Since my breach of adulthood, I’ve surprised my peers with my lack of ink. Maybe they saw my nose ring as a precursor for something more daring. Perhaps a tattoo was expected because of my, er, free-spirited nature. Maybe because, as an artist, it made sense to have something as creative as my brain displayed on my body. Or perhaps it’s my affinity for the bold. Whatever the reason, it surprised them.
I never opposed the idea, but I wanted a tattoo with the same beauty and impact as my canvas. I wanted something that told a story. Something I wouldn’t mind spending forever with. This wouldn’t result from a spontaneous weekend adventure for a meaningless mark.
As a July-born Cancerian, and despite my emotional disposition, I root nearly all of my greater life decisions in good old-fashioned logic. I have a process for these things—research, list-making, consequence identification, financial planning—all of which typically involves a heavy pour, some macaroni and cheese, and a brief emotional breakdown, as well as time.
This decision was no exception. After all, a tattoo is more permanent than marriage, and probably more painful to remove. I needed the right tattoo with the right concept at the right time.
Last Tuesday was the right time.
I met Geary one Saturday morning in November at Eclectic Art Tattoo Gallery for my consultation. Upon entering the shop, I was immediately met with a solid handshake, and an enthusiastic “Welcome, homeskillet.” At hearing myself referred to as a delicious breakfast staple, I immediately liked him. His firm grasp of color and knack for whimsy sealed the deal.
I rolled in with a folder filled with imagery, remarks, and paint swatches. I was wholly convinced that if I wasn’t immediately ridiculed for my meticulous notes, I was surely offering myself up for humiliation with the swatches.
They thought it was brilliant.
Two days later, I delivered my deposit, and left with three dates tapped into my iPhone for January, February, and March. Cue the office whiteboard countdown, and frequent stress dreams.
With the exception of Geary and two confidantes, I kept my concept hushed, revealing only the location and a rough estimate of size. I wanted this for myself. But after the consultation, even I was removed from the process—I didn’t see the design until the day of my appointment.
As a graphic designer, I’m the one that takes a concept and returns a final product—not the other way around. This was an incredible lesson in trust, and an eye-opener to what it’s like being on the other end of an idea. It was also terrifying.
So, my tattoo.
“I want a tattoo of strength, power, growth. Something humble and beautiful. Something anatomical and whimsical. A symbol of love.”
—Just Keep Swimming, 11.3.14
The human heart is a powerhouse—it’s complex, strong, and unbelievably resilient. It’s constantly battered; beat to shit with disappointment, loss, failure, and saturated fat. It gets stepped on, kicked, crushed, betrayed, mismanaged, and broken.
It feels everything.
Yet despite the abuse of all of life’s shortcomings, and facing perpetual adversity, and without asking to do so, it keeps beating. It’s a persistent little bastard, and pretty damn impressive.
It’s also a limitless vessel for love, and capable of infinite growth.
My tattoo is my blooming heart nestled behind its beating twin, shrouded in a garden of lavender, sage, rose hip, and hemlock. Lavender for calm, in case of stress. Sage and rose hip for healing, in case of heartache. Hemlock for protection, from those meaning harm. A serpent for guardianship, and a symbol of rebirth, transformation, and immortality—a constant reminder that no matter the hurt, growth is possible, and love transcends all.
Life thrives where love grows.
I arrived at Eclectic at noon last Tuesday mildly anxious, pitting out, and praying to fall in love with this thing I’d never seen. The universe was kind—Geary’s design was stunning. His interpretation was enchanting, and my heart, my physical, beating heart, ached for it.
After a thorough cleaning and a nice, intimate back-shaving, Geary prepped his Stylus. I settled onto the table, mostly topless among a full staff and three other human canvases, and fidgeted as I waited for an unfamiliar pain.
His machine buzzed.
I drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly as Geary dropped the needles on my flesh for the first time. The pain was intriguing—painful, yes—but manageable and surprisingly, slightly arousing. A sort of sharp, burning sensation. I silently acknowledged it and laid indifferent, in full control of my breath and my body, for five hours.
At hour five, Geary affixed a Tegaderm dressing to my newly inflicted (and incredibly beautiful) flesh wound, and I scooted home feeling like I’d just gotten my ass kicked. It was exhausting.
I prepped a pan of Kraft Three Cheese Shells, smothered it with a healthy serving of Sriracha, and sunk into my couch, happy to have successfully conquered my first of three sessions.
And as I lifted a forkful of noodles to my mouth, I sat delighted knowing that, like the pages of my journals, I had permanently inked another story. This time, on my skin.