We met out-of-town friends at Animal Kingdom yesterday. Magical day!
And I saw a lot of tattoos. Hundreds. I like to think there was a story behind each one of them. There’s definitely a story behind mine.
I never thought I’d get a tattoo.
Enter my mother:
“You know what I think?” she had said, placing her hands on the table in a way that we knew she was telling and not suggesting. “We should get matching tattoos.”
Newly free from wigs and chemo treatments, Mom was piloting life her way. And, up until that moment, I was an eager front row seat passenger. But there are certain things I don’t do, a few unwritten personal rules. I don’t let different foods on my plate touch. I don’t wear white after Labor Day. And I don’t do tattoos. It’s not so much the flawed stigma that goes along with them. It’s just that for someone who never does the same thing twice, a tattoo is a pretty permanent accessory. There’s also my fear of needles.
My sister Lindsey, though, who has as much ink as a Bic, squealed at the mention of a new tat.
“On our feet,” she said. “The top of our left foot.”
“I was thinking the inside of an ankle,” Mom said.
They both looked at me.
“I was thinking…no.”
“C’mon, Min,” Lindsey said, rolling her eyes. “For all your so-called free spirit-ness and whatever, you are no fun. Have you ever done one crazy thing?”
With no decent reply, I blushed the truth. And, after much discussion, I agreed to a stamp on a toe—a teeny, tiny tat that maybe, just maybe, could be mistaken for an unfortunate freckle.
The next day, they got me in the car and we were on our way.
The Big Kahuna tattoo parlor was edgy and cold and terrifying. Possibilities were plastered on every corner of the walls and counter—symbols and serpents and fairies—and my indecisive soul was already quaking with panic. Mom and Lindsey were flipping through a big black book on the counter and I slid between them. Three pages in, I saw a three-leaf clover—each leaf was a heart and the shape was created with Celtic knots so that you could trace the entire design without ever lifting your pen from the page. I pointed.
“A heart for each of us.”
“That’s it,” Mom and Lindsey said on top of each other, nodding, nodding yes.
A guy walked down from the other side of the counter, joining us where we hovered over the page.
“Ah. Good one,” he said. “Luck Forever.”
“We each want one,” Mom said. “On our second toe.”
He was tapping tattoo-covered fingers on the counter. “We can’t do toes. Or fingers. Plus—see the detail in the knots? If it’s not at least this big, you’ll lose all that. It’ll just be a black blob.”
“I gotcha. Okay. Well, how about the inside of my ankle?”
He nodded. “Fine.”
Lindsey crinkled her nose. “I still want one on the top of my foot.”
“Yeah. Fine. And how about you?”
I shook my head no. “Not getting one. I’m just the cheerleader.”
Mom sighed. “Min. This is something I really wanted to do with you girls.”
Oh, the guilt. Thick as organic peanut butter. Without the jelly diversion.
“I was only okay with the toe because of you guys. I really don’t want one.”
She wasn’t going to push further, but I still felt awful.
“I’m still represented,” I offered. “Three hearts.”
But they had given up on me. And soon they were each settled in a different artist’s seat, tipsy with luck, ready to paint the town.
I sat between them, green-eyed as they laughed through the stinging. I sat there, safe, familiar and not without pain, wondering how many times my rules had kept me from tasting, from trying, from feeling something new.
The tattoos were small and simple, and only in black ink, so it wasn’t too long before Mom and Lindsey’s new additions were wrapped in hot pink cellophane that crinkled with fun. We left and I was conscious of my naked legs as we walked. Then we stopped for dinner. At the table, Mom’s legs were crossed and the arc of what I imagined was my heart was peeking through the transparent pink.
She caught me.
“Do you want one, honey? We can go back. It’s just down the street.”
My silence must’ve given her hope.
“We’re going back.”
The guys at Big Kahuna welcomed us with hugs.
“So. Where do you want it?”
“The inside of my left ankle,” I said, motioning to my Mom’s. “But maybe a little smaller?”
Twenty minutes and a roll of paper towels later, the final knot was tied. I had to look away at the first sight of blood. But, after my sweaty palms were under control, the pricking was (almost) exhilarating. Later that night, when I peeled the cellophane away, the black ink winked against my pale skin in triumphant relief.
The pigment has faded a little now. But my tattoo is as much a part of me as all of my unfortunate freckles. And, at first handshake, you probably would take me for a buttoned up, plays-by-the-rules girl. My clover betrays me, though. And I’m always happy to twist and twirl my ankle to show off my lady luck forever.
How about you? Do you have a tattoo (and a story behind it)? Ever broken your own personal rule?