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Chai Tattoo

Other than getting my ears pierced with a piercing gun at Merle Norman when I was in the fourth grade, I've never had any kind of body modification. But this winter, I started thinking really seriously about getting a tattoo. When I was home from school for Christmas, I asked my parents what they thought, and they kind of rolled their eyes at me, since I'm always threatening to do things like dye my hair blue and then never go through with them. My mom did tell me, though, that she didn't think it would be a very good idea. This actually made me more determined to do it, just to prove that I'm capable of making my own decision, especially about my body. The only thing to do next was to decide what I wanted, and where.

At first, I was thinking about getting something on my wrist, something small and abstract, like a circle with a line through it. I drew it on me with Sharpie and didn't really love how it looked, so I started thinking about something that might be a little more meaningful. I've been doing a lot of research recently about the Holocaust, my family's relationship to it, and my own relationship with my culture. I don't consider myself to be religious at all, but I was raised in a strong Jewish tradition. I love being Jewish and take the culture very seriously, even though I don't actually practice the religion anymore. There are a few important Jewish cultural symbols, like the Star of David, but the one I like is the chai, which is a combination of two Hebrew letters and means "life." In the Holocaust, prisoners in the concentration camps were often tattooed with their serial number, sometimes across the chest, but most often on the inside of the arm, either on the inner wris t or higher up on the arm. I thought that this would be a really good place to get my chai, because it means that the design and the placement are both very significant. So (again) I did a little test drawing with Sharpie and liked it—it was high up on my inner left arm, not quite in the crook of the elbow. The concentration camp tattoos were symbols of death and destruction, and the chai is life, the opposite of death.

At first I thought I would draw the design myself, but soon realized that since I can't draw a straight line, that wasn't such a good idea. When I got back to school, I started looking online for chai designs that would look good. It was hard to find a really nice one—some were too complicated and some were too simple, but finally I found one that seemed just right. My friends were almost more excited about the idea of me getting a tattoo than I was, and they were ready to drop everything right there and take me into the city to get it done. I did tons of research about the act of tattooing itself, but figured since it was such a simple design, it wasn't necessary to research artists, since I wasn't looking for custom work. So one evening we drove into the city and took the subway down to West Fourth street in the Village, where there are lots of tattoo places and sex shops and stuff like that.

We walked around for awhile, and went into one or two places that freaked me out entirely—they didn't seem clean, and they just gave me a bad feeling. Finally we found a better place, which was large and white, and looked much more safe and friendly. We went inside and talked to the artist for a minute. I started looking around and completely lost my nerve—I turned to my friends and was like, "We need to leave, I can't do this, I really don't want to." So we went back onto the street, walked down half a block, and I thought, "If I don't do this now, I never will." I ran and caught up with them and said, "I changed my mind, I changed my mind!" We went back into the shop, he gave me a price estimate, and I signed the consent forms. I was so, so nervous, and there was this really nice guy there with his girlfriend getting his leg tattooed, and he kept trying to talk to me and tell me how it really didn't hurt, and how women do better with pain than men do.

The actual tattooing process is kind of a blur in my memory, because I was so nervous and scared and excited that it seemed to go by incredibly fast. I showed my little design to the artist, and he made up a stencil on his little machine and transferred it to my arm. He got the placement right the first time, so I sat down and he got to work. It didn't hurt anywhere near as much as I had been expecting, although from time to time I think he went a little deeper into the skin, and that was pretty painful. I remember holding my friend's hand really tightly and saying in a panicked voice, "It doesn't hurt! It doesn't hurt at all!" It only took about fifteen minutes, and it looked awesome when he was done. Afterwards I was feeling completely drained and shaky, so my friends took me to a restaurant and made me eat a big piece of cheesecake before we could go home.

The healing process was pretty long, which I expected because I always take a long time to heal. It scabbed over completely, and some of the scabs got knocked off too early, so some of the ink inside the outline fell out, making it look a little splotchy. I'm going to go back and get it retouched at some point, I just haven't gotten around to it. It doesn't look bad, it's just not perfect. All in all, it was a great experience, and I'm glad that I have a tattoo that's meaningful to me—even though I haven't told my parents about it yet! I definitely want to get some more work done in the future, either more tattoos or some kind of piercing.

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 06 April 2004
in Hebrew Tattoos

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Originally written by Arielle

Artist: Octavio
Studio: Village Star
Location: New York City, NY

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