Why I have a tattoo

It was just about a year ago that I got my first tattoo. I say first, because if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s to never say never. I don’t plan to have any further artwork added to my body, but who really knows?

I ended up at Mad Ethel’s Tattoo in Raleigh last year after debating about it for a few decades. Seriously. I am among those who wanted a tattoo, but never had the cojones to do it. The permanent nature is what would invariably stop me. And thank GAWD, because the parrot, the phoenix, and, I’m ashamed to admit–Ziggy, would have me at the high end of mortified right now.

Ziggy cartoon
Remember Ziggy?

These were all things I thought were cute or, dare I say, cool. There was no connection between me and a parrot. Kim Basinger had one on her shoulder in No Mercy, so I wanted one. I thought a phoenix on the top of my foot would be the bomb, and the Ziggy thing, that was a hold-over from childhood. I still have the Ziggy Christmas ornament from my grade school bestie, but let’s all breathe a huge sigh of relief that the little bald cartoon man is not peeking over my belt line at you. Whew. I’d say I dodged one there.

Regardless of how relieved I was that none of the aforementioned ever made it SubQ, I still wanted some ink. For years I babbled about getting a cross on the back of my neck, which would be something with meaning for me, but it’s not terribly unique. Then, as my one year cancer-free anniversary was approaching, it hit me. My favorite church hymn had become my mantra while sorting through my feelings about cancer, living, dying, and what little control I have over all of it. I’m doing everything I can to stay healthy, but the bottom line is, no matter what the final verdict, it is well with my soul.

So there it was. A few weeks before my one year cancerversary I stopped at Mad Ethel’s, the place looked clean, and I threw down a deposit. I told a friend and, without hesitation, she said “I’ll get one with you.” Now that’s a friend. So the two of us spent the better part of nine hours with Anton, tattoo artist extraordinaire. Yep, nine hours. The guy I initially scheduled with walked out the day prior, and because it was incredibly important to me to get the tattoo on that specific date, Anton was kind enough to work me in. I got the feeling the other guy left amidst some drama and their entire schedule was thrown off as the dust settled. But, after watching my friend get her custom artwork sketched, transferred to her skin, outlined, then filled in, after going next door to Fiction Kitchen for some dinner (if you have not been yet, you must go), after unsuccessfully trying to convince Grace over the phone to come out of her crate for the neighbor, after running home to let Grace out, it was finally my turn. My single line of script was simple, took about 20 minutes, and there I had it. My life-long dream of permanent dermal graffiti was realized.

Dog looking over owner's shoulder, tattoo on back
My heart and my mantra, side by side (photo by InBetween the Blinks Photography)

Permanent dermal graffiti. I like that. And ironically, what finally got me to the shop was my need for something permanent–the very thing that kept me away for so long. For 30 years I had been living on the fence, fearing an irreversible mistake. My life was in total upheaval, nothing was right, and nothing could be certain. This tattoo was one thing that would just be. It would be mine, and no oncologist would stage this tattoo, tell me how to treat it or what my survival rate would be. It was a tiny little something that I could determine and I could have forever, regardless of how long forever lasts. My terms. And so it is.

It is well with my soul.