By Jill

Years and years ago, my uncle was the scariest person that I knew. Even though he was my godfather, he still frightened me when I was a young girl for a variety of reasons: he was larger-than-life, he drove a motorcycle, he had German shepherds that were terrifying in their own right, and he had tattoos. In fact, he was the only person I knew who had tattoos. Over the years, I realized that everything that scared me as a four-year-old wasn’t that bad as a twelve-year-old. Even the dogs mellowed a little bit . . . but the only thing that I still looked at as taboo were the tattoos.

I can’t even begin to tell you what his tattoos were. Probably an eagle on his rotator cuff. Maybe something to do with his military service. Tattoos were the one thing that seemed so far away from the norm of my family that to even think about them would conjure up ideas which were certain to damn me to a life on the streets or on the back of somebody’s bike. We just didn’t do that. No tattoos. No piercings beyond the ear. Even a double piercing was pushing the bounds of “good taste” . . . god forbid your son wanted his ears pierced. What would the neighbors think?

Even in college, when girls were getting tiny flowers on their ankles or being really daring with the ubiquitous “tramp stamp” or the Pam Anderson barbed wire, I still didn’t get why people would do that. Didn’t they know that you were going to be labeled as that kind of person . . . forever? In my mind, I always saw my uncle’s tattoos, and I knew I would never get one.

I couldn’t tell you why I decided to get my first tattoo (total lie . . . I got it because I was pissed at my brother but thank god I changed my original plan because it was going to be something completely inappropriate like skeletons fucking or an anatomically correct version of a vagina) or why I decided that it didn’t matter if I had them. At some point tattoos became something that I didn’t look at as taboo or dirty or even rebellious. They just became something that I liked. I enjoyed seeing how other people could cram a wealth of personal expression into a small piece of skin no bigger than an index card. So I decided to get one. Just one. Because one would be enough. And to be completely clear, it was going to be some place that no one – especially my students – would see.

But then my daughters left for college, and for the first time in my adult life, I would be without them. So I got their birth flower on the inside of my wrist just to keep them close. Even so, I pulled my sleeves down while I taught because I didn’t want to be that teacher, the one with the tattoos. But sitting in a meeting one day with a parent who had a ginormous tattoo of creepy eyes on his arm with the phrase “Does Not Play Well With Others” tattooed under it, I realized I didn’t give a shit any more.  A few weeks later, I turned 40 and needed to see a favorite Frost quote, my “cheat sheet for life,” on a daily basis, so that made an appearance on my forearm. God knows that I was ready to put some closure to my brother’s death; what better place than the crook of my elbow. And so the tattoos grew and grew and grew.

At this point, I have eight. One is a joke and done when I met some of my O + U partners for the first time (and let’s face it . . . we didn’t know each other very well, and I’m incredibly socially awkward, and there was a tattoo place near the bar). Another is something that keeps me sane and grounded. And yet another I keep close to my heart to remind me of my daughters and the love that we share. The eighth? It’s filled with the things I love. I have no idea when I will have enough. Chances are I won’t figure that out for a few more years. Lucky for me I have a lot of skin to go around. I figure there’s still room for a map.

Is there anything that you once considered “out of bounds” that you now embrace? What changed it for you? I still don’t know why I said, “Why, yes! I’d really love to pay for that pain,” but I’ll say it over and over and over again.




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  1. May 2, 2012

    i still smile when i think about you getting up from the bar and declaring you were going to go get a tattoo. i look forward to seeing what you get next. i don’t know that i ever considered it out of bounds, but i never thought i’d get my nose pierced. and i have my next 3 tattoos already planned out.

    • Jill #
      May 2, 2012

      Truly, that was social awkwardness at its finest: OK, I’ve discussed everything that I’m capable of with these new friends I’ve just met . . . I’m gonna get some new ink! Then again, I kind of expect to some home with some permanent reminder of our trips!

