"Oh look, there's a tattoo shop! You've been talking about getting your Navy dolphins tattooed on your forearm. Let's go in tonight after dinner," I eagerly pointed out the shop to my husband, the warm sun kissing my head as we rode the Conch Train down Duvall Street in Key West. I was in one of those moods where it felt great to be alive. Or maybe I was just thankful to have left the snow and sleet behind us for a weekend get-away sans work and two hyperactive three year old boys.
"I ah. . .I ah. . ." My husband stammered. We have been married a long time, long enough for me to understand that his Navy dolphins tattoo that he so often dreams about is, in his mind an unobtainable dream. He secretly wants to keep it that way. We have also been married long enough that I knew that by the end of the night we would be in the tattoo parlor, of course, at my insistence.
The owner of the parlor came out to greet us and I guess after years of tattooing you learn to read people as willing canvases or tire kickers. I guess she read my husband as a tire kicker but she did give him a price on his dolphins. "Three hundred and fifty dollars!" I yelled. "Oh no, I don't want to pay that much for a tattoo!" Normally my husband would have argued with me but he nodded eagerly as if to say, "Oh yeah, I agree, that's WAY TOO much!"
We thanked her for her time. Before leaving I stopped to look at all the lovely pictures of tattoos they had advertised in numerous books. As an artist, I was curious. I found a little palm tree that touched my tropical heart. I am a northern resident by necessity of my husband's career, not by choice. A colorful little palm tree tattooed permanently would remind me of warm Key West breezes blowing through my hair during the coldest parts of winter! I had never had the urge to be someone's canvas before, but all of a sudden I was overwhelmed with the urgency of becoming branded.
"You're nuts! You're really going to do it?" My husband looked at me like I had three heads.
"Of course I am. Why wouldn't I? It's just a little tattoo." Little was about four inches long by 2 inches wide with lots of bold color going right over my ankle bone.
I watched the inebriated teenage girl getting tattooed before me wince with the worst pain of her life as she got a microscopic tattoo over her big toe. I knew it was the worst pain of her life; she declared it so as her two boyfriends held her up in an effort to protect her from the needle.
I admit, when it was my turn to sit in the chair, my carefree, nonchalant attitude breezed out the door and blew down Duvall Street carried by the warm trade winds, that I so relished earlier in the day. Those winds were now making me sweat bullets. It didn't help that this particular tattoo parlor had huge floor to ceiling storefront windows that faced Duvall Street. Guess where they tattooed you? Millions, maybe hundreds of millions of people where going to be watching me to see if I winced so they could laugh at my pain!
The tattoo artist had her needle kit in hand. "Are you sure you want to do this? Once I open this kit, it's a done deal."
"I ah. . . I ah. . ." I stammered. I sweated. I swallowed.
"Oh she does! She really does!" My husband pushed me forward into the chair. All of a sudden he manned up since our bank account came to his rescue. Our bank account couldn't rescue me from $150 worth of torture.
I thought to myself, "Girl, you've had a C section and were up and walking in an hour. You've had millions of stitches. You can do a tattoo." I looked at the branding artist and nodded uneasily, staring at the spectators who were starting to gather, sensing a new victim was seated.
The buzz of the needle started. My butterflies started flittering. The needle touched my skin and I felt its electric charge piercing my flesh and my bone. I stared calmly into my husband's eyes. His mouth gaped open in amazement at my calm demeanor. "It doesn't hurt?"
"Well, it doesn't tickle but no, it's not too bad." I laughed, smiling and waving to my admiring fans, upsetting them. The crowd began to disperse when they realized I wasn't going to need to be sedated. I waved bye-bye to them and blew kisses as they turned their backs on me. Fans can be so fickle. My butterflies flew outside of my body and started fluttering their way down Duvall Street in search of a new victim.
"It REALLY doesn't hurt? Really?" My husband kept asking as he began snapping photographs staring at me the entire time like I was Wonder Woman. A new blank canvas sat down beside me and I could tell he was Canadian by his accent. He was very friendly, laughing as much as I was and we sat together, getting tattooed, bantering about hockey, for the duration of our surgeries. My husband interrupted every now and then, "That really doesn't hurt? Honestly?"
After my new adornment was lightly wrapped I stood up, the artist started going over care instructions. "If your tattoo starts to scab. . . If you notice a scab start to form. . . Scab. . . Scab. . . Scab Scab Scab."
I am a strong woman and I have never been a slave to pain, however; this tattoo artist had found my Achilles Heal. The sight of blood, or talking about blood or scabs, pus, any type of deep flesh wound, is like kryptonite to my brain. Why was she continuing to prattle on about scabs! Geez, would it ever stop! And then it happened. Her eyes started to throw out those "oh so familiar" white stars that began circling around my head squeezing my brain, making me dizzy. And then. . . someone had the audacity to turn the lights out. . .
~Written for Helium March 2009