By Arianne Young
I got my first tattoo on Wednesday, August 1, 2007.
I remember it was a Wednesday because the night before I had a rousing discussion with my (ex) boyfriend about our future kids during American Idol. This aired on Tuesdays.
Whose nose would they have?
Would the hair be a mixture of the two of us?
Would they have his artistic ability and my diplomatic sensibility?
Sometime in the early hours of Wednesday, I was removing my promise ring and quietly placing it on our nightstand. Later, I recall standing in our light-less living room calling my mum and my best friend as I watched my ex put on his jacket and walk out the front door. Away from our home, from me, from…us.
A month earlier, I had scheduled the day off for a tattoo appointment. I found an artist whose work was incredible at a shop called New Tribe here in Toronto (or “the 6ix” for those of you who only know this city from Drake lyrics or our crack-smoking mayor) so ; I give much thanks to my coincidental foresight.
I had cried in those early hours but still don’t think the magnitude of what happened had hit me yet. I still travelled to my office, where both my mother and best friend worked, partly to remove all evidence of my failed relationship from my office walls, but mostly to show them I was still intact physically; though my insidey-parts had shattered into a million jagged pieces of emotional glass happily taking its time carving me up from within. My friend insisted I not set foot back into my old place again. I was instructed to go straight to her house.
But what about my appointment, I thought to myself.
I never intended to NOT get my tattoo. My first piece. A majestic piece that included two of my favourite things: mermaids and pin-ups.
So that’s exactly what I did.
Hours after the relationship I thought would last forever ended, I walked toward the subway blindly dialing a number I’ve since forgotten but at the time couldn’t forget, his parents, the family I considered my very own. I spoke with his mother, she would relay the information to her husband, my ex’s father.
That was the moment the “break up” became very real.
I cried into the phone. I cried ascending the escalator to the train’s platform. I ran out of tears during the trek and figured I was done. That would be it. I walked into the tattoo shop on autopilot and filled out their sign-in form. I was asked to sit in the waiting area.
Halfway between a chair in the waiting room and the reception desk, my phone rang.
He cried into the phone. I sobbed openly in the empty shop. There was nothing left to be said. I hung up and put the phone away.
“Are you ready now?”
What? I looked up and realized I was getting a tattoo. I WAS GETTING A TATTOO! Was I stupid? Shouldn’t I be grieving or something? I should never make decisions like this when I’m in a state of utter and absolute despair.
Yeah, I’m ready.
The well-endowed mermaid illustration would be on my back. I removed my shirt in a room full of men; my usual shyness took a vacation, it seemed. He positioned the image transfer on my right shoulder blade and asked if that’s where I wanted it. Without looking I said the position was great. He said he’d like to treat this piece as a real-life portrait instead of the fantasy illustration I had found online and saved for years. I may have nodded. He began.
It was a weird sensation. The mix of pain and hummingbird wing-type vibration of the needle scraping its way with purpose across my back was exhilarating. I was asked what other tattoos I had; the artist making idle chat to deflect my attention from what he was doing. I told him this was my first. I felt the needle pause for a beat then continue along the transfer’s lines. He said it was pretty intense for a first tattoo, and asked why I chose it.
I sat with my chest against the back of a folding bench; my head had been buried in the cushion where my breath had made condensation on the pleather. I turned my head slightly and told him: I took the day off to get this tattoo and it happened to fall on the same day my boyfriend decided he “couldn’t do this anymore,” and I had nowhere else to go at the time so I kept the appointment instead of paying the cancellation fee. I wanted to know if I was supposed to use him as my confessional.
His laugh was sympathetic. I didn’t have to share anything with him if I didn’t want to. I asked if we could just be quiet for the rest of the time. He said I could do whatever made me feel comfortable.
Everyone’s first time is different. I can’t accurately describe what I went through in those four hours; I can only say I never wanted those hours to end. It was an intimate moment despite the opened surroundings. This stranger’s touch re-created art on my body I’ve thought about for years. He added beauty to, what felt like, a husk of my former self.
This “guardian mermaid” tattoo, stands at attention whether I’m feeling my most fierce or want to crawl under my blankets. She reminds me every day that she’s got me – at my best or worst. On that day, one love affair had ended, but a new love, the love affair with painting my body had just begun. A love affair that grows every day, one in which I know will never end.