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Monday, January 7, 2013

experiment #27: getting a tattoo for the first time

this is me, the preppy girl

I would never be considered a badass.

I have never been called a badass.

I have, in fact, been called the opposite of badass. You're too sensitive. You need to toughen up. 

When you look at me you would see a preppy girl who favors ponytails, white linen and Buddy Holly-esque reading glasses. But at 1:16pm on December 27, 2012 in the middle of Duval Street in Key West, my husband took one look at me, smiled wide, kissed me on the forehead and said "Well, I married quite the little badass, didn't I?"

I got a tattoo.

this is me, the badass

For the past eight years I have wanted a tattoo. When I was working in L.A. one day I had my belly button pierced and I thought I was edgy. I thought maybe it would be my gateway to getting a tattoo. I knew I wanted one but I didn't know what I wanted. I thought of a Hawaiian lei of Pikake flowers around my right ankle. Last summer when I was home in Massachusetts I actually made it into a tattoo parlor accompanied by my high school friend, Brian, and tried getting a tattoo of a happy little lobster on the back of my neck but the artist was completely booked for the day. I took it as a sign that I wasn't supposed to get one. Maybe it wasn't supposed to be a lobster.

A few weeks ago our family met up in Key West in a gorgeous beach house on Key Largo. There were eleven of us and it was magical. One afternoon I did a search on my iPad on Starfish and a page came up featuring Starfish tattoos. Here is what it said:

The starfish. . . symbolizes growth, regeneration, healing, inspiration, brilliance, intuition and vigilance. 

In Christian faith, the starfish is representative of the Virgin Mary. . .and  the Virgin Mary’s divine guidance and vigilance.

. . . starfish tattoos are often representative of infinite, deep and divine love.

One of the most fascinating characteristics of the starfish is its ability to grow a new limb should one be amputated from its body. This quality makes a starfish tattoo a perfect symbol of regeneration and healing, and may serve as a personal reminder of surviving a traumatic event in one’s life.

That was it. I had survived losing a baby, almost dying, getting laid off from the best job in the world and absolute soul-killing sadness.  I had survived it. I had healed. I was stronger for having gone through these trying times. I told my husband I knew what I wanted now, a starfish tattoo and I explained why. He looked at me bemused and said "Really? You're sure because once you do it. . ." I said "Yes, yes, absolutely yes." There was no doubt.

And so on December 27th our family drove to Key West from Key Largo. We shopped, enjoyed a leisurely lunch of crepes al fresco at La Creperie and then, then my sister-in-law and I peeled off from the group as they ventured for a ride on the Duck Tour. She and I were going to be rebels, badasses, if you will, as we headed to Paradise Tattoo on Duval Street.

I am a lucky girl. I have two sisters-in-law who I love like sisters. Carolyn is a veterinarian who is steady, fearless and would be my guide for this experiment. We had chosen Paradise Tattoo out of all the shops in Key West because of their ratings and reviews. I had done my homework and even called the shop several times in advance. Sure, I was going to be a badass but that didn't mean I was going to go into this experiment willy nilly.

In my mind I had pictured a tattoo shop as dark, kind of scary-- the place you stumble into at 2am when you are crazy drunk and while sure, this place may be great at 2am for getting a tattoo that you'll regret later, at 11am it was decidedly normal, very clean and the artists were ridiculously friendly. I asked Carolyn what she thought if the place. Was it clean? It passed Carolyn's rigid cleanliness test. I told the receptionist what I was thinking of. A little aqua starfish, a happy little starfish sort of in motion, flowing in the ocean. She pulled out some books for me to browse and jumped on the computer to search for a happy starfish. In a couple minutes she popped back around and showed me a starfish she had printed out. She was perfect, a lovely 1 1/2 inch starfish. I paid, looked at my sister-in-law and then promptly panicked.

"What am I doing? This is a TATTOO!"

"Tay, this is easy. It's a little tattoo. It's what you always wanted. You're going to love it."

"I think I'm going to throw up. I can't do this. What if I get it and HATE it? I will be stuck with this thing ON MY BODY."

"Stop," she said. "You're working yourself up. It's not that big of a deal." She herself was browsing through an idea book.

They called my name. I looked at Carolyn. "Come on," she said. "We're doing this."

The artist's name was Doreen. I was comforted with the fact that a girl would be doing my tattoo. She had the starfish picture in her hand and motioned for me to sit. I liked her immediately. I told her what the starfish meant to me, about healing and regenerating. She liked the idea.

"So. Where are we doing this?" Doreen looked at me expectantly.

I pointed to my left wrist. "She belongs right here."

my temporary tattoos

The cool thing is that on Christmas morning my nieces and I sat in the tiki hut at our beach house with  a kid's temporary tattoo kit. Throughout the day the girls would tattoo family members and visitors to the house. I chose 3 aqua glitter stars on my left wrist as sort of a test run. I loved them. With the stars there for a couple days it made me realize how many times you actually look at your wrists every day.

And so with the temporary tattoos gone, Doreen flipped my left wrist up. I looked at her and said "You know I would pay BIG MONEY for a shot of tequila right about now." She laughed.  They did not offer tequila shots. Bummer. She rinsed my wrist and forearm with a solution and applied the transfer away from any veins. I told her the color I wanted, like a Tiffany box. We pulled the website up on my phone and she mixed away. Here are the colors.

They told me it would feel like a bee sting.

It did NOT feel like a bee sting. When I was six years-old I walked into a wasp nest and was stung dozens of times on my face. This is what it felt like. I started to tear up. I held my breath and said "FUCK ME. That hurrrrrts!"

I squeezed my eyes shut as she worked, hearing the sound of the electric needle and thinking logically that I needed this to stop. It was a mistake. Then I said to myself "This is what you wanted. See it through." That actually helped. I felt the pain, every moment of it. Carolyn said "It's OK. Look." I opened my eyes and looked at my little starfish taking shape. She had her grey outline and her body was shades of aqua. I smiled. It was exactly what I had hoped. Doreen washed the area off. We were done. It was less than 20 minutes. I was happy.

Doreen wrapped my arm in a gauze and I watched at Carolyn got her tattoo. Hers was a paw print/ heart on her wrist as well. It was so Carolyn. FYI, it's much better watching someone get a tattoo than getting one yourself.

When we walked back into the sunshine, I felt exhilarated. I had done it. This little starfish would remind me of sunshine, of the way my husband looked at me when we walked the beach, of how you do survive traumatic events and you are stronger for it.

We ran into the rest of our family. They were excited to see what we did, especially the little girls. Carolyn and I peeled back the gauze on our tattoos to show them. This is when my husband, L., smiled, kissed me on the forehead and called me a badass. It was worth the pain just to see him smile at me that way.

So, here I am this morning on a rainy Seattle day, sitting at my desk. I look down as I type and I see my happy little starfish. I love this tattoo. It is such a happy reminder and it was a very good thing that I waited until I knew exactly what felt right.

Experiment #27 was a success. Getting a tattoo made me happy and the residual ripples are lovely. I am the badass happygirl. :-)


  • Before getting a tattoo, be absolutely sure of the design you want because you are going to see it every day. Think about getting a temporary tattoo first to see if you like it. 
  • Research the tattoo shop. Read reviews and ratings. When you arrive, look around. Does it look clean? 
  • Do exactly what the artist tells you to do when you leave. I expected my tattoo to be this bloody, scarring thing with the warnings that she gave me but I followed her instructions to the letter and my tattoo looked great from the first moment I got it until now. There was no scarring, no scabbing. I washed the area gently and applied Eucerin several times a day. She's very pretty. :-)

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