Last month marked twenty (20) years since I got my first tattoo. I decided I would celebrate this anniversary by telling the stories of each of my tattoos. If you talk to anyone who has ink, they can relate how each piece has its own story. There’s some person, place, or incident tied to each permanent piece of body art for most people. That’s the case with me, so here begins a series of blog posts recanting those tales. Get ready to learn a lot about my personal life.
Most people have never seen this tattoo, as it is on my left hip. It’s not really something that shows in polite company, unless we are at a pool or the beach and I am partaking of swimsuit-wearing activities. There isn’t just a story behind the artwork itself, but also how it came about.
In March of 1997, I left my now ex-husband. At some point in the months leading up to that ultimate split, I had mentioned the idea that I was considering getting a tattoo. My then-husband declared, “As your husband, I FORBID you getting a tattoo.” Yeah, he forbade it. So it was sure as hell going to happen once those words were uttered aloud in my presence. This marked the turning point in my decision to leave in a lot of ways. I’m definitely more vocal and steadfast NOW in my feelings that my body is MINE to decide what to do or not do with, but I think this little interchange sparked that idea into my 26 year-old mind.
I knew I wanted a Tasmanian Devil. Now, this goes against what I fundamentally believe regarding tattoo art. Don’t get your face or neck inked. Don't get something offensive and/or that you will end up regretting. Don’t put someone’s name unless it’s your parent, maybe a sibling, or a human you created/helped create. Don’t pick something that is trendy or tied to a certain period of time in pop culture. These are my rules.
But Taz was my nickname in the co-ed fraternity I co-founded, and the Tasmanian Devil was our mascot. So I pretty much felt like that was what I wanted. Never since have I gone with such little firm idea of what I wanted permanently affixed to my epidermis. But hey, I was a baby in the body art world at the time.
So I talked my girl Smitty (my college BFF Chris) into going with me, and we looked in the phone book and stuff (hey, it was 1997, and Yelp was not yet a thing) for a tattoo place. We went to one close-by in Bound Brook, NJ, but we didn’t get a good vibe there. I can’t remember how we ended up settling on Tattoo 46 in Dover, NJ (I thought it was on Route 10, but it turns out it was this one on 46) -- given that she was in Manville and I was in Clinton, so it was quite a hike by car -- but that is where we ended up. I also can’t remember how Smitty decided she would get her navel pierced. But she did. And I didn’t like any of the Taz art they had on the wall or in the books, so we actually left and went back a couple nights later, because I realized I knew which depiction of Taz I wanted.
You see, some years earlier, when I was in college I think, my mother had bought me these pajamas that were a t-shirt and boxer-style shorts, and the shorts were festooned with all these Tasmanian Devils, arms crossed over his chest, wearing stars-and-stripes boxers. So when we returned to the tattoo place, I had those with me.
I held the little mini-tail of hair (it was 1997, after all) at the back of my head, and I whined “ouch, ouch, ouch” the entire time the guy did the tattoo . . . until he finally said, “Shut up, Diane.” (Later tattoos didn’t hurt nearly as much. But of course, in the intervening period, I’d had a c-section and some yucky follow-up surgery related to it, so my pain threshold was in completely new territory by then.)
So, within three months of leaving my ex, right around Flag Day of 1997, I had a new piece of body art. Smitty later had to ditch the navel piercing, as it kept getting irritated and infected when her short self would spend summers on ladders painting houses, as poor teachers like us were sometimes found to do, for, like, the foods and the rents.
Shortly after this incident, I moved out of my apartment because I had decided to move to California. My stuff went into storage, and I slept on my folks’ couch for a few nights before my parents, my aunt, and I headed to England for a trip. On my first night on the couch, Dad had already gone to bed, and Mom and I were up talking. I said to her, “Can you keep a secret?” And she eye-rolled, because she knew this meant “can I tell you something you can’t tell Dad?” and she remarked, “Do I want to know?”
So I showed her the tattoo and she eye-rolled again, remarking that we would not be telling my father. And then, after a pause, she asked, “Is that from those pajamas I bought you?” And then I think she eye-rolled again when I told her it was. I think she felt somehow complicit in my “crime.”
It gets better.
We went to Britain, and I showed all my friends and family members, except my Dad, one by one, my new tattoo. This involved pulling one side of my jeans down to reveal my left hip. I even showed my two aunts (Dad’s sisters), the older of whom was scandalized. That was my Auntie Reta. A proper English lady if ever there was one. My other aunt, Dad’s sister Eileen, was the opposite personality. She was bawdy and loved to laugh -- LOUDLY. She was usually saying things that left the rest of us scandalized. So, we were all having a meal at the local pub, The Old Oak in Coupe Green, Hoghton, Lancashire, when my Auntie Eileen suddenly says, “So you might as well tell your father about your tattoo, Diane.” Oh, the looks around that table just then.
So I had to take Dad outside the back door of the pub and show him my new ink. I don’t think he was happy, but he didn’t really say much. I think part of him was proud it was a patriotic image.
And here it is, having taken up residence on my left hip for two decades now: