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.
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.