"Whatever you want the most, it's going to bethe worst thing for you." - Barbara Kingsolver
Sixteen. Sweet16 is a time for rejoicing, or at least it was going to be sweet when I actuallydid shed the number 15 from my life like washing dirt from the buried gold cointhat was 16.
My gift, for which I had waited my whole life, was revealedto me in the bitter, drab worthless month of February. During this patheticallyshort month, my parents' gift was given to me five months in advance: $150,destined to pay for what I had awaited so long ... with parental approval, ofcourse.
So there I was on a frigid afternoon, giddy, feeling a high thatonly comes from the knowledge that something grand and life-altering was"fixin' to start," as my brother is wont to say. I nearly tripped onthe curb but was still grinning like a goon despite the near face plant. I couldsee the door, a monster of glass with a mass of random decals and peelingstickers. Seemingly of its own accord, the door opened for me, like something outof a cheesy ghost movie.
Metallica poured forth, the music assaulting myears with the beauty only a metalhead like me could appreciate. It wasn't how Ihad pictured a tattoo parlor, let alone one of the three best in the world. I sawthe burly tattoo artists eyeing us, probably wondering how a family of four gotlost and stumbled in. I searched the room quickly, seeing the walls, pictures,and wire cages of the booths with a piercing gaze. I didn't exactly know what Iwanted, but I had a pretty fair idea.
Absence of color would be nice, asblack would really stand out on my pasty skin. I'd looked at my shoulder earlierthat morning, placing the tattoo with my mind, and thinking that my back lookedlike one of those translucent-skinned cave fish.
Panes of sample artcreaked on well-used hinges, and immediately something caught my eye. It wasn'tsolid black, but I wasn't sure that was a problem after seeing this. It had thetexture of stone, and its arms looked three-dimensional. The finishing touch wasa hood drooped over its face, concealing the mysterious features of a demon.Stone wings unfurled from its shoulders, curling above its head. The cracks inthe stone were easy to spot, and the detail was breathtaking, even if you despisetattoos and know nothing about art.
Suddenly it occurred to me thatsomething was missing. I was staring at the shadowy figure of a torso. It hadarms, wings, a face beneath the shady cowl, but no legs. The torso ended in acut-off fashion, as if the stone were formed with wings to eliminate the need forlegs. The bottom of the wings drifted down below the torso, looking like stumpylegs you might see on a pirate. Right out of a horror story, I thought.
Even as my eyes scanned the other samples, my mind remained on the demon.Everyone has an opposite, and this demon was the person I could have been: evil,dark and dangerous ... well, maybe not dangerous. That's not to say I'm an angel;that would be blasphemous, even to the stoutest atheist, but this creature of thenight was the symbol of darkness and death, something I have never known. Maybethat's why it appealed to me - the mystery of the drawing attracted me. Honestly,I'm still unsure why I pointed it out to Jeremy, the most famous artist in theparlor. He grinned and asked if I was sure. "Hell, yes," I assuredhim.
The tattoo was going high up on my shoulder, giving me the ability tohide it should I need to look respectable. The seat was black vinyl and even moreintimidating than a dentist's chair. Jeremy grinned and lifted the sword - atleast, that's what the needle looked like to me. He was actually going to jabthat electric-driven torture device in my arm and draw a picture.
Holycrap, what am I doing? I worried. Thoughts of botched jobs and regret and laserremoval surgery slammed in my mind like the pounding drums of Anthrax playingover the speakers. Then Jeremy started talking, just before I feltit.
Lost in the vibrating sterilized needle injecting ink into my arm, Ionly caught a few phrases of the conversation: "... bare-knuckle boxing ...no pads ... my friend broke his leg ... I got sprayed with a dude's blood ...cops outlawed the sport ... Hell, it was fun anyway!" Had I not been inpain, I might have laughed. Jeremy was a great tattoo artist - his awards andtrophies proved that - but he was just a regular guy who enjoyed blood sports. Nowonder he enjoyed tattoos. I felt a trickle down my arm, and Jeremy muttered acurse, wiping quickly.
"Sorry, man, I didn't catch that blood.There's some on your jeans." Jab, jab, wipe, wipe. Jab, jab, wipe, wipe. Thepattern went on and on for 30 of the longest minutes of my life. I grimacedoccasionally, especially when it felt like my shoulder bone was breaching theskin in some grotesque way. I was afraid to look, but I could see the excess inksmeared across my arm. The tattoo took great shape when the black smears wereswiped away with disinfectant.
Finally, Jeremy looked me in the eye."You know what would look great?" I asked what. "Do you trust methat it would took cool?" Sure, why not. "Okay. Here goes." Heswitched colors with the speed of a professional. I felt two quick pricks, andlooked. He had added miniscule eyes, red as the blood stain on my jeans, peekingout just beneath the creature's cowl. The perfect touch ... the touch of a manwho loves his work. The pain felt odd, a new experience, as if I had been hit bya sledgehammer repeatedly, then carved on for an hour by some insanebutcher.
What if I didn't want this tattoo later? I thanked Jeremy, myparents signed the forms, we paid, and left the underworld.
School was anadventure the next day. I wore a dark shirt so as not to let the ooze showthrough, but the morning started out great when my friend gave me a friendlypunch on the shoulder. I almost collapsed on my desk. Of course, being theperfect friend, he laughed uproariously, causing our teacher to give him the evileye. Jordan apologized, and I knew he had forgotten that I had gotten a tattoothe day before.
That's when my regret set in. People would stare, now andlater in life; strangers would label me trash because of the stigma of tattoos,and I would have to field the idiotic question "What does it mean,"something I feel is personal. The tattoo (the bane of my life at the time) evensmelled bad. The ink stank so that I caught a whiff of the parlor every time Iturned to the left. It wasn't what you would call a pleasant smell of the freshmeadow on a spring morning. It was terrible, awful, the most horrible thing I hadever done. I would have given a year of my life to take it back.
But wait... I had enough money to get another one. I could pay for it myself. I could geta tribal design just below the stone demon ...
And here I am. Cursed.Cursed with the infamous addiction of tattoos. What does that commercial say?"Once you pop, you can't stop"? Well, in case no one has ever told you:once you endure the first, you hate it and you love it. After that, only onething is on your mind: when you can get the next one. So now I have two tattoos.One a smaller but colorful tribal design, the other a stone demon with glaringorbs burning beneath a hood.
Sweet 16, the year of the needle. Theneedle - something so great and impressive and so horribly, artfully addictive.Is it a terrible thing? No, it is simply the means to an end, and that end is apiece of art forever imprinted deep in the skin, just like the need for moretattoos. That demon, that first tattoo, is my angel. And that angel holds aneedle in her dainty white hand. From it drips black ink. And I would giveanything to hear her sweet voice again as she becomes melded onto my other arm,or my back, or my hands. c
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.