Beautiful Bloody Flower
I was a seventeen-year-old high school senior when I started thinking about what kind of tattoo I want for my eighteenth birthday. I was pretty excited about the prospect of being able to get any tattoos or piercings I want, the world of body art was about to open its doors to me fully in several months. However, the more I looked at tattoos (books, magazines, Internet, friends) the more I realized that I just can't find anything that I know I will be satisfied with for, well, the rest of my life. I realized that I just probably wasn't ready yet. I decided that I have my whole life ahead and it wouldn't kill me to wait until I knew exactly what to get. Still, I looked through various books on the art of tattoos and other body modifications just out of curiosity, and this is when I saw it: scarification.
Instantly it caught my eye. There was a picture of a fresh cut on someone's ankle, a simple flower with a curved stem and a couple leaves. This was my first encounter with cutting and scarification as a form of body art, I really did not think this is something that is practiced currently in Western culture (although I remember very well reading about a European explorer getting stranded among the Maori of New Zealand and receiving cuttings and ink rubbing from the people of the island; he described it as an excruciating experience and I could not imagine ever going through that...). I used to cut myself quite frequently, usually when feeling upset, cutting stars and weird curves into my arms, legs, hips. But my skin heals very well and now there's no trace of them left, and it's been a while since I've sliced my own skin open with a razor blade just to watch tiny droplets of blood appear along the edges and make my soul feel a little better. And when I was a child, maybe nine years old, I tried branding my name into my outer wrist with a wood burning pen (I absolutely loved wood burning!) and only got the "A" part of it done when my mom stormed in (no doubt alarmed by the smell of burning flesh) and yelled at me until I started hating myself and not picked up the pen for a long, long time...
However, now I saw that cutting can be body art, and what beautiful body art! Ever since that time that I saw the flower on someone's ankle, whenever I came across a picture of a fresh cutting or a healed scar, I secretly envied the person. How strong must they be to endure this! And slowly, over the course of three years, I came to realize that I too want a beautiful cutting. Unlike three years ago when I couldn't decide on a tattoo design, I didn't have to even think about what I wanted. I had this clear image in mind of two flowers, five petals and three leaves, under my collarbones.
The topic of cutting came up in conversation between my piercer, Nicc at Slave to the Needle, Seattle (in my opinion, absolutely the best shop in the city and quite possibly one of the best ever), and myself, while my boyfriend was getting my present to him, a tattoo he's wanted ever since we met (a while ago), stenciled on. He said he loves to do them and I've seen some of his work, and it looked great! I could feel my heart beating faster. That's it, I'm going to get this done! I told him that I have a design in mind and will bring it by next time I come in. At home, I quickly drew up the flower and gave it to Nicc. He said he'd work with the drawing so it flows better with the body and heals in a nice scar. Great. Next week I came in and he showed me what he did with the help of a tattoo artist at the studio. My reaction was "Oh, that's AWESOME (and oh, god, my original flower SUCKED!)!" I was thrilled and for a while the cutting was all I could think about. We scheduled a time for the work to be done, but because of some deadly flu that has been knocking down people in the Puget Sound area (including Nicc, and actually myself a little before him), much rescheduling had to be done, Nicc wanted to be perfectly healthy when he was going to work on me. I didn't really mind at all, all the time in the world was at my disposal and waiting a week or two didn't seem like a big deal at all. In fact, as my boyfriend pointed out, it was like a test. Do I REALLY want it? Is it just a moment-long affair with the idea? I mean, the scar was going to be permanent... But no. Weeks went by, and if anything, I wanted the cutting even more. And finally, the day came.
Brian (my boyfriend) and I came by the studio (Slave to the Needle in Wallingford, Seattle) as they were getting ready to close up. Roger, a tattoo artist there (he did Brian's tattoo which turned out wonderful, by the way) took the flowers and stenciled them on my chest, taking great care so they would be as symmetrical as possible, and while he was doing that, Nicc had a customer who wanted an ear cartilage piercing (lucky girl, she came to the right place and the right person for any kind of ear work!). The stencils were done and approved by everyone, myself including. So I just waited around and chatted with Nicc while he was closing the shop, he's a very friendly guy and very fun to talk to. I was pretty nervous, but didn't really realize it. Brian and Nicc were the ones who pointed it out, I was talking too much. Ha. I guess. I guess I felt slightly anxious, but if anything, I was very excited. I had NO idea what to expect. Over the years, I've had a bunch of piercings, but not a single tattoo, so...
Brian and I went into the piercing room. I lay down on my back and Brian sat by my head while Nicc was getting his tools ready. There were many sealed packages--scalpels and blades for them (only two types of blades, as Nicc later told me, but lots of changes for each because the blade needs to stay as sharp as possible at all times for the best result). Everything was sealed, there were lots of changes of gloves, as always, as much care and professionalism as there could be (which is why I keep coming back to Nicc for anything that involves any kind of metal and flesh interaction). When Nicc made the first cut, I didn't even feel it, really. Then more cuts came, and some of them stung slightly, but nothing nearly as bad as I was secretly fearing. I couldn't see anything that was going on, but I could see the bloody nice soft paper towels, which lead me to believe that indeed there was the cutting and the bleeding. I really wish I could see it, but oh well. Nicc was telling Brian and me a lot about his career as a body artist, and both of us were amazed, he was definitely not your average local hole-puncher. Years of experience, tons of classes, years of learning. I felt so extremely safe and confident. I had no doubts that my cutting would turn out very nice.
