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To Tattoo or Not To Tattoo? (That is the Question)

My daughter wants us to get matching tattoos. It is sweet, really, that a twenty year-old wants to have a body part that looks the same as her half-centarian mother.

“I’m too old,” I tell her.

“You’ll be more youthful and exciting if you do it,” she responds.

“My skin isn’t as supple as it once was and I fear that whatever we get will collapse upon itself in a few years,” I reply.

What you should do,” she suggests, poking fun at my double chin, “Is get a waterfall tattoo down your neck, that way, when you give me that disapproving look of yours, it’ll turn into rapids.”

“Great idea! I’ll do the waterfall neck if you will.”

“Or you could get a cluster of pansies leading from your chin to your chest that’ll morph into carnations as your skin sags.”

The kid knows how to inspire.

I already have one tattoo. I got it in my twenties when I was wild and carefree. Actually, I got it the week before I turned 30 so that I when I got older, if I didn’t like it, I could say it was a silly decision I made in my 20s.

Clearly my daughter wants to one-up me by making her silly decision a decade ahead of mine.

The friend I got that tattoo with was getting her third. The one on her ankle is a cemetery gate intertwined with roses. It is a beautiful piece of art. Something you might see on a wall, not on an ankle, my mother whispers in my ear as I contemplate what I want on my body for all time. Mom wasn’t there, of course. But I grew up Catholic so she often whispers in my ear. It was so ingrained into me after my grandmother died that the old woman was “always watching over me,” that it took serious mental gymnastics before I felt comfortable having sex on top of the covers.

I met my tattooed girlfriend at a Bon Jovi and Skid Row concert at Irvine Meadows. My date wasn’t as enamored with Jon Bon Jovi as I was, so I bonded with the wild rocker chick sitting next to me. Her joyful energy was contagious and I basked in her light and infectious laughter. Her plan was to meet and marry Skid Row’s lead singer Sebastian Bach. I learned later that my new friend had lost her virginity at 16 to Motley Crue’s Vince Neal, so I guess her Irvine Meadows fantasy might have stood a chance, but we lacked backstage passes. However, between gulps of beer and singing at the top of our lungs, we discovered that we both lived in Hollywood and both needed to move from our apartments asap. Within a month, we were roommates. She quickly transformed my black turtleneck or black t-shirt with jeans Saturday night wardrobe into a collection of short skirts and embroidered bustiers. We had the time of our lives at bars along the Sunset Strip; The Whisky a Go-Go. Coconut Teaszer. The Roxbury. Long haired musicians flocked to her. I always found my way to the one or two short-haired, seemingly college educated men in the place.

I found a love connection one summer night, with a guy who, over the wail of the guitar, I learned had gone to MIT. He was ruggedly handsome and charming. And clearly smart to boot. He bought me a couple drinks. We danced for hours. I gave him my number and he gave me a sexy, lingering kiss goodbye. When we got together for dinner at the Cat & Fiddle the following weekend, something seemed off. He wasn’t as cute without the purple glow of the Rainbow dance floor. In a dress and sensible heals, I was probably not his type either. It quickly became clear he wasn’t much of an academic and he soon revealed that he’d never even been to Massachusetts and was still working his way through his associates degree at Musician’s Institute of Technology in Hollywood, but had taken time off to see if his band might make it and was bagging groceries at Rock and Roll Ralph’s on Santa Monica Blvd. He had the name Audrey in a spiraled tattoo across his right bicep. Ex girl-friend? I asked. My mother, he said. Sweet, I guess, but not for me.

Still, I loved my twenties in Hollywood, navigating the broken sidewalks, broken promises and broken hearts while slowly building my career and dancing at the clubs every weekend. We’d only just gotten email at the office and you could only read your messages there. People rarely contacted me on my new flip phone about anything to do with my job. When you left work, you left work. When we made memories, they were just that, memories we shared the next time we got together. No one saw images of where we went and what we did unless they came over to look at our scrapbooks, full of ticket stubs and blurry photos developed within a week once the roll of film was finished.

No one instagramed the day we went to the tattoo artist’s house with our four pack of Bartles and James coolers and my girlfriend plopped down on her stomach as another piece of imaginative, swirling art took shape on her lower back. I was uncertain what I wanted or where on my body I wanted it to be as I flipped through the artists’ book. I was scared of the pain as I tossed my first empty wine cooler bottle in the trash and downed the second. Then it was my turn. “Uh, how about a rose?” I suggested. I like roses. In hindsight, I like tulips, peonies, freesia and gardenias more, but I do really like roses. I had my own card company as a pre-teen entrepreneur, and sold my family special occasion cards under the brand name “Rosebud.” My hand drawn image of rose graced the back where the Hallmark crown went on a store bought card. A rose it is. “How big?” he asked. “Oh, I don’t know, an inch? Two max?” I questioned. So he drew a rose on transfer paper. “That looks good,” I said, though it was actually a bit larger than I envisioned. Perhaps I was intimidated by the metal spikes and safety pins coming out of his brows, ears, lips and tongue. “That’ll work,” I repeated. “Sure,” I think in hindsight, “Put your first draft of a rose doodle on my body where it will stay for the rest of my life.” Yes, it was a silly decision I made in my 20s.

The next weekend, out celebrating my 30th birthday with saran wrap still covering my new tattoo, I slipped on the beer covered ramp heading to the parking lot outside The China Club. A trip to urgent care revealed I’d broken my ankle. My right ankle, right where I’d just gotten my tattoo. Mom’s voice in my head let me know that it was definitely part of god’s plan. He did not want you to mess with your body like that. No he did not. This is what happens to girls gone wild in sin city.

I turned up my Bon Jovi to drown out the sounds of her voice in my head. And vowed to wear long pants in her presence the next time I visited North Carolina.

Six weeks later, when the cast came off, the rose was smaller than I feared, but larger than I’d hoped. It marks a time in my life when I was more impetuous, when I had a knack for navigating thorns with little residual scaring and when I was blossoming into my true self. I rarely notice the rose on my ankle now. Even if it was a silly decision I made in my 20s, I smile at the memories when I see it.

So my daughter wants us to get Native American seasonal moon symbols. Her birth month, April is the growing moon. May, for me, is the flower moon. And I am considering it. She’s put a lot of thought into the designs and their meaning. I am indelibly connected to her without a doubt. I bear stretch marks to prove it. Why not a mark in ink? And, of course, if I do it, when I’m in my 80s I’ll just say, “It was a silly decision I made in my 50s.”

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As shared at Story Salon April 18, 2018.

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