Monday, April 02, 2007

THE STORY OF THE FIRST TATTOO
(a self-portrait challenge)

At sixteen, I told my mother that I was going to get a tattoo. She turned her face away from me and said, "I think that's ridiculous--but when you're eighteen you can do whatever you want." I knew where it would be, my left hip...but I didn't yet know what it would be. I was full of ideas and possibilities, but I had already seen girls in my junior class who all went out and got matching Snoopy tattoos on their ankles which they flaunted proudly (at first) then started covering with taller socks as reality set in--I already knew what I didn't want. Two years quietly passed and I'd remind her (and anyone who would listen to me) every so often of the ink yet to be...I read about symbolism and myth and found myself circling over one delicate creature, whose long history and multiple meanings I appreciated. Two weeks before my eighteenth birthday, I found a slim volume in the library about Celtic folklore and when I saw the superstition from Ireland forbidding the killing of butterflies (especially white ones) because they were believed to be the souls of dead children, it was finalized. My brother had passed away some years before and this loss, in my mind, abruptly ended my childhood. A butterfly it would be...to show my transition out of my past, to honor life after death , and to remind myself about the nature of change.

My friends and I went three weeks after I turned eighteen to a little shop with graffiti on the walls, boys who sneered with pierced faces when we came in and fierce looking girls who ignored us, all sunshine and nervousness. I knew what design I wanted, while they were just going to look around. So I went over to the smallest guy, the one whose face was neutral and blurted,
"Look, you'd probably rather do something else, but I want a tattoo of a butterfly on my hip and it isn't just to be cute."
He cracked his knuckles and leaned over the counter top, his full-sleeves of tattoos distracting me from what suddenly seemed like incredibly silly ideas. I talked to him, I explained what Greek myths said about butterflies and what I intended it to represent...then I rambled on about the old Irish story and he suddenly laughed. I fell silent and decided to go somewhere else, looking for my friends who'd become enamored of a shelf of body jewelry. My face was hot--two years I'd been waiting and thinking and planning only to be laughed out of the tattoo parlor.
"Hey," he said sharply and I looked up. He pulled down the ragged collar of his shirt to the curve of his chest. There, in the middle of a sea of fire and stark skeletal tattoos was a brilliant purple butterfly. "Come on back."

Later on, everyone tried to tell me how I'd regret it. A few mentioned pregnancies, stretch marks, and widening hips and smiled politely when I said I didn't plan to have children. Just two years later, which I didn't know then--my eldest girl would decide to make me change my mind and would test out exactly what would become of my purple streaked butterfly. It grew as my belly did--looking more like a bird in the last months--but, it (mostly) resumed its shape as I (mostly) did. Add two more trips through pregnancy, and yes--it has shown a bit of wear, but this only makes it more significant to me. Years have passed, other ink has been imprinted on my skin and I continue to make plans for the next one...right now I know where, and I pretty much know what. Once again, I've cracked books and fallen into Celtic myth and meaning. This time, though, I'll walk into the tattoo parlor nervous because I am older than some of those tattoo boys and fiercely beautiful girls...but I now believe that I'll meet up with another artist who wears a design speaking to the common human experience hidden somewhere on the story of our skin.


Link

32 Comments:

Blogger Colorsonmymind said...

Oh how I do love butterflies sweetie. This makes me want one too:)

XOXO

2:39 PM  
Blogger la vie en rose said...

what a fabulous story delia. i have 3 tattoos (with my next one all planned out) and it's still hard entering that tattoo parlor. it's like a world that i don't feel i belong in...but i like marking my body with meaning so i pull up my courage and go...

3:01 PM  
Blogger Tammy said...

Delia, I made my oldest wait until 18 and at 23 she has 5. I was thinking about getting one recently but it didn't sit well with Dave. xxoo

Your SPC is lovely and sepia was a perfect choice.

3:10 PM  
Blogger daisies said...

after my first son was born, i had the outline of a daisy inked on my right rib ~ when he was little he would reach up and touch it and call it his flower. he told me the other day that i should get two more daisies for henry and eliot and i am planning that for this month ...

your story of the butterfly is wonderful and i used to call my sister butterfly ~ now she is gone and your story has inspired me to get a butterfly for her inked on my skin as well, it seems fitting somehow ... thank you for these inspiring words, you are so beautiful ...

3:11 PM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

Thea: Oh, I think you'd be beautiful with one...I've been thinking of you.

La Vie: I remember seeing your photos of your foot one, gorgeous...

Tammy: I am glad my mother made me wait too...or else I could have been one of those girls who regretted their designs.

Daisies: I think your son is right to suggest this...it would be incredibly meaningful. Thank you for the compliment--this photo, showing the softly stretch-marked belly, made me almost terrified to post, so I appreciate it.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Vanessa said...

"to remind myself about the nature of change"... and how beautifully your butterfly has changed along with you.
Delia, the story and the image are beautiful. So are you. So nice to find you here.
Vx

4:47 PM  
Anonymous kristen said...

I love this story. As an inked girl (9 and counting) I appreciate the desire for more, always more. I know an amazing female tattoo artist that won't laugh and she's such a good artist, so good with color and she's not far away. Let me know if you want her info. xoxo

6:28 PM  
Blogger Kim G. said...

