“Are you afraid of getting Alzheimer’s when you get old?” My mom asked me out of the blue one day.
“No. Why?” I replied.
“Because you keep getting everyone’s name tattooed on your arm. I thought you were afraid of forgetting them one day. Can you tattoo my name next because I wouldn’t want you to forget me?” Oh, mom.
I have seven tattoos. For a former very conservative, Bible-thumping, straight and narrow Asian kid, it’s a bit overwhelming for some. As I plan for my next few tattoos, I was explaining to a friend that each of my tattoos signifies a beginning or an end to something in my life. I didn’t plan it that way, but it just seems to be my favored form of expression.
My first tattoo: At eighteen, I was very, very naive, thought I knew it all, and ready to save the world singlehandedly. Growing up a straight-A, never-got-in-trouble, church-going kid, I still felt a little form of rebellion inside me that I tried my best to keep tamped down and tamed. My parents told me that I could not get a tattoo and shortly after my birthday, I drew a design of a peace dove, made my best friend come along, and I got it inked on my ankle. I had planned to hide it from my parents for as long as I could, but my guilty conscience got the best of me, and I pulled my mom aside that night, and I showed her. She just sighed, shook her head, and said, “You know that’s permanent, right?” It took my dad almost a full year to notice. One night I was sitting on the floor watching TV, and he looked over and said, “Is that a real tattoo?” I nodded, and we went back to watching TV.
After I first met who would be my future Mother-in-Law, I called my boyfriend and asked him what his mom said about me, and he said that she mentioned my tattoo. She’d always wanted one and was always talked out of it by him and his father. I knew his dislike for tattoos and so for 14 years after that, I only had the one tattoo, though I longed for more. The rest of my seven tattoos are from the last 15 months. I made up for lost time.
My second and third tattoos: I was in Vegas. I wanted another tattoo badly. I called my husband, and he grudgingly gave permission (even though my motto had become “Neither ask for permission nor forgiveness,” I was still respectful of his wishes). I ended up getting two small ones to his great displeasure. We separated almost a month later. And no, it wasn’t because of the tattoos.
Looking back, those two tattoos, a star on my foot, and a white heart on my wrist were symbols of my rebellion from being told I couldn’t do something and what a portent of things to come.
My fourth tattoo: Right after my separation, I got a red scribbled heart on my left wrist. To me, it signified a fresh start with a new and whole (if a little imperfect) heart. After I got that one, I realized that I was allergic to red tattoo ink. Because of this, my body is slowly rejecting the ink, and it now looks and feels like a scar. Totally fitting if you ask me.
My fifth tattoo: For years, I wanted my dad to write my Chinese name in calligraphy for a tattoo, and he would refuse. Of course, I usually get my way as a Daddy’s Girl. To me, this was the beginning of finding myself by going back to my roots.
My sixth tattoo: On my shoulder are the words, “I Still Believe…” and a little pink heart. I got that one right after my divorce was final. It means quite a few things to me. I still believe in love, marriage, soulmates, God, Santa…and it’s also my very favorite song from the musical, “Miss Saigon.“
My seventh tattoo: My most recent tattoo is of the Kidlet’s first and middle names on my forearm. I got it around the time it hit me that I was a single mom, and she is and will be the most important thing in my life forever and ever.
They say that tattoos are an addiction. Once you get them, you always want more. For me, that is absolutely true. I have two more planned for now. Both will be song lyrics. I seem to be drawn to the written word, although, I would love to get something girly and pretty (like a pink skull and crossbones, haha). Both will, of course, signify a beginning and an end of something in my life.
But, we’ll see what happens. I tend to change my mind about 5 minutes before going under the needle.