I like to think I’m a tough cookie. I mean, I’m still jumpy around spiders and I cried four times during my first marathon. But I’ll grab a Kleenex box and smash that sucker, and I crossed that finish line while others napped on the couch. I’m think I’m pretty tough. I may have grown up in suburbia, but I’ve flown alone to Paris, navigated through language barriers, and found a way to the hotel despite transportation strikes. All without getting flustered, or lost, or stolen (as my mom always feared). On top of that, I’ve got all kinds of piercings on my ears and nose. I’m not afraid of needles. I think I could handle almost anything.
So when I signed up to get my first tattoo, pain was not a concern. Placement, design, detail…so much to think about! But pain? Naw, I’m tough-I got this. I sit down on the sterilized chair, like I’m getting ready for a routine visit to the family practitioner.
“So, uh, how does this work? Do I need to do something?” I sound like a child who’s never been to the doctor.
“Uh, nope. I pretty much just start now and that’s it.” His response is honest, but only so comforting.
And just like that, needle hits skin. And it hurts. Not, ouch-I-stubbed-my-toe hurts. Not, ouch-that-pan-was-hotter-than-I-thought hurts. Not even, ouch-that-jellyfish-came-out-of-nowhere hurts. It. hurts. My thoughts immediately press hard, “Please end this now”, they said. Nope, gotta hang in, we have another hour and a half at least. Every moment the needle touched my skin, my mind shouted back with these thoughts. It is natural, of course, to escape pain (My dad confirmed this idea later, explaining why tattoos are “unnatural”). DANGER! DANGER! It screams. In the moments between, I think, HOW do people do this for large tattoos? WHY did I pick such a painful spot? WHERE is my tough self?
Eleven hours later (okay, like two), he presses and pinches the final dots. My sweaty self asks him through a gasp, “So…how much longer?”
“All done,” he says with a smile. He knows it’s my first.
In the end, of course, and as the saying follows, it was all worth the pain! But I doubt I’ll ever forget the moment he drew that squiggle. The one on my ankle bone, that made me stop mid-sentence, and curse to the world and all its needles. It takes a tough cookie.