In the Hours After Ink
“You know this is painful spot, yes?”
“Yeah man, all good” I reply, full of false bravado and anticipation.
The understated industrial style studio is clean. My artist has just finished preparing the bench and the smell of antiseptic is still strong in the air. An arrangement of indoor plants and succulents sits on the window sill, and through the wide-span glass you can see the chaos of the scooter filled street below, which contrasts starkly with the organisation and calm of the studio.
He applies the stencil to my ribs – which I’d heard was a painful spot, but I’m not one to take someone’s word for it – and directs me to lie on the bench.
I’m lying on my side, so I stare at the blank wall, thinking lazily about what to order for dinner that night.
The buzz of the tattoo gun signals he’s about to start.
I have a sudden and unexpected urge to scream, “Stop!” and run out of the studio, hiding hot tears of shame and cowardice from any who would look at my un-marked body.
He places the gun against my ribs and begins his work of art.
Getting a tattoo overseas seems to be a fairly popular trend. An air of “Fuck it, I’m only here once” takes over rational thought and all consideration of consequences or permanence are lost to the wind. You feel the need to engrave ink into your skin because it will forever cement the memories of that trip or that time into the very fibre of your being.
The experience itself is a rush. You’re there, the gun is buzzing, you can feel the needle break your skin and inject the ink. Even though it hurts a little bit, you enjoy the sensation and can barely contain your anticipation at seeing the finished product. You’re even a little bit proud that you were sensible enough to do this completely sober.
Then it’s finished, and reality kicks you in the shins.
Fuck. This is permanent. What will it look like when I’m 50? Should I have gotten it smaller? Bigger? Should I have chosen a different part of my body as a canvas for the ink and pain? How the fuck do I explain the meaning behind it to people?
A potent cocktail of excitement and uncertainty and fear and FOMO and the first pangs of what could be regret wash over me.
By far though, the biggest thought that continues to cycle through my mind is, I am no longer pure.
Which makes zero fucking sense, but I feel it all the same.
I caved to a four-week-old whim that will leave me permanently marked. I will be forever sullied. Unclean. Dirty. Impure. All for the sake of ‘when in Bali’.
I can no longer say that I stand out by being plain, which wasn’t even something I was even aware I had some vague sense of pride about. I can no longer say that I don’t adhere to the modern status quo of inking your skin. I will wake up every morning to this addition to my body and remember these feelings of uncertainty and guilt and shame.
Nothing lasts forever. Except this.
It’s a few hours later and the novelty of the event and the adrenalin have definitely worn off. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, and probably even like it at some point. But for now all I can think about is how long I’ll let myself wait before I start researching the cost of tattoo removal.
But by the next morning, I’m planning my next one. Which I’m getting for the cost of a taco that night.
Cover by Allef Vinicius; inset via author