July 29. It was finally here.
I stared in the bedroom mirror. Greek nose, hazel eyes, overall a pretty average appearance. I rolled up the sleeve on my left arm. This was going to be the last day of having what my mother called “untarnished” skin. Today was the day I would finally get a tattoo.
For years, I’d admired the women I saw with tattoos. To me, they symbolized badassery at its finest. They held stories rooted in feminism and artistic expression. And they were just so sexy. I couldn’t help but stare anytime I saw someone covered in ink.
I was jumping onboard a bit late in my life. I was approaching 30 but felt like my twenties would be incomplete without finally getting a tattoo. I’d sat up many nights screenshotting tattoos from Google Images and Pinterest. Once, I downloaded an app that was supposed to be like a tattoo “dressing room,” but it wasn’t helpful. You could hardly rotate the tattoos, and the ones you could choose from didn’t interest me.
It’s not that I had anything against Chinese symbols or tribal patterns, but they didn’t scream “me.” I wanted my first tattoo to have a deeper meaning, a story I could tell curious strangers who would inquire about it.
Although I was never a great artist, I sketched some ideas. I searched for meaningful quotes, but they all seemed too long. I thought about getting a cat in memory of my childhood pet, Mittens, but I figured that could be incorporated later in my sleeve. Finally, I thought of something that I knew was the right fit: my anniversary.
Caroline, my sister, tried to talk me out of the idea. “What if you get divorced, Charlotte? Then you’ll be stuck with a constant reminder of a failed marriage.”
“I have a bit more confidence than that,” I said dryly. I drew a thousand different ideas and showed each one to my husband, who told me to choose what I liked best; after all, it was my body being drawn on.
So, on July 29, I sped to the shop I’d made an appointment with and burst through the door. Maria was the artist who answered the phone when I called, so she was going to be my artist. I started babbling the second I saw her.
“Here’s my sketch. I’m not a great artist, but I’m so excited to see what you can do with it.”
Maria took my sketchpad and lowered the glasses that were perched on her head. “So basically, this date surrounded by a floral pattern? I can freehand that. I’d say it’ll cost about $150.”
Given the size and everything I’d researched about tattoos, that was less than I was expecting. I was carrying $400 in my purse. I guess I’d overestimated. “Wow, that’s great.”
“Have a seat.”
Maria started preparing, and I suddenly remembered that my experience was about to be painful. I pulled out my phone to distract myself. It was already past four. My husband would be coming home from work, so I shot him a text to tell him I wouldn’t be home for dinner.
“Just to be sure, is that a nine or a four for the month?” I glanced up at Maria and quickly answered, grinding my teeth when I saw the needle. She saw I was nervous and started making small talk. A few hours later, Maria asked me if I wanted to look in the mirror.
I got so excited I could hardly breathe. I walked over to the full-length mirror on the wall. That’s when I saw it, a mistake so blatant that I was sure I was imagining it.
“Maria, what’s this date say?”
“March 14, 2019,” she replied.
“It’s March 9! March 9, 2017!” I exclaimed. “This date means nothing to me!”
“I asked you if it was a four or a nine.” She pulled out my original sketch.
“Oh my gosh. That’s not a one in front of it. That’s a vine coming down from one of the flowers.”
“Sorry, it looks like the date on there to me.”
“Sorry? SORRY? I have a random date permanently etched onto my body and all you can say is ‘Sorry’?”
“We can try to fix it once this heals up,” she said.
I was steaming as I walked out of the shop. As soon as I pulled into my driveway, I went to the shop’s Facebook page and scrolled through reviews. Two stars. I got a tattoo from a two-star shop. What if they didn’t even sterilize anything properly? How could I have made such an embarrassing mistake?
I sat in my car for two hours, too upset to go inside. I hardly noticed my brother’s sedan pull in behind me. My brother knocked on my car window.
“Did you just get home, kid?” he asked. I burst into tears. “Geez, what’s wrong?”
“I’m so pissed, Garrett.” I explained about the tattoo.
“Well, I want to see it, but first, we probably need to get it washed up. Did she say to wash it after a few hours or 24?” I knew he was right, but I didn’t want to face the ugly, bloody ink on my arm. But I also didn’t want an infection, so I cleaned up and walked back downstairs to show him the damage.
Garrett looked at the tattoo and gently said, “Look, I know it seems like a big deal, but it’s fixable.”
“How? By tearing my skin off my arm?”
“When I lived in the city, I got some ink done at a seedy place, probably sketchier than the shop you went to. See this?” He pointed to an intricate dragon tattoo on his calf.
“You got that at a seedy joint in New York, and that’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“No, dumbass, I got a tattoo of a grasshopper, but it was awful. You couldn’t tell what it was and the ink blew out in three different places. I went to The Casino Parlor in town here and they turned it into this.”
I looked at the tattoo. It did look extremely well done. “You never told me that. I don’t remember the grasshopper.”
“That’s because I didn’t let you see it. One of the first things I did when I came back was get the cover-up started. But my point is that you made a mistake, kid. You should’ve looked into this place before going, but it’s a common mistake for rookies.”
“You think I’m going to get Hep C?” I asked.
“Were the needles they used in a package?”
I thought for a second. “I think so.”
“Then I think you’re fine. I’m confused though, Char. Didn’t they show you the sketch before they inked you?”
“No, should she have? She said she could freehand it.”
Garrett gave me a disapproving look. “Never trust an artist you’ve never been to who says they can freehand it. You should’ve asked me to come with you.”
“Well, she said she could fix it once it’s healed, but I honestly don’t want to step foot into that shop again.”
“There are plenty of parlors that are more professional.” He paused. “This is honestly a rare thing to happen. Most places around will make sure you’re happy with whatever you get. And I know you’ve dreamed about having a sleeve since you were a kid.”
After Garrett left, I fixed myself something to eat and found myself looking at coverup ideas. Maybe my first tattoo didn’t have to be meaningful, after all. Some people got tattoos because they liked how they looked, not because they were symbolic of anything. I could even make up a story each time someone asked me about the date until I got it fixed. Though I deeply regretted going to the first shop I heard about, I was proud of myself for finally being bold enough to get a tattoo at all. It may have been a bad one, but I had never felt more like a badass in my life.