I’ve never been a big fan of tattoos, mainly because I have a massive phobia about needles, but also because when I was a uni student I worked in a pub that was full of former fishermen who had those blue, bleeding into the skin tattoos done in the impulse of youth, but not something that had aged well.
So, it came as something as a surprise to myself when ‘get a tattoo’ appeared on my bucket list. Really? Why would I want to do that? It wasn’t until after I’d had it done that I realised why I needed and wanted to have one.
The decision and execution of this plan was done in less than a fortnight. A friend had recommended a tattoo parlour and I’d been on their site, found a design I liked then messaged them about what I wanted done.
I called in after work one Tuesday in June. I was physically shaking and as the words ‘I’d like a tattoo doing’ fell from my mouth, it was as though they’d been uttered by someone else. I explained my fear of needles to a very patient tattoo artist, who listened to my ramblings with a wry smile, all the while reassuring me about the process and what I’d need to bring. A bag of sweets and my ipod were his suggestions. The sweets were there to provide a sugar hit after my post-tattoo blood-sugar drop and the music would help cover the noise of the tattoo gun.
I wobbled rather uncertainly out of the shop clutching my appointment card. I’d be arriving after work the following Tuesday for my date with the needle. For something that was about to be indelibly inked into my skin I was surprisingly quick to make a decision about choice of design and the speed with which I was getting the whole thing done and dusted.
The day arrived. I’d left work to the sound of my boss making buzzing noises and telling me how much the whole thing would hurt. I pedalled off to the tattoo parlour with a massive knot of anxiety in my stomach, wondering what on earth had led me to make such a stupid decision.
I rocked up, fists clenched and was led to the upstairs room. In my head I’d be lying down on a bed. In reality I was seated on an office chair. The buzzy needle was fired up after the design had been drawn on my back and we were off. I’d been told that the outline would hurt, but the shading less so. I’d chosen to have a set of three dragonflies drawn at the top of my spine.
The pain was worse than childbirth. Seriously. The only way I could deal with the constant and repeated contractions of pain was to grip my jeans as hard as I could, and hold my breath. The latter being the worst thing I could do as I came very close to passing out. I was trying to read a text on my phone. The message was telling me to man up and deal with the pain. Oh the irony. The letters started swimming in front of my face and I could feel myself slumping into the chair. ‘Could you open the door please mate’ I asked as the room span. A jet of cool rain-laden air hit me and I started to revive and was able to deal with the relentless rhythm of the needle on my skin. They lied though. The shading hurt more than the outline. It was like a really vicious cat clawing my back. Over and over again.
An hour and a quarter later I’d been indelibly inked. My back was covered in cling film and I was proffered a mirror to see the results. I picked up my bag, ipod and sweets and politely declined. The tattooist looked a bit hurt that I’d not wanted to see his handiwork. He’d taken a photo of it on my phone, but I couldn’t bring myself to look. It looked raw. And red. And sore. ‘Most people want to see it afterwards,’ he said. ‘Well I don’t,’ I said skipping out of the shop so I could head to the pub where I met up with a couple of friends, and sank a pint of cider and a double vodka.
It was only over the next few weeks as I daily moisturised by raw skin and it started to heal did the reality of why I’d done this sunk in. The pain was a catharsis. A rite of passage. I was physically a different person now to the one who’d moved out and left her husband in January. I couldn’t go back to being her again. The dragonflies symbolised rebirth and the pain drew a line in the sand. I think I’m going to go back and have another one done!