Permanent Marker

Mood: head above water | Drinking: fountain soda

poppy

My first tattoo came on the heels of a breakup.

I didn’t do anything as reckless as inking a broken heart over my left boob. Just a tiny rose, thorns attached, hidden inside my left ankle. It was barely worth the 15 minutes of needle time, it was so small.

But I felt a bit rebellious, a smidge dangerous, a dash mysterious, and I wore it proudly, shunning socks in the chilly Midwest springtime — the better to show it off.

I was all of 23 and teetering on the brink of an identity explosion. I was a late bloomer when it came to so many things — my first kiss at age 19, my first drink at 22. But once I got started, I really made up for lost time.

I had spent so much time during my college years making good grades instead of discovering myself. By the time I hit age 23, I was ripe for discovery. The layers peeled off so quickly, one after the other, until I reached the bare and brazen core and got a good look at the girl I was, and the woman I wanted to be.

Somehow, that whole process involved some permanent ink.

I can’t say that my parents were too happy with the little pink rose, but it was nearly unnoticeable. Of course, the winged angel that showed up between my shoulder blades, and the spike-and-wire heart that appeared on my right ankle shortly thereafter were a bit more disconcerting.

Thirteen years later, I think my identity has been pretty well established, although I feel the need for constant improvement upon the woman I am. A tad more patience would be good, for one thing.

I wear the story of my becoming on all my appendages, now. A catalog of words and art that is as much a part of me as the heart that pounds beneath my skin.

The original rose is gone now, consumed by a black ink dragon, appropriately named “Rose”. The angel on my back remains, though as you can see, she’s no longer alone. I’ve kept the spiked heart, too, and scattered more black lines on my arms — a symbol for healing inside my left elbow, a bird on my shoulder, belladonna on my right arm, and my latin motto on my wrist. Boy and I shared a symbol on the eve of our wedding, stained into our lower back and now, for me, joined by two of Hilary Knight’s Beauty & the Beast birds.

I don’t know if the catalog will grow much bigger. These things are hard to predict.

I’ve heard some say that people get inked only to improve their self-esteem. I can’t, of course, speak for anyone but myself, and for myself I say these marks are not an improvement, not even a decoration. They are not there to make a statement.

My tattoos exist only for me. They are my map, my compass. A memoir. I’ll never forget where I have been, nor yet where I want to go. I bear the memory in my skin.

Tattoos are not for everyone, and they are a choice that should be made with care. Get that Tasmanian Devil smeared on your left butt cheek today and you may find yourself wishing for a laser tomorrow.

But for me, tattoos tell a story. And I’ve always loved a good story…

-Lo, who hopes it will be an epic tale of love and adventure.

P.S. Personal experience with the following tattoo artists allows me to give them the highest recommendations:

Jesse Tuesday  *  Laura Satana  * Rocio Arteaga  *  Marx Barry

Embrace the Farm Girl Within

There was a time, in the height of my gothling glory days, when I would do almost anything to keep you from finding out where I came from. I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t really ashamed of my hometown, etc., but it was a pretty feeble effort and failed rather miserably. See, it’s hard to be all melancholie and the infinite sadness with your long black skirt and piles of black eyeliner if people know that you used to be Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. It kind of ruins your gothy credibility. So I stuffed that adorable little skeleton in a musty closet and hid it as best as I could.

Of course, now that I look back on it, I can see all the drama for how silly it was. Now I know that Tom the Vampire was really a band geek from the suburbs who wore pink button-up business shirts with pocket protectors before he got his dentist to fit him with fangs. And Tink the twirling goth princess didn’t come spinning out of the womb wearing combat boots and lace dresses. Somewhere, in some small town, she’s the biggest dork in the yearbook.

All the arty little white-faced kids started getting their Siouxsie fixation and Bauhaus t-shirts at some point when they were still wearing polo shirts. Some of us just got started with the fishnet and eyeliner a little sooner than others. The rest of us had to play a bit of catch up and hide a few more preppy pictures, that’s all.

As for me, I grew up in a small little Illinois town in the cornfields that bears the singular distinction of being the Hometown of Ronald Reagan. Actually, I didn’t really grow up “in town”. I didn’t even grow up on the outskirts. Nope. I was a real live farm girl. I grew up baling hay and picking corn, chasing barn cats and riding horses. And yes, even milking goats. (Which is easier than milking cows because goats only have two spigots.)

It was an idyllic childhood, really. I had no reason to complain. Most girls my age asked for a pony and got the plastic version with the dollshair mane. I skipped right over the whole pony business and went straight to the real deal–a big, tall horse. I spent the summers brown and barefoot, finding the newborn kittens hidden in the haymow, picking strawberries in the garden and hanging overalls up to dry on the line in the backyard.

I got stung by the bees that hid in the white clover and I got kicked in the jaw by my sister’s obnoxious white pony. (His name was Buckwheat.) I’ve stepped on a nail and caught my pants on barbed wire. I won ribbons and trophies at 4-H fairs and county horse shows. I learned how to deliver baby goats (baby goats are called “kids”) and sew a fancy dress. I’ve canned peaches and packaged sausages. I’ve gone on foxhunts and hay rides. I’ve seen chicks hatch, puppies birthed and horses die in their sleep. I could climb a fence faster than most boys, drive a tractor before I could drive a car, jump a horse over a 4-foot gate and run barefoot on gravel without even wincing. I was a farm girl. No doubt about it.

I tried to deny it for a long time. Once I got all citi-fied and learned how to hail my own cabs, I thought maybe it was dorky to be a hayseed. Everyone seemed to think that you were smarter, sleeker and more sophisticated if you were spawned in the city. Especially if you were going for the my-skin-is-as-pale-as-the-moonlight-by-which-Lestat-hunts look.

There was a time when I would have given anything to be more Nicole Blackman than LaDonna Witmer. I wanted heroin friends and street smarts, KMFDM tours and childhood trauma. I wanted to have a better excuse for my darkness.

But even farm girls have their demons. You don’t have to have a miserable childhood in some dank tenement to be morose. You can grow up in the sunshine with puppies and kittens and still sit in a corner and cut yourself. Just because you have a happy childhood doesn’t mean that you can’t understand the depths of despair.

It’s all a lot more complicated underneath than it looks from the surface. And as far as my story goes, I’ve come to enjoy the contradictions. I mean, it’s kind of cool to know Rodeo Queens and Vampire Boys all at once, you know?

But where is the point in all this rambling babble? I have no idea. I seem to have lost it somewhere between Laura Ingalls and Emily Strange. Here’s my wild stab at wrapping it up:

Somewhere along the way, in the midst of all this growing up, I’ve come to embrace it all. All the pieces of me, from the little blonde tomboy pretending to be Princess Leia with a lightsaber, to the awkward teenager who knew much more about horses than boys, to the fledgling little goth girl who started stuffing her closet and makeup box with black. They are all part of me now.

There’s still an excess of black in my closet, but I just bought a dress that’s lime green. I’ve still got my Nine Inch Nails bumper sticker, but I’ve got Gwen’s new CD in the stereo. Somehow I’ve interwoven the farm girl and the gothling, the melancholy and the sunshine, the poet and the tomboy, the ruffles and the combat boots. It’s all mixed up. It’s all me. And I think it’s turning out alright, after all.

-Lo, who isn’t even sure what her real hair color is anymore, anyway.

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