Tattoos are expensive. But not the first tattoo I never got. The first tattoo I never got was going to be free, because my friend who was fourteen, had an older brother who was sixteen, and he was doling them out for free. He may or may not have been on something. But the real reason I didn’t get the first tattoo I never got–a flaming heart on the inside of my right hip bone–was because I knew Dad would kill me. Or that he’d want to. Or, at least, he’d say he wanted to. “I could kill you,” I could picture him saying, fists clenched like he wanted to fight, but without a fighting bone in him. All soft on the inside like the bubblegum ice cream he bought me down at CC’s Diner.
Plus I didn’t think my friend’s brother could do color, and I didn’t want a green flaming heart, I wanted a cherry red one with licks of yellow and orange flame coming off of it, like was on the sides of the hot rods down at the annual Sea Cruise.
The second tattoo I never got wasn’t quite as symbolic as my “love equals pain” flaming heart. Like my friend Aimee had done, I was considering a full back tattoo–a landscape. The landscape of home. A redwood tree, and the ocean, and maybe some rhododendron. The plan only got as far as that–a fantasy–before cost prevented me from even considering it. Months later, at 23-years-old, I moved from the high desert where I was living in Arizona, back to the Pacific Northwest. Back to the big trees and the sea. It hadn’t been about having a tattoo at all, but about answering a calling.
The third tattoo I actually got close to getting. It was on a whim which, I was sensing, had to account for at least half of all tattoos out there. It wasn’t even during a break up, or anything. I can’t even put my finger on why I was going to finally get the tattoo I never got. Something about being hip, or the potentiality of appearing as hip as I felt.
I almost went through with it. I thought about it for several days before walking into Cry Baby Tattoos in Eugene. I presented the tattoo artist with an image from my phone: two minimalist looking tattoos, a sun and a moon. Stick drawings for the backs of my arms, placed above my elbows. The sun on my left arm, the moon on my right. I kept thinking of a favorite quote, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”
The tattoos would be a reminder to always be truthful, to seek truth in all situations. To demand truth. To be truth. Because to me, truth is synonymous with justice. Or it tries to be.
As soon as the tattoo artist stenciled the designs on my arms, a perfect replication, I looked into the mirror and suddenly my elbow wrinkles jumped out at me. I hadn’t noticed them before. And when I bent my arm at the elbow, the sun and moon stretched, misshapen.
When I confessed to the tattoo artist that I felt conflicted, and didn’t think I could go through with it, he responded gracefully, “It’s your body.”
The next tattoo I never got were the coordinates of home:
41.7353923 N -123.9828519 W
It was either that or a fiddlehead fern on the inside of my left wrist, to remember Dad by. Later, I learned that I didn’t need the coordinates of home tattooed on myself anymore. Because now that place would forever be a part of me. I could plant trees in Dad’s yard instead, and spend decades watching them grow. It seemed I had outgrown all of the tattoos I never got, which lead me to thinking that from here on out, maybe I should just let my scars do all the talking.