Written on the Body: Tattoos Tell the Stories of My Life

3 years ago

When I got my first tattoo, more than fifteen years ago, they hadn’t yet become as ubiquitous as opinions (i.e., not everyone had one). Whenever I brought up wanting to get inked, I was invariably talked out of it.

Image: Chris Yarzab

“It can be dangerous,” people said. “You’ll have to live with it your whole life,” said others. (And the Big Duh award goes to …)

“What if you want to go to a fancy event?” was another gem I heard all too often — as if the combination of formalwear and tattoos were too incongruous to even fathom. (That will come as a shock to Angelina Jolie.)

Still, I made up my mind to get one. I loved the way tattoos looked, and felt warmly toward the women I saw who had them. Not the tiny vine on the ankle, or the rose on the back of the neck, but the images, the words, the stories inked upon flesh, out there for the world to see. The women with those were daring, honest, open and tough — tattooed bitches, I thought, who would someday rule the world.

For my first piece, I chose a drawing of a scorpion that I saw on a book cover. Had I known how many people would use it as an icebreaker (“So, are you a Scorpio?”), I might have reconsidered, especially since I’m a Libra. But I liked the image — especially the idea of a delicate creature that can sting — and had it inked on my upper arm.

Butterflies followed, also in places that I could cover up if I wanted to. As much as I liked getting tattooed, I also wanted the option of being a blank slate (if I was meeting new people, interviewing for a job) when I predicted that those I encountered would look askance at my “body art.”

My tattoos are a permanent part of me, just like my curly hair and my love of ugly cardigan sweaters. My personal style, however, was a little bit me and a little bit “Etch-a-Sketch,” meaning something I could wipe clean whenever I needed to.

I could cover up the ink, straighten my hair with a blow-dryer (or, more drastically, with a chemical solution that smelled like a hard-boiled eggs rotting in hell) and put on a uniform: tight-fitting jeans, boots and a blazer for an audition. Black trousers and a button-down shirt for a job interview. Something feminine but reserved for a family gathering.

You’ll notice that I subtly dropped the word “audition” in that last paragraph. Almost ten years ago, I saw a flyer on a Coney Island boardwalk advertising a casting call. I auditioned on a whim, and got the lead role in an independent movie. For the next few years, acting became a part of my life.

Truth be told, I didn’t love it. I liked being part of the creative process, but hated most of the people I auditioned for. I resented being told to pluck my eyebrows or not to. Sitting pertly for two hours in an incredibly bitchy casting director’s L.A. office was a pretty fucking horrible way to spend an afternoon. Having to grow out my hair when I really wanted to chop it off was demeaning.

I loathed the roles I auditioned for: A tough-talking babe in an apocalyptic future, going on about killer androids. A tough-talking babe who is also a cop, going on about the dangers of undercover work. A tough-talking babe who is homeless. A tough-talking babe who is an alien.

When I finally decided to put aside my acting “career,” it was like the weight of a thousand tough-talking babes had been lifted off my shoulders. I became a mom, and went back to my first chosen vocation, writing. And I kept getting inked. My partner Joe’s name is on one wrist, and last month I had my forearm tattooed — a Mother’s Day present to myself.

I no longer worry about covering them up for any type of event, formal, family or anything. And I think as I get older, my tattoos get better and more meaningful.

Each one tells a story. My first tattoo will always be the scorpion I got when I was living on my own for the first time in San Francisco. I didn’t bring any friends along, it was just me and the tattoo artist hunched over my arm, neither of us saying a word to each other. The butterfly I got on my foot in the dead of winter? The woman who did that one thought it was ill-advised.

“With your sock and shoe on it, it’s never going to heal properly,” she warned me.

I promptly came down with bronchitis and spent the next week and a half bedridden, my bare foot sticking out of the bedcovers, healing beautifully. My right forearm? The artist did it in one hour, without stopping, and then I met up with my partner and my kids and we went to the playground.

This is who I am. A wife, a mother, a writer and a tattooed bitch who will someday rule the world.

Originally published at Purple Clover

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