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Dia de los Muertos half-sleeve by Ron Garza

To some, scars are signs of deformity and imperfection. I view them in a different light. The way I see it, a scar says something about a person's character. Yes, there is pain. No, it isn't always pretty; luck plays a large part in if your genetics and method of irritation actually works to provide the kind of scarring you're looking for. Yes, it is an ordeal, and a process by which the piece will change; a scar will never end up looking like it does when it is first acquired. It might raise, it might not. It might blow out, it might not. And no, it can never be removed.

When I first thought about doing this piece, I wanted it to be a half-sleeve tattoo. I didn't really know much about scarification, aside from carving that oh-so-cliché star into my ankle one evening while I was bored and had my hands on a crappy steak knife. That was unsafe and a bad idea but irrelevant, as this story is about what would become a half-sleeve Dia de los Muertos cutting.

Why Dia de los Muertos? There are two reasons:

One, I have danced Ballet Folklorico for nearing 8 years now with a few troupes. From age 8 to 15, it was with Roy Lozano's Ballet Folklorico de Tejas. I took a break during high school so that I could concentrate more on school (and various other things that came up). My first year at the University of Texas, I started dancing with UT Ballet Folklorico, as my old dance studio was across town and hard to get to from my dorm room with my lack of car and the city's erratic bus schedule. However, I was (and still am) heavily involved in the latter group, and being an officer and experienced dancer, I help teach the dances and try to simplify steps for mystified newcomers (I am the left-most dancer in the picture on your right). Ballet Folklorico is traditional Mexican folkloric dancing, and we always do a multitude of parades and shows around Dia de los Muertos, mostly for the Hispanic community in the city and local campus organizations around UT.

Two, a significant number of relatives and friends that I have loved have died, including

both grandmothers, one grandfather (the other died before I was born), and several cousins,

great-aunts and –uncles, as well as my first dance teacher (a good friend and truly amazing

man, but to extol his virtues would be another book in its entirety).

I chose to do them honor by immortalizing this holiday, its iconography, and symbolism in my

skin with a cutting. I have dedicated so much blood (ever rubbed an ankle raw from the back

of a shoe? I wore bandaids on my heels for about five years straight because I never went

without damaging old wounds for long enough for them to heal), sweat (practice, practice,

practice), and tears (frustration, pride, anger, passion) into dance, I thought it was

fitting. Dead relatives and friends were important, too, though again, to do them all

justice would take more space than I have to write this.

So, I started researching. I read the BME scarification FAQs, looked at TONS and TONS of

pictures on BME and National Geographic, primarily, and was thus set on having it done as a

scar and not a tattoo. Ron Garza (Sicklove)

had then recently messaged me, as he had thought I was a friend's apprentice. I wasn't, of

course, but we kept up the conversation until I finally got up the courage to ask him about

scarification, and what sort he liked to do best. I mentioned that I was really interested

in having him do my Dia de los Muertos piece, and he was... enthusiastic, to put it mildly. I

went in to the shop and he traced out my arm. As I told him more of what I was looking for,

his eyes got bigger and bigger; soon, he had a huge grin on his face. His portfolios were

very impressive, and he referred me to his apprentice Jason (Zarathustra) when I asked about healing. I

left the design details up to him; he knew a lot about the holiday, and I felt confident

enough with his artistic skills and connections to let him come up with the piece. I would

okay the final design before it was cut into my skin, but he would have artistic license to

do as he pleased. Ron liked that. A lot.

Jason told me basically everything that I needed to know about healing a cutting. He was

honest, and said that the healing would suck. I would have to irritate the wound daily with

baking soda, opening up the cuts and irritating the forming scar tissue. It would hurt, and

it would hurt bad. The next time I went into the shop, I oohed and aahed over his two

shoulder cuttings, and we talked more. I was going to work as a lifeguard during the summer

and originally (upon Jason's advice, much to Ron's chagrin) planned to have this done in

mid-August, when I stopped working at a public pool so none of the nastiness that is in City

of Austin pool water would get into what would be, again, a fresh wound.

