Jess Goodwin
August 20, 2015 7:35 am

I met my tattoo artist, Rachel, when we were both freshman in college, but we didn’t become BFFs until much later. Since I was strictly a Humanities gal and she spent most of her time tucked away in the Visual Arts building, our paths just didn’t cross that often. We both had curly brown hair, glasses, and nearly identical bright teal sweatshirts, so for the most part, we regarded each other as “that girl who kind of looks like me.” There were definitely occasions when people would see one of us across the quad and call out the wrong name (and there was even one occasion when I saw her and called out the wrong name).

I was wasted at the time and as we passed each other on campus, I mistook her for one of my slighter male classmates and, wondering why he was wearing a bright green poncho covered in daisies, screamed, “BRIAN, WHY ARE YOU WEARING THAT PONCHO?!” She nervously looked around to see who I was talking to, and seemed alarmed that there were no Brians in the vicinity.

That was one of our biggest interactions during our four years at school. I was friends with a bunch of her roommates, but it wasn’t until after we both graduated that we actually started hanging out. At some point during the summer, word got around that Rachel had started work as an apprentice at a tattoo shop on Long Island and was looking for guinea pigs to practice on. I’d been thinking about getting a small, discreet tattoo for a while and figured the price of an LIRR ticket was worth the chance at free ink.

It’s been about five years since that first tattoo and in that time I’ve become, more or less, a walking portfolio of Rachel’s work. She’s given me upwards of 10 pieces, most of which are anything but small and discreet. All that tattooing takes time, and a lot of that time resulted in the two of us becoming best friends. Like, bridesmaid-level best friends — I was in her wedding this past summer, and if I ever tie the knot and decide not to elope to Vegas or go the courthouse route, she’ll be in mine.

I’m not one to get mushy about my friends and I would never tell her this to her face, but Rachel is kind of the best. (Seriously, nobody show this to her.) My friends are (for the most part) “nice,” but few are what I would call “sweet” (sorry guys). This quality is probably what makes Rachel such a good tattoo artist — for example, when I got my first large, color tattoo and started sobbing because it hurt like a bitch (certainly compounded by the fact that I was exhausted and hadn’t eaten anything all day), she very kindly assured me that we could take as long a break as I needed, even though she was already staying late to work on me.

She also consistently listens to me complain about, well, everything, and gives me great advice even when I’m being stupidly stubborn. She’s so nice, I can’t even be jealous of her almost 40K Instagram followers — if that’s not true friendship, what is?

Her kindness aside, one of the biggest perks of being BFFs with my tattoo artist (apart from majorly discounted-to-complimentary ink) has been seeing her go from novice to master of her craft. (The evolution is literally drawn on my body.) Even at the beginning of her career she was good, but now I’m constantly blown away by her work. As much as I don’t like the standard questions about tattoos (“What does it mean? Did it hurt? Aren’t you afraid of how you’ll look when you’re 80?”), I relish the opportunity to tell people where and from whom I got my ink. Who doesn’t like to brag about about their friends like a mom?

When I think about it now, how exactly our friendship evolved is a mystery. Maybe we bonded over our taste in sweaters with animals printed on them, or the debate of whether a vampire or werewolf would win in a fight, or a love of Cheetos, or something equally trivial. After all — isn’t that how some of the best friendships are formed?

[Image via author’s Instagram]