Last Saturday, I got my first tattoo. Some people were shocked, others not at all. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the process, so I thought I would break it down step by step for you if you are considering your first tattoo.
1. First things first: you finally land on the tattoo you want. Years and years of throwing ideas around, you’ve finally got it. You think about how you’ll feel about it ten years from now, 40 years from now. You still love it.
2. You decide you are ready. You are 31 and you have wanted one since you were 18. But thank God you didn’t get one back in 2003 because Lord knows it would have been a hibiscus flower on your lower back.
3. You hit up your brother and cousin who have tattoos and ask for a referral to a legit artist. You will not go to a tattoo parlor attached to a Chinese restaurant that says “Tattoos While You Wait”. You know if you did, your arm would contract gangrene and fall off by next Thursday. Not interested. Brother doesn’t return text (maybe because he is busy, but probably because he doesn’t believe you’re actually serious). Cousin texts “What?? Who are you?!?” Clearly, she saw this coming.
4. Finally, you land on a legit parlor. After no less than 1724 back-and-forth conversations in your head, you work up the nerve to call them. You attempt to sound like you know what the crap you are talking about, “Yeah, hey…. man… uh… So I’m looking at getting a tattoo on Saturday. Do you have any availability?” Your tattoo is small (I mean duh, you’re brave, but also a freaking chicken) and the dude says to walk in when they open at 1, they’ll work you in.
5. You don’t tell anyone. Not even your best friend. Because if you chicken out (which is highly likely) you don’t want to admit it.
6. Anyone you see who has a tattoo you ask how bad it hurts. You tell them where and what you want. Some tell you it won’t hurt at all. They didn’t even feel it (spoiler alert: they are liars lying out of their lying liar holes). Some tell you it feels like a continuous carpet burn or a cat scratch. And you don’t even know how to process that, but suddenly you are attempting to scratch your own arm to gauge your pain tolerance. Because your trim, rounded fingernails are probably so similar to a cat’s sharpened claw.
7. Saturday comes. You eat at noon, knowing if you don’t, you’ll hit the floor the moment you walk into the tattoo parlor out of sheer fear and wake up on a stretcher. Every fry you bite, you shake your head. There’s no way you’ll go through with this. You should just go back home and put your pj pants on and watch Friends until your heart rate returns to normal.
8. You park your car in the back lot of the parlor. It’s 12:58 and you are about to get stabbed and jabbed until you cry or pee or pass out or run away. You walk into the parlor as cool as a cat being given a bath.
9. The manager, Fox, tells you it will be closer to 2 before you can be worked in. You don’t know if it’s a chance to relax and calm down or a sign from God to run like hell.
10. You calmly tell Fox,, “That’s cool”. And proceed to tell him what you want, ask him how long it will take, how bad it will hurt, how do you clean it, what’s that sound, can you watch someone else get it… He smiles at you. The kind of smile that says he has dealt with many an idiot before you. Yet here you are. When he finds out you’ve had four kids he laughs and tells you, “I’m pretty sure you’ll be just fine.” And he tells you the sound will probably bother you more than the pain. Suddenly, all you can hear is the sound of needles buzzing. You look through an open window at a girl getting her tattoo on her upper back and you just know you are about to see your burger and fries again.
11. You go sit on a pew. Yes, a pew. In the tattoo parlor. Against the window. Clearly, it’s a place where people say their last prayers. Have mercy the sun is beating through that window. Is it really that hot, or is it another sign to high tail it out of there. I think I should take my migraine medicine now.
12. 2:00 rolls by. Justin Bieber walks in the parlor. Well. The closest look-alike you’ve ever seen. You cannot help but giggle over this man-child and his hat with a flat-bill (I’m certain there’s a cooler word for that that I’m unaware of), his tank top, his skinny jeans, and his silver high tops. Give that boy a mic and “Baby, baby, baby, ohhhhhhh!” You even snap a picture from behind like a fangirl. Whatever takes your mind off the impending doom. Fox informs you that Steve will be doing your tattoo, but he’s not ready yet.
13. You have talked with your friend, your cousin, and her bestie. Yes, you had to bring a support group. The cousin who has all the tats informs you that if you try to bolt, she will smack you and force you back in the room. Praise the Lord for her understanding and gentleness.
14. 3:30 rolls around. Steve comes out and introduces himself. He has blonde braids, a backward hat, sunglasses, sambas, and 47273 tattoos. You stand up to follow him, but he tells you he just wants to know what you want so he can draw it out. Oh. Okay. Well you tell him you want an outline of North Carolina. He leaves, you sit down and realize you haven’t breathed in the two minutes you thought you were about to go back to Steve’s room.
