I walked in to the Ink Spot in a hurry, welcomed by the electric ding of an unseen sensor.
Brian, the tattoo artist who would be inking me was standing in the lobby with a woman. He looked up at the ding.
“I’m so sorry I’m late,” I said embarassed.
The woman by his side quickly responded, “You’re too late, I took your spot!” She then burst into giggles. “I’m just kidding, Hon. I’m his mom. He’s just showing me the renovations in here.”
I had noticed the subtle changes myself when I came in to make the appointment. I hadn’t been in for over four years- the first and only other time had been as newlyweds, K and I got each other’s initial on our right inner wrist.
Brian ushered me back and as I signed the consent form, he said goodbye to his mom. It was then that I realized with his light eyes and hair, he resembled her a great deal. Before leaving, she asked what I was getting.
“Two things, a little dove for my husband and a lily for my sister… She, um, died in November...”. My voice began to shake and hot tears filled my eyes. “I’m sorry,” I stammered.
“Oh no, it’s okay! You don’t need to apologogize. I’m so sorry!” Her eyes were full of concern. She had the whole mommy thing oozing out of her.
The little dove also makes a “K.” I know cause it’s a doodle of mine scribbled in a sketchbook from last summer. When K asked me what I wanted for Valentine’s Day… perhaps a trip to the spa? I responded in the negative. I wanted to get tattooed. It would last a lot longer.
Brian did the dove first. It was positioned behind my right ear. Doves are signs of peace. K has always been so calm. Like a rock in turbulence. I needed to hear peace.
I laid on my side with the buzz of the needle in my ear. I was hearing what sounded like bees.
Less than ten minutes later, it was done. I stood in a full length mirror, holding a hand mirror beaming. “It’s so cute! I love it!” Brian gave me an easy smile.
It’s some kind of strange getting a tattoo. I mean having a complete stranger touching you, being so close. You have to trust the person, that they won’t wind up disfiguring you. It’s kind of awkward. Yes, if I were getting a massage I’d be pretty much naked on a table getting rubbed down and felt up. But with the dim lighting, the whale noises or ocean sounds and aromatherapy, I can get lost.
There’s none of that while getting a tattoo. The lighting is (thankfully) extra bright and the music is a mix of Rock from the 70’s on. There’s buzzing in the little room next door, and the entire shop smells of antiseptic. The art is interesting. Provacative. There is a lacquered spray paint piece of the Virgin Mary next to 1950’s style pinup cartoons flirtatiously strewn across hot rods.
I, being far more of an awkward Black girl than Issa Rae could ever conjure up, begin blurting out questions.
“Did you go to art school?” (No.)
“Do you have any tatoos?” (Yes, on both legs.)
“How long have you worked here?” (Over ten years.)
And so I spout on, fighting against the silence that increases my awareness of how awkward the situation is.
“Is that your girlfriend?” I pointed to a glossy photo of a beautiful tanned brunette in profile. Brian finally looks up and over in the direction I was pointing and gives a slight smile. “Yes.” I got him. We then begin our first conversation of the evening, which starts with his pretty lady and continues on to cover kids, business, Fat Albert, and eventually music. Despite the continual rock music on blast, his heart belongs to the blues and he spends some of his off time playing drums with various blues groups. He tells me of patron Mikey Jr. with whom he has played. Before I leave, he shows me a video on YouTube of a performance. It’s good. He’s good.
“Whew, I don’t have to lie and say I like it! You’re actually good!” He laughed. Not a fake “haha” but an honest to goodness laugh.
I forget to feel awkward.
As Brian added shades of purple and blue and yellow to the lily, quick jolts of hot pain flashed up my leg. Thanks to the CIDP, this tattoo on my inner ankle hurts far worse than the dove behind my ear. I thought of the awful video I saw a few weeks prior of a toddler getting a tattoo while in his mother’s arms.
“How old was your youngest client?”
He stopped and looked up at me. By then I knew a full stop meant he was really thinking about my question. The pause placed great emphasis on his responses.
“Remember that case a few years back in Jersey City when that Egyptian family got killed?” I shook my head yes. I remembered reading the lurid story in the Star-Ledger. “A neighbor of that family came in. A neighbor kid. He got a big cross to prove he was Christian. He was twelve.”
The needle began it’s buzz again.
An hour later, I was done. I thanked Brian and told him I’d be back. With four tattoos, I still wanted more. I guess I’m a bit of an addict. I called K to come pick me up and settled in to a chair in the lobby. A mother and daughter were waiting to get matching tats on their shoulders.
“Hers will say, ‘You are my sunshine” and mine will say, ‘My only sunshine'” the daughter told me. I smiled and told them I sang it to Z while she was in my tummy. There was more talk of moms and daughters and Jos, too, and then goodbyes as Brian took them back.
I sat alone next to a refurbished trunk turned coffee table. I gazed at the Maxim mags and then the pretty purple orchid in a terracotta pot. A sudden burst of purple against the gray walls.
My cell vibrated. K was outside waiting. I walked out to the electric ding.