As things worked out, though, it was decided that we'd do the cutting early May and I would

simply start working when I felt I had built up enough scar tissue and regained full

mobility. I took that whole "early May" date to mean, literally, early may. Whoops? Ron took

what seemed like forever to get the drawing to his satisfaction (Mike Adair, a tattoo artist

at True Blue, fixed the composition and simplified Ron's original drawing, but then Ron

tweaked it just enough to cause about a two-week delay from when he first said he'd do it

until when we actually did). Waiting is hell. It really wasn't that bad, actually, but my

bitching at him every day on IAM and AIM did get him to cut me sooner.
In the course of this time, from March (when I decided it would be a scar) until early May,

Jason and I ended up dating (thanks to Ron. Awww.). I mention this only because he was a

rather significant factor in healing the cutting.

Fast forward to May 16. My friend, Sarah (Episternum), was kind enough to drive me to

the shop to find out that I was indeed going to get cut that day, and then to the grocery

store to stock up on sugar-filled goodies to keep my blood sugar from going low. The design

had been set a few days before, and though I had only seen it a few times (as soon as it was

drawn up, I dragged everyone I knew to the shop to show them the piece. Everyone was

impressed, and voiced approval).

Ron had estimated that the procedure was going to take between 2 and 3 hours, and I figured

that even though I had eaten before, the adrenaline rush combined with such a drawn out

procedure would make my bloodsugar plummet. I called my best friend Cari (BikerChick) as Ron went out to pick up some

scalpels from another respected, local shop named Body Rites. He returned, and I was given a

razor to go downstairs to shave my arm with. Shaving was uneventful, though getting to the

back of my arm was a bit of an interesting experience.

Finally, all was set. Scalpels, dental bibs, gloves, et al were sterilized

and ready to go, all nice and neat in their Statim tray, fresh from the autoclave. Ron

lowered the head of the dentist's chair, and I hopped up and laid on my side so he and his

lovely assistant Tita could get at my arm properly. Mask and gloves were on, and Tita put a

bib underneath my arm to catch the blood that would drip down so as to at least somewhat

protect my shirt, a white tank top. That was a bad choice. White fabric and blood like each

other a bit too much; that shirt still has stains, three months later.

Ron told me that he was going to have me take a deep breath in, then cut as I blew out on

the first line; after that, it would go much faster if I established my own breathing

pattern. Breathe in, breathe out. It felt like a cat scratch, only deeper and sharper and

well, not quite like a cat scratch. It was a solid, continuous line, but not as bad as I had

expected. We had two photographers then, taking pictures of it all. Chris, another one of

Ron's apprentices, and Cari had cameras aimed the way of my arm. I figured out

fairly soon to inhale on the less sharp parts and while he was moving to get another scalpel

or move to another line, and then exhale on the deep and ouchier parts.

Over the bicep wasn't so bad, though I definitely did feel the bite of the scalpel as Ron

cut the eyes of the skull. Then again, those cuts were quite deep. The tenderest parts to

cut were the bits nearing the inside of my arm, where the skin changes from tanned and

slightly tougher to the soft, never-seen-the-sun-pale inner arm. Down near the elbow on the

inside was also not fun, but near the back it was easier to handle.

A little over an hour into the cutting, I was beginning to lose that

adrenaline rush. I had only commented on the pain twice up until then, but the winces were

getting steadily stronger. Ron asked if I needed a break, and I said YES. His lovely

assistant Tita cleaned me up with green soap, and oh, did that feel good. Soothing, cool... at

this point, the cutting felt like a bad sunburn. I didn't want to move my arm much so as not

to shift any of the cuts which had opened up nicely on their own, thanks to Tita stretching

the skin as Ron cut.

Ron called Jason (who was in Dallas doing computer geek stuff, and very disappointed that he

couldn't be there both as an apprentice and hand to crush for me), so I got to talk to him

for a few minutes before handing the phone back to him so he could tell Jason that I was

"sitting like a rock", among other things. At this point, Cari ran down the street to get

cigarettes, as I thought that nicotine would help distract me (ah yes, the beginnings of a

smoker). It did, for a short while, but eventually that wore off, too. We took about a

15-minute break there, and then went back inside to finish up the rest—basically a bit more

detail on the skull and the back rose.

