why I want a second tattoo

I want another tattoo.

Yes, that’s “another.”  Do you know 40 percent of adults in the US under age 40 have a tattoo?  Like most women in my demographic, I was inked before I hit my 20’s.  I have only one tattoo, a spiraling sun on my lower back.  It was drawn by my best friend. Naturally, she sports a moon in the same anatomic location.

When I walked into the tattoo parlor the first and last time I was depressed, a college dropout who worked part-time at a restaurant where I would soon be fired.  I had been recently dumped over the telephone by a bipolar barista.  I didn’t know it then, but the tattoo symbolized my desire to both expand and regress.  I wanted a bigger life than struggling to pay rent, struggling to date crazy people.  It was a life I knew I could have, but I wasn’t quite capable of it yet. I also wanted to go back to childhood, to the safety of my parents, to a life of certainty and ease. The sun has faded now, but back then it was a flaming orange and yellows.  It promised warmth, passion, abundance, as well as a connection to a woman who is a sister to me, who I grew up with.

my sun tattoo. required flexibility to photograph

The tattoo artist didn’t pick up on any of this either. To that burly man who looked like he could be a member of the Hells Angels, I was just another stupid teenager who wanted a sun tattoo.  He almost rolled his eyes when he met me, but he obliged.  Stupid teenagers paid rent for many tattoo parlors in the late 1990’s I imagine. I laid on my stomach in near silence, my shirt hiked up and my shorts pushed down as the tattoo needle buzzed and he changed part of me forever.

I never regretted this sun. It remains well-covered in most any social situation and I don’t see it very often, but its still there, a faded version of the flaming orb it once was.

This time, I want a tattoo in a visible location.  A riskier proposal if you have graduated from restaurant jobs and are now a health care provider in a major academic medical center. Ink on the lower back can be ignored if you regret it later, but a tattoo on the forearm cannot.

And why now?  I think I want to look different. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but loss has marked me on the inside.  My grief is woven into the fabric of my being.  And what I have gained and loved and been blessed with has marked me too.  An arm tattoo is a way of showing that I am different on the outside as well as on the inside.  I am not the same person I was on the day I was born.  I will not die the same person I am now.  Life is an unfolding, and tattoos can serve as roadmarkers along the way.

I’m not sure I’ll go ahead with a second tattoo.  I’ve been thinking for months and I still have some more thinking about it to do.  Age makes a girl more contemplative. But who knows?  Maybe it is time for another roadmarker.

15 thoughts on “why I want a second tattoo

  1. John Eden

    Yay! At 60, after retiring from school-teaching, I got a very visible tattoo on the inside of my right forearm… it’s actually the dhammachakra, or the wheel of the dharma, representing the eightfold path taught by the Buddha, but most people think it’s a ship’s wheel… I can explain or not as I see fit when asked, so it’s workable. But just having it has been liberating to me. I did spend about a year deciding exactly what to get, and I have been very happy with it for five years now… go for it!

    1. bornbyariver Post author

      yes! although my henna experiences have been a bit of a let down. there may have been quality control issues, but I recieved mehendi many times while I was in India and it always faded really fast. maybe my skin is too oily?

  2. Loni Found Herself

    I don’t have a tattoo, but I often think about getting one, for many of the reasons you mention. There are only a handful of moments in our lives that truly shape who we are. If we’re lucky enough to get married or have children, surely those qualify. People who have experienced a loss so central to who they are have that defining, life-altering moment, too, but we rarely get to talk about it. The tattoo is a way of, like you said, marking that change.

    I think I’ve struggled to find something that is meaningful enough for me. I was just a child, really, when I lost my mother. We never got to talk about things in a profound way. I don’t know what her passions were, or the similarities we might have had on a deeper level. I wish I had something I could connect with in that way. Something to memorialize in a tattoo. Maybe someday it’ll come to me.

    1. bornbyariver Post author

      The symbol I expect I will tattoo on my arm isn’t something my mom liked, or even knew about as far as I know, but it is something that makes me feel connected to her. She would probably think it was totally weird that I was tattooing her memory on my arm, but would smile and support me anyway. She wasn’t against tattoos, but never handled attention very well.

      I hope you can get to know your mom after the fact through adults that knew her before she passed. I know its not a great substitute for getting to know her yourself, but maybe its better than nothing. And for what its worth, I was well into adulthood when my mom died and there is still so much I didn’t know. Much about her I was blind to.

  3. missjacquejoy

    I think you should do it! I agree that they are outward symbols of what we are on the inside. The half-sleeve on my left arm is so personal and incredibly symbolic of my entire life. Sometimes I explain the meaning and other times I leave it a mystery when people ask about it. It has led to some incredibly deep conversations about life. My next one will be a representation of the transformation that has taken place since facing death, just like you’ve done. Go for it! Go for it! Go for it! I love your honesty. I love your perspective. I love your writing. 🙂

    1. bornbyariver Post author

      thank you so much… and I love YOUR perspective and writing. makes my day much brighter when I read a jacque post. you know, my old car was named jacque. a good girl through and through 🙂

  4. Green Thumb Mama

    I got my first tattoo when I was 29. It’s on my lower left ankle. I love it. I’ve been wanting another one for a really long time. But yes, age does make one think harder before inking again. I know what I want, but where? So I keep on thinking. 🙂

  5. blessedbebeth - Middlescapes.com

    body art has historically marked rights of passage and honored transformations. I like the idea of experimenting with the henna first. you continue to delight with your honesty and I love being part of your process. hope you will share a picture when you complete this particular journey.

  6. Allison

    I actually have an appointment on the 25th to get one on the inner side of my wrist. It’s scary to have one so visible, but I can’t hide my grief forever.

  7. Heart To Harp

    I have a shooting star, now much faded, on my left shoulder that I got in my 20’s. Back in 2007 I lost seven people, including my dear friend-like-a-brother who I took off life support. That’s when I also started thinking about getting a second tattoo, one of sea turtles on my calf. I’ve not done it, the memory of how much the first one hurt is too vivid thirty years later. But the need to create a change on the outside that reflected the inside, I totally relate to. In our culture, we just don’t have rituals that reflect the transformations that grief brings. A tattoo was the one thing I thought of that would have reflected those changes, and the journey to them.

  8. Pingback: my new tattoo | born by a river

  9. Denise Hisey

    I got a tattoo on my upper shoulder for my 20th birthday in the early 80’s. A tiny rose. Mine did not have any meaning, but it was a bit scandalous back then and I relished in that. As did yours, mine faded over time.and I got a new one over the top a few years ago. Bigger, brighter. A gorgeous butterfly symbolizing emergence out of my cocoon -and how much I’ve changed during my healing years.
    Times have changed -I think tattoos don’t carry the stigma or shock they used to. I love your idea to show on the outside a glimpse of what’s on the inside.


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