When Bad Tattoo’s Happen….
When I was in my mid-twenties, I decided to get a tattoo. The decision making process for this permanent implementation of art onto my skin, went something like this:
Friend: I’m going to get my tattoo today. The one I’ve been talking about and planning and thinking long and hard about for months. The one I’ve drawn and redrawn and gone over with my tattoo artist again and again. The one that has deep, personal meaning. The one I’m not likely to regret ten minutes later.
Me: Oooh, fun! I’ll come too!
Change scene to tattoo parlor.
Me: (staring at a wall of generic tattoo selections as though deciding between the cheeseburger or the chicken mcnuggets on the extra value menu at McDonald’s) I’ll take that one! (points finger at a butterfly, because….obviously).
Tattoo Artist: (likely chuckling on the inside) Where would you like it?
Me: Fluttering out of the crack of my ass, duh!
This is how I ended up with a tramp stamp.
The impulsiveness of this decision was a definite departure of type for me. I’m the kind of person who will spend days researching toasters before I buy one. But at the time, my life was particularly complicated and messy. I was in the process of ending a long term romantic relationship and the situation with my mother had reached a pivotal impasse. One of us had to die. Or, one of us needed to walk away….forever.
So what better time to do something rash and permanent, am I right?
Needless to say, I regretted it pretty instantly. It wasn’t because I have anything against tattoo’s. I regretted it, because my choice and its placement didn’t fit me. The tattoo had no meaning….although, for a long time, I told people I’d chosen it because butterflies symbolize change, hope and life….which was a total crock.
For years, anytime I looked at it, which typically required a deliberate act, I felt like I was walking around in a used car I’d purchased with a bumper sticker that said something like, “Back Off! I’m going to Fart” and I couldn’t scrape it off. I didn’t have the money to do anything about it though. They go on far cheaper than they come off. So I just tried to keep it covered.
Recently though, I decided it was time to have the tattoo removed. There was no real catalyst for the decision, I just saw it one day while trying on a bathing suit with a low cut back. It brought back bad memories.
I sought out the best laser removal specialist I could find and booked my first consultation / removal session. I knew from my research that the procedure would hurt, but I gave birth to my son au natural. I figured, if I could survive ejecting a human from my hooha, how bad could laser tattoo removal be? Really, uncomfortably bad….that’s how bad it could be.
As I laid there sweating, grimacing and squeezing down hard on a stress ball, I tried to divert my thoughts. Mind over matter. It was a skill I honed as a kid.
When my mother would launch into an attack, I would do my best to take it without emotion. Instead of being in that moment, I would concentrate instead on trying to make certain muscles move. Can I make my ears move? How about my knee caps? What about a chest muscle? Can I do it to the beat of a particular song? Eventually, the sound of her voice would become nothing more than a fuzzy buzz in the background of my mind.
The ability to remove myself mentally from situations I don’t want to be in, continues to be a tactic I employ, though it’s not always to my benefit. The word that has been most commonly used to describe me is “stoic,” followed by “aloof.” To quote Popeye, “I am what I am,” but I’m working on being a bit more emotionally accessible.
So as I tried to ignore the pain of the procedure, I also tried not to let my mind wander too far from the situation at hand. Instead, I thought about how I got there in the first place. I decided that maybe the tattoo had been symbolic of something after all.
For years, I’d felt as though my feelings and my body were a literal punching bag and dumping ground for other people’s stuff. Maybe the act had been my way of staking a claim. Or, maybe it was my way of grabbing onto something I could control in the midst of a life that felt totally out of control. Maybe it was none of those things and I’m simply grasping at straws to apply meaning to something that might have just been meaningless. Maybe that means something.
Regardless, I do feel as though the removal is significant. When I look back on my life, I can see a very definitive before and after. The tattoo is the marker that separates the years. In those that proceeded it, a lot of my life had been chaotic and messy. All I wanted was to survive it and then escape it.
In the years that followed the tattoo, I did the work of stripping away all the layers of dysfunction and self-doubt that had been piled on for so many years and replacing those layers with healthy layers. I’ve built a good life for myself. The memories the tattoo evokes are not happy memories. I don’t need that symbol of where I’ve been to be appreciative of where I am and where I’m going.
The tattoo removal process will also happen in layers. It’s a bit poetic all things considered. At each session, the laser will target the tattoo pigment and the energy from the beam will be transferred to the ink, breaking it up into small particles. Then my body will let it go. To quote the laser removal specialist, “you’ll basically poop out your tattoo.” That seemed a bit poetic as well.