The reasons people get tattoos varyPublished 1:13pm Saturday, June 11, 2011
Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster
To tattoo or not to tattoo has never been the question. Not for me.
It’s the permanence. As much as I’ve fought change, the impossibility of it frightens me more. When I was little I asked my mother when I would get my new family. I figured everybody got an update after a few years. I was shocked when she answered never. I walked around dazed thinking, You people? Forever?
I never lay tomorrow’s clothes out the night before because I might change my mind in my sleep. The first song lyrics I connected with were, “I check my look in the mirror. Wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face,” from Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In the Dark.”
When coloring my hair from dark brown to slightly darker brown, I only use the stuff that fades in 24 shampoos, and I think the erasable pen and the washable marker are arguably the best inventions of the last century.
So when it comes to tattoos I can’t help but ask, What if I don’t want that hula dancer on my stomach 10 years from now?
A close family member recently showed interest in acquiring permanent ink. I won’t rat her out, but her name rhymes with, “You’re in trouble now, Caitlin.” I knew by my choking and gasping that it was finally time to hear the other side of the story.
Three of my closest friends have tattoos. I count them among the finest people I know, but I’ve never understood why they would etch non-FDA regulated ink on their skin. Their reason for doing this had to be bigger than vanity or rebellion. It had to be bigger than cool. I asked them for the skinny on their tats. I was ready to hear them, but I never expected to understand them.
Christina got her tattoo for her 40th birthday. “It is simple,” she explained. “Though it is private in location, I am proud of having it on my body. If revealed, I can and will explain it without hesitation. I truly believe, not that it will always mean the same thing to me, but that it will always mean something to me throughout the entire time this body is part of me and I am part of this body.”
Jenny’s tattoos celebrate personal milestones and her beloved dogs. Running down the right side of her back is, “Elijah’s paw print, taken from a picture I took the day we had to put him down and dogwood flowers blossoming next to it. Underneath it are Woodrow and Milo’s prints, with their own flowers, and below those are Tucker’s print and flower. I hope to have paw prints running all the way to my ankle by the time I’m old and gray in tribute to the loyal and wonderful companions I plan on sharing my life with.”
My friend Paul lost his brother a couple years ago. The tattoos he has honoring Scott display an aesthetic sacredness that I think I’m beginning to appreciate, especially when he tells me, “The swallow tattoo I got for my brother before he died was about and for him. He couldn’t get a tattoo due to cancer, so I got it for him. Birds in tattoos have many a meaning. The swallow has a rich history and countless interpretations. In my tattoo the swallow is a symbol of hope, freedom, love and loyalty to family. My swallow carries a black ribbon, the symbol of melanoma awareness. In the ribbon’s shape you can also find an S. This tattoo is a tribute to my brother and hero, Scott Giuliani. His valiant fight against cancer and the good-spirited, positive way he did it is a constant inspiration to me.”
Listening to them reminded me that it’s a good idea to open my mind before I open my mouth. We all carry love, grief, and wonder with us in different ways, whether it’s pictures on our skin or words on page. It’s the living that matters, the remembering that counts. Another of Paul’s tattoos reads, “Vivi e lascia vivere.” Live and let live. I wouldn’t mind letting that breathe on my skin for a while. Anybody have an erasable pen?
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.