By Katherine Repka*
My boyfriend got a tattoo when we were in Florida. We were leaving Universal Studios with “his and hers” children in tow, our feet aching from a day spent zigzagging through the park to catch the best rides and avoid the longest lines. We spotted the tattoo parlor as we approached the park exit. He said we should just keep going—it was late—but I saw a flash of longing in his eyes as he spoke. I suggested we at least check it out; after all, being from an obscure Canadian town, when would we be near a Hart & Huntington again?
We trudged up the stairs like drones, the glitzy neon sign beckoning with its promise of adventure. As we flipped through endless pages of sample designs, I told him he should go ahead and get one. A tattoo he had “commissioned” years ago, in the back of a Greyhound bus, looked more like an amoeba than a peace sign, and he always talked about replacing it with a more professional image once he could afford to. As it turned out, a little encouragement was all he needed.
While he negotiated his choice with the artist, I continued to browse through the photos of inked flesh, intent on finding a Lily of the Valley design I could display as a symbol of my artistic spirit, my appreciation for simple beauty in nature, and my birth month of October. One of the tattooists, clearly skilled at helping potential customers realize their dreams of entering the world of rebellion, helped me look for images of Lily of the Valley on the internet and explained the cons of using white ink in any tattoo. As I contemplated how to avoid white ink in an image comprised of white flowers, my boyfriend made his way to the table to get his tattoo.
The kids rambled aimlessly about the store. The sugar high from candy used as a bribe to get them through the hour-long wait was wearing off and their faces wore telltale signs of the exhaustion I felt. My window of opportunity to enter the world of nonconformity was rapidly shrinking.
At some point I figured out how to avoid white ink but I could not decide on a location for the emblem of my individuality. I was convinced that in order for any indeliable piece of artwork to enhance rather than disfigure, it had to be located in a spot where it could be tastefully revealed or concealed, a place that would not sag or wrinkle as I aged nor become distorted when I gained or lost weight.
I looked over at my boyfriend. He was fixated on his tattoo artist—herself tattooed and pierced—as she worked at turning the amoeba, unsightly evidence of his decision to trust someone while inebriated, into a symbol of his newfound passion for dirt biking.
Unable to decide on a location for my tat, and after convincing my boyfriend’s five-year-old that the rack of t-shirts and belts was not the ideal place to practice for a career as an international spy, I resigned myself to the knowledge that this was not my night to get inked. I succumbed to the lure of an upholstered vinyl bench near the wall and waited until my boyfriend’s tattoo was finished.
As we made our way to the vehicle, my boyfriend’s eyes sparkled in the moonlight. I could taste the sizzle of exhilaration and excitement that emanated from his pores. The satisfaction on his face was as fierce as the brand he now sported on his ankle. I glanced down at my own feet half expecting to see blocks of cement.
Pangs of envy stabbed at my insides as we walked. I had encouraged him. I had pushed aside my own hope for a tattoo, too concerned for everyone else—concerned that three young children couldn’t possibly endure waiting any longer in an adult oriented environment at the end of a long day, concerned that my boyfriend’s desire should be fulfilled and that he have a memory to tell and retell his friends back home, and concerned that I find just the right tattoo for myself so as not to offend the sensibilities of strangers.
Like a coarse tag on a shirt collar, the envy irritated and scratched. I was sure my boyfriend’s lack of clairvoyance was proof of his lack of insight in to my soul. I questioned my sense of practicality, which suddenly seemed more a yoke than a virtue.
We followed the freeway back to our hotel. The children dozed in the backseat, their heads lolling from side to side as we drove over the grooves in the pavement. My boyfriend gazed ahead, far away in his thoughts. As my own thoughts drifted over the past few hours, days, and months, I began to feel like I was treading water, my feelings of panic and despair accentuated by his assuredness, his distance, his thinly veiled contempt for my insecurity and his attempts to hide his waning love for me with displays of affection that lacked depth or intimacy.
The vacation, filled with fun and activity, had provided us both with some distraction from reality. The hollow space between us, which had once been overflowing with passion and unconditional love, seemed to open up to the lurking shadows. The lights of each passing motorist illuminated a well worn pathway for my self-doubt, beginning in my head and ending in my chest. Clearly, I was not ready to get a tattoo. There was no room for regret when the ink-filled needles pierced the skin.
Katherine Repka (*not her real name) lives in a small northern town in a remote region of British Columbia, Canada. She shares her life with her two children, her boyfriend, two stepchildren, two dogs, and two cats. Katherine, who works for a community college, has recently returned to writing in her spare time.
About her writing, Katherine says: Writing is something that I am beginning to open up to and make space for in my life. I know I have at least one book in me and possibly several other pieces looking for a way out. I have this mass of content all squished up in a ball inside me that I feel I have to unravel somehow.
I have written poetry in the distant past and some short stories when I took a creative writing class years ago in my first year of college, but overall my writing has taken the form of workplace communications and the occasional love letter or journal entry.
Personal writing is a way for me to explore deep feelings and process emotions, but to date none of my writing has made its way to any publishable format. I see this return to writing as a way to do something for the purpose of personal development, something I can do to get in touch with who I am and nurture my spirit.
My goal is to give myself permission to take time to write more than just on an intermittent basis in the hopes that writing will allow me to reach deeper levels of self awareness and give me a an outlet for self expression and creativity.
-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – TATTOOS