Holy shit, was that break a bad idea. The pain hit me fast, and I found

myself pulling at my hair and gritting my teeth as best I could. The first part wasn't so

bad, but that break really emphasized the drop in adrenaline levels. Thankfully, Ron is

fast, and the last bit was finished in around half an hour. He kept up a fairly constant

dialog the entire time between himself, Tita, and myself, which was oddly comforting... even

when he was joking about "see, when the blade starts to give you resistance like that,

that's when you know it's dull". The blade actually WASN'T dull, but the comment did make me

smile (and promise to kick his ass if he started using dull blades).

The procedure, from first cut to last, probably took about an hour and 45

minutes, including the break; obviously a substantial bit more brief than originally

thought. I did not ask for anesthetic, nor was any used. The way I saw it, the pain was just

a part of the beauty of it all. A scar doesn't mean anything if you didn't go through any

kind of trial or rite of passage to get to it; I view the cutting as very much a rite of

passage. My first tattoo was important to me and my first piercings were very memorable, but

nothing compared to this cutting.

Throughout the whole procedure, Chris and Cari had been taking pictures. Ron had taken a few

during the break, and before adding his final touch, he took a few more with his own camera.

The last hurrah was wrapping me up in paper towels and lots and lots of tape. And lots of

tape. And even more tape. And tape around, over the boobs, all around the arm, and even a

strip on my mouth while he cackled. I disengaged myself from most of the sticky stuff,

leaving it on the paper towels on my arm, but disentangling myself from the rest. More

pictures were snapped, and I was sent on my merry way back home.

Again, Sarah was ever so kind as to drive me back to my place; I don't think the bus drivers

would have been all that happy to see a bandaged, bloodied anyone walk onto their bus with a

smile like mine on their face. Evidently, it's creepy.

What I found most surprising about the cutting, though, was the sense of

euphoria I felt afterwards. I was on an endorphin high and flying. I couldn't stop smiling,

and aside from the obvious reasons (I had gone through with it, and I had a big, beautiful,

and very meaningful piece carved forever upon my skin), I couldn't think of why. I realized

it was the endorphins later, but I thought that afterglow was absolutely wonderful. Some

people don't get this kind of a feeling; I have a (different) friend Jason who absolutely

HATES getting cut and has never experienced the same thing as I with the after-euphoria. To

each his own... I personally think that it was my mindset more than anything else; I really

wanted this piece, with all my heart and every fiber of my being. To have it finally done

was a relief and cause for celebration.

That night, I went home and showered in my roommate's bathroom, since her shower did not

have much water pressure at the time (as opposed to mine—I didn't think I could handle the

pain from a high-powered waterjet on a wound so large as this). I peeled off the paper towel

in there, since blood had started to coagulate and peeling it off dry would have been,

again, damn near excruciating. I'd have liked to keep the blood print as a morbid sort of

curio, but I wasn't about to risk that much pain just for a bloody paper towel. I washed off

what had begun to turn into something that looked like a tear-trail of coagulated blood.

Once out of the shower, I let the cutting air-dry and re-wrapped it in paper towels to keep

myself from sticking to my sheets. I was exhausted but couldn't sleep until late because of

the pain that set in after the flying feeling wore off.

The next day was Friday. I went down to True Blue to see Ron, have him take

pictures of the day-old cutting, and Jason, who ended up getting one rather large clot off

one part of the eye with a scarily huge 6ga needle.

Healing it was every bit as painful as Jason had led me to believe. The deepest cuts, the

ones on the very top edge of my shoulder, took about four days to stop bleeding completely.

They were ripped open several times during "rough play" with Jason, which is part of the

reason they keloided up so well, I think. I never noticed my bloody arm while said scabs

were ripping apart, but afterwards, boy did it smart. The other reason the top lines scarred

up so well I think is that I scrubbed at the incisions for a good few days after they'd

formed moist scabs with baking soda right after a shower.

A day or so into scrubbing, I got worried about some kind of infection forming. I got sick,

as I had been overtaxing my immune system (4 piercings and this scar in one month). Jason

and I even missed the opening of Star Wars, I got to feeling so bad. The little health scare

prompted me to search for something that would kill off the nasties but still help me scar

up well. Obviously, Neosporin was out. I didn't want to use goo, as I had that in plenty

from the nasty things coming out of freshly picked scabs. I dug around my apartment and

found a bottle of hydrogen peroxide.

