It was 12:30pm when I walked in the tattoo place. Not 12:30am giggling with a group of friends high on herd mentality and ready to get matching tattoos of hearts, or something we saw on Pinterest. I was by myself and probably a little dazed from long nights of crying and very little sleep.
So I felt like a total lame-o.
I wasn’t scared of the pain. It couldn’t be any worse than what I was going through so fucking bring it, I figured. I walked in expecting to get weird looks from disaffected tattoo artists who were already regretting their decision to open at noon. At 3am while I was rereading The Sandman this all seemed like a great idea. Now, I just felt like a cliché. The girl behind the counter had perfect winged eyeliner, like PERFECT. That shit is hard to get right so I was already distracted.
“How are ya? What can I help you with?”
She was really cheerful.
Ok this might work.
I realized I couldn’t just say, “Oh, I want a tattoo.” Of course you want one, you wouldn’t be here otherwise. Use your words, Angelle.
“I want to get a quote tattooed on my collar bone…today…if it’s possible.”
Whoa ok…my last one was a bit more involved so I guess it took longer. The artist had to draft it, I came back a few days later, said it looked great, and got it tattooed about two days later. It was a process. This was all happening a bit fast. Was it fast? This was fast. What?
“What’s the quote?”
“Oh, um it’s….” All of a sudden everything was dumb. I was dumb. My puffy vest with leggings and boots was dumb. Why didn’t I just walk in here with a latte from Starbucks after brunching with my besties? This was dumb.
“Do you want to write it down?”
“Yes…sure. That would be good.”
At this point the poor girl probably thought I was getting “YOLO” tattooed on me forever. Who would be this awkward if they were getting something cool done? I wrote the quote on the paper very carefully so it was legible, “Omnia mutantur, nihil interit”. A grizzly looking guy came up and said that he would be taking care of my tattoo today. Wait, not perfect eyeliner chick? Ok, deep breath. He seemed a little nuts and maybe still drunk from the night before. It’s fine, I thought. True artists are eccentric. That’s how they LIVE. Would you look at Jackson Pollock and say, “Hey man, this is a bit intense, maybe therapy and AA?” No, you wouldn’t.
He took the paper from me, frowned, and then handed it back.
“You sure this is all spelled correctly? ”
“Yeah I just checked online to make sure, but it’s right.”
“Ok cause I don’t read French.”
“Um…it’s Latin, but yeah I made sure it’s right.”
“Ok cool, cause I never learned French.”
It was clear we were going to have to agree to disagree on this.
I looked around as the shop filled with eager tattoo seekers. It was only 1, but it seemed like everyone in the city decided they wanted a tattoo today as well. So maybe I wasn’t such a lame-o after all. One girl was getting her nipple pierced and brought two of her friends with her. While I perused fonts they chatted excitedly about her piercing. The poor girl looked like she was going to pass out from nervousness. There were only two artists and one piercer on duty and someone had to work the desk. This turned out to be my grizzled, possibly inebriated, artist. As he checked people in, filled out paperwork, and drafted my tattoo, I sat and thought about all the events that led me here on this cold Saturday.
My insomnia and I were getting reacquainted after the events of the past month and a half. It was 3am and I decided to reread The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. If Stephen King is the guy whispering scary stories in your ear in the dark, Neil Gaiman is the one sitting in the corner weaving fairy tales about what is lurking under your bed. My loyalty to King is unwavering, but sometimes there is a warmth missing from his stories that I crave. Gaiman is magic. The guy who makes you feel like it’s storytime at the library all over again. The Sandman is his only graphic novel, it’s perfect, and a novel in the true sense of the word. It also has lovely artwork to look at as a bonus. The story takes you into the world of The Dream King, his family, and his journeys. Gaiman uses the quote, “omnia mutantur, nihil interit” (lifted from Ovid’s Metamorphoses), in one of the stories to illustrate how the passage of time changes things, but nothing is truly lost. Just different.
Anyone who has experienced a profound loss can relate to the idea that we hope that person is not really gone from our lives. Whether it’s the passing of a beloved family member or of someone close to you, parting ways with someone you love, or just dealing with the ebb and flow of life in general. People come and go. In their absence we change, but we never forget them. Or the way you felt. A smell, a tv show, a joke, brings you right back. “Omnia mutantur, nihil interit. Everything changes, nothing perishes.”
“Anhell! So does this look good?”
Crazy Tattoo Artist Guy shook me out of my thoughts. I decided not to correct his pronunciation of my name. I looked at his draft and it all came together. It looked great. He led me in the back, stenciled the quote just underneath my collar bone and asked what I thought.
“It looks…really amazing.”
He left me alone for a minute while he got his station ready and I stared at what would be my new ink. Ok you can see it, so I’ll be spending the next forever translating the quote for everyone, but whatever. I was surprised how well it fit. This didn’t feel like a decision made in the throes of a melodramatic breakdown, it felt right.
I sat in the chair and he started to burn the quote into my skin.
“Does it hurt? You ok?”
“Not any more than what I’ve gone through in the last month. I’m good.”
When he was done I felt lighter. Crazy Maybe Just Hungover Now Tattoo Artist gave me instructions on proper tattoo care and offered me a free ice scraper with the tattoo place’s logo on it.
“You’ll pay $7 for one of these babies at the gas station, but we have ‘em for free!”
A smile on my face, I accepted my tattoo swag, tipped the man for his services, and walked out.
I left changed,
but still the same.