I made myself a promise last year. That promise now hovers over my heart and across my shoulder.
My first tattoo had marked a milestone birthday. I’d admired tattoo art but had been reluctant to venture into ink. If I was going to make a permanent change, I wanted it to be a part of my story, not just a whim or worse yet, something to prove that I was cool (or stupid, depending on your p.o.v.).
I decided that my story would be far simpler than Shelley Jackson’s Skin Project, a 2,095 word epic told a word at a time in tattoos on volunteers. My daughter has one of Jackson’s words on her wrist. Nor would my story be an all-encompassing graphic like the Japanese Irezumi, full of mythical beasts that portray a person’s goals and desires in life.
I chose a triquetra, a Celtic knot representing the threefold nature of life: birth, life and rebirth. For me, it was also a link to my Irish roots and a symbol of the three women who make up my family–my two daughters and myself. That tattoo took about 40 uncomfortable minutes. I thought that was pretty much my limit. The bite of the needle is forgotten, but I recall that I was eager to be done.
For this round, I picked Ram of Fat Ram’s Pumpkin Tattoo in Jamaica Plain. As I booked the initial consult with him in November, I thought about what the story would be. In the Irezumi style, I wanted my tattoo to represent my future and a more mindful life. An image strong, protective.
This week I sat for an hour and a half, while Ram inked a snowy owl onto my left shoulder, hovering above my heart. Together we had pored over more than a half-dozen drawings he had made. He would have liked to sketch the broad wingspan all across my back but we compromised.
When the needle ran across the top of my shoulder, close to bone, the pain was searing. Mostly, it was a rhythm of talk and tattoo with occasional breaks for me to take a look at the progress. As I drove the 30 miles home, light snow flew like tiny feathers into the windscreen of my Mini Cooper. Despite the snow, the night was shining clear, the landscape appeared etched on glass. A soft burn radiated from the tattoo, a sunburn feeling on a December night. I imagined I could also feel the brush of feathers across my back.
Hours later when I peeled the protective plastic film off my reddened skin, the adrenaline flowed away leaving me with the deed done. The bright yellow eyes are watchful. Its talons intertwine with the triquetra. Ram used soft grey ink with white highlights for a watercolor effect. The owl will travel with me forever, and that’s a good thing.