat that tattoo with antibiotic cream and lots of moisture with very little friction. It is my most beautiful and prized today. Better be, I went through hell to get it!

Each tattoo is a permanent mark on my body that perfectly captures the person I was at that time. An image that does not grow with me, into the person I will become or have become, but stays true to who she was then, unable to mould and grow with the future. Each tattoo, style, location, a stamp in time. I capture my tattoos in a quick glance in the mirror now and then and think about the experience of each one, and it is a hauntingly real encounter to remember what it was like to be that girl. Sorry dad, this time you were not right, I don't regret a single one.

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  1. I have only on the lower back of a crown with wings. It has both of my daughters names on it. Then I have an anklet on my left leg that looks like twisted metal, bent and rusty with my sons names on it. The third one is of a purple daisy on my right foot. My grandma passed away in '98. Her favorite flower was the daisy and she was born in February which has a purple birthstone! It's been a few years since the daisy, so I am thinking about getting a purple ribbon or a purple butterfly on the back of my neck! People who have never had tattoos cannot understand just how addicting they are. I think it's the adreneline rush. Or maybe, for the time we are sitting in the tattoo shop getting stabbed by little tiny needles going deep in your skin, it makes us forget, if only for awhile, our pain that we live with everyday!

  2. Love your blog! I nominated you for Stylish Blogger award, come pick it up at my blog.

  3. hi, i came here reading about tattoo's and fibro.
    i had eight before first m.e and then last years diagnosis of fibro came along. yesterday i had my first 'fibro-tat'...oh my the pain!

    the pain of my others were as you say a good pain-this pain was so close to having me jump out of the seat and that was with anaesethic cream! oh but so worth it-i have it finished in two weeks!

  4. I'm 59, and had wanted a tattoo for years, but didn't want to be a little old lady in a nursing home with a tattoo. My daughter told me, "You won't be alone with tats there." So since my Mom has been gone since 2003, I finally did it. I got a round sun with the End of the Trail, you know the tired Indian on the tired horse? with the orange sun behind him? And my mom's initials on it. I love it. With all the fibro pain, etc. I wondered if it would hurt. I closed my eyes, almost fell asleep and woke up about an hour later when it was done. The artist said he'd never seen anybody sleep through it. Must be those endorphins. LOL Lee Ann