Commemoration & Ink

Today is apparently National Tattoo Day…well there’s some question about it but I’m going to embrace the idea.

I have a lot of tattoos. I got my first tattoo when I was 17. It was a birthday gift from an older friend, and my mother signed a notarized statement saying that she gave permission for the artist to ink me.

It’s a butterfly. Everybody have a good laugh.

I decided to actually write about this because today is also the 13th anniversary of my mother’s death. She was 55, diabetic, in fairly good health, and then she was dead. It was a massive heart attack on account of heart disease we later learned. I was 19 and living in London. Yes it was every bit as horrible as you can imagine. You really don’t have to say you’re sorry in the comments. I’ve told this story a lot, and it’s been 13 years.

At that point, I had gotten another tattoo – a symbol for strength on the back of my right shoulder. Yes you can laugh at that one too. In the years that followed I gained a tramp stamp of flowers, a dragonfly on the front of my left shoulder and another symbol on one hip. That brings us to 2010. I was out of graduate school and living in DC working in political offices where I could pass for unblemished with simple clothing choices.

I decided I wanted my ink to mean more, and at the time I was making a decent living, so I found a wonderful tattoo artist in DC who could and would sit down and work with me to reform all the work I already had done. Susan was amazing and the first female tattoo artist I worked with. I wish I could go to DC for every touch up I need.

She was the first tattoo artist to tell me not to call it a tramp stamp. A woman’s lower back is a beautiful place to tattoo, and you should embrace it. She was the first responsible artist who made sure I had snacks and beverages when we did long sessions. She even helped me find a new artist when I left DC and wanted one more piece done. She went above and beyond.

Berkey_bwbackOver the course of six months she etched one of my favorite quotations from Little Women across my back, linking and covering old ink so it was one cohesive piece. And then right before I left DC, she performed tattoo triage on my lower back, turning flower vines I pointed at on a wall when I was 20 into a gorgeous vine of dogwood tree flowers that stretch from one hip to the other.

Both pieces commemorate my mom.

Though I’ve added to my back piece in the years since with a compass that more people point out than not, these two large pieces that are almost always hidden by clothing are my favorites. In a weird way, they are even more special because they were done by a woman – one who at the time I was going to that studio was the only female artist on staff and clearly loved by her coworkers.

So happy National Tattoo Day. Don’t let anyone tell you your lower back ink is trashy or that you’ll regret it when you’re older. Sure I have some pieces I pointed to on a wall permanently affixed to my body but they all remind me of very specific moments in time that I never want to forget. And the only people who get to see all but two of them are ones that I very selectively choose.

Yes, I have one more piece planned. I just haven’t found the right artist yet.