“I can’t wait to see you struggle with the pain.” Very reassuring words from my more experienced friend as we meander through pedestrians on our way to the tattoo parlour.
I wasn’t scared this morning, I was excited – until my friend said that. Suddenly nerves creep into my stomach and jump around, making me feel nauseous. I picture my father’s face when he sees my tribute to him and I am immediately unphased once again.
For one reason or another, my father and I scarcely ever had time with each other as I was growing up. But, whenever he returned home before dark, he would sit all three of us on the landing at the top of the stairs, and here we would accompany him on the most spectacular adventures. Being quite a bit younger than my brother and sister, I would not always enjoy or even understand a lot of the books they chose. But, if I was lucky – after an appropriate few chapters of their books, my father would read ‘Guess How Much I Love You’ by Sam McBratney. The children’s book is about a little nutbrown hair who competes with his father to see who loves the other more.
This book began to represent our father-daughter relationship and around three years ago, my father came back from Ireland and called me up to his room. He made me close my eyes and hold my hands out. Once he had taken my hand and told me to open my eyes again, I saw his tattoo: a moon made from Celtic knots with the words ‘TO THE MOON AND BACK’ on his left shoulder – the final phrase of ‘Guess How Much I Love You’. Having always wanted a tattoo but the subject often changing in my mind, I immediately decided that I wanted to dedicate my first tattoo to my father: a hare on my left shoulder. Never having been a fan of matching tattoos, I wanted something relevant but not the same.
So, having talked myself through the anxiety of the possible pain, my main worry is now how to stop my body from moving. If it does hurt, while my mind is certain that it will be worth it, will my body realise? Or, will it jerk away? Will sitting still for an hour become too much for my ADHD brain to cope with and suddenly my arm begin to flinch or fidget? These are my concerns. Whereas the tattoo artist herself is a little more worried about my history of fainting, (and in hindsight, I understand her wariness).
Years of dreaming, months of planning, hours of nervousness and shaking legs has ended. I blink. I am shocked more than anything else. I have seen programmes on television of people being tattooed wincing and hissing at the nauseating pain. I have heard stories from friends and been warned of how hard it would be to sit there and take it. I have been told to grit my teeth and bear it because I would adore the end result. I have heard thoroughly tattooed men and women boasting of how ‘hard’ they are due to the extensive lack of bare skin they now hang from their weary limbs.
But it is nothing. I blink again. My friend questions if I am okay, the tattoo artist asks ‘How’s the pain?’ and I looked at them strangely, almost as though they are unfamiliar to me. And I say,”‘But this is fine. This is nothing.”
I share tales of doctor appointments and doing the impossible, according to professionals, with a man who was in a coma for two days. He was told that he would never walk again and would struggle with simple daily tasks, but here he is successfully continuing his tattooing career and defying all expectations. We inspired each other and before I know it, Liz is done.
I would not describe it as painful. I would rather use the adjective ‘alien’. It was odd. I had never experienced it before. The vibrations once the tattoo-gun had reached my bone were unusual, to say the least. But, apart from that, I could almost forget where I was. Although, drowning out the rowdiness of my tattoo artist’s co-workers and my friend would be a much harder task. Liz, a wonderfully talented woman, finally puts down her gun and leads me to the mirror. We are both grinning. It is exactly what I had imagined. Another artist comes over and admires her work – “How did you get such fine detail? That’s incredible.” They continue to chatter some technical jargon, but I don’t pay much attention. I’m far too distracted by the reflection of the leaping hare.