A month ago, I sat across from my husband at the kitchen table. I breathed deeply. The anxiety ate at my insides as I mediated a game of tug-of-war between the thing that I wanted and the thing that left me scared. I sucked in as much air as I could, let it out, and told my him, “Let’s go. Right now. I’m ready.”
The tattoo shop in our small town sits right above a yoga studio. The zen of the sun salutations the yogis were doing downstairs must have drifted upward as I felt at peace with the shop that promised a little pain, a lot of fear, and hopefully also a permanent piece of creativity.
The art on the walls screamed of crazy. The music–loud and unintelligible–projected a buzz akin to a rock concert. Yet the three friendly guys–tattooed from head to toe (literally as John, the one who did my work, told me about his bottom-of-the foot tattoo), filling their faces with Skyline Chili topped with orange mounds of cheese, gauges in their ears so large I could literally see the wall behind them–they made me feel more comfortable than I ever am walking into a room full of thirty-somethings like me.
John was funny. He was kind. He offered advice, but not too much. He agreed with whatever I wanted, yet did so with an obsessiveness that likely leaks over into his normal life. It probably causes him to have his dishes stacked just right, and the towels folded in thirds–not halves.
He never inquired about the meaning of my design. Perhaps that was a rookie mistake he often made in his early years. Perhaps, as a fresh tattoo artist, he learned that too often tattoos are not as random as they seem. The stories behind them hurt more than the needle.
As we cross paths with strangers, we all make that rookie mistake. We wonder, “why in the world would that man get a skeleton holding a bouquet of roses and why there?”
To John, he likely knew I had a meaning behind my specific request. It was a request filled with as much nuance and careful thought as John put into his work. Showing him an internet image, I detailed all the changes.
“Only three seeds blowing away. And no leaves. And the word ‘family’ should be ‘hope’. And maybe it could bend here? And the seeds should be blowing off this way, not that.”
He devoured each idea. He made it come to life. He made it a part of me.
John will never know why he drew a dandelion on a 37-year-old’s ankle. He will never understand that I had lost three babies. He will never learn of the fourth baby that survived. He will never know my daughter’s middle name is Hope.
But what he does know is that he left this woman–one who was bereaved for so many years, one who lost over and over again, one who found the courage to keep trying–feeling like she made the right choice.
Seven years was a long time to wait to get my tattoo. But it was the perfect amount of time to get one that turned out just right.