It’s no secret that I spend a lot of time mapping out tattoos that I’ll
probably possibly never get. I’ve got a whole bunch sketched out and periodically, I’ll get out some tracing paper and a marker and ink myself up a bit (this takes place, generally, at about 2am and is never a very neat process). I have a love-on for tattoos. I think they’re beautiful, and, for as long as I can remember, have been fascinated with them.
I’ve only got three—a butterfly, New Betty and Drunk Betty (the two Bettys are right on top of another—New Betty acquired for the fixing up of drunk Betty), but in my imagination, I have at least eight others. A mermaid. Some words. Three Little Birds a la Bob Marley. A Swallow. A Gypsy with wild green eyes. Some fire and my son’s autograph (his first handwritten “i love you, mom, love me, James” with his football autograph the James part). Then, there is my plan to combine the women from my second and third books to New Betty (she’s the girl from the cover of In Spite of All the Damage) on my back.
Some day, when money and time allow, I’ll add them all to my shoulder and maybe my ankle. Even as I write this, I think of others I’d love to add. My tattoos cause my son to shake his head. He’s unimpressed, and in his very early childhood years, would tackle me at the beach, attempting to erase the tattoo on my back with hands full of sand. Once in a while, just to get him riled up, I’ll suggest mother and son tattoos.
I hold warm memories in my heart about my first tattoo. It was the early 90s, and I convinced my beautiful friend Clara to head downtown Toronto for some inking. I can’t remember how we decided upon the artist (Clara?). It was before the days of internet searches and we were much too white and uptown to have an address book full of tattoo artists.
I do remember feeling slightly like a bad influence (not the first or last time during our friendship!), but also, the waves of freedom and youth and happiness flowing around us.
She got a rose, I got a butterfly and I felt (and still feel) connected to her deeply because of that event. And over the years of marriage and families, of distance and change, I love it when our friendship is revisited—like a butterfly coming to rest on a rosebud.
That tattoo, and both Bettys have been great reminders for me of where life has taken me. The butterfly stretched and grew with my pregnancy with James. My doctor would jokingly measure both my fundus and the size of the butterfly (it shrunk down to size perfectly afterward!).
I enjoy looking at people’s’ tattoos and love asking them to tell me the story behind the Ink. I’ve found, on all my adventures and travels, that even the most basic tattoos tell tales of meaning and remembrance. Mothers who have lost children. Children who miss their mothers. Fathers who take pride in their kids and kids who want to keep their father’s wisdom close to heart. Lovers and losers and poets. Creatives and businessmen and all the lonely people. Proud people, lost people, longing people.
I believe it takes a lot of courage to write your story upon your flesh. You can’t hide yourself when who you are is there, in colour, spelled out in flashes of brilliant reds and blacks, your history upon you in fading artwork.
There are the mistakes—google up Nailed It Tattoos and you’ll find some reasons to cringe. Not to mention Drunk Betty or the many “practice” tattoos I’ve seen. I’ve been grieved seeing young girls who sport misspelled tattoos, green and shaky. Last winter, a conversation I had while enjoying a party the Violets’ reminded me of the importance of choosing an artist wisely (it’s the most costly canvass you’ll ever have!). And then, there are the impulse tattoos! If I’d given in every time I had the urge to truly sketch out something on my skin, my body would be as attractive as 70s wallpaper.
I can think of two friends, off the top of my head, with whom I’ve headed back to their local tattoo parlours to cover up the name of lovers they’ve lost. As bonding as the original tattoos were, so was the recovering of the names—a final act of closure that I think was a time of healing. Then, there’s the man I once saw whose flexing bicep had a list of women, names crossed out with a single rose, each—four black roses, each with leaves and vines entangled with one another and the lone red rose in the middle, underlining the name of his wife, who’d fallen to cancer a few years earlier.
There are fun tattoos and breathtakingly beautiful ones. I’ve seen tattoos that I wish I could try, but know I’m too lazy to sport—those which wrap down the side of hip, across flat stomach and down a leg must require a lot more crunches and squats than I wanna do. Any time I think about a tattoo like that, I fast-forward my head about 15 years and envision drooping vines and melting butterflies, a walking Persistence of Memory canvas, and stick with my 2am magic marker fun.
For a few seasons, I was an avid fan of LA Ink or Miami Ink, mostly because I think Kat VonD is gorgeous and her tattooed form is, in itself, art.
I’ve got a friend who regularly asks me why I wouldn’t just get a t-shirt with the same images on them, rather than tattooing. A t-shirt with butterflies or swallows or a great gypsy. And then, I laugh and regularly tell her “I’ve got big boobs. I don’t wanna put a message on them”. (Sorry, was that too much info?) She then throws in the fact that the tattoos are actually on my back… but… I dunno. A t-shirt with my son’s handwriting and an iloveyoumomma message just doesn’t mean the same thing to me.
But her reaction doesn’t bother me. I love that we can talk about it (I usually move on to talk about her nose ring and the grossness of blowing her nose etc). Thing is, tattoos used to mark a person as someone less-than-respectable. You got ink? Then you’re more than likely some kind of badass, most likely having just returned from jail…or worse! Remember CryBaby Walker’s gorgeous, sultry tear? But not anymore. Not to me. Tattoos, these days, are something of expression and longing and victory. And some claiming of life and self, and, for me, freedom and beauty and storytelling.
Even the most dark and twisted tattoos I’ve seen tell stories of depth and that are worth hearing. Stories and stories and stories
Back when Clara and I were getting our tattoos, I thought about some future day, when 90-year-old Juliet will wander around the nursing home or Gypsy caravan(!) with a butterfly beneath her navel. And again, when I was laying on the (truthfully frightening!) table getting Drunk Betty Boop (drunk by accident, she ought to have been kickass!) I thought of some future day when my body would, with its tattoos and scars, tell the story of my life.
These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about tattoos I’ll get. All those above and, of course, a Wonder Woman.
And I think I’ll be glad to interpret my body’s story. I love my body with its curves and scars, its strength and tattoos.
It’s a story I like to read often.
© 2013 Juliet dewal