When I was in high school, I never really thought I would get a tattoo. I wasn’t “edgy” or anything like that back then. If anything, I was more of a “goody-two shoes.” My main goal was to go to college and immediately get married and start a family after. I have changed a lot since then.
The change started subtly. During my later years in high school, I started to really develop as a person. While I was always interested in creative writing and literature, I was never fully consumed by it, until my 11th and 12th grade years. I was introduced to Sylvia Plath and Dorothy Parker and other writers who I would find a deep connection with.
When I started college, I, naturally, became more of who I am today. My interests developed, my creativity expanded, and I was full of angst. I began to fantasize about possibly getting a tattoo, but it was nothing more than dreaming up what I would get if I ever got one. I was from a small town before, and that’s all I really knew. I didn’t know a lot of people with tattoos until I went to college. It was never really a thought of mine until then.
My first tattoo idea was to get a quote from “On the Road” on my back toward the right side. My second idea was to get a large typewriter somewhere with Ernest Hemingway’s famous quote “All you have to do is write one true sentence” appearing on the top of the sheet coming from the typewriter. I wanted to get a peace sign. I wanted to get a lot of things. All of them were a reflection of who I am. I have none of those tattoos.
When I moved to North Carolina for graduate school, I became more “me” than ever. Moving so far away from home was my chance to become whoever I wanted to be. I got really into Van Morrison when I was there. He was played a lot on the radio, several of my friends listened to him, and there was just a magical quality to his songs that resonated with the medium sized coastal town. “Into the Mystic” is to, this day, my favorite song. When he croons, “I want to rock your gypsy soul,” I feel like he is singing to me. I have always had a sense of bohemian flair and as I grew older, I fell more into my “free spirit nature.” After moving around a lot in my early twenties, I felt more “gypsy” than ever.
Yet, I also frequently referred to myself as a walking contradiction. I loved my free spirit side, but I also still wanted to get married and live a very normal life. More than that, several aspects of my personality was contradictory. I wanted a relationship, but was a commitment-phobe. I wanted to be a teacher, but hated how confined that felt.
After moving back to Indiana, where I’m from, I couldn’t stop thinking of getting a tattoo. I wanted to mark that important part of my life (living in North Carolina) permanently on my skin. I wanted that story to remain forever with me. I wanted it to be a reminder of who I was, when I grew older and was no longer that person, as I know we inevitably change.
I planned a trip back to North Carolina to celebrate New Years. I had drawn up my tattoo, but didn’t really anticipate getting it any time soon. The drawing was of a bird with the words “Gypsy soul” written underneath. The “o” was turned into a peace sign. I felt it was perfect.
I’m not sure how exactly it happened, but one night my friend Kim and I decided to go into the tattoo parlor and see about prices. I met with the tattoo artist. He looked at my drawing, which was kept in my wallet. I told him I wanted it on the top of my foot since it would have direct meaning. When he told me he would do a “two-for,” I was excited and nervous. How could I turn that down? He was going to do two tattoos for 100.00. One on the top of each foot.
My friend Kim, the tattoo artist, and myself began brainstorming. “Well I have to be a walking contradiction then.” I said. I decided to get an anchor on the other foot since it was the opposite of a free flying bird. I was thinking very hard on a quote to use, since I wanted a sense of uniformity. I’m not sure if it is a real quote or not, but I decided on “Anchor or be wrecked.” I liked the irony in it. I liked how it would make me a literal walking contradiction.
I made an appointment with the tattoo artist to go in the next afternoon to get my tattoo done. I only promised him I would do “Gypsy soul” and would think about the other. I had previously given months of thought to the “Gypsy soul” tattoo and knowing that the anchor tattoo hadn’t been thought of for nearly as long, made me worry I would one day regret it.
