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Much-hated tattoo meets much-loved scarification

I got my first tattoo when I was 20. My twin sister was moving to Hungary and had suggested that we get tattoos before she left. The tattoos came from a book called Violet and Clare. Maudlin as it sounds, the entire time we were growing up and were obsessed with the book; Kim was always Clare and I was always Violet. In the beginning of the book, Clare is a white moth and Violet is a purple butterfly. Kim's plan was for each of us to get each other's moth/butterfly. Having never really wanted a tattoo, I was a bit hesitant. Still, I did it because it was important to her. Unfortunately, I had an absolutely awful experience and wound up with a tattoo (on the small of my back) that I really hated. A year and a half later, my sister was back from Hungary but moving to Belize. I decided it was time to have my tattoo redone. Strike two for the tattoo experience - once again, I left the studio angry and disappointed. Six months after that, my sister was back from Belize and I decided, on a whim, to give it one more shot. This time, I had a much better experience (with Rob at Bowery Tattoo) but I still felt unhappy. After a total of six hours of work and more than $300, I had what has been deemed a "moth blob" that I sort of hated, which is pretty lame considering that it's supposed to represent one of my favorite people.

The thing is, I've never felt like tattoos were right for me. Scarifications, on the other hand, had appealed to me ever since I first found out about them. From the time I was 16 on, different designs came and went in a flurry of well-intentioned but ultimately meaningless daydreams until I hit on the idea of getting a scarification over my tattoo. Once I thought about it, it felt perfect.

Living in New York, I decided pretty quickly that Brian Decker would be the best person to approach about the project. He had pierced me a few times before I decided I was ready to go for a scarification. Tracking him down while he was in between shops, explaining what I wanted and setting up an appointment took the better part of three months. Finally, the day came.

I showed up at Pure excited and a bit anxious. I was early and Brian was busy. The shop was full of iam kids (cere, girlgerms, kevin wilson, the milkmaid, bretticus, perk900 and solanum were all there in some capacity or another) who expressed vague interest in what I was getting done and were friendly, but I mostly remember sitting on the couch, feeling shy and attempting to read literary theory. After an hour, Brian was free and we started talking about designs. I think Brian had always been skeptical of my plan to simply have my tattoo outlined in scars. He came up with the idea of putting a bigger outline on top of the tattoo. He drew an outline, showed it to me and suggested that eventually I could get the entire scarification (which is about three times larger than my tattoo) filled with ink, obliterating entirely the much-disliked tattoo.

Looking back, it seems odd that I so willingly agreed to a design so much bigger than what I'd initially wanted. But really, I'd waiting so long to get this done that I almost wanted the experience of being cut more than I wanted the finished design. And besides, there was no way I could dislike the tattoo any more than I already did.

Finally, it was time to start. Brian took me to the back room. He cleaned the skin and placed the design. Out of curiosity, I asked Brian what kind of scalpel he'd be using and he said that he'd be using a variety. He asked me to guess how many scalpels he'd go through. I suggested four. This would turn out to be an optimistic estimate.

From start to finish, the process took about five hours. The first cut was made at about 9 and I left the shop a little after 2 in the morning. In between was one of the most intensely vivid experience of my life. The blood line took about 45 minutes, after which I took a break to smoke a cigarette. The first hour I remember being calm and okay. Toward the end of the second hour, I was feeling it more and found it harder to zone out. During hour three, I remember curling my fingers into fists over and over and over because I could somehow feel shoots of pain going all the way down my thighs. I'm not really sure how that's possible, but it happened and it kind of freaked me out. Brian tried to ask me which cuts were easier for me to take, short or long. To be honest, it stopped mattering after a while - everything felt so raw. The boys flickered in and out of the room to ask me how I was doing. And to inauspiciously check out my ass.

When we finally got to the skin removal, I needed another break. I had a lollipop and Philadelphia Brian brought me juice, although amusingly, it was exactly the kind of juice I had asked not to have. I was too out of it to care. That last hour was the worst - if I had been a tough cookie up to that point, I dissolved into a zombie when Brian started peeling skin. Everything hurt and I was exhausted. Brian didn't have any anaesthetic in the shop, but I like to think that I wouldn't have taken it even if it had been available. Because, you know, painkillers are for pussies. Finally, when Brian was convinced that the design had been completed with artistic integrity (Brian may like to take his time, but the guy is an artist through and through) I was cleaned up, photos were taken and I left the shop. Pretty much in a state of delirium, I made my way from Bushwick to Bensonhurst, where I was dutifully taken care of by a friend who gave me jack and cokes and let me bleed all over his furniture.

Aftercare was a nightmare. In a silly bit of scheduling, I had to work for the next ten days following the scarification. I was miserable. For ten days, I kept the cutting covered in saran wrap, as per Brian's instructions. This led to a really unpleasant rash that might have irked me if I hadn't been so determined to have a well-healed scarification. After three days, I started rubbing linseed oil into the cuts. I expected this to be really painful, but it actually wasn't. Keeping scabs from forming, now that was painful. My method was to soak the cutting for about ten minutes and then scrubbing, hard, with a washcloth.

I love my scarification. I have never felt as content with a tattoo or piercing as I do with the cutting. It was an incredibly intense, incredibly personal experience. Although she was initially somewhat confused, my sister is very happy that I'm finally happy with the moth. And I really am - after years of literally despising a portion of my skin, I'm now entirely content. Makes for a nice change.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 06 Oct. 2005
in Scarification

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Artist: Brian+Decker
Studio: Pure
Location: Brooklyn

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