The BIG 30 Project: #10 Cover Up My First Tattoo

I got my first tattoo when I was 18 years old.

Such a stereotype, right?

An act of teenage rebellion, fueled by hormones, at least that’s what most people seem to think when I tell them my first tattoo was at 18. That’s not the case though.

I wanted a tattoo from probably the age of 16, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to get. Looking back, it’s easy to see that the root of my indecisiveness was because I’m cautious by nature and knew that tattoos are, for the most part, permanent.

I wanted a tattoo, I didn’t want to regret a tattoo.

I decided to play it safe by choosing a cross.

I wasn’t by any means religious as a teenager, by 16 I was well on my way to identifying as agnostic and by 17 it was fairly cemented but I recognized that having been raised Catholic and with grandparents who had very strong roots in the church, religion would always be a part of who I was. I figured that the cross, as a symbol, was unlikely to develop new meaning anytime soon and so overall, I decided it was a safe choice.

I thought about it for a year, I did my research, and then I broached the subject with my parents. They were supportive, if a bit resistant, but treated me as they always have: A responsible girl capable of making her own decisions.

I tried to find a photo of the tattoo but literally the only photo I could find where you can even kind of see it is in one or two photos of me from first year university and the photo I took when I initially started talking to Sarah about it.



As you can see, it wasn’t a particularly large or complicated tattoo. In fact, so rarely did people see it or notice it, that friends I’ve had for years would routinely forget I had it and people who DID notice it would immediately assume I was religious and ask me questions.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love tattoo questions. I put time and thought into getting a tattoo and I invested the money to get it, so I love when someone compliments my skin art and asks about it. What I found exhausting was that I had to constantly explain why I would get a religious symbol tattooed on me if I wasn’t religious myself.

Besides that, the tattoo itself wasn’t particularly special. I had wanted to consult an artist and have a tattoo designed but the shop I went to, while have a spotless reputation, was more of an old school “Point and pick” type of place.

After a few years, I fell out of love with the tattoo but I never regretted it.

Getting a tattoo felt like the first step of becoming who I was going to be. It was a physical way I chose to express myself and if I hadn’t gotten one at 18, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the postmark tattoo that started this whole crazy 30 before 30 journey.

So, like I said, no regrets. Still, I wasn’t in love with the tattoo anymore.

I’ve thought about getting a cover up a few times over the years and a lot more since I got my postmark tattoo. So, naturally, I turned to the same insanely talented artist who did my postmark to do the cover up.

Sarah Rogers  works at 5 Cent Tattoo and is basically the coolest person ever. She took a look at my cross, took a few pictures, talked with me about what I wanted and let me send her a Pinterest board full of inspiration.

In the end, we agreed on three flowers with a lil foliage in a vintage style.

Since the cross had originally had a lot to do with the memory of my Nana (despite the fact I’m not sure how she’d feel about me having a tattoo. Papa saw and approved the original, so maybe she’d have been ok with it), so I wanted to do something else that kind of kept her memory in mind.

Nana was pretty well known for having a green thumb and it’s one of the things I remember best about the house she and Papa lived in. When I was little, she used to let me pick the violets that grew between the cracks in the cement outside the house and put them in little arrangements. If I was PARTICULARLY well behaved, I even occasionally got to pick one of her many petunias.

In memory of those times, when she was healthiest and at her best, I decided to get a violet and a dusty rose petunia. For the final flower, I chose a red carnation. Nana loved red carnations and they were very prevalent at her wake and funeral as a result.

When Nana passed in 1999, I was 10 years old and it was the hardest thing I’d ever gone through. She’d been sick for a long time, had two strokes, but in my kid brain, I still kind of hoped she’d get better and go back to being Nana (even if I knew that wasn’t possible).

As hard as it was to lose her, though, Nana’s passing inadvertently became the catalyst for a deeper relationship with my Papa. I’d always been closer to Nana than I was to Papa, probably because where she was loud and boisterous, Papa was quiet  (though SUPER mischievous if you really knew him).

After losing Nana, Papa came out to my parents’ farm a lot and as a result, I saw him often and grew closer to him. In his quiet way, he teased me and always accepted the hugs I forced on to him from the time I was tiny. The man, like his son, could not say no to me if I demanded a hug despite the fact he wasn’t a super huggy type of person.

So, strangely, for me, red carnations are a bitter sweet flower. They remind me of Nana but also of her passing and all of the things that came to mean later on.

Nana and Papa are both gone now, but this cover-up kind of reminds me that they’re still with me.

Funnily enough, last night, I had a dream in which my Nana (whom I have seen in dreams a total of twice since she passed) laughingly looked over my new tattoo and taunted me for it.

“What, the cross wasn’t good enough?” she laughed, gesturing at my leg

“It’s still there, you just can’t see it now”

“Well what was the point of getting it, then?” she teased me, laughing

“But do you like it?” I wanted to know

“It’s very pretty but you could just grow some flowers if you want ’em”

In my dream, we were sat at her kitchen table and I swear I could smell the cigarette smoke, wood furnace, and the lingering smell of bacon grease.

She poked at my fresh tattoo and laughed and teased me when I told her that smarted. She was, as I want to remember her, full of cheek and laughter.

Considering how many times today I’ve inadvertently bumped my fresh tattoo into things, when normally I’m not so clumsy, I can only assume she’s still poking at me.


Completed BIG 30 Items

#1. Postmark Tattoo

#2. Reupholster a Chair

#3. See Amanda Palmer Perform Live

#4. Meet Someone I Admire

#5. Play an Instrument in Public

#6. Ride a Horse

#7. Ride a Hot Air Balloon

#8. Laser Eyes

#9. Go Sky-Diving

#10. Cover Up My First Tattoo


Posted on November 23, 2015, in The BIG 30 Project and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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