My Last Tattoo
Every tattoo has a story. Ask anyone who has tattoos and he’ll tell you why he has a star on his shoulder, a heart in memory of a departed loved one, or a butterfly on her ankle, acquired after an evening of over-imbibing.
My younger daughter has more tattoos than can be counted—they run together. Ironically, her first, which inspired me to get one, a scorpion on her cleavage (she’s a Scorpio), is gone—she had it removed—but much of the rest of her is covered. Telling those stories would rival a Thomas Pynchon novel. (My older daughter, on the other hand, belongs to that sainted society of middle school teachers, teaching her students to tell stories, preferably with correct spelling and grammar.)
I have only four tattoos; my stories are fairly brief:
When I was married to my first husband, who was a bit conservative about body art, I often though that someday I might like a dolphin tattoo. Four years after our divorce, I got a dolphin on my right hip. The image has faded to such a blur it’s hardly worth showing.
Since the dolphin was well concealed, a couple of years later I added a bird of paradise on my left upper back. I found it while paging through a bird book and I liked its appearance and its name.
In 2004 I attended a motivational seminar that gave me a power boost and I decided I needed an even more visible tattoo. This time I wanted a flower on my wrist. I had star-gazer lilies in my wedding bouquet when Gary and I got married, and that shade of pink is one of my favorite colors, so I got a small one on my left wrist—small enough for my watch to cover it since I worked in a professional environment. I never really liked it, so four years later, during a very difficult and painful period of my life, I went to a different artist and asked her to enhance it. I love what she did with the bright green vines. I quit wearing a watch, figuring I had established my professional credibility after 11 years in that job. (When my boss retired I mentioned to him that he had never noticed my wrist tattoo. “Yes I did,” he said. Very discreet gentleman.)
A few months ago I was at a party with church friends and the conversation turned to tattoos. I pointed out that I had unintentionally covered water, air and earth with mine. Our minister said, “You need fire!”
I thought about it for quite a while, considering a map of New Zealand (one of my favorite places) drawn in the style of Maori art, over my heart. The “fire” connection is a bit dubious: NZ is on the Pacific ring of fire. But I never pursued it.
Late this summer I needed another boost. There’s something empowering—maybe it’s knowing you can endure that much pain—about getting a tattoo.
So I asked myself what best represents fire? Candles, flaming hearts, burning bushes? The symbol of Unitarian Universalism is the flaming chalice, which I considered, especially because the idea had come from a UU minister.
I decided on the most elemental fire of all: the sun. I also love the compass rose, so I went to Google images and entered “sun” + “compass rose” and found what I wanted. My daughter’s current tattoo artist, Jon Claeton, at Republic of Texas Tattoos in Kyle, did the work last Saturday.
People always ask if it hurts. Yes, it hurts a lot. I don’t know how my daughter, who was terrified of needles as a child, has endured it. I nearly fainted Saturday, but I realized it was because I was holding my breath every time Jon put the needle on my skin. Once I started breathing normally I was ok. My daughter and granddaughter were in the shop—how many little kids watch their grandma get tattooed? (I asked Jon if I was the oldest person he had ever tattooed and he said no, he’d done 90-year-olds.)
This week I took some books to Half Price Books, and lucked onto a book that cost exactly what I got for the ones I sold. It’s called “Grandpa Jack’s Tattoo Tales,” and the granddaughter’s name is Chloe.
Jon said whenever someone says this is their last tattoo he sees them again, but this is definitely it. The set is complete: sea, air, earth, fire.