When I was 14, I began defying all the controls of the conservative Christian environment that was trying to force my round peg to fit their square holes. I physically fought to be real in a world of facades. My one concession to the rules and expectations placed upon my gender was that I didn’t get a tattoo.
My father would turn a shade of violet whenever he saw a woman with a tattoo. It just wasn’t done. In one of our many, many arguments I tried to gently broach the subject and the response was so negative that I let it go. I wouldn’t be devil marked and maybe the family could accept the rest of my failures.
It was easy to say no to the guy who offered to ink teenage me where my parents wouldn’t see it. His work looked like it was done with a ballpoint pen in a prison cell. As I got older, it stayed in the back of my mind, but I thought I was pleasing my father by resisting that impulse to decorate my body. When my oldest son was friends with the son of a tattoo shop owner, I almost caved. I thought he would see past my age and point me to the artist who could help me.
But I didn’t.
The week before my father died is a series of frozen moments that haunt me. In the traditional ‘always get the last word’ style of my parents, two days before his stroke, my father walked out my front door as he said, “I know you’ve got tattoos hidden somewhere.” I wasn’t allowed a response. He didn’t want to hear what he was certain would be lies. The one thing I didn’t allow myself just to please him was something he never believed. Woulda coulda shoulda.
Now, I’m the “old bitch” that the street vendor in Central Park called me. Too old for body art and too poor to spend money on myself. So, I keep a folder of pictures of line art and other people’s tattoos on my phone. When I die, maybe someone can put a cool image on my urn. Or coffee can.
“I’m juggling at CreepyCon next weekend.”
“That’s the same weekend there’s a tattoo convention. It’s also our anniversary. I could spend your juggling pay on ink.”
“I’m being paid in free passes.”