To the casual observer it might have looked like we were staging an old timey pinup photo. I held the ends of my skirt up to to my waist while the tattooist squatted on his haunches, chin in hand, and stared intently at my legs to make sure the stencil on my right thigh lined up with the already existing tattoo on my left. I wore bike shorts under my skirt (or "modesty pants" as I referred to them that night) and pushed the leg holes up to the top of my thighs, but still -- it looked kinda dirty. There's a clear view from the street, a straight shot to the back of the shop where the tattooing is done, and any passersby could easily have looked into the picture window and seen us in our little moment, like some kind of erotic advent calendar scene. I was a little embarrassed; fortunately, the tattooist wasn't looking at my face.
I know him -- the tattooist; he's a friend and colleague of my husband, but somehow this didn't dissipate my sense of humiliation. If anything, it amplified it. My husband's friend and colleague was at this very moment staring at my naked thighs. I'd talked about getting this tattoo for months, maybe longer, and finally made the appointment a few weeks ago via an exchange of email messages on facebook. M has a thing about not tattooing me -- he says if he had to look at his own work on me he'd only ever find the flaws in it. As a result, I have very few tattoos; one, to be exact.
The stencil properly positioned, I climbed onto the massage table that had been set up for this purpose, and lay supine, my back and head propped up at an angle as if I were a grande dame stretched out on a fainting couch. "Are you nervous?" he asked, "yeah," I said.
The first and only other time I got tattooed, I held onto the chair-back so ferociously that my arms and back ached afterward. I don't know if it was knowledge of what lay in store, but I was able to relax this time, folding my hands on my stomach or tucking them under my head, elbows splayed out. With my free leg I alternated between pulling my foot in closer, making a triangle, and leaving it sticking straight out. It took about an hour and a half, same as last time, and while I started to get a little punchy towards the end, (at about an hour and fifteen minutes I told my husband, in a whisper: "make him stop", and said things like "that's not a very nice thing to do to someone" to the tattooist) it wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as I expected.
At four a.m. I woke up with the bedsheets stuck to my leg; I'd peeled off the bandage in a half-sleep because the tape adhering it to me was bothersome. I gently freed myself from the bed and got up to look for the Aquaphor in the medicine cabinet, a healing ointment that we always keep around for this purpose. I couldn't find it, and began to feel woozy and oddly panicked. After a moment I located it, and started dabbing the stuff onto my new tattoo. Every time my fingers made contact with it, a little wave of nausea passed over me. Maybe it was the four mixed drinks I drank with Angelica after getting tattooed (my limit is 3 of anything, I'm a cheap date), or maybe it was my weak stomach for blood or anything resembling it, but I began to see swirls of colored dots in my field of vision. I sat on top of the toilet for a moment, and when it passed, got up to make my way back to bed. I made it as far as the threshold of the bathroom when the swirls came back, little demons filling the space in front of my eyes, and I knew I couldn't make it as far as the bedroom. I kneeled to the floor right where I was, and yelled "dammitdammitdammitdammit!"
This caused my husband to come running. Our conversation went something like this:
"I don't know, I feel weird."
"What kind of weird?"
I began hyperventilating, and my husband ushered me closer to the toilet.
And then, just like that, it passed. My breathing returned to normal, M covered my thigh in saran wrap, and we went back to bed.
I spent most of today lazing around; having a new tattoo is a great excuse for that. And now I'll have "matching" legs -- it's bothered me ever since I got the first one that there was nothing to balance it out on the other side. Even my niece, one year old at the time, and exactly the right height to inspect my thighs, had looked at the tattooed leg, then toddled her way over to the other one to see what was there. "I know," I said to her, "there should be something on the other one too."