Unfinished: A tattoo love story

The familiar smell of latex and clean, sort of like the smell you might encounter in a doctor’s office, floats in the air. I can hear music playing, usually some kind of folk rock, but it often depends on who is in charge of the genre that day. I climb into my familiar chair and wait patiently while Nick prepares for this two hour long trek.

Rob is almost always there. He takes my hand and gives it a reassuring squeeze. The stress and anxiety of the day or the week or the month is heavy on my shoulders, so heavy by now that it’s hard to catch my breath. Some of it Rob is aware of it. Some of it he is not. I keep a lot of things hidden still even though I know I shouldn’t.

If you have never had a tattoo you may not be aware that there are different types of machines, but a lot of tattoo artists these days use machines that are very quiet. Rotary machines are much more fluid and silent, while coil machines (from my limited understanding) are a bit harder to use and are incredibly loud. Think, I don’t know… Dentist’s office loud.

Nick uses a coil machine. He’s incredibly skilled with it, but it is loud. There is this jolting clack it makes when he first turns it on that tells me it’s time to begin. That clack sound gives me goose bumps. Every single time.

Anyone you ask that says that tattoos don’t hurt is either a bigger badass than I’ve ever met, or he is lying. They hurt. Now some hurt worse than others, sure. But they all have some sort of pain attached to them. My most recent tattoos have been my hands and fingers, and I’m here to tell you it hurts. Badly. It’s a pain like I’ve never felt before. It burns and stings, sometimes it feels like there may be nothing left of my knuckles when he is done and there have been a couple of times I’ve looked at my husband with a panic in my eyes and given him an “I can’t take any more” look. Every time, without fail, he nods and says “You got this”.

Some of you reading this get it. Ink therapy is a very real thing.

For those of you who don’t get it, it may be hard to explain, but I will try.

Tattoos, for me, are healing in two very specific ways. I remember the moment in middle school when I realized I hated my body. I was part of the Eaglettes Dance Squad which was a huge accomplishment for me. I was by far the biggest girl on the team, but it didn’t bother me because I had passed tryouts which meant that I was worthy. I let go the fact that my cheerleading type outfit was the largest one and was still pretty snug on me. It didn’t matter because I was a good dancer and I had earned my spot. 

None of this mattered until one Friday, I was sitting in the hallway in full uniform for game day taking a makeup test. An older boy was walking down the hall, and he looked at me and stated with a smirk, “Aren’t you too big to be a cheerleader?” then laughed and proceeded down the hall. 

I understand that kids are mean, but this simple statement changed my life forever. All of a sudden I became incredibly aware of what people said and thought about me. This is definitely a topic I’ll explore at great length in another post. But just know that I spent a good portion of my life hating what I saw in the mirror.

So what does that have to do with tattoos? Every single piece of art that Nick puts on my body, changes what I see in the mirror. I see intricate details and artistic design and people stop me and ask me about them and tell me how beautiful they are. It takes the focus away from what people used to see about me, and puts the focus on something I want them to see. Now please don’t get things confused. I don’t use the tattoos to hide anything. I’m still a big girl, that can’t be hidden with ink. What it does is it changes the way I see myself, which in turn changes how others see me. I love me, and so they see a light rather than someone who is just dying inside her skin. Each tattoo represents change.

The pain, believe it or not, is the other portion of the process that heals me. It keeps my focus pinpoint. All the stress, all the anxiety goes away. I have one goal and one goal only and that is to complete the sitting time and not tap out. When it’s done, the pain is a reminder of something I did that isn’t easy. You don’t see a lot of people with solid black work tattoos on their hands for good reason. It SUCKS. Badly. In the end I’m more powerful because I did it, I accomplished it, I chose this skin and I had control over the outcome. 

Look, I get that even now some of you will still not understand. I get that some of you may not understand why I would cover scars and pain with more scars and pain. That’s ok. This isn’t some sort of pitch to sell tattoos to you, it’s merely an attempt to help you understand why I’m taking this journey. There will be many, many, more tattoos. There is a lot more growth for me that needs to happen. Ink growth, heart growth, self-love growth, anxiety free growth, personal growth, professional growth. Growth of all kinds. 

I’m not anywhere close to done. 

I’m just unfinished.

Bird

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