I’m a fuddy duddy old lady when it comes to a certain, oh-so-hip fashion look.
That look is the tattoo.
Yup, I get that millions of folks—mostly, it seems, millennials and younger—absolutely love the idea of permanently celebrating a person or event or other favorite thing on their bodies. In fact, one in five Americans boast at least one tattoo, and 90 percent of them have no regrets about it.
Still, why go through the incredibly painful procedure of having an image literally burned on to one’s arms and legs, and ahem, other, more private places? I mean, really, isn’t that what birth announcements, greeting cards and posters are for?
This also begs another question: have those with new tattoos ever seen a decades old tat? Trust me on this one—it’s not a pretty sight.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the artistry that goes into the contemporary tattoo.
I’ve been privy to some inspired designs—delicately intertwined flowers; hummingbirds in flight, even a bagel adorned with lox and chives. And, in the case of a husband of a dear friend, I’ve glimpsed a large Native American chief, replete with fancy feathered headdress, rendered on one side of a muscled torso. Perhaps because he still has the beefy body of the fireman he once was, it works. There’s also the fantastical design that a breast cancer survivor had emblazoned on her chest, one that went justifiably viral (a photo is below).
Still, yours truly has zero desire to step into this inky arena.
Maybe that’s because I grew up at a time when the only people who had tattoos were sailors and soldiers; thugs who lived inside prison cells, and all other manner of scary outsiders. Tats back then all seemed about the same, too—often primitively drawn, they were oversized hearts and names of vanished sweethearts. Other objects of desire included snakes, daggers and skulls.
And although most tattoo “parlors” had sterilization machines then, few operators used them. In some parts of the country, especially New York City, that meant getting a tat could also mean risking serious illness. Well into the 1960s, newspapers reported stories of blood poisoning, hepatitis and worse.
But now, my not-exactly-festive thoughts on tattoos have taken A Significant Curve.
That’s because The Teenage Daughter recently got one.
It wasn’t exactly a shock because she’d been talking about it for a while now.
And, I had always told her that once she turned of legal age, and could pay for it herself, I guess that I really didn’t have much say in the matter, except to give my opinion. But it made me sad to think that the itty-bitty girl I had once rocked and changed and bathed, the same little baby with the softest skin in the entire world, would grow up to pay someone to drag a vibrating needle across her.
I was minding my business, reading on the couch, when she worked up the nerve to tell me about her upcoming adventure.
“So, look,” she said, standing above me. “I’m getting a tattoo. I’ve already made the appointment. And, yeah, I just wanted to tell you.”
Once again, I told her that I wasn’t exactly thrilled, but that I also couldn’t stop her.
I added one more thing.
“Just make sure, really sure, that you really, really, really like what you’re getting,” I said. “Because you’re going to be living with it for the rest of your life.”
She replied that she understood.
In fact, she said, she had thought long and hard about the design she was getting. It was going to be a complete original, something no one else in the world would have.
“It’s going to be a tribute to my Da-Da Casey,” she said. “Didn’t you know that?”
That’s when my heart began to melt.
Casey was my late partner. We were together for a decade, and he was also my daughter’s first father. Indeed, we had traveled to China to bring my girl home, and he helped me through the many rough spots that come with instant motherhood. And, unexpectedly on his part, he fell madly and deeply in love with her.
But because of a lot of personal demons, he also took his life when she was just shy of two years old.
There are dozens of photos of them together, but she has only one memory of him—laughing with her while blowing bubbles in her face. Yet, somehow, his complete adoration for her has been imprinted in her every pore. And because he wasn’t around long enough to give her time outs; lecture her on right and wrong, and bug her about homework, she has romanticized him to the extreme.
Hence, it makes sense that her first tattoo is a tribute to him.
Because he loved the desert, she designed a simple landscape of that terrain, with his birthdate on one side, and on the other, his first name trailing from a mountain in flowing cursive. She also made sure to have this tranquil image drawn on a part of her arm where no one can see it unless she wants to show it. All in all, it’s exquisite.
So, I’m ready to admit one more thing.
For a tattoo, it’s pretty darn cool.
What do you think about tattoos? I look forward to your comments and stories!