I got a tattoo last night. An elephant, smack dab in the middle of my calf. It's not small and I love it.
I took a friend with me to get it, but the tattoo artist said that his room was too small for anyone to sit with me. So I gave my friend a hug, sent her off to get a drink, and told her to come back and check on me. The tattoo was supposed to take two hours.
When I went in for the consult a few days earlier, I was a little leery about how I was going to fit in at the tattoo shop. I feel like I look like a 36 year old white mom. These guys are young and super covered with tattoos. It's a little intimidating.
We were in a small room, me lying on my side with my foot in his lap, bent at an unnatural angle. It was awkward, to be sure. It was also quiet, so I was feeling the pain pretty good at the beginning, thinking to myself, "How am I going to get through two hours of this?"
And then I guess he got settled in and comfortable. He asked me how I was doing and I said fine and then I asked him how he was doing and he got tickled by that and belly laughed for a good 30 seconds. I asked him how I was doing and he said I hadn't moved at all, which I took as a compliment.
Then he said, "Sorry your friend couldn't stay." And I told him it was fine. And he said, "I have a lot of anxiety and I get claustrophobic if there are too many people in the room."
And I said I got it, which I did. It's his space and here we were, two loud girls. He was kind of a quiet guy, so I could see how that would be intimidating. And I realized then that he and I had both been intimidated by the other, because of our own anxieties and social notions, which was a revelation that made me smile. That I could intimidate a tattoo artist.
I totally relaxed after that, and I stopped feeling the pain, and we had the best conversation for the next hour or so. It was a little like when you're running and it hurts really bad but you keep going and then you finally hit the zone and realize that you could do this forever if you had to. Just like that, actually.
l told him that this tattoo was a birthday present to myself, that I had always wanted to get a big, obvious tattoo, but it was only recently that I had given up the notion that I may ever have a job that would frown on a tattoo like this.
I told him that I was a mom, and that Mom had been my identity for a very long time. He was surprised to find out that I was 36 with three kids, and that pretty much guaranteed that he was going to get a big tip.
The thing is, he got the whole Mom thing, the thing about people thinking certain things about you based on the way that you look. He said he deals with it all the time, too.
That was a pleasant surprise to me, that this guy could actually relate to what I have been feeling for the last six months or so. On the surface, here we are both thinking that we have nothing to say to each other, but at the core, we are quite alike.
He asked me what I was going to do/say if/when someone said something negative about my tattoo. I responded that I no longer cared, that this was for me. My last tattoo was for my kids and for me, but this one was all me. The elephant, symbol of matriarchy and feminism. It's mine, and I don't care if it bothers anyone.
"Yeah," he said. "Fuck em."
And I laughed, because yes. But also kinda no. Not "fuck them," just more "this is who I am and I know it and am comfortable here."
I get that that makes some people uncomfortable, people being comfortable where others feel like it might be out of their comfort zone. And I don't say, "Fuck that" because I do the same thing. But I think that there is a middle ground, where we look past what people look like or how we think they "should" be and just start accepting people where they are. At least that's where I am right now, and the example I want to set for my children. You do you. Whatever that means.
My tattoo hurts today, I won't lie. It feels a little like a burn and it's very sensitive to touch. It's starting to scab over and I feel it with every step I take. And all of that is good. It's a reminder that I'm moving in the right direction, because it's the one that I am choosing.
A friend told me recently that I need to give myself permission to feel. And that stuck with me, because I feel like, as adults, we sometimes forget that that's ok, to have feelings. Today, I feel calm. And maybe more than a little proud of myself.