I had spoken for more years than I care to remember about getting a tattoo. From the very moment I first mentioned it, I knew exactly what I wanted: a depiction of a Trinacria (the symbol of Sicily). I knew where I wanted it too: on the back of my shoulder. I knew everything, from what I wanted it to look like, to where I was going to have it, how I would need to care for it, how long it would take to heal; honestly, I put more thought and effort into my first tattoo than I have done with anything in my life, and that includes emigrating!
So when it came to actually biting the bullet and having my longed for design inked permanently onto my skin, I thought I was ready and prepared for anything. And indeed I was. Except for how intimate it would feel.
By intimate, I don’t mean that I got off on the pain, or anything like that. Not that I’m knocking it. If having needles thrust into you thousands of times happens to turns your key, then who am I to argue? No, by intimate I mean, up close and personal, comfortable, familiar physical contact. I don’t want to risk you getting any creepy or sleazy images, as that is far, far removed from what I experienced and what I am trying to convey. So, for all our sake’s, I shall attempt to paint a visual picture of the scene.
This was my experience during my Medusa tattoo. After putting the stencil design on my shoulder and asking me to approve it, my tattoo artist, Alex, got to work inking in the actual artwork. The entire piece, from start to finish, took five hours, minus a fifteen minute break for a quick bite to eat. Throughout that time, I was sitting on a padded stool and Alex was seated in a chair behind me. (Had I been having a tattoo on my front or on my arm etc, I would have been seated or laying on the plastic covered tattoo bed that took up a large part of the room) The room in which we were in was, I guess, around 12 feet square and although it was warm, it was not hot. During the tattoo process, Alex’s hand was almost always on me, either on my arm or just above my shoulder. Even though he wore thick black rubber gloves, the heat of his hand permeated through onto my skin. It felt deep and warm and comforting, and is the longest any man (other than my husband of course) has ever touched me without expecting such contact to lead to anything more.
His legs were touching me too. As he scooted his chair up behind me, by necessity, he had to put his legs either side of mine. This, combined with the feeling of his hand on my skin, felt intensely intimate, a feeling of constancy and familiarity, as if I could easily lean back into him and be safe.
Then there was the pain. It was a pain that is difficult to describe, one that built slowly and steadily, a pain that while intense, never caused me to scream or shout out (although many deep breaths were required). This pain only served to make the physical contact feel all the more intimate, comfortable and familiar.
However, it would be remiss of me to suggest that the intimacy I felt was purely physical. For the fact that I had spent time discussing the design with Alex, telling him what it meant to me and how I had been longing to have the work done, meant that when he began to permanently mark me with something that, I hoped would be a step towards me feeling more like me than I had done in a long time, only served to make the sensations and emotions that were coursing through me all the more intense. It was akin to a communion of souls, a bridge that only we could cross.
The feeling was the same when I had my second tattoo: a scroll with the words “Everything I do I do it for you” written upon it just below my collar bone. I felt all of what I have described all over again, though this time I was laying on the tattoo bed with Alex leaning above me. Sometimes, he was so close, I could feel his breath on my chest, and the warmth from his face. The pain was there too; stronger and more intense this time, due to the thinness of the skin and the proximity of bone, and yet still I felt secure and safe. Laying there for over an hour, there were times when I closed my eyes due to the pain (especially during the shading…f*** that hurts!) but then at other times, I kept my eyes open and found that Alex was so close, I had no option but to simply look at him. This was not a case of “I gazed into his eyes” or any kind of Mills and Boon nonsense. It was simply looking at his face, the contours of his skin, focusing on it as a means not to focus on the pain.
With both my tattoos, when it was all over, I stood up and looked in the mirror, admiring Alex’s artwork. We looked at each other and smiled, both of us standing on that bridge of ours, knowing that we had both created a piece of art that would not only last a lifetime, but that meant more to me than I could ever put into words.
I cannot say whether everyone who has a tattoo feels these same emotions as I. Nor does it actually matter. All I can say is what I experienced, and acknowledge the fact that to me, having a tattoo is not only a matter of having a design inked permanently onto my skin, it is an intimate creation of art.