Remember how all the QOD people always tell you to NEVER use hydrogen

peroxide on a piercing because it'll dry it out and make it scar? It kills new, healthy

tissue as well as the nasty germies that live on the skin. It would hurt, again, but I had

been warned. One day, after a shower, I towel-blotted my arm dry then proceeded to pour

hydrogen peroxide all over the healing scar. Instant BURN. I then recalled that baking soda

would react with hydrogen peroxide. I tried that.

Once again. Holy shit, did that hurt. Chemical reactions between a fairly strong acid and

base were happening in the fresh wounds on my skin. It hurt like almost nothing else... the

only thing I can imagine that's worse is cramps that render you unable to move. I rubbed

that concoction in for a bit, then rinsed it off with clean, lukewarm water when I couldn't

take the pain anymore. During the day, while other scabs formed, I would pick them off in

class, on the bus, at home. It gave me another nervous habit to dwell upon.

I did that until the scars were no longer scabbing. They sunk in for a while and looked

clean and fresh, then raised starting around the third week or so. The eyes and parts of the

teeth popped out quite nicely; there are some areas where the keloiding is near perfectly

even, but some places it is sketchy at best, and that is no one's fault but my own and my

genes'.

The back rose never really popped out, and will have to be recut, along with

parts of the bottom-most front rose, the vertical lines in the teeth, and petals on the

flowers on the skull (Ron's talking about tissue removal there. Fun). For the most part,

though, it healed quite well, and I am very pleased with the results.

All told, Ron did an amazing job. I have gotten tons of compliments on not only my keloiding

prowess but the detail and fine technique of the scar itself. I am completely in love with

this piece, moreso than I ever expected I could be when I first started thinking about it.

The medium is perfect, the design is wonderful, craftmanship (or artistry, whichever way you

choose to look at it) is superb. The experience was overall a fantastic one, and I am very

happy to be able to say that I will have even more of Ron's work on me in the future

(another half-sleeve and thigh piece), both of which he will be designing and cutting. I

cannot recommend him more highly.

Also, I am VERY glad I researched everything as well as I did. The BME Scarification FAQ helped immensely,

and Ron and Jason were invaluable resources in providing information. I looked at pictures

all over the place and learned about the differences in techniques; what kind of scalpel

blades, even, were used. Reports of pain varied, so I went in there expecting the worst, but

was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it hurt, but it was only excruciating after the adrenaline

wore off. I was diligent in my aftercare/healing, trying to protect it from bacteria and

other nasties while at the same time irritating it to make it scar up better. I think I reached a happy medium with my method of taking care of my piece.

This does NOT go to say, though, that any of my experiences would hold true if you were in my place. Cutting is a very different experience for everyone. You could feel like you are on cloud nine the entire time or be in nothing but worlds of pain and misery. I know people who have experienced both ends of the spectrum. Ask one, and he'll tell you his experiences have only been good. Ask the other, and he will cringe just thinking about it.

Reactions have varied from a simple eyebrow raise and a "That looks nice" to one guy triple taking and nearly falling over himself as he stared at my arm when I passed by. This will always be an attention getter because it just looks painful. People are inclined to doubt the sanity of someone who has gone through any sort of "extreme" procedure, including cutting; some of the assumptions I've encountered would indeed have been valid concerns if the person in question had a history of self-mutilation or mental instability. If you're doing ANY of this to vent anger or relieve depression, seek help. There are many more ways to relieve stress than put your body underneath this much strain. I went into this with a clear mindset, and think doing so was definitely best for me.

If you are interested in getting a scarification piece, I cannot emphasize the need to research everything first. You don't want any surprises, and would probably be surprised at exactly how much mental peace you get from knowing what everything is going to be like from start to finish. Even the little details like what kind of scalpels are going to be used (#11 in this case) and having a general time estimate so you know what to expect. The pain factor sucks, and it doesn't end with the cutting/branding itself. Healing is not fun, plain and simple. It will hurt, it will be tender, and it will quite possibly be very bruised (one line closest to the inside of my arm has always been so ever since it first raised). But. It's worth it, in my opinion at least.

To see more pictures of my scar, go to Ron Garza's portfolio in the scarification section of BME.

Details

submitted by: Anonymous
on: 22 Aug. 2002
in Scarification

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Artist: Ron+Garza
Studio: True+Blue
Location: Austin%2C+TX

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