Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tattoo of Hope

In a move that shocked nearly every one of my friends and acquaintances, I got a tattoo! This happened back in April, so it's high time I wrote about it.

More than a few times through the years friends have asked me, "would you ever get a tattoo?" While I don't have any objections toward tattoos, I've simply never been able to conjure up an idea that I could picture having permanently etched onto my body, never had that "one thing" so meaningful that I'd want to live with it on myself forever. If I were going to get something, I'd want it to be like my friend Bernadett, who has Xena's chakram tattood on her arm because of how deeply meaningful and inspiring that show was to her growing up. So while I've for years thought, "I'd like a tattoo that has that kind of deep significant meaning", I'd just never come up with anything.

You may recall that a couple years ago one of my best friends went to prison. Before his sentencing, we'd get together for burgers and drinks and to talk about life, especially what life after prison would look like for him. The word "hope" came up often in our conversations. After visiting him in jail, I started thinking about "hope" as a possibility for my tattoo. That was in July 2013, and it took until late 2014 for me to decide this wasn't a whim, but something I truly and actually wanted. I gave my parents a several-month warning in December, and meantime reached out to friends who had tattoos, asking them "where?" and "who?" and would they recommend said where and who?

From this intel I elected to phone up Billy at Anchor's End Tattoo in Hudson, Wisconsin. Well Billy was booked out until mid-April, but he had come so highly praised that I was willing to wait (I had *hoped* to get the tattoo before Easter, but again, permanent change to my body here! My friend Debbie who gave me the recommendation said she loved Billy and that the shop where he works is super clean; since she's had Billy draw an entire sleeve of tattoos on her, I figure she's earned the right to vouch for both his artistic skill and the shop's cleanliness). In the time of waiting, I Googled for others who had a tattoo of "hope" (apparently it's not all that uncommon) and found a couple fonts and designs I liked. During this time I also worked on a documentary movie about homelessness called Out In The Cold, the experience of which consistently reaffirmed my desire to have "hope" indelibly inscribed on my body.

Ultimately for me, a tattoo of the word "hope" is an outward symbol of the eternal hope I hold inside because of my faith. I don't need an outward symbol to remind me of that, but some days I know it's going to be nice, because I'll be able to look at my wrist and remember I'm not alone, I have a God who's always with me.

I also recognize that tattoos are a great conversation starter. Last summer when I visited Denver for a friend's wedding, another friend and I were hanging out with in the park playing Bubble Soccer with a few of her acquaintances. During a lull in the action, as we sat around talking, I asked one of the guys about his tattoo and what it meant to him. I've since forgotten exactly what his tattoo was, but I recall thinking at the time it appeared to be Jesus-related, which befuddled me because based on how this guy spoke and acted, I would never have guessed him to be a man of faith. A good lesson for me on not judging, because when he started talking about his tattoo, it brought us into an entire conversation of Godstuff, his faith life, his relationships, and at the end of the conversation my friend and I prayed for him right there in the park. Meanwhile, another of their acquaintances, who didn't really have a place for God in his life, witnessed all this.

I digress. Onto the pragmatic side: what did the process of getting my tattoo actually look like?

In mid-April, I drove to Hudson and met with Billy for about half an hour. I showed him the pictures and fonts I'd liked, which he used as a starting point to sketch his own design. I had psyched myself up to get the tattoo that day, not realizing this was a consultation appointment only; we scheduled a get-down-to-business appointment for the following week. During that week, Billy re-drew and refined the sketch. When I arrived at 6 p.m. on April 18 for the real deal, we made only a few minor tweaks.

I signed the paperwork saying I accepted all the risks, and by 6:15 / 6:20 I was sitting in "the chair." Billy shaved my inner wrist, and rubbed a non-permanent stencil of the design onto my wrist, using a wax paper-esque material with purple ink. He encouraged me to stand up, walk around, look in the mirror, put my arms in different positions, and so on to make sure the positioning was good, because "this is very hard to undo." The first round of this, I decided the image was too big on my wrist, so he wiped off the purple ink with an alcohol swab, resized the stencil, and put it on again. The second time was the right size, but I wasn't quite happy with the placement, I wanted to rotate it slightly, and so he patiently wiped off my wrist and applied the thing again. I apologized for being picky but he reassured me that I should make sure I'm really happy with it beyond question, beyond a shadow of a doubt. The third time, I was happy, and so I sat back down, and Billy got out his needles.

Let me say at this point that, truly, needles do not bother me. I got over that fear back in 9th/10th grade from all the blood tests the doctors needed to draw in diagnosing me with Crohn's. Once diagnosed, I received intravenous Remicade infusions every 6-8 weeks for a number of years, and since 2009 I've been taking Humira injections (self-administered) every 12 days. I'm also on allergy shots, one in each arm every 2 weeks, and I donate blood regularly to the Red Cross. In other words, I've accepted my lot in life as a pincushion, and I barely feel the needles anymore.

Now with that said, OH MY GOODNESS THIS HURT. The best comparison I can think of is it's like getting a cardboard cut (much worse than a paper cut), except the cutting sensation is constant for half an hour (or however long your tattoo takes, but mine took half an hour). My palm was quite sweaty by the time we were done. Oh sweet relief to have the needle removed at long last!

The needlework was like a quill pen: dip in ink, engrave in arm (tracing the purple ink outline), wipe away excess ink and / or blood droplets, repeat. What I hadn't known existed until this time though, is a cool "shader" tool, with a bunch (5-10?) of tiny skinny little needles all in row half an inch wide, that the artist can use to fill in the tattoo between borders. As you see in my picture, this let Billy create a nice gradient / shade in each letter. As I recall, that thing hurt as much as the big needle.

During my half hour of self-inflicted torture, Billy tried to distract me by asking questions. It took a lot of effort to ignore the pain and focus on answering him. He asked "what does hope mean to you?" so I shared a little bit about my faith, a little bit about my friend who's in prison and how the word has been meaningful to us, and then we also talked a little bit about Billy's faith-life, too.

We finished right at 7 o'clock. My total bill was much less expensive than I'd expected / feared (if memory serves, $120, and then I added a generous tip). Billy gave me an after-care instruction sheet and I hit the road.1 At Walgreens I picked up a special skin healing lotion to rub on my wound that evening and then 4x a day for the next 4 days. After that, normal *unscented* lotion several times a day for a few days, and at all times: avoid scratching and itching! Fortunately I took very good care to moisturize, and so I didn't have too much itchiness with which to contend. A few days in a layer of dyed skin started flaking off around the tattoo lines, making me nervous I'd done something wrong, but that must have been just the top layer of skin because 5 months later my tattoo is still intact!

Will I ever get another one? I don't know. Several people have joked I should get "less" inked on my other wrist so when I can combine my wrists it makes one word. I can definitively say I won't be doing that, but I'll leave the door open to other suggestions in the future. For now though, this is my one and only, and I do love it.

1 Side-story. Immediately following my tattoo expedition, some friends invited me over to hang out, and to try to set me up with their friend, named Hope. Had I not just started dating another girl the week before, this would have made for the BEST pick-up line EVER: "Hi Hope, nice to meet you. I just got your name tattooed on my body. Wanna go out?"

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