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

Deadly Nightshade

bella
Mood: Satisfied
Drinking: Water

I’m letting the ink sink in.

Fresh from the gun, my newest tattoo is all crisp lines and delicate shades, standing out in bold relief until it heals and peels.

My 13th tattoo is an art noveau interpretation (drawn by the lovely Sarah and fine-tuned by the talented Rocio) of the Atropa belladonna plant, also known as deadly nightshade. It’s one of the most toxic plants in the western hemisphere. Children have been poisoned by eating as few as three of the shiny purple berries.

If you’re a Burton fan, you’ll recognize it as the plant that Sally uses in The Nightmare Before Christmas to poison Doctor Finklestein and make her escape.

But the plant’s poisonous nature is not really the reason I’m going to wear it on my arm forever.

“Belladonna” is Italian for “beautiful woman”. Drop the first three letters and you have my name — which means “the woman” in Italian.

I got the first part of this tattoo — a single belladonna flower and leaf — when I visited Italy for the first time in 2005. Boy and I got (non-matching) tattoos in a little shop near the Vatican. The tattoo artist’s name was Materazzi Maurizio. He had papered the walls of his small shop with posters of homoerotic Roman centurions, and he spoke only two or three words of English, which was about as many as I spoke in Italian.

We managed to get our tattoos without mishap, and the belladonna flower on my right arm has been a favorite ever since.

But in recent months it’s started to look lonely to me, and I thought that letting more belladonna twine up my arm would be a great way to celebrate my birthday.

To me, the belladonna tattoo signifies a time of coming into my own, of settling into my skin and embracing the woman that I’ve become, thorns and all. I like the duality of the beautiful woman/deadly nightshade nature of the word. There does always seem to be a bit of poison in the beauty.

Bella donna. She’s who I’m learning to be.

-Lo, who isn’t afraid of the needle.

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