So how many tattoos do I really have? Why did I get them? Do they have a meaning? Here’s where I do a little sharing: I’m 21 years old and I got my first tattoo for my 17th birthday (thanks mom!) I’ve been addicted to tattoos ever since!
It’s almost my 22nd birthday (January 1st!) so it’s an appropriate time to share the milestones that my tattoos commemorate considering my first one was a birthday gift. Actually, when I was 16 I harassed, pleaded, cajoled and begged my mom for a tattoo that year…and she did say yes, until the day before when she (as a responsible parent) changed her mind. I think I got my first laptop that year as a gift instead (a Dell mini which survived 5 years of abuse and multiple college papers). But I was pretty crushed that my mom reneged on her permission, and the following year I wheedled again…this time she relented, reasoning that when I was 18 I would get a tattoo anyway so what difference does a year make? (A lot.) I also paid for my tattoo…the gift itself was my mom’s presence and approval in the tattoo shop.
In order, my first tattoo was the phoenix to the left of the sun, moon, and stars. In hindsight, this tattoo shop (I can’t remember the name) was pretty sketchy. First off, I was a walk in appointment, the artist made my mom and I wait for almost two hours while he drew it, I had brought in my own rudimentary sketch. While we were waiting, my mom grew more and more tense, I remember sensing the anxiety coming off her in waves…it was palpable. But I finally got my tattoo! It wasn’t as painful as I had prepared myself for, in my opinion the back and shoulders are the least painful places to get tattooed. However, as my artist was working his buddies were busy bringing bags of betel nut (aka Areca nut) into the shop and drinking. When the tattoo was finished I wasn’t given any aftercare instructions and was charged a measly $50 (very cheap). My mom was really happy to get out of there.
I chose a phoenix because of it’s symbolization of rebirth, I was a pretty depressed and angst-y (and eating disordered teen) so it made sense at the time. I also included a cross and a banner that read Habakkuk 3:19, citing a passage from the Christian Bible that reads, “The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” I chose this because I had read about a rugby player who wrote the chapter and verse ‘Habakkuk 3:19’ on his cleats before games to invoke strength and speed. I hearkened it to running, and so sought solace in this verse.
The quality of this tattoo is not satisfactory, you might notice how light the lines are compared to the sun and moon next to it. It’s not a good tattoo, but I like it because it was my first.
Little did my mom know of the consequences of her decision to let me get a tattoo at 17. Much like my ear piercings (I have 8 on each ear) once she said yes to one she could never say no again! But before I got the sun and moon and stars (my second tattoo) I did way more research. I went to Low Tide and presented my design to the artist, one guy who lived/owned a small studio over a bar in Tumon (Guam) on Hotel Row. I scheduled an appointment for later and gave him time to professionally draw it out. This time I also opted for color, though I was pretty scared of looking like someone had taken a neon sharpie to my skin. It was a 3 hour sitting and ended up being $300. I’m a gypsy at heart, and I’ve always loved sun and moon designs. My mom never stuck around to watch any more of my tattoos after the first one. I think the needles, ink, and blood (yes, blood!) grosses her out a bit!
The OM was my next tattoo, and I was so happy with my experience at Low Tide that I went back there again for this one and my next one. From my first tattoo to my koi fish tattoo, I got them all within the span of a year! For awhile I became enamored with eastern religions and so I got this tattoo, the main symbol is an OM which is a mystical sound found in Hinduism and Buddhism, it is the sound of the universe. It is also one of the most beautiful designed I have inked and is a representation of a lotus, a beautiful flower that comes from mud. The Tibetan Sanskrit script above supposedly reads, “Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ” which doesn’t have a direct English translation though some sources translate it into ‘the jewel in the lotus’. I know it is commonly chanted when monks spin the prayer wheel and send the vibes (?) out into the universe. I was fascinated with the premise that everything was impermanent, and the Buddhist religion of letting go in order to have more capacity to care about others and do better to be reborn as a higher entity on the path to enlightenment. And yes, I recognized the paradox of getting a permanent reminder tattooed in my skin to reinforce the concept of impermanence!
My koi fish was my last tattoo at Low Tide, and was my last tattoo at 17. By this time, my artist and I had a great repertoire and I was sad to be moving away. Finding an artist that does good work definitely helps put to rest the nervousness that accompanies permanent ink. I chose a koi fish because I wanted a tattoo that represented the Japanese/Asian culture because I am half-Japanese! I only chose to have the cherry blossoms colored and left the rest simple with a little shading. This was, by far, the most painful tattoo I have gotten to date. But I sat through it like a champ, I can usually tolerate up to three hour sittings and I never cry!
My next set of tattoos were inked in Corvallis, the college town of Oregon State University. Located right off campus, High Priestess Piercing & Tattoo is the place for newly autonomous young adults to make irreparable decisions 🙂
I was often in a dark and depressed place in Corvallis, and my tattoo decisions reflect a lot of my mental state at the time. The fact that I managed to scrounge up money for tattoos while I was broke also makes clear my issues with money management. But, I love tattoos. In my opinion, there are only a few permanent things in life that money can buy: education, travel, & tattoos. With each of these comes experiences and knowledge that no one can take away from you! Very few things in life are as enduring. I chose to have “This too shall pass” tattooed on my collarbone to remind myself that the depression I felt would not last forever.
The next few tattoos at High Priestess were all of Mexican culture, done in a traditional style design. The Calavera or sugar skull, which is part of the tradition of Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead in Mexico is done on my left shoulder. This tattoo was my reward for completing my first trail run 50k. I felt like a bad-ass, and I wanted a representation of that. The most kick-ass thing I could think of was a skull and crossbones….except that I am very much not a skull and crossbones type person. So I got a sugar skull instead, this was actually a lot of fun to choose because sugar skull designs allow for a lot of creativity!
The other two are a pair, and are especially beautiful. To the left is a moth, the banner reads “muerte”, or death in Spanish. Moths are nocturnal creatures and so symbolize the darkness of night that comes with death. They are also dusty, grey and papery…like ghosts. In the middle is a bee (not a butterfly!), bees symbolize life because they are “busy bees”! The banner reads “vida” or life in Spanish. The delicate face on the bees midsection is so perfect in person, especially because it is only about an inch long in real-life!
My last tattoos in Corvallis were a rose on each wrist. I only have one pictured here, even though they aren’t the exact same on each side but the other one has gotten engulfed in my Ganesh tattoo on the other forearm. I got these because (and I haven’t mentioned this much, but I will in the continuation of this post) I used to self-harm a lot…having red roses on my wrist still gave me the gothic visual of blood red on the inside of my pale wrists, but without the harm to myself. I think that this tattoo symbolizes my desire to harm myself, but my ultimate victory over negative actions. I guess I choose life.
Many more tattoos to come! Because I want to articulate the story behind each one, this tour is going to be divided into two parts…that way I don’t exhaust you all! If any of you have questions about tattoos, feel free to ask in the comments!