Near the end of high school, my brother went behind my family’s back and got a tattoo. Being a creative 17-year-old, I had thought of tattoos before, and designed some for fun. When my artsy brother, Doug (I will change every name for privacy), came home one night with a tattoo, I thought, “Hey, that means I can get one.” Immediately after that, “I need to get it before prom.”
My brother, being a brother, wouldn’t let me see his tattoo. He’s over six feet tall, has a long braid of red hair, and wears dark clothing. I couldn’t force him to show it to me. When he got home, his body filled the frame of the door, plastic of some sort covering his forearm. His friend followed him in, telling him what she had done to take care of her tattoo. He didn’t have to say anything to me; it was obvious that he had gotten one.
Since I’m the youngest and the only girl, my brothers have always been distant and enjoyed doing things to bother me. Keeping things from me has always been irritating. Doug may be closest in age, and we share a lot of common interests, but we never really talk or hang out.
Days later, I started bothering my mother about getting one, too. I knew not to bother my dad because he’s against tattoos, and wasn’t impressed with Doug. However, since Doug was over 18, my parents had no say in what he could do. I, on the other hand, needed a signed parental permission form to get mine. But my decision was made: I wanted one.
I decided to design my own. Honestly, I knew they sucked. So I took the lazy way out. I got Doug to design it.
Simply opening his door and ordering him to wasn’t the best way of going about it, but it’s what I did. Almost. The difference was, I offered him money.
For 20 dollars, he admitted that he designed his own tattoo: a tribal-style dragon wrapped around a sword with a red gem in the hilt. I only glimpsed it before he covered it again. I see it more often now, years later, but I have my own, and they’re not so new and interesting. It’s no longer a big deal.
I peppered him with questions. How did he make an appointment? How much did it hurt? How much will it cost? After a while, he got us back on track: my tattoo. Two days later, he had a design. It was a nice image of a fairy, but wasn’t something I would want permanently. I paid him, but rejected his design.
The next day I completed a rough design of what I wanted: a fairy with my zodiac symbol. After bothering my brother for the tattoo artist’s business card, I made an appointment. I never knew that there is a tattoo parlour in my hometown, and I was excited to find it near my high school.
I made an appointment with the same person Doug had: Max. I was adamant that I wanted Max to do it because he’d done my brother’s, and besides, he had low prices.
Years later, I found out that Max was only an apprentice. This might be why my tattoo looks so awkward.
On my first appointment in May, I met Max. He was a few inches shorter than me, with shoulder-length black hair that had frizzy ends, and he liked to play with his large plugged ears. I showed him my design and asked him to do something similar, “make it better,” or make his own fairy design, as long as it still had my zodiac symbol.
As he wrote down my specifications, I took in the tattoo shop. There was an aquarium with small, colourful fish that separated the main desk and the tattooing area. There was a leather-padded table where customers lay to get inked. The walls and shelves held Buddhist statues, Inca masks, and bamboo. He showed me his past works and requested a deposit. Before leaving, I made another appointment.
Leading up to the tattoo, my dad regularly voiced his concerns and asked, “What’s the point?” My two other older brothers had fun telling me they thought it was dumb. By the time a friend asked me if I was sure I should get one, I was prickly about the whole issue. I should have taken her worries more seriously.
I went forward, anyways, with my plans and my next appointment. I paid my deposit and looked at the designs Max had come up with. When I told him I didn’t like any of them (again, a sign that this artist didn’t have a style that suited mine), he sat me down at his computer to choose an image online that I’d like. After showing him, I told him I also wanted “Stay Strong” under it and the zodiac sign inked in red.
Before I left, he said he needed someone to sign a consent form for me. It’s funny really, because my dad was, and still is, against the whole process (he just keeps his comments to himself now), yet he was the one driving me to my appointments, and now signing parental permission forms.
The day before my next appointment, I was outside all day. My fair skin quickly became red with sunburn. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to get a tattoo while sunburnt, so I called Max. He had news of his own.
“The air-conditioning isn’t working, and the power’s out. Sorry, but I have to cancel for tomorrow.”
We worked out a day that would still give me time to heal enough before prom day.
June the 7th, the day of the tattoo, I was still mildly burnt and my skin was extra sensitive. I asked if this was okay, and I noticed Max playing with his unadorned ears. They had become infected and he had to take out the plugs. It was weird seeing earlobes so unnaturally stretched and hanging. He mumbled “it’s fine,” and I snapped my gaze away.
My friend Belle came with me because she knew I was afraid of needles. Coincidentally, Belle had a work placement in the hair salon sharing the same building as the tattoo shop. Good thing too, because this gave her something to do while Max remade the stencils a few times. He had put on the first stencil crooked, then couldn’t wash it off properly. The next stencil was facing the wrong side and missing a finger. Fixing it all took an extra three to four hours. Once we were ready to begin, Belle rejoined us.
Laying on my stomach, waiting for it to begin, I held Belle’s hand with tears streaming down my face. I really don’t like needles. As soon as it started, I began to laugh. It didn’t hurt at all.
We stayed a long time to finish the tattoo that night. Another employee put on some 80s rock to keep us awake. The sound of buzzing was enough to put anyone to sleep.
At 8:00 p.m., Max needed to take a break. Flexing his cramped hand (he had been tattooing other clients that morning), he ate his cold pizza, and chatted with his co-worker. After his smoke break, we started again.
At 9:30, my dad stopped by with Doug, who’d just finished work. Doug was obviously disappointed to see that I wasn’t in pain. Around this time, Belle left.
“Finished.” Snapping a picture of the work he had done, Max asked if I wanted to see the results. Right away I saw that the fairy was missing eyebrows. After adding those, we looked again. He forgot to add “Stay Strong.” We added that, too.
Max said he was done for today and had to close, but he’d do touch-ups and add white if I came back in a few weeks. The whole process was disappointing. We were supposed to be there maybe three to four hours. We were there from 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. because of all the mistakes with the stencil. I never went back.
It did heal by prom though, and it was seen clearly on my shoulder blade, the red in the symbol matching the red of my dress.
It’s been three years and I still haven’t fixed it. The tops of the wings have faded, and it’s still malformed. In the future, I have plans to either cover it, or get it fixed by another artist. I might even have it removed, but that won’t be for a long time. My next move is to get one of my new designs done. These ones are much better than the ones I made years ago, and I would have them tattooed just as I designed them. This time I’ll have it done by someone with a lot more experience, and hopefully love my tattoo.
Meaghan Côté is a second-year student at Algonquin College in the Professional Writing program. Other than spending time with her cat, Buffy, she enjoys reading (all the time, anytime, everywhere and anywhere), creating art, reading, drinking tea, more reading, and writing! She also enjoys cooking, although the results aren't always edible.