15. You juuuuuuust start to calm back down, check Facebook, instagr- oh Steve is back. You pop up like a jack-in-the-box thinking “OKAYTHISISIT!!!!” as you wring your hands until your knuckles turn white. Nope. Steve just wants to make sure you like the outline he drew up and the size. Now he has to go set up. He leaves. You sit. You are about to the point you need jumper cables to make you breathe again. Maybe you should just leave. The door is right th-
16. “Okay, Steve is ready for you” says Fox. It’s go-time.
17. You pass Bieber, who is laid out on a table to your right, getting his sleeve worked on. You cannot help but giggle again. You get to Steve’s room, with your entourage. You should have brought him an Edible Arrangements or something, poor dote has no idea who he is about to work on.
18. You immediately tell Steve you want a single dot first- so you can take a picture of it and send it to your bestie with a Friends quote from the time Phoebe and Rachel go to get tattoos. Phoebe chickens out (like you know you’re about to) and gets one dot and runs away (she has always been your spirit animal….). She says “It’s exactly what I wanted. It’s the earth as seen from a great great distance. It’s how my mother sees me from Heaven.” Surprisingly, Steve laughs and tells you that you did an incredibly good impersonation. You’re flattered that Steve knows Friends, the two of you now have a bond. He has you lay down and tattoos a dot on your arm- and you think “Oh that wasn’t bad, it almost felt like it was licked on by kittens” (another Friends reference. Sorrynotsorry). You take your picture. Now, back to that kitten-licking.
19. You get the stencil ink pressed onto your outer wrist and make sure you like the placement. You do. Steve has you lay down and rest your arm on his little table. Here goes nothin’. If you wanted out, you shoulda done it earlier. Your cousin is blocking your getaway anyway. Steve tells you if you need a break, just let him know.
20. The needle starts buzzing, and the kitten licks turn into the cat scratches. Ohhhhh. Okay. It’s okay. You have this. You’re shocked how the second he takes his needle off, you don’t feel a thing. How is that possible? You ask Steve about his tattoos and his calming, monotone voice comforts you as he talks about his back piece that took a year and a half. You wince. You have the wrist of an 8 year old, all of your skin is thin. But mannn, when he gets to the NC coast, you are biting the tip of your tongue and desperately trying to dig your nails of your other hand into your flesh to deviate the pain receptors, all while trying not to flinch as his needle travels south from Elizabeth City to Sunset Beach. And then the smattering of the Outer Banks.
21. Suddenly Steve puts his needle down. Tells you “You did great!” And you look at the clock and realize he finished in 8 minutes. A perfect outline of North Carolina, your home, adorns your wrist. Forever.
22. You take pictures. Keep calm. You talk your friend through her tattoo while Steve buzzes away on her. 20 minutes later, you pay, tip, and walk out of that parlor like the bad-ass that you are.
23. You get in the car and SCREAM that you “JUST GOT A TATTTTOOOO!!!!” And say it every five minutes. For the next three days.
24. You don’t really know what happens after five days. Because that’s only how many days you’ve had it before you write an entire blog post about it. It itches. It’s ridge-y. You’ve texted your cousin a dozen times with “is this normal” questions. She tells you to calm down. Over and over.
25. Five days in, you really, really love your tattoo. You thank God you waited so many years to really decide what you wanted. For you, personally, to make sure it wasn’t just something connected to one thing, but something that encompasses as much of your life as possible. North Carolina is your home. It holds your childhood, your entire adulthood so far, your dreams, your pains, your losses, your faith, your laughter, your friendships, your memories. You made a good choice. Or maybe it chose you. Either way, it’s there forever now. And you may or may not already have ideas swirling for another tattoo.. or two.
I have always loved tattoos. I genuinely enjoy seeing people who have them. They tell so many stories! It bothers me to no end when someone looks at or says something unkind or toward another person regarding their tattoos. We really should stop looking and assuming based on outward appearances and take more time to see someone’s heart. The world would be a much richer and more beautiful place.
My advice if you’re thinking about a tattoo: Do it for you. Not for anyone else’s approval or disproval. Make sure you know what you want, and make it mean something to you- whatever that is. And let it be a part of your story. Tell your story. Be bold. Be you. Or get there and hear the buzzing sound and run out so fast Usain Bolt’s head spins. Whatever. Just be you.