This past weekend, while enjoying martinis at the Top of the Hub on a sunny Boston spring day, mama B, my sister T and I were joking around about everything and nothing, mama B’s recent travels, T’s impending engagement, my latest adventures on the NYC single scene. After three-quarters of a cosmo, mama B looked at me with an expression I know all too well, and asked her favorite question: “If I buy you a diamond stud for your nose, will you stop wearing that damn hoop?” I laughed, like I always do, and she sighed, like she always does, but then immediately started, dropping her bite of arancini back on her plate, jolted by a recent memory. She looked me up and down, narrowed her eyes and said “OH GOD I almost forgot. You didn’t get that third tattoo, did you?”
I probably understand more than most that tattoos are not for everyone. I don’t try to convince people they should consider a tattoo if they’re the type to say things like “I change my mind too often for something permanent!” (you’re really bragging about that?) or “I’m too scared of the pain.” A tattoo is a lifelong responsibility, not in the sense that it needs to be cared for forever, but if you have visible ink, people are going to look at you a certain way, think of you a certain way, and judge you a certain way, even if they’re tiny, like mine. It’s not all negative: I’ve had plenty of compliments on mine from strangers in the street, doctors, coworkers and even family. But I’ve also seen a look when people catch a glimpse of my arm or my ankle, coupled with the hoop in my nose, and there’s a brief moment where I feel them stand a little straighter, just enough so I know they’re looking down on me. After all, why would such a normal-looking girl do something like that to herself?
I’ll readily admit that my first two tattoos were perhaps a touch on the impulsive side. I’ve always been the kind of person to plan ahead, looking at things in a vast, unknown future, and then decide in a brief moment of spontaneous inspiration that the future is RIGHT NOW and NEEDS TO HAPPEN. When this is in regards to a new dress I’ve been eyeing or finally giving into my near-constant craving for Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich, the only things that really suffer are my overstuffed closet, wallet and waistline. Tattoos, on the other hand, put this kind of impulsivity into a completely different spotlight. Looking over the consent form is a surreal experience, words like “PERMANENT” and “SCARS,” “NOT LIABLE” and “PERMANENT” scream at you from every paragraph, rightfully reminding you that once this is done, there’s no turning back. That first line is a wake-up call to the lasting consequences of change, a pinch of pain, the buzzing from the gun humming at the same frequency as the ringing in your ears, and then the dull ache of needle on skin as the masterpiece comes to life.
Some people ask me if I’m sick of looking at them after so many years, if they’ve lost their meaning. I look at the cheerful heart on my ankle, blue and white stripes with an almost imperceptible sun in the middle, but I know it’s there. I smile as I’m hit with memories of wandering barefoot on my friend’s balcony in the heart of Buenos Aires, munching on bread with homemade chimichurri and endless mugs of sweet sangria, singing along to his guitar while the asado permeated the air with the heady smell of grilled meats, a reminder of another LB, another place, 19 years old, such a child. I catch a glimpse of the one on my back and remember the last time I had to adjust to single life, surrounded by wild choices and no responsibilities in my last year of college, using the ink as a reminder that to love and be loved requires only me, another LB, another place, 21 years old, still learning. They’re as much a part of me as my freckles or my scars, and I love them for reminding me of places, people, and times in my life where I felt strong and felt alive.
I always knew I wanted another, and will probably get one more still before I’m done. I know the full responsibility of a tattoo now. I know the stares, and the questions, and the disappointment etched in my parents’ faces as they observe what new hell I’ve done to my body. I’ve spent a few years planning for the third one, waiting and wanting and needing something that made all of the scary parts worth it.
A little reminder on my inner arm now serves forever as a good memory of a day where I woke up, sunshine seeping through my windows, highlighting all of the changes I’ve made in the apartment, in my life, since last fall. I remember sipping coffee and watching the clock, anxious for it to be the time to leave, hoping it wouldn’t take too long, just wanting to see the final product, willing it to life. I remember joking around with the artists in the shop, feeling so comfortable, ten minutes, no pain, and there it was forever. I spent the rest of the day in a delirious happiness with the decision, showing it off to everyone who didn’t ask, and then waking up only to remember it wasn’t a dream, and it was forever there, forever my piece of this time. Another LB, another place, 25 years old, finally growing up.