My Rite of Passage Tattoo
r since I was a young boy I wanted a tattoo, but as I approached the age of 18 I could not decide what design I wanted or where on my body I wanted it. The more magazines I looked at the more confused I became. I knew the tattoo would be forever and I wanted to make the right decision. On my 18th birthday on July 1 I had decided to get the tattoo, but at the last minute I chickened out. I was afraid of what my family would think. I had never discussed this with them for fear that they would discourage the idea. They freaked out when I got my ear pierced, so I could only imagine how they would react to a tattoo.
On July 5 I decided to go to the water park at Wyandotte Lake in Columbus, Ohio just minutes from my home. Dressed in my favorite short pants and tee shirt I slipped on my flip flop sandals and headed out the front door with my swim gear packed in a duffle bag. It was 10:00 A.M. and I stopped at a fast food restaurant for breakfast. Mom and Dad were both at work and would not be home until 5:00 in the afternoon, so I had the whole day to myself. After eating I got in my car and felt a strange urge to declare my independence. After all I was an 18 year old young man now. Instead of turning left out of the parking lot to the lake, I turned right toward a highly respected tattoo parlor in Columbus. I felt a bit nervous, but I was going to try to go through with it. It was my body, and I would live with it.
At 10:45 A.M. I arrived at the tattoo parlor. A neon sign in the window read "OPEN." I told myself to not chicken out. I walked in the shop and was met by Lisa, a female tattoo artist. The shop was extremely clean and was lined with tattoo flash on every wall. As there were no other customers in the shop I would be her first client of the day. When she asked if she could help me, a strange thing happened---I immediately realized what design I wanted and where I wanted it. I responded, "I want a panther on the left side of my chest."
After checking out numerous panther designs I selected a 4 inch square panther's head. Lisa took the design out of a black notebook and proceeded to make a transfer copy of it in a copying machine. The copy was done in purple. She said the transfer would bond to my skin to serve as the guide for the tattoo. She got out a straight razor and said she would now shave the area where the tattoo would be located. Even though I didn't have a hairy chest, she said everyone's body contained tiny invisible hairs. She shaved my chest and I felt myself get nervous. Speed stick was then applied to my chest to help the transfer stick better. Lisa told me to stand up straight. Carefully the transfer was placed on my skin and she patted it to make it stick. When she removed the paper, a purple panther was on the left side of my chest. She reminded me that the tattoo would be done in black, blue, etc., and that the purple was only the color of the transfer. I looked at the design in the mirror and felt that it belonged on me. I liked how it looked.
Lisa told me to set in the chair by her work area and that it would take a few minutes for the transfer to dry. The chair was made like a barber's chair. She got me a glass of water and told me to try to relax. She sensed my nervousness. I kicked off my flip flops and put my feet on the cold foot rest. As I set there, Lisa was busy preparing the inks and tattoo gun. Every so often I heard its strange buzzing as the needles were attached to it. After several minutes she said, "Are you ready?"
My heart skipped a beat and I said, "Yes." With that she dipped the tattoo gun in the black ink and her gloved hands were ready to turn me into a work of art. I was a living canvas. I watched in the mirror in front of me as the tattoo gun neared my chest. I wondered at the last minute what it would feel like for I had heard the chest was a sensitive place to be tattooed. But then the buzzing started and the needles penetrated my skin. I turned my head down and saw the needles dancing over my flesh as the outline was taking shape. The pain was not as bad as I thought it would be, but I could definitely feel it. I watched in the mirror as Lisa worked her way around the border of the panther. The higher she got on my chest, the more it hurt. But it was tolerable. At times it reminded me of barbed wire being dragged over my skin. The outlining seemed to take about 30 minutes. She often loaded the gun with more ink and would then wipe my skin of excess ink.
After the outline was complete she explained she would use a multi-needled gun to begin coloring in the panther. She started with the black and then shaded in blues. My endorphins had long since kicked in, but I could still feel the needles and the strange vibrations that I think I could feel in my bones. Mainly, I found myself fascinated with this experience and the skill she possessed. She colored the eyes of the panther green, the tongue red, the teeth white, and the area around the nose light brown.
After about a couple hours under the needle, I was finished. She said she would bandage me up after I had a chance to get up and look at it in the mirror up close. She wiped away some remaining excess ink and I approached the mirror. I felt my heart race as I now saw myself with a bold tattoo on my chest. This was the new me that I would live with for the rest of my life. This was a rite of passage for me to enter my independence and adulthood. I loved it.
Lisa applied a special ointment to the tattoo and rubbed it in. I felt like I had a sunburn. As she taped gauze over the tattoo, she explained how I was to care for it. I would have to rub in the ointment twice a day, keep the area clean, and not pick or scratch it. She said it would take a couple weeks to heal, and I should always protect it with sunscreen to prevent the tattoo from fading.
I thanked her for the tattoo and the wonderful experience it had been. I put on my flip flops and payed the 150 dollars it had cost me. Luckily I had gathered up all of my lawn mowing money for Wyandotte Lake. I always liked to have extra money in case of an emergency.
I got in my car and headed home anxious to tell Mom and Dad about my tattoo---but I was a little terrified. I chose to leave my shirt off and thus be forced to tell them I had gotten tattooed. After 2 hours with the gauze on, I removed the bandage. The gauze was stuck to my chest and I had to lightly tug at it. I noticed I had bled a bit too which was causing the stickiness. Once the gauze was off, I softly cleaned the tattoo and appied the ointment Lisa had given me. It was sore.
At 5:00 in the afternoon Mom's car rolled in the driveway. I felt nervous but determined to greet her shirtless. I was standing in the living room as she
entered. Her first words were, "What have you done?!"
I resonded, "I got tattooed Mom." She approached me and touched the panther and said, "You really did didn't you?"
I said, "Yes." When Dad got home 5 minutes later his response was the same. After a somewhat quiet evening, they both told me that it was alright with them, but that they wished I had told them first. Even though I know they don't care for tattoos that much, my relationship with them has strengthened. They know I am in charge of my life and they respect that. They were just glad I didn't get my face tattooed.
My tattoo symbolizes my freedom and independence as an individual. I am very happy with it. Later on I am going to have Lisa expand the tattoo into a large jungle scene containing a second panther. I want it to cover most of my left chest. But for now I am very content and enjoy my new artwork.
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 15 June 1999