Dear Mom: This post is going to freak you out. Please read at your discretion. And please don’t write me out of your will. Love, Heather
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I’m in a taxi with my dear friends Claire and Michelle, riding toward a bohemian neighborhood in northwest D.C. called Adams Morgan. We’re meeting friends for drinks at a legendary blues bar called Madam’s Organ.
In the taxi, we discuss tattoos. Michelle has a couple of tattoos. Claire has been pondering one for some time. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a tattoo, but could never think of an image that I want to emblazon on my body for life. Until now. I have an idea.
This isn’t the first time I’ve discussed tattoos with Michelle and Claire. But tonight is the night. Claire and I will get tattoos and Michelle will supervise. First, we need liquid courage.
As I sip my drink at Madam’s Organ, I’m not thinking much about my impending tattoo. Deep down, I don’t believe we’re really going to do it.
But the tattoo parlor is right across the street from Madam’s Organ. Our transition between the two establishments feels almost seamless, especially after my dose of liquid courage. Before I know it we’re in Tattoo Paradise, studying rows of sample tattoos coating the walls.
Reading these signs makes me feel better about spending my hard-earned money on a tattoo from a reputable establishment. I can’t afford it, but a tattoo isn’t the kind of thing you want to bargain-shop for.
Claire is getting a bird on her hip. I want a tattoo that represents my life in Africa, so I’m getting five stars on the back of my neck. The stars are for my house in Melville, which Joe and I call the Lucky 5 Star. I love that house — it’s so perfectly quirky and South African. What better way to honor it than with a tattoo.
It’s our turn. Claire and I walk together into the tattoo studio. Oddly, we don’t feel nervous at all.
Claire is my oldest friend. We were friends before we were even born; our mothers knew each other while they were pregnant with Claire and me. Between the two of us we’ve lived in about 10 different countries. We sometimes go years without seeing each other but never stop being best friends. Eighteen months ago, when I made the painful decision to start a new life and needed a place to stay, Claire took me in without hesitation. We lived together in her tiny one-bedroom apartment for nearly four months.
Claire and I really aren’t friends. We’re sisters. Getting tattoos together is a big deal for us.
I go first. We have an awesome tattoo artist named Scott. He stencils the tattoo onto my skin and makes sure I’m happy with how it looks. Then he turns on the tattoo needle thingy and starts painting. It’s far less painful than I expected and Scott is finished in less than five minutes.
Mom: If you’re still reading, stop here.
Scott bandages me up and then it’s Claire’s turn.
And just like that, we’re tattooed. We’re tattoo sisters! We enter the lobby to applause from our friends. Michelle is overjoyed.
Here’s Claire’s tattoo:
Amidst all the excitement, I forget to look closely at my final product before the bandage goes on.
I wake up the next morning, hung over. Too much liquid courage and post-tattooing revelry. I stagger to the bathroom and Claire pulls the bandage off. (I’m staying with Claire again during my visit to D.C.)
The tattoo looks way bigger and blurrier than I remember. I try hard not to panic. Claire comforts me as best she can but I’m distraught. Her bird looks lovely but I don’t know what happened to my stars.
I lay morosely on Claire’s futon for a while, then drag myself to the shower. Did I really get drunk and tattoo myself with big, ugly, blurry stars? What kind of 37-year-old does that? Ohmigod! My mother is going to KILL me.
After my shower I peer cautiously into the mirror. Do I see what I think I see? My pretty stars are re-emerging! I just needed to rinse off the extra ink and blood to uncover the beauty beneath. A wave of relief washes over me.
I’m still hung over at lunch time. But I love my tattoo.
I don’t expect everyone to like it. Some of you might think I’m insane for doing it. But I’ve gotten pretty used to people thinking I’m insane. I personally think I’m a bad-ass.
I got tattooed in Washington, but the tattoo is about Africa. Thanks to Claire and Michelle for helping pull my two worlds together.