Tattoos – Those Chosen and Those Not

 

tattoo work by Keith Killingsworth

tattoo work by Keith Killingsworth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tattoos have always been a source of curiosity and conflict for me.  Not so much the little cross or anchor simply and strategically placed covertly on an ankle or elsewhere; more so the multi-colored tattoos covering major body surface areas.  Why would anyone consciously and mostly irrevocably deface themselves?  It seems I am naive about the burgeoning tattoo, or shall I say ‘body art’ business, but I stand firm in my confusion about and quasi-revulsion of it.

When I saw the tattooed trucker sitting across from me at the communal hotel breakfast at the Burlington, Wisconsin Hampton Inn this morning, I wondered again about tattoos.  Colorful and large, they dominated his forearms as far as the eye could see, jutting out from his short-sleeved shirt.

He struck up a conversation about this and that and I asked him, “Tell me about your tattoos.”  He seemed not-at-all-off put and happily explained that each of his tattoos signifies a life event such that he is now a living canvas.  “Every time I look at any of these tattoos, I remember a special event from my life.”   He explained that his tattoos were not born of rebellion but of careful thought and planning.  He also chose piercings in the same way, and I saw the studs on his ears and eye brows.  I did not ask to see the ones he said were on his nipples because I believed him when he said that they were there.

“Couldn’t you just keep a scrap-book of life events,” I asked.  He laughed.  “I prefer to be the living scrap-book of my events,” he said cheerily.

When he got the first of his tattoos he was in the Army.  Regulations required that he wear long sleeves or face penalties.  When the tattoo was in fact discovered, the Army docked him two pay grades among other disciplinary measures.  “They were that important to me,” he said.

“Are you thinking of getting a tattoo?” he asked.

“No, not really.  I have something like a tattoo.”  I paused.  “I had a serious burn when I was young and when I look at it, I think about how I didn’t want it.”  We got up to refresh coffee and I pointed out my leg injury.  He assessed it with a slow and careful gaze.  “I worked in the hospital unit in the army.  I can understand what you went through.”

He told me there were any number of reasons the people he knew got tattoos, from rebellion to personal statements, from feeling special to receiving attention.

“You know what’s funny?” I asked.  “When you have an injury not of your own making, people avert their eyes when they realize you see them staring at you.  I guess when you custom-create your own spectacle and you see people staring at you, you feel special.”

“Do you know what the current tat trend is now?” he asked.

I had no idea.

“They call it branding.  They take a fire-hot poker and create customized burn scars.”

I must have looked absolutely horrified at the thought, because it did horrify me.  Who in their right mind would purposely scar themselves?  Would they have any idea how painful the burned area would be?  Would it matter?

“It’s all along the same lines as a tattoo,” he continued.  “People like it because it might have a personal significance and because they create the scar themselves.”

He looked at my burned leg.

“I know,” he said.  “I don’t really get it either.”

 

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6 Comments

  1. I’m the tattoo artist that did the tattoo of the flag and cross. It is a memorial to his father. Over the years , I’ve done many memorial scenes. A very symbolic gesture of the importance you have placed on someone in your life

    Reply

  2. about six years ago I had a heart bypass operation, so I had a very large and long scar on my chest. Pretty extreme looking as you can imagine! I had the idea of getting a tattoo which could be read right side up or upside down (so I could see looking down and everyone else could see looking straight on) – “the words “DON’T PANIC” in large, friendly letters”. It was a great opportunity because I was newly scarred, but nevertheless, my wit remains in my head and not on my chest. Tattoos are really meaningful to some people, but so far, I have no real impetus to get any.

    Reply

    1. Vin, it’s interesting you mention this. The tattooed trucker I spoke with told me he had stomach surgery and had a large incision scar on his abdomen. He debated making it into a thermometer tattoo but decided to leave it as is. I think scars are sacred ground for some, even the heavily tattooed. Thanks for sharing your story.

      Reply

  3. Wow- that’s the new trend? I have two tattoos. I did the first one on my 30th bday , my sign ” aries” the ram . It defines my personality. Usually after people get to know me, they always agree two things about me: My personality reflects a “Colombian Aries.” It’s on the back of neck so it’s really for me. My second tattoo sorta came to me in a dream, the
    ” Triquetra.” This symbol followed me around for a few years until I finally got it on my wrist. There has been episodes where this ” Triquetra” has shown up and explains my connection to it. Like he said it has “personal significance.”

    Reply

    1. All that is so cool. I pass no judgment at all. It’s just that once you are “tattoo-ed” by fate….well, I just didn’t understand why I’d willingly do another one. I had friends do cute tattoos but just could never bring myself to do one. You know what I mean. I love that you have them and they bring you meaning but what if one were forced on you?

      Reply

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