I Got a Tattoo


January 12, 2013 by Julia

It’s been over a week since I’ve checked in here, which is the longest I’ve gone since starting this blog. My only reason is that I’ve been busy busy busy busy. (Notice I put in four busies instead of the typical three just to emphasize how extremely busy I’ve been. I know most people don’t consider themselves to be busy. Most people are like, “Ah, my life is just a walk in the park. Easy, peasy.”) The good news is, it’s been mostly good busy! I’ve been able to see two of my oldest and closest friends in the weeks since Christmas.

My dear friend Sang, whom I met in college, was visiting from Europe with her little family, which now includes her NEW BABY. I am her baby’s honorary aunt. It’s amazing to meet the children of beloved friends. It’s instant love, because they carry little bits and pieces of your beloved friend’s appearance and souls in them. So I grabbed her little sack of flour baby and held on tight for as long as I could without my own Jack throwing a jealous hissy fit. It was such a relief and joy to see Sang herself, too, as we’ve barely been able to talk since her baby was born. She’s been in the back of my mind forever. It was good to hear the complete story from her, in person.

And then I flew to Chicago to visit my oldest friend, Sarah. She has been one of my best friends since we were eight years old. We still remember bonding on our first playdate over theatrical funerals for paper dolls…an indicator of the melodrama and morbid humor to come.

Anyway, she talked me into a getting a tattoo while I was out there this past weekend.

Can you believe it? Probably not, if you know me personally.

If you are in my family, you might be thinking, “I can’t believe she’s blogging about this before she tells us. What the expletive?” I mean, my family doesn’t cuss, so they are probably saying “expletive” out loud. Kidding – we cuss! Just not around each other.

But, family! My tattoo is so tiny and sweet and nothing that it hardly counts as a tattoo.

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No need to disown me

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It’s just a little fucking heart. I mean, a little swear word heart. I mean, it’s just a heart, doing nothing. Except loving and looking cute, as hearts tend to do.

The back story: Sarah was already planning on getting a tattoo sometime during my three-day visit to Chicago. It would be her third; I was also with her when she got her first one around ten years(!?) ago. At the time (again, ten years(!?!) ago) she totally pressured me to get one with her, but I was convinced I couldn’t pull one off – in the same way I’ll never be able to pull off serious cussing. (Maybe in writing, as a joke, but not verbally. Take my word for it.)

She wanted my help drawing up the design for her third tattoo, which involved a compass and this quote from Alice in Wonderland:

Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?

That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

I didn’t realize until I got to Chicago that she wanted the quote in my actual, casual handwriting style. How cool is that? I was really touched. I mean, it’s not as though I’m a calligrapher. But we do know each other’s handwriting well, after many years of mailing real paper letters to each other. And we have long helped each other in the figuring out “where you want to get to” department.














So, upon the night of my arrival we decided to draw her tattoo up in a Mexican restaurant, while we waited for her other close friend Julie to join us. Halfway through a pitcher of margaritas, Sarah said, as nonchalantly as possible, so as not to scare me off, “Now, are you going to get one with me?”

The truth was, I’d been thinking about it. I’m kind of like, what the heck. I love art. Why not put some art on myself? So I said, “Maybe…”, and Sarah jumped on it. “For real?” she says. “We should do this tonight!” Side note. We are notoriously socially lazy and tired at night, so to go straight from our first outing to a tattoo parlor is, like, REALLY crazy for us. “What do you think you’re going to get?” she asked me.

Apparently I’d given it more thought than I realized. “I’m thinking maybe a small heart or star. Something simple. In a place that is not always exposed, but not always covered, either.” Pause. “OR I could get a giant “D” on one butt cheek and a tiny “ennis” on the other, and surprise Dennis with it when I get home.”

