My first tattoo
In March of 2010, my best friend passed away. He took his own life, which made the experience of losing him even more heartbreaking. For months following, I was wrought with grief, having never really lost anyone before. I didn’t know what to do, and for a while, I turned to drugs and other rather unsavory methods to cull my sorrow. I’m still affected by it, and the situation will never be any less tragic, but I think things are getting better with each passing day.
I suppose the decision to get a tattoo for him was rather ironic, given that he’d always thought tattoos were kind of stupid. I didn’t want to at first, for that exact reason, but there came a day when memories of my friend started to fade. One very heartbreaking day, I couldn’t remember what he’d ordered for breakfast on the last day I’d seen him. Seems like such a silly thing to be upset over now, but at the time, it meant…that he was really gone, that I’d never get those moments back. It meant I was starting to forget, and I couldn’t have that. I needed a permanent, physical reminder of the wonderful person I had lost. I had always planned on getting many tattoos, so I thought that commemorating him with one of those would be a great way to get some level of closure and relief.
I didn’t just want any old tattoo, though. He was far too unique a person for names or dates. I wracked my brain for ideas for a while, and at first, I thought it would be neat to get a sort of personal message tattooed somewhere. Like a question I could pose to him. “You appreciate the irony, don’t you?” was my first idea. I’m sure he would have liked that, but the idea was a little too eerie for my taste. It was one thing to mark my body permanently with an image in his honor, but it was a completely different idea to pose a question to the dead on my flesh. Idea abandoned. I went right back to the drawing board.
My friend was a very tall man, about six-foot-four or five. One of the affectionate names by which he was known among his friends, myself included (it was just so appropriate; I’m only five feet tall), was “tree.” Or more specifically, I used to call him "my giving tree." My other best friend, Mel, was dating a very talented tattoo artist for a time, so I gave the boyfriend an idea of what I wanted. I asked him to draw up a tree with my friend's initials, E. H. H., carved into the trunk. But I didn’t just want a tree, either. I wanted something more, something special about it.
My late friend had given his heart, eyes, and lungs to people in need, and they gave out these forest green donor pins shaped like those ribbons for various causes (yellow for support the troops, pink for breast cancer…). When the artist was drawing up the tattoo, I asked him to visually reference those ribbons with the shape of the tree, and I think he did a very good job of it. He turned the top of the tree into a sort of circular shape, and segmented the roots like the ends of a ribbon. When he showed me the sketch, I fell head over heels in love. I wanted to get it immediately, so he went about getting set up. My heart was racing, and I felt almost feverish. I was very nervous, since I’d never been tattooed before, and I remember just being very stiff and feeling awkward. When he asked me where I wanted it, I sheepishly showed him the inside of my ankle, and flinched a little when he touched my leg to transfer the sketch onto my skin.
He sanitized everything, used gloves, and overall did a very good job of preventing contamination. I bit my lip as he started, and Mel let me hold her hand. It stung at first, but the pain wasn't unbearable. It was like a rather abrasive massage, and all I really felt were the vibrations of the machine. I started to get complacent, and at one point even said, "Oh, this isn't bad at all." Then the stinging turned into burning, and I realized I was really in for it. It got worse when he started doing the colors and shading. I didn't scream or anything, and the pain really didn't turn me off the whole experience, but I quickly realized that it was better to go in with expectation of some pain, just to brace oneself. I’d been pierced before, many times, and I thought the sensation would be similar, but it wasn’t. The sensation isn’t instantaneous, and it doesn’t just fade right away. Actually, once I got comfortable, it was almost pleasant…thrilling.
Now, whenever I look over at my ankle, I feel…nostalgic. Sometimes it’s sad, sometimes it’s nice. But it’s good to know that my friend will always have a place in my heart, and on my body.
submitted by: sungyim-1
on: 15 Feb. 2011
in Miscellaneous Tattoos
Artist: Sean Hampton
Location: Chicago, IL