What seemed like a long time after the process started, Nicc got up to take a break and get some more blades, and I asked Brian how much was done. What?!? Less than half of it? Ah! I was surprised. And skin was getting slightly sore in the area. But Brian said that what was done was done very, very nicely, Nicc was taking his time to make sure everything was perfect, every line. Okay. Some cuts were quite painful, I could feel the scalpel making the curved petals and it hurt more than the shorter straight lines, a couple times I really had to clench my fists and teeth, and I was forgetting to breath, which made me slightly light-headed a couple times. But overall, no severe pain or anything. Until we got to the leaves, specifically the one that extended toward my shoulder. The leaves were long slightly curved cuts, and that one hurt quite a bit, my right leg produced a couple involuntary twitches. I was quiet and focusing on breathing. The best part was when the scalpel lifted up. As skin was getting angrier at the abuse and more sore, the cuts were getting more and more painful. But I tried to stay calm and relaxed, and just breathe. Just as the cutting was really starting to hurt pretty seriously (the area near the shoulder, above the armpit is quite sensitive), Nicc said he was done with the whole thing. Whoo-hoo! He said he was going to put some numbing agent on it and then clean up whatever needed cleaning up. The numbing agent stung, not pleasant. But then the pain dissolved and when Nicc started going over the whole cutting with a scalpel once more, all I felt was the occasional sting (although some were pretty bad). About an hour after starting the work, he was done with the flower. Because it took so long, we decided to leave the other one for the time being and do it next time I could come into the shop on a Friday night, which would only be in two weeks. Nicc taped a pad over the fresh cut (of which I got a brief glimpse, oh my god, it was so incredibly awesome!) and started cleaning up the room. Happy and endorphined, Brian and I waved Nicc goodbye along with many thank-you's and went home, which luckily isn't too far away.
When we got home, the endorphin wore off, it seems, because all of a sudden I felt drained. Nothing seemed better than going to sleep. The cutting must have taken a lot out of my body. I was glad only one of the flowers was done, because I was not feeling too great (I was not feeling too great the whole day, actually, the high point of it was the cutting itself). Crashed completely. Woke up the next morning, shoulder kind of sore, peeled off the tape and took off the pad, and looked in the mirror. Man! It is amazing that this beautiful thing was done with a mere scalpel. The lines were so precise and the curves were perfect (and it wasn't an easy design, five curved and pointed petals, five tapering lines radiating from the center, and three leaves with veins, one toward the middle of the chest, two toward the shoulder, a lot of fine details), the depth was so even, could not be better. My boyfriend kept looking at it and saying "wow, this is REALLY nice!" for days, actually, and I've been thinking the same thing.
The next day, Nicc called me to check how things are going. Very well, almost no bleeding at all, better than I thought. Later that day, Brian put some vinegar on the cut because he read online that acids, citric or acetic, are good for angering cuts and thus making them keloid more in the end. That wasn't so bad. We went canoeing, and my shoulder was kind of sore, but not much, the cut almost didn't bleed. Before then, I fell off my skateboard and went gliding along the pavement, and the scrape and the bump on my elbow hurt a lot more than the cutting. And still later that day, Brian put some lemon juice on the cut. At first it didn't hurt at all, but thirty seconds later I was re-acquainted with the definition of "pain." It was nearly excruciating, I couldn't help but whimper slightly and put Brian's wrist in an iron clench. I have no words to describe the pain that it was. I wanted to jump out of my skin and kept whimpering "it's worth it it's worth it it's worth it...!!!!!!!" and Brian tried rubbing my shoulder to make me feel better, but any physical contact with my skin at that point proved very irritating, so I squirmed out and went to pace around the room. I'm a wimp after all, I guess. Ten minutes later the pain subsided almost entirely, and Brian went for round two of lemon juice. See above for description of how it felt, except slightly worse. Afterwards, I was feeling tired again and we went to sleep, my skin feeling very angry.
In the morning in the shower I picked off the dried juice and the dried yellow lymph at the bottom of the cuts until they looked white as they did after being done. After drying off, I went to see Nicc to get ends of my anti-eyebrow changed to disks and show him how the cut is doing. He said it looks very, very nice and I was relieved to hear that. More lemon juice on it later that day. No, it didn't get any less painful.
Right now it's been four days and the cut looks.. Um.. Well, I think it looks great, but I can see that some would say "ew". The yellow lymph dried up and formed noticeable scabs that don't look very tasty and it's kind of red around the cuts, but that doesn't bother me much. It is slightly sore, I avoid contact with it because it kind of hurts. Waiting for some more scabbing so I can pick them off evenly. Nicc has done an excellent job. I am very excited to see how it turns out and to get my other side done! I wish I had some decent pictures to post of the cutting, but the only ones I have were taken with my phone camera, and their very poor quality does not do the beautiful flower justice..
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 13 July 2006