The next day Kim and I went to the tattoo parlor. Kim, being the amazing friend that she is, was getting a tattoo too. We would experience this together. I went first. I thought it would hurt. Everyone told me the top of the foot is incredibly painful. I don’t know if it was nerves or what, but I laughed the whole time. Then Kim went. I decided that since the deal was too good and the pain was bearable, I would go ahead and get the second tattoo. It’s been four years and I don’t regret them at all.
I’m so happy I got the second tattoo because it adds so much meaning to the story. While I love being a “gypsy soul,” I also realize that if I don’t settle down eventually, I will wreck my life. The thing is, I still want to get married. I still want to have kids. If I’m constantly moving around, I’m not making those things as much of a possibility. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no rush. I still enjoy being a “gypsy soul,” but when I look at my feet, I am reminded that eventually, I need to settle down. I’m also reminded of my life in North Carolina, where I truly found myself. I’m reminded of getting the tattoos with my great friend, Kim. There are so many stories wrapped up in my ink. What I love even more, is that it’s even my artwork. I can’t imagine I will ever regret them.
Getting a tattoo (or tattoos in my case) is addicting, just like they say. About two years later, I found myself wanting another. I had always been drawn to The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. There were times in my life where I felt deeply connected with Esther, the main character. At one point in the novel, she is sitting under a fig tree. She looks up and each fig is representative of different dreams she has for herself. For example, one if a wife, one is a mother, another is a reporter, etc. In th book, before she can reach up and grab one of her dreams, the fig shrivels up.
I find myself having too many dreams sometimes. I want to be a wife. I want to be a mother. I want to be a novelist. I want to own my own business. I could go on. In the midst of a career crisis, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this scene from the novel. My next plan: get a fig tree tattoo.
I researched tattoo artists in the Indianapolis area. I went to different shops and looked through many books. And then I found him: the tattoo artist who specialized in trees and who also happened to be a very talented artist. I spoke with him about what I wanted. I had drawn up some ideas and printed off some pictures. Eventually, we decided a fig tree was not going to work. But I still wanted the message. I found a quote from the book to be paired with the tree. The tattoo artist got to know me more and saw my personality and suggested a whimsical tree that he would free-hand. Again, I was terrified.
My initial thought was that the tree would be a little larger than my palm and would be placed on my right shoulder blade. I went in for my tattoo and after he drew it in sharpie on my back, I saw that it would be huge, but I liked it. It was very whimsical and way more edgy than my “cute” foot tattoos.
I was alone this time, and I guess knowing that the feet were supposed to be one of the most painful areas, made me not even worry about my back tattoo. Boy was I wrong. First off, it was a much larger tattoo. Where each foot took about 20-30 minutes, my back took 2 hours. Where my foot tattoos were very basic, the tree had shading. At the half-way point, I took a break. I felt I was going to pass out.
We pushed on. I had to wear a cold compress on my neck for the rest of the tattoo, to keep me from passing out. When it was all said and done, I really liked it… for about 10 minutes. I went over to my friend Amanda’s house afterward, and started looking at it. Her first reaction, “Wow, that’s really big.” I burst into tears. I had never anticipated it being that large. My whole body had just received so much pain, that I felt I was in shock. I think that had something to do with my reaction to her comment. She then went on to reassure me that it looked good, etc. I don’t think she anticipated my tears. I certainly didn’t.
After a few days, I got over the “largeness” of the tattoo and really liked it. I have grown to like it each day since. I can’t imagine not having it now, but it was completely different from my first tattoos.
My boyfriend also has a tattoo of a tree. His is on his side. We both got our tattoos before we ever met. I think it’s a really cool story and it’s something we both connect on. It is just another story to go along with my tree ink. When I look at my back in the mirror, or when I get compliments on it (which happens frequently), I am reminded to choose a dream and chase after it. I am reminded of the pain I endured. I am reminded of Amanda being there for me, as she always is.
I don’t regret any of my tattoos. They tell so many stories. Not only that, but they continue to create more stories. The thought never crossed my mind that I would be dating someone with a similar tattoo. I love that. I love how the artwork on my body continues to write more details into my life.
[Image via author]