Yes it hurt. And so much more. The experience of getting a tattoo.
Did it Hurt?
Yes. It hurt. Yes. I know it will be on me forever. Ask me something you don’t already know the answer to.
“What does it feel like?” That’s a good one. In my brother's words, “It’s like someone drawing on you with an Exacto knife.” For me, its harder to explain.
“Why that design?” There might be as many answers to that question as there are tattoos in existence. Each experience is unique. This is one of my experiences.
The Design Process
All I had was a concept and some pictures from the internet. Flowers. Lilies. But what to do with them? My tattoo artist is a former coworker of mine. I have known him for years. I have seen his work. Most of it I like. And I trust him completely. I would let him doodle on me if that’s what he wanted to do.
The instruction I gave was: a few lilies, feel free to throw in a skull or two but nothing too creepy. His drawing was pretty rough. Black and white outlines. Lilies, skulls, smoke. I loved it. I knew I would. He showed me how I could expand it in the future. I didn’t ask for that. He must have remembered when I said I want to cover my entire back.
Now, what color? All I could come up with was “My favorite color is purple, but I don’t know about that.” Before I could even suggest pink I hear, “I was thinking purple and pink.” My favorite color and second choice. He knows me that well. At times better than I know myself. Good thing. I am a little nervous about giving him so much liberty. But I am keeping my word. He is the artist. I will trust him. Finally on to my favorite part.
I am impatient as he lays out his materials. He applies the template to my back. “OK?” I look in the mirror. My heart skips a beat. No. Two beats. “Perfect.”
“Have a seat”. I sit. Straddling a chair as he turns on the stereo. He pulls up behind me. Close. "Ready?" The buzzing of the machine begins. It’s a quiet buzz, yet sharp. I love that sound. After a while it becomes like white noise. Barely noticeable.
I can’t see him, but I know just what he looks like back there. I have seen him work. Bent over. Tattoo machine in his hand. Ink pots just within reach. Complete concentration. The world could be exploding around him and he wouldn’t notice a thing besides his work. I feel the needles moving across my skin.
There is no real pain. Not yet. Just the feeling of someone drawing with a sharp pen. Long deliberate lines. No talking at first. The music is playing. Hard rock. The kind I like. The singer’s voice is low and rough. Excellent choice. The buzzing continues.
Then, out of the blue he shouts. “You Asshole!” "What did I do?" “Not you. Me. I forgot to lay out the green. No big deal. I’ll get it later”. Then silence. Maybe a minute of small talk here and there. The lines are done. Time for color. The feeling is hard to explain. Like coloring with a sharp crayon in tiny circles.
Now it’s starting to hurt. My skin feels raw in spots. Like scratching a sunburn. I start making small talk. Partly as a distraction. Partly to catch up on things. Mutual friends. Our old job together. His kids. Significant others.
The shop owner and his customer pop in eager to show off the latest addition to what is a very complex sleeve. Nice work. And what about mine? They like what they see. As much as I trust the artist, I am glad to hear their comments. I can tell they are genuine and it eases my mind. Whatever is going on back there it is looking good. He wipes off my back. Slow and gentle. “Done already?!” He chuckles. Not even close. After a pause he starts again.
Every now and then I can feel my spine vibrate with the buzz of the machine. That’s odd. Is it supposed to feel like that? I don’t ask. I just listen to the music. Ouch. Is that my elbow that hurts? Time to adjust my position. Not better. Wait. I’m not even leaning on my elbow. It’s him. He must be near a nerve. Uncomfortable, burning pain. Boy I hope that spot is done soon. More small talk.
I’m getting restless. How long have I been sttting here? I forgot to check the start time. New spot. Some relief. He wipes again. “No. We’re not done yet”. Guess he figured he’d answer before I could even wonder.
His leg presses against mine. It’s oddly comforting. Like someone’s arm around you. I wonder if he did it on purpose. Doesn’t matter. I’m not moving. More wiping. "Not done." Now i think he is being obnoxious. Is he grinning? He can't see me smile. The buzzing continues. It hurts consistently now. He is working on the fine details. Moving from spot to spot.
I start enjoying the pain. Concentrating on how it feels. The touch of his hands, his leg, the music. I'm smiling just slightly. Relaxing. Breathing. I could sit like this for hours. Wiping again. Finished. I knew that would happen. Just when I was enjoying it again.
Time to take a look. I examine his work as best I can in the mirror. I smile. It’s awesome. Photo time. He takes a picture. The owner comes in again. Takes a look. He wants a picture as well. He notices my other tattoo. “I remember that one. I gotta get a picture of that too.” A few quick shots. Photo shoot is finished.
He cleans my shoulder one last time. Careful to be thorough but gentle. Time to bandage. Paper towels? Is that painter’s tape? Really? I don’t complain. After all, that’s what he used last time. Silly of me to expect different.
I thank him and give him his tip. “Sorry it isn’t more.” "Thanks." He doesn’t count it. Just puts it aside. At that moment it’s not about the money. “Fingers crossed that it doesn’t get infected.” “You’ll be fine. Just keep it clean”. More thanks from me. And that's it. But "it" is alot. I will have this experience for as long as I will have my new tattoo. Forever.