They say there are two cardinal rules when contemplating getting a tattoo:
- Don’t do it when you’ve just had your heart broken.
- Don’t do it on a whim.
I’ve broken the first rule, each time I’ve gone for a tattoo, except the last.
When I had my first one, I was young and beautiful and youthfully invincible. I was not yet 21 and I had just had my heart broken for the very first time. I didn’t think it would ever heal, as one does that first time (and second, and third…)
I didn’t do it on a whim, I planned for ages and went with my four best friends. We were all going to get tattoos. I went first, and the blood draining from my face as the needle pushed in and out of my skin put the others off. I don’t blame them. It’s a lizard, low on my back, placed strategically, so that if I bent over to play a pool shot, its little paw showed above my jeans. I’ve always liked little creatures.
With the second, my heart had been broken by life’s curve balls. I was no longer invincible, of that I was sure. I was breakable, and had been broken, and remained fragile. I was not yet 23, and I needed a friend for the lizard. I gave him one, high up on my back, where he could peer over the back of any low-backed shirt I wore. No whim here, either.
For the third, I broke both rules. Heartbroken and messy, I roped my friend Nini in (she’d been planning hers for ages), made an appointment for both of us, and started looking around for what I wanted. I did it on a whim. I chose a tattoo, and a line from a song. It wasn’t even a song I particularly liked. I liked the line, I liked the sentiment. Now listening to it, I love it, and realise how apt it was. I was not yet 39.
“I climbed the tree to see the world.”
A year later, when I’d remembered how to breathe, and mopped my tears, and was heading rapidly for 40, I went for my forth, adding the blossoms, and the birds, to the black ink. Some colour, an escape. Freedom.
I was neither acutely heartbroken, nor whimsical. Maybe I’m growing up.