My first real tattoo didn’t get inked until I was 18, but the process for getting a tattoo started ten years earlier. When I was eight, I transferred from a public to a private school. I went from being the popular, well-liked kid to being the new kid – a complete introvert. I’m not sure what part of that shift changed me, but it was then that I began to imagine myself as a tattooed woman. By the age of 12, I would buy fake tattoos with any spare money I had and apply them to myself. My particular favorite was roses – I would buy any variations I could find and apply them to my arms and legs. When I didn’t have money, I would draw tattoos on myself with a blue or black ballpoint pen. It was during this experimental phase that I decided on my ultimate tattoo: a big blue rose, growing up the inside of my right forearm.
My parents, of course, were not pleased. They could forgive the fake tattoos I was so fond of, to an extent, but my ballpoint creations (including one skull and crossbones design with “Born To Die Young” written underneath the design that I inked on my upper arm one night for a school dance), wore on their patience. They explained to me over and over again how it wasn’t right to get tattoos. Tattoos would ruin my life. Tattoos would make it hard for me to get ahead. Tattoos were just wrong. They assumed I would outgrow my obsession with getting inked as soon as I came into contact with “the real world.”
Neither their nay saying nor my own real world experiences could dissuade me, but I did become convinced me that if I was going to get tattoos, at least while I was living at home and trying to find a job, I would need to get them in places that could be easily concealed. Hence my first tattoo – a small red heart over my right kidney.
It was about a month after my 18th birthday, and my boyfriend and I had been doing research on tattoos and tattooing for a few months. We found a studio about a half-hour away from where he went to college, and one fine afternoon, we headed over there to get it done. It hurt, but not as much as I thought it would – it was more a dull ache with some heat, no “real” pain to it. When we went back to my boyfriend’s dorm room afterwards, I got to show it off to his roommates and friends, who were all greatly impressed, never having met anyone with a tattoo before in their sheltered lives.
My heart healed quickly, and instead of satisfying my urge to be tattooed, it started me on my ink addiction. The blue rose was still in my mind. To me, it had become a symbol. It would show that I had arrived at a place in my life where I didn’t have to care what anyone thought of me. I knew that doors may be closed to me because of my tattoo choices, and so if I wanted a well-paying job, I couldn’t have such an obvious or large tattoo on my forearm. There had to be some way…
Tattooing always stayed my personal goal, but my professional goals changed a few times over the year. There was only one thing that remained constant: I wanted to write. To me, this would be the perfect job for a tattooed woman to hold. My readers wouldn’t see my rose, my editors wouldn’t see my rose, and my publishers wouldn’t see my rose. What could be better?
I worked a number of jobs that had nothing to do with writing: retail jobs in book stores, photographer’s assistant and office assistant, operations analyst, and computer programmer, but none of them fulfilled me. My newest position is teaching English – close to writing, so it feels good, but it’s definitely not a position where visibly tattooed women can reign. My jobs have tided me over while I figure out how to get paid for writing, and while I’m at it, get my blue rose tattoo.
Over the years, I’ve added more easily hidden tattoos to my collection – a bracelet around my ankle with an ankh on each end to anchor it so that it fit around a small fairy; a catwoman, drawn by a friend, that takes up my entire shoulder; a small bat, smoking a cigarette, taken from a comic book I loved; and a black sun, eight points radiating out from it to make a somewhat obscured chaos sign. When dressed for work, none of my tattoos show themselves. I’ve used that to my advantage, often hiding my tattoos during job interviews and important meetings where they might be looked down upon or call my credibility into question. I’ve had friends who didn’t realize that I was tattooed until a trip to the beach or pool revealed my tattoos in all their glory.
I still don’t have my blue rose, though. The day I get my rose tattoo will be the day that I’m awarded tenure in a teaching position or the day I find that I’m able to support myself with my writing. That day isn’t here yet, but it’s something that I’m still working for and looking forward to. My determination to be a tattooed woman has never wavered, nor has my determination to achieve my dream and prove myself with my blue rose.