  2. May 2, 2012

    Probably could ditto your whole post. (Well, I’ve never gotten a tattoo, but only because it’s not something I want to get). But, I remember when my daughter got her first tat. Honestly, I was at the point where I was trying to figure out WHY so many things were “wrong”. I realized that so often we just accept what we’re told and never explore what we really believe. My husband and I began rethinking a lot of things and changing our stance on a lot. He just got his first tattoo this month. Loved your post here. Very thought provoking. Cool tattoos. Actually these are probably some of the nicest I’ve ever seen. 😀

    • Jill #
      May 2, 2012

      There are still somethings I don’t get (ear stretching – don’t get it at all), but I’ve loosened up my thoughts on most things. The tattoos took a long time to accept from my own point of view, but I’m so happy that I have them. And I can’t take any credit for them other than I sit very, very still . . . and the artist who has done the majority of them says that I have skin that “drinks the ink” . . . and he’s one of the most amazing artists I know.

      • May 2, 2012

        I totally know what you mean about the skin stretching thing. That’s very popular around here on the East coast … can’t speak for anywhere else. My daughter’s boyfriend had huge plugs, but … hey … to each his own. I love your tattoos. I gotta show my daughter. She’s really into it … she might steal some of your ideas. LOL!

      • Jill #
        May 2, 2012

        Tell her to go for it! The one between my shoulder blades was actually a cover from an old seed catalog in the ’30s (but I got it from a Post-It note cover).

      • May 2, 2012

        Get out … that’s awesome. Love it. I will definitely tell you what you said. 😀

  3. May 2, 2012

    Drinking, smoking, tattoos, piercings (even ears), wearing jewelry, wearing pants to church, wearing tank tops, having friends who weren’t of my faith, listening to non-religious music, owning a computer, playing video games, watching R rated movies, swearing.

    I grew up Mennonite. The list could go on and on and on.

    • Jill #
      May 2, 2012

      That is a long list already . . . wow! I think that the more people push you away from it or try to shield you from it, the more tempting it is. Moderation is an awesome philosophy, but I totally get why religions react the way that they do. I’m still shocked, though, when I hear of something new . . . like wearing pants to church. I’m pretty sure that God will take you in a pair of capris 🙂

      • May 4, 2012

        If my mother made this list hers would have “wearing pants at all” on it. She was convinced that because she didn’t make me wear my covering she was a straight up badass… how anyone could ever get more rebellious than her was something she couldn’t fathom.

  4. Becky #
    May 2, 2012

    I’m so envious of the tats. I’ve never made the move, not sure if I ever will, but I do admire them so. It might just be that I need to save something for my mid-life crisis.

    • Jill #
      May 2, 2012

      There are quite a few people who have asked if they are part of a mid-life crisis to which I reply, “You’ll just have to check back when I am 50” . . . because I plan on being a bitchy 90-year-old and then some. Probably with drooping cherry blossoms and such, but what the hell.

  5. lifeineden #
    May 2, 2012

    My family was the same — there was an uproar when my brother got a major buzz cut?! (well, he did look a bit like a recovering cancer patient, as he and his friend did the job themselves). And when he pierced his ear without asking.

    I’m like Becky — envious and admiring, but not sure if I will. I love the thought in so many of yours. xo

    • Jill #
      May 2, 2012

      A buzz cut? And you’re not joking? I remember when the whole, “If you have your ear pierced on this side . . . well that means that you must like boys,” deal and thinking, “How in the hell does it mean that?”

  6. May 3, 2012

    I used to think unmarried people over 25 AND teachers were weird (and the mass of unmarried teachers, forget about it). Now, being both (well attempting to find FT teaching) is a testament to how fears based on taboo are for the birds.

    I really enjoyed this post. My beau has 14, 15, no 16 tats. I’m still deciding what to get for my first. I’m non-committal you see. But maybe that’s a good thing because when I turned 21 I wanted to get a “slippery when wet” road sign above my crotch. Waiting is good.

    • Jill #
      May 3, 2012

      I nearly pissed my pants laughing when I read this (on my planning period, no less) about your college tattoo idea. Thank god you didn’t go through with that . . . it’s about as bad as my anatomical vagina idea 🙂

      • May 4, 2012

        I loved the vadge idea. It’s never too late!

  7. joelynnej #
    May 3, 2012

    This makes me horny for more tattoos. Here you have to book eons in advance and it takes the spontaneity out of it.

    • Jill #
      May 3, 2012

      Find me a place in Toronto, and I’ll think of something. Honestly, there are so many little things I could add.

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