…are words I once said to my husband, and he quoted back to me during his wedding speech to our friends and family.
Just one of the reasons he loves me, I’m sure, my light-hearted take on marital commitment.
This piece isn’t about marriage by the way, that aforementioned take it or leave it status, but tattoos. Because I, a needle-phobic, risk averse, control freak, now have one.
Odder still, it’s after two weeks of deciding I want one, and a design I didn’t see until the day. Both things go entirely against the top and very wise advice offered up by smart people.
Let me rewind a second. I’ve enjoyed the idea of having a tattoo for a long time, specifically the phrase, ‘This too shall pass,’ somewhere small and quiet. The fact that it’s delivered via a needle, however, has remained a definite, immovable blockade.
Until 2018 – a very strange year, where suddenly playing it safe and submitting to my fears doesn’t seem quite as fun anymore. The thought that I could do it (alongside my newly discovered sense of optimism) grew stronger and stronger in my head until suddenly I found myself at Minerva Lodge Tattoo Club having a consultation.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a panic attack on the stairs. I’ve changed a bit this year, but I’ve not changed that much. And this is the sans needle bit. This is the purely conversational bit. Things were not looking promising.
Cherub, unlike me, was very chilled. She politely told me that all of my design inspiration images were really big, and tattoos can’t just be scaled down (to the tiny one I was after). I’d emailed her lots of large elaborate floral designs. Fail.
I vividly remember saying, ‘It’s to celebrate my year of going a bit crazy. I mean, I don’t look crazy, but I am,’ shortly after a brief talk about needles.
I don’t know who was more afraid at this point.
And then, I just booked it in (£80). I said some rough things about wanting a kind of wildflower design on my wrist, and paid the money, and ran away with my heart in my mouth.
I then found some realistically sized images and quickly emailed them across, whilst my mind helpfully played out on loop, ‘IMPENDING NEEDLES, IMPENDING NEEDLES, NEEDLES INCOMING.’
It’s not like I’m thirty and cried after my last blood test. Oh, wait, yes I did.
On the day I was due to get tattooed, Cherub was sick and it was rescheduled. I wasn’t sure I could make it another 24hrs knowing what was looming.
It sounds like I didn’t really want a tattoo. I did. I really, really did. Just, you know, permanently painted on instead. But it had also become the proving of a point, to myself. That I wasn’t going to stand in my own way going forward and be so afraid of things that I let it paralyse me. This tattoo was going to represent my lady balls.
I’ve tried to attribute a deep, emotional meaning to my tattoo. Early on I was just happy admitting that I think flowers are pretty, but the more people ask me about it, the more I develop the answer and make it symbolic.
The delay did allow me to spend time writing, ‘I love dick,’ in large letters long my arm, wrap it in cellophane and wait for my husband to come home. Classic.
Anyway, somehow, miraculously, I was in the studio, with jelly legs and a friend I’d instructed to talk crap at me for the duration. I saw the design for the first time (Cherub only does originals) and I fell in love. I knew it was mine (I appreciate this seems quite obvious as at this point it’s tricky to go back), but still, it was perfect.
Time slowed down walking to the chair. I was then super glad to be lying down – a lot less disastrous if I fainted. I realised pre-needle, I’m that person who tells everyone they’re moving to China, just for the reaction, to be thought of as brave and adventurous, and awesome, but all I really want is the goodbye party. That’s the best bit by far. I don’t really want to go to China. Nothing is waiting for me in China. In short – I went a little insane.
The best thing Cherub did for me, was not to pander at all. Don’t get me wrong, she made me feel comfortable and was clear about what would happen, but she didn’t count me down, or constantly ask if I was okay, she just cracked on.
And for 10-15 minutes I faced my fear. I worry I’ve built this up, so you’re expecting I did something really impressive like a four-hour stint. Sorry not sorry.
I’ll tell you about the experience I endlessly Googled the night before; yes it hurts, yes it feels like a cat scratch from a really insistent, happy to draw it out, shit-head cat. But it’s also completely bearable (take it from a wimp), even for the few moments where it sharply stung and I thought, ‘this isn’t ideal.’ Instead of my friend talking, as per our agreement, I talked at her, a string of mundane sentences about where I used to live and crime levels, and how far I had to walk for milk (sorry Jen, sorry Cherub). I don’t know why. But it helped. Potentially I bored myself into a level of sedation where I could cope with the pain.
And then there it was, now part of me, like any other part of me, okay, any other really small part of me. Cherub was trying to give me specific instructions about after-care but I was on a high. I’d defied my fear. I’d not cried or vomited on myself. I could do anything.
So I told Jen. ‘Jen,’ I said, ‘I feel like I could do anything.’ And Jen said, ‘Okay, why don’t you run in front of a car?’ Which suggests my during-tattoo chat was even worse than I’ve documented.
I was instructed to carefully soak and peel off the wrapping in the shower just before bed the following night and put on a very precise, small layer of cream. And I was determined to oblige. I had an alarm set.
However, I had not anticipated my friend, with 6 perfectly fine tattoos, pushing me into a bathroom at a Eurovision party, holding my wrist under a tap HOURS before my alarm, and promptly ripping off the covering. I think that hurt worse than getting the tattoo.
But it’s fine. I mean, she knows what she’s doing right? RIGHT?
My arm hasn’t imploded or anything yet. But I am enjoying the stages:
- Sunburn feeling – this is fine – I’m pale and freckly – sunburn is a familiar pal
- Itching – the worst kind, the chicken pox kind that you can’t scratch. Me no likey.
- Flaking – little bits of you falling off like snow. So lovely (photo below).
I’m hoping the final stage is infection-free normality, but I’ll let you know how that goes.
P.S. So far, it’s a great idea to move to China.