(Started writing a short story about my younger brother and his battle with addiction. This is a story about him, about me, and about our entire family. It is a short story that works to illuminate the beauty that can be found in any situation, and how humor can be a means of coping with life's hardships.)
I duck under the garage door, which has been pulled down so that it’s half closed, or half open, for all those optimists out there. My eyes take a minute to adjust to the dim lighting and I am greeted with a light oily smell. Half the garage was given as a space to work on the old classic motorcycles my friend had, and the other half was his brand new tattoo shop, if you could call it that. He had bought the supplies you needed, as well as a tattoo reclining chair, and had started tattooing friends and relatives from his garage. I always told myself that I would never get a tattoo from a friend, or in a setting similar to this, but as I was getting ready to move abroad money was tight and you know how it goes. Often we find ourselves going back on the things we said we’d never do.
My friend is seated in the tattoo corner, and he is cleaning the supplies he will use on me. Sterilizing, they like to call it, but realistically it’s just dousing it in rubbing alcohol. Getting a tattoo requires a lot of trust in the other person. Not only must you trust them with the permanent artwork, you must also trust them to clean the art supplies properly, meaning that you’re the first one to dip your brush in the ink, and you get a new brush each time.
As I walk over to him, he looks up at me and gives me a grizzly, “Hello.”
“How you doin’ girl? Fuck, it’s been a long time huh? You never come around anymore.” He gets up and gives me a friendly hug, patting me on the back. He was once a close friend of someone I dated years ago, and it had been a long time since we had seen one another. I certainly never imagined I would be going to him for a tattoo.
From my purse I pull out two Blue Moons, but he refuses my offer, and so I open the one for myself. The next half hour or so is spent catching up on lost time, and exchanging stories of what we’ve been up to, and how we’ve been passing the time. Finally he cuts the chatter and gets down to business.
“Ok, lets get this ink into your arm. Whatta say?” He puts out his cigarette and walks over to the sink to wash off his hands. I watch him from behind and see the spider web tattoo he has between the back of his ear and his hairline, and it makes me think of the inverted cross I have in the same location. Tattoos are reflective of who we are in a particular moment, and what values and opinions we hold, as much as they are just pieces of body art.
As soon as his foot connects with the tattoo gun pedal the motor is kicked into life, and the familiar buzz of the gun fills the room. The first connection of the needle to the skin reminds me of the many hours I have spent in a tattoo chair, working on an unfinished rib piece, and the burning sensation that is necessary to endure in order to have a tattoo. I watch the needle shred its way through my flesh, as a trail of ink is left below the top layer of skin.
Some people will tell you they like the way getting tattooed feels, that it even feels good. Those people are called liars. It is far from what I would describe as “good,” but there is a certain charm to the sensation it triggers. For me, it’s the process and entire experience of getting one which I am attracted to. There is a distinct high that I undergo, each time I do this.
It begins coincidentally, at the beginning. When I first make the decision to add another piece of art to my skin. It’s the act of drawing what I want, finding a shop, making the appointment, driving to the parlor for the big day, walking in and being greeted by the music of some punk band I can’t name, sitting down and laying there like a willing victim, waiting to endure pain from the hand of another person.
The anticipation grows as I watch him unwrap the tools, wipe the cold wet cloth over my skin, press the paper sketch onto my skin, transferring the ink outline he will follow. He buzzes the needle and my nerves jump and my brain is flooded with a swell of endorphins, creating a state of euphoria within my body. He dips the needle in the ink and advances toward me. The florescent lights glow above my head and I am dizzy, fading into another place, waiting for the heat that will sear through my skin, comparable to a lighter being held inches away, as a friend moves it back and forth. The needle kisses my arm, and sparkling shocks are sent through my nerves, telling my brain that my body is feeling pain, but there is a whirlwind of glitter in my head.
The initial burst of the needle to skin is fading and I am returning to earth. The first connection is what pushes me far above the clouds, and now that I have hit my head on the ceiling of the sky, I am floating back down at a steady pace. Like a falling leaf, drifting from side to side, until I gentle settle on the ground. My five senses are heightened and are each battling for dominance in a way that blurs them into one. I watch the needle waltz across my skin with incredible elegance, leaving behind it a trail of ink, Vaseline and blood. In the low lighting I see his steady hand trace the outline, the capital C finished, as he moves on complete the word. I let my eyes lose focus and my mind drift back into another place. A different reality. The needle has worked its way into the center of the crook of my arm, the inside of where the elbow bends. It hums over my blue veins, which lay just below the surface of my porcelain skin. I can hear my own breathing, in a loud, echoed sort of way. Like when you’re in the ocean floating on your back, with your face to the sun, but your ears below the water. The entire world has been muted except for the sound of you. The inhale and exhale that reminds you that even in this silent world, you’re still alive. I am drifting out to sea, pulled from the tide of the warm wave gun.