When Julie joined us she did a beautiful rendering of my proposed butt tattoo, with a curlicue “D.” Only she misspelled it to say “Denise,” which I said was no biggie; he’d get the gist. When Sarah went to the bathroom, I asked Julie if she was going to get a tattoo that night, too. “Um, no,” she said. We caught up on all that has changed for her since I last saw her years ago. Seeing her again confirmed my first impression of her being a person of wit and all-around loveliness. Also, I learned that she got a tattoo on her own butt many years ago on a whim. It is a cute bear holding a bomb. It has no special meaning, other than that she thought it was funny, and the sweetness combined with such power appealed to her. This earned my total respect. I mean, how could you not love a clearly intelligent person with such a silly tattoo? Endearing. If I wasn’t already convinced to get a tattoo, this was more than enough to push me over the edge.

Julie and Sarah checking my work

Julie and Sarah looking at our tattoo sketches














I finished writing the quote and sketching the compass for Sarah’s tattoo, with both ladies proofreading it. We were glad Julie took her job seriously, because Sarah and I couldn’t stop joking about possible tattoos for me. We had reached the giddy “Are we really going to do this??” stage.

Finally we walked to the train station that would take us to the tattoo parlor, commemorating the event with photos.

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I was feeling pretty excited about the whole thing. I’m almost 34 years old. What cheap thrills are left for me, other than getting impromptu tattoos at midnight in Chicago after drinking half a pitcher of margaritas? I’ve got lots of gratitude, lots of joy and sacrifice and fulfillment. But at times I miss that crazy college late night feeling, that anything can happen, and you just love your girls so much, and everything is funny and/or beautiful, and you’re never going to forget this moment. We all need those moments every once in a while, don’t we?

When I entered the tattoo parlor, however, things got REAL up in there. I had entered with a vague idea of looking through the books of clip art in the waiting area, getting inspired by something small and tasteful, not too trendy, and tweaking it a bit to personalize it. But this stuff was not just bad. It was incredibly bad. If it wasn’t cheesy, it was clichéd. If it wasn’t disgusting, it was totally random. If it wasn’t disturbingly scary, it was disturbingly cute. I actually said, “95% of these tattoos would be deal breakers for me,” and I don’t even consider myself a judgmental person, certainly not based on appearance. I almost lost my nerve.


Julie’s favorite

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Really? Has this actually been on a human body at any point?











Sarah began to get her tattoo, and I wandered around, desperate for inspiration. My giddiness was quickly evaporating, and even a flaming skull on a skateboard eating ice cream couldn’t bring it back. An artist named Jose came over and said, “So I heard you need some help deciding which tattoo to get.”

I quickly explained that I was uncertain about whether or not I was going to get one, and that I had no plan, but wanted something small, like a heart, etc, etc. He asked if I wanted an arrow through it, or a teardrop inside, or a bunch of other things I can’t remember now. I didn’t think he understood what I meant by simple.

I knew I was going to waffle and obsess and generally drag my feet on every last design issue related to this tattoo. I went to art school, I practiced interior design, I am surrounded by working artists – I can’t just let this stuff go, especially when it concerns something I have to live with and hopefully like for life. And I also suspected that my waffling would get old with all these tattoo artists. But, as Sarah pointed out, they were not busy at 12:30 a.m. It’s not like I was holding up a line of customers. And to their credit, the artists were a laid-back, friendly bunch. Jose seemed generally okay with my trepidation, if slightly bemused.

And let me tell you, it’s ROUGH trying to decide what kind of tattoo you want when you’re basically a goody-two-shoes bemusing a bunch of bored tattoo artists. At one point I was searching on Jose’s computer for some sort of pen-and-ink tree with carved initials, and kept adding keywords like “vintage” “children’s illustration” and “retro,” and Sarah’s across the room getting her arm covered in ink, laughing at me. But this is for life! I couldn’t just act cool, here.

Also, I tend to get a little smart-alecky with strange men in these situations, which I don’t think is my truest state of being. It is a sign of discomfort. At one point I got scolded for leaving my two coats and bag on someone’s work station, and then when I tried to blame it on Jose he was all, “I told you to put them over there, not on his chair!” and I felt like such a stereotypical woman, y’know? So much baggage.

So Sarah is done with her tattoo, and it looks awesome. Meanwhile, I am staring at a printed picture of a tree and trying to figure out how to fit all of my family’s initials on it, and wondering if it’s the right style tree. And wondering where on my body this tree should go. And it’s much bigger than initially planned. I keep thinking about all of the amazing possibilities for unique, personal tattoos, which I do not have the time or wherewithal to fully obsess over, under the scrutiny of all these people at 1:00 a.m. I am thinking that maybe I should plan this out to the nth degree before doing anything permanent. Yeah. I should wait. I apologize to Jose and start to go. I meet Sarah and Julie on the other side of the counter, feeling somewhat let down. I just wanted that thrill of doing something spontaneous with a dear friend.

And Sarah says, “What happened to the heart idea?” and in about two seconds I change my mind.

I say, “I’m going to get a heart. I’m DOING this.” And I walk back behind the counter and tell Jose I’m gonna go with the tiny heart on the shoulder thing, and I want to draw it myself. And I was in my tank top, drawing it up, feeling vulnerable. AND THEN I couldn’t even decide if I wanted the heart to be red, or just a black outline, or red with a black outline, or or or DEAR GOD just somebody tell me what to do!! Finally I decide on the black outline. And I’m lying on my stomach on the chair, looking up at Sarah and Julie far across the room, giving them the thumbs up sign, and they’re laughing at me. I feel like everyone in the world might be laughing at me. It’s not entirely bad, because I am DOING something real, this is permanent ink, folks, and I’m nearly 34 and it’s now 1:30 am or so. I am dedicating the song Wild Thing to myself. And the needle just stings a little bit.

And then I felt happy. I got the feeling that I came for. How lame would it have been if I didn’t get a tattoo that night? Sarah probably wouldn’t have even been my friend anymore. Our friendship of 26 years has lots of conditions like that. Somehow we’ve managed to sidestep them.

But, for real.

On the tattoo itself: I don’t regret it in the slightest. The heart itself has no special meaning, other than love. I like that it’s a timeless symbol. I don’t think I’m going to get tired of love. And I like that it’s this little surprise, comparable to a medium-sized birthmark. Maybe I’ll make it even more surprising by never getting another tattoo. Who has just one miniscule tattoo? Okay, someone pointed out that Rachel on Friends got a similar heart on her hip. Ugh! And Phoebe got just one dot on her shoulder before freaking out about the needle. It’s pretty funny and spot-on, actually: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8LXLZAq2sU&ytsession=TudfXD0mSnWgVcnZ93Cdsj_ciWw8Uld-WYxi1_E6dm_LvIFdDrGDp4MZ7x1b7wuiQBvhgL_U4yNnKu7VoJnxdgArxl8d6DEOuqOdrmt7f0ZRcw6dqTniySB14xfnRH7gf4alJwj5fsaTBQBkVkn2mEuZzy0X1qLwpk1P4Zs8ciVhEZk_57NFBt_io4clUZs-bPH9a7KskQ4Hf_w0I2LVdsm9M3l1yW_gCN9jqKx8iP So maybe I don’t have the most surprising or unique tattoo in the world. That’s okay.

On the experience: It was so much fun. I love that out of the thousands of memories Sarah and I have made, and continue to make, this one will be one of those that stands out because it has been literally inked onto us. And our weekend was a good one. It was restful, and enjoyable, and special. It was exactly what we needed to recover from the holidays and, well, the hard parts of life.

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It was hard to find a natural position that showcased both of our tattoos. As you can see.

In other words, we spent the rest of our weekend watching the first 8 episodes of the original Beverly Hills, 90210, eating buffalo chicken wraps, and applying ointment to our tattoos. Sorry. There is probably some rule against ending a story with the words “applying ointment.”

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7 thoughts on “I Got a Tattoo

  1. vjthurston says:

    What the FUCK??!! You got a Tattoo??!! (this is your mom speaking) 🙂

  2. Anna Lea West says:

    Love it. I’ve always wanted one but can’t decide on a meaningful one AND it’s pretty out of character for me. Now you have me thinking! Congrats on being brave 🙂

  3. Sharon says:

    I loved reading this!! So very entertaining.

    • Julia says:

      Thank you, Sharon! I appreciate that. So funny to think of you reading about Sarah and I getting tattoos together…we never would have predicted this 20 years ago, I think. 🙂

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