Sunday, 8 August 2010

Losing my tattoo virginity

I can't remember when I first went from "EWWWW, tattoos, pool room sleaze!" to "Tattoos! I want one!"

When I made the switch, I REALLY wanted one. But I'm not really good at lifetime commitments. We could say that it's because I'm a Gemini with tonnes of planets in Gemini. Or we could say it's my family history. But I prefer Eric Foreman's take on it:

"People who avoid commitment are people who know what a big thing it is."

And having seen people in (or in the process of making) lifetime commitments that destroyed their soul, I am most certainly aware of that.

So I wasn't going to make this lifetime commitment without being deeply in love with the design I was marrying. I knew I wanted a wolf and a moon. Liked this, considered that, until one day, early in 2009, I came across this and fell in love: a wolf that was PART of the moon, looking out at the world, veiled in mystery by wisps of cloud.

But having been messed around by lust at first sight before, I needed to be level-headed about this affair. It was a bit early in the relationship for a declaration of love. So I did what any woman would do: I talked about it. I posted it on my facebook page; I sent it to friends who didn't have fb and asked their opinion; I talked about where, when, how size mattered, anything.

In June 2009, I made my first visit to Evolution Tattoo to talk about it with someone briefly. Didn't have the £20 to make the appointment, but meant to do it shortly thereafter. Never did, thus convincing most of my friends that the affair was over and that I didn't have the staying power for this relationship.

But I kept looking at it: through the summer and the slide into darkness in the autumn. As I moved out of the land of the dark sun and recommitted to the world above, things started changing. When Sophie K-S wanted to get her tatt done and suggested we go together for an initial consultation in July, I looked at the picture again, realised I was in love, and proposed.

When we got to Evolution this time, and it was time to make a firm appointment, I went out to get the £20. Whilst Soph still hadn't decided on her Arabic script, I was ready to go. Funnily enough, Soph got hers done a fortnight before I did. C'est la vie; all good things come to those who wait.

On the eve of my lifetime commitment, I had an anxiety dream where I told Saffa Greg (who just materialised next to me, as friends in dreams do) that I'd given blood and had tested HIV-positive. He hugged me, told me it would be all right and asked if I'd checked whether it might be a false positive. I was doing that when the alarm went and woke me.

Nervously, I skipped breakfast, decided what to wear, put up my hair and hopped on the bus so I was there about 30 minutes early. Small waiting room meant I moved a lot as people walked in and out around me, including my tattooist (known to one of my colleagues/friends at work). He clearly knew what he was about as he printed off the tattoo for the stencil, asked if that was the size I wanted and moved smartly to his studio. But I didn't relax till one of the artists slipped behind the reception desk and said to one of the others, "I'm not taking her back this time," and received a sympathetic response and a 'go ahead' head tilt.

And I thought, "Yeah. People who relate like this are people I want doing something like this for me."

Finally, Jack called me into the studio, with his stencil ready, his dark inks lined up and needles at the ready. Having at first thought shoulder blade, the size now made me think midback, so I asked him his opinion. He said, "I like things centred," which went with my instincts. "It depends on what else you want done."

"I don't know," I responded.

We agreed, and he placed the stencil on my back, had me check it in the mirror and then it was time.

I had brought a magazine with me to read, but decided not to, in the end: if he wanted to chat, I wanted to have a conversation; but far more importantly, it was essential that I do something I don't usually do - be in body and be in the experience.

In went the first needle: it felt like vibrating sandpaper. It ached, but it didn't really *hurt*. Early on, I asked Jack how he got started as a tattoo artist and was rewarded with the coolest story ever: he used to draw all the time, and first wanted a tattoo at 13. He couldn't get one, so he MADE a tattoo needle himself: using the innards of his walkman and a guitar string. He did tattoos for himself and friends until his mother helped him with a loan for proper equipment - and then his room at home became a tattoo studio. And now, he works in England (he's originally from Poland), doing what he loves.

We compared opinions on cold coffee and discovered that my home state contained a number of his relatives. Others came in to borrow his camera or to ask him to fix a machine - many of which he has made. At one point, the artist who took my booking popped in, looked over Jack's shoulder and went, "Cool."

I couldn't resist. "That sounds like the ultimate in male approval."

Pause. "It is." He perched for a few. "How is it?" the tattoo veteran asked the tattoo virgin.

"It's ok. Not bad," I responded.

Respect flared in his eyes. "Really? I find my back the worst. Jack is gentle, but even so, it hurts."

"It does in some places, especially along the spine." And, as I was to discover shortly, with smaller needles that I had to breathe through. He must have known, because at one point, when he paused, he said, "Almost finished."

Then, like a proper Catholic nuptial mass, 1.5 hours later, the lifetime commitment was made, and the honeymoon had begun - with slatherings of salve and cling film...and Bepanthen.

Sometimes, you discover things living with a partner you didn't know before: you need to shower facing the shower head, because your partner hates getting soaked. Your partner needs soothing regularly, and you can't forget and scratch (brief moment earlier today, just at the edge). No swimming for a month, but you want a beach holiday.

Then you discover that you actually enjoy taking care of your partner through the high-maintenance period - taking the time to slather on Bepanthen, the soreness, the no soaking. The tradeoffs - that it's your choice for your body; having an excuse to take care of yourself; the 'oohs' and 'ahs' of others when they meet your partner; and most importantly, the sheer pleasure of HAVING your partner are more than worth the early graft.

You've met me. And so, without further ado, meet my partner:

Don't worry, he doesn't bite...except when asked.


Playful Grace said...

Brilliant. Thank you for sharing this experience. The language, the way you've captured it on so many levels... Just brilliant!

I'm stoked for you.

And... totally debating my own decisions in regards to one of these. Haven't found one I'm totally ready to commit to though.

Ariel said...

It's just so beautiful, and so you... I know you'd showed me the picture yesterday, but I still went EEEEE all over again when I got to its unveiling here. Methinks you chose your minister well... he did such a beautiful job capturing all the nuances. Do you have a mirror situation that allows you to admire his artistry as it deserves?

To you and your partner: may you have a long and beautiful life together. L'chaim!


Irim said...

Thank you both.

And A - I think he brought him to life brilliantly - and I love the fact that I am (via my skin) the crescent, the wolf's eyes, the craters, the clouds shrouding him in mystery.

Remember my thinking that I was going to put raven wings on it? I'm so so glad I didn't. It just...had to be him, alone.


Ariel said...

Ja, I think the wings would have been too much. It's perfect just as it is. You can save the wings for the next one... I hear getting tatts is quite addictive.