What a great story. I love that what you picked had such meaning in your life. I'm such a chicken about needles, I know I could never go through with this but I admire others who can.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Nicole said...

lovely butterfly. your story resonates with me. i got a tattoo of a tribal dolphin on my hip when i was 17 by using a fake id. like you, everyone said, "you'll regret it." i don't. 12 years later, it is still part of me. i think often of another one.
great photo and post!

7:43 PM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

Vanessa: It's always nice to find you here, too...thank you so much for your supportive comments.

Kristen: I might just have to take you up on that...hmmm, maybe my literary tour will have to have a detour to the tattoo parlor???

Kim: I feel like I'm a chicken too, so how I've done tattoos, piercing, and natural childbirth is beyond me. Ask anyone, a splinter can be my undoing... ;)

Nicole: thank you...I think the key is picking very carefully when getting the work done. No regrets!

9:05 PM  
Blogger deirdre said...

I dance with the idea of a tattoo, sometimes sure I just need to find the right design, other times worried I'll get bored and won't be able to get rid of the thing. I like the butterfly for your brother.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

What a great story! And what a beautiful tattoo!

Cxx

5:10 AM  
Blogger Becoming Amethyst said...

Delia, I'm *thrilled* by the serendipitous story of finding the tattoist with a bright purple tattoo on his chest. And it reminds me that my first blogger icon was a purple butterfly too (not nearly the same thing, but another link neverthless...)

And I love how your butterfly has worn ~ a fitting tribute to all you have been ~ the silver lines as the silver lining? You are brave AND beautiful :-)

I too am planning my second tattoo (but feel like I have been doing so for years). I know what and where on my body, but I just don't when yet...

love x x x

5:25 AM  
Anonymous girlfriday said...

Love your story. Love the butterfly.

6:03 AM  
Blogger melba said...

This story gave me chills.

So much here.

I understand.

I remember saying the same thing when I got my tatoo...I don't plan on having children so it is OK (for it to be high on my right bikini line)

XO,
melba

11:12 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

Oh, I love this post! I love the story behind this ink. There should always be a story like this!

I have always thougth about getting one, and I was all set to get one on my birthday when I found I was pregnant with W. So waited, and never did it yet. And I think I would get it on my hip, too. Only a dragonfly, because of the link with dreams.

Did you see Kory's tat? hehhehehe
(a couple posts ago)

:)

12:11 PM  
Blogger Jeremy Stockwell said...

Great story. Cool pic in black & white.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Deb R said...

That story made me get all teary-eyed. That's exactly the right sort of reason to get a tattoo. The pic is lovely!

1:45 PM  
Anonymous holli said...

I got my tattoos when I was 18, 19 and 20 (I'm 37 now) so I completely identified with this story. Although I despise one of them - I love the other two. And the story behind my first one still makes me smile - as did yours.

xox

1:51 PM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

Deirdre: Wait until you're sure...that's my best advice. I actually got tattoo number two specifically for my brother--the zodiac sign for Virgo (which he was)...but, of course that's another story!

Claire: Thank you!

BB: come to New York and Kristen can get us all in with her girl or, hey, just come to New York...

Girlfriday: I appreciate that so much...

Melba: Still another thing we share in common, noticing a theme here?

Amber: YES I saw his new tattoo, how sweet was that?

Jeremy: Thank you, I was unsure about the black and white at first...

Deb: Aw, now you aren't even the teary-eyed sort are you? Thank you for the compliment...

Holli: sounds like you have a tattoo story to tell of your own...

2:21 PM  
Blogger Miriam said...

What a beautiful memory!qv

5:30 PM  
Blogger Ali la Loca said...

I love this story, and all the meaning that is mixed in with the ink.

I have one tattoo. It is on my back and I thought about doing it for 8 years before I finally mustered up the courage and had it done just before moving to Moz. I love it, and probably will get another one at some point, though I have no idea what or where.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

ah, my sister-friend.. my first tattoo was a butterfly, inked when i was 19.... xo

9:26 AM  
Blogger Jamie said...

What a well-spun and well-lived story and a beautiful tattoo to mark your beautiful life.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Georgia said...

I have been planning my ink for a while now...

xoxox

5:37 PM  
Blogger angela said...

this is the best tattoo story ever, i loved every word D.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

Miriam: thank you...

Ali: addictive, aren't they?

Susannah: why doesn't this surprise me in the least?

Jamie: what beautiful words here from you as well...thank you for it.

Georgia: when you get it, you'll have to share!

Angela: what a sweetheart of a comment...thanks!

10:03 AM  
Blogger rubyslippers said...

lovely story! i have a butterfly too...at age 17...very similar circumstances and I don't regret it one bit! the butterfly is a beautiful reminder for me to stay true to my light-hearted and transient nature. i love how you have developed a relationship with yours as it has changed over time.

11:21 AM  
Blogger Clockworkchris said...

Beautiful story. I have looked like the guys in those shops you got the tattoo at, not so much now, but I have the big holes in my ears. I've always been infatuated with butterflys and I think it still looks like a wonderful tattoo. Interesting more to me though is how you've only had a few kids and look so young yet your 250 years old. LOL

10:49 AM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

rubyslippers: I love what you said your butterfly tattoo symbolized for you, YES!

clockworkchris: Funny you should notice that my profile says I'm 250 years old...I just realized it a couple of days ago. Strange...and not true!

6:37 AM  
Blogger paris parfait said...

What a wonderful story! My daughter got one at 18 - a rose on her lower back. Later she got a nose ring.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Hulles said...

This was a touching and interesting story and you told it very well. Nice job.

8:55 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.