confession after confession -- my stomach tattoo
The one question I've always hated the most when people see my tattoos is the inevitable "what does it mean?" I don't really have an issue giving some explanation to the people who ask me, but most of the time, I'd just rather not. This is not because I'm a prick and don't have time for the un-tattooed masses, no. The explanation is sometimes just as painful as the tattoo, and really, having the tattoo in the first place is enough.
Undoubtedly, most of the people here have stories or memories associated with their tattoos painful, funny, embarrassing, or touching. Maybe it makes me a hypocrite, but these stories are interesting to me. As I'm sure they are to most people. With all that said, this is the story of one of my most painful, favorite tattoos.
When I was sixteen, I fell in love with a girl. It was literally the typical 'boy meets girl next door, boy falls in love with girl, girl breaks boys heart'. But most of you know that story already. The details of what happened aren't important here. Not really. What is important is that several years later, boy fell in love with the girl again. By this time, I had already been tattooed and pierced a couple of times and already knew that it was going to be a lifelong love of mine. The girl knew this as well, so, for Christmas on the year we got back together, she told me she was going to take me to get tattooed again.
I had been getting all of my work done at a place called Ink City in downtown Ottawa and liked Tony, the guy who had done my previous work. He's this gnarly punk with a mean head twitch, but he's a nice dude and tattoos me for cheap without asking a lot of questions.
A week or two after the girl told me she'd take me to get tattooed, I was all ready. I didn't need to go in for a consult or to have my design worked over, I knew exactly what I wanted and how I wanted it to look. I was going to get the word 'SUBTERRANEAN' (after the book 'The Subterraneans' by Jack Kerouac) and I was going to have it done in big, black, Rocky Horror Picture Show looking script.
After getting to the shop, shaving the patch of my stomach just above the belt line, applying the stencil and having a smoke to calm my nerves, it was off to the races, so to speak. I'm positive there are people here who know just how rough a spot the lower stomach is to have tattooed. It's just a sensitive area. The first few letters of the outline weren't so bad, but once Tony really got into it, it felt like someone had taken a naked electrical wire and hooked it up to my testicles. I kept telling myself, "just a few more letters, you're getting there, where are we at now? The E? FUCK!" It seemed like the longest two and a half hours of my life. But I had the girl with me, what more did I need, right?
To that date, it was my largest piece of work, and to be honest, I wasn't as ready as I thought I was for it. But that's ok. I had ways of taking my mind off of it all. About a year earlier, I was on a city bus reading Hardcore Zen by ex-punk rocker, turned Buddhist teacher, Brad Warner. The bus pulled up to one of the stops and this little old Asian man got on and sat down next to me. I didn't pay much attention at first, but I could feel him looking at me. When I looked over, I was taken aback. Next to me was this little old Buddhist monk of about 70 dressed in the beautiful crimson and orange robes. We got to talking about what I was reading and my tattoos and general, Buddhist/life/love stuff. Really, when do you get to talk to a Buddhist monk on a city bus about tattoos and books? I can't remember now what he said his name was, but he gave me one of the most incredible lessons about endurance and transcendence. He told me that at times of pain and heartache, that we must
accept the pain for what it is. Focus on it and know that it is just a bodily sensation and that it'll pass if we know it will. That was one of the most incredible and profound bus rides I've ever had.
Anyway, lying on Tony's table, I took the little old mans advice. I focused in on the sensation of the needle digging into my skin. I knew that like my ability to get over the heartache which led me to the SUBTERRANEAN tattoo (and the book as well), that I'd be able to get through the pain. It was a matter of focusing on the intense white pain I was feeling and eventually, overcoming it. During the two and a half hours I was under the needle, I had held on to the girl's hand. I figured that she would be my rock to keep me from quitting. Once I started to think about the monk's advice, I let her hand go. When I did that, I started to let the pain go too.
The rest of the sitting went by easily, and before I knew it I was bandaged up and on my way home. After transcending the pain of both heartache and having twelve one inch high black letters etched into my stomach, the worst part of the tattoo was trying to peel the tape and bandage off of my body hair. Not to be a pussy or anything, but peeling surgical tape off body hair isn't something I'm totally in love with.
A year and a half later and once again, girl breaks boy's heart, boy eventually gets over it. This is one of the stories I don't like explaining often. The heartache behind the decision for this tattoo, the painful reminder every time I look in the mirror, the love I have for the book and subsequently, my tattoo. Sometimes our pain, like our tattoos, have to be shown off for anyone to truly understand. I don't regret any of it one bit.
I wrote this in my beaten up notebook not long after getting my sixth tattoo: "tattoos like graffiti on my heart, soul and body. These painted and pained lines reveal to me who I am, or will be. What other choice do I have but to show them off?"
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 29 Dec. 2009