A curly-haired guy in his early thirties sat back on his swiveling stool and snapped the black latex gloves on his hands. He picked up his tools, dipped them into the tiny ink-cups, the size of a fingernail or so, and pressed down with his foot the switch that connected his tools to the electric current. He adjusted the current, making the needles buzz louder, dipped them into the ink again, and began his work.
The two girls sitting in the room with him were vastly different. One was experienced already, having undergone the process earlier that week. The other- well, the other was me: nervous, afraid, excited, ecstatic. I’d been waiting for this for years, known it was coming for years, and had waited patiently for years to prove to myself that I wouldn’t change my mind. Even through the height of my nerves, it felt right. I felt right. The buzzing in my ears, the slight shivers in my body, my legs positioned awkwardly and my arms propped on the armrest I was facing- it was all exactly as I’d imagined it.
“Take a deep breath,” the tattooist said. “I’ll touch for a second and then stop.”
He touched the needles onto my skin. It seared and felt like fire and then, just as abruptly as the pain had come, it was gone. I breathed. My body shook. Then he said “Ok, now let’s continue.”
At first I couldn’t control the shakes. Having a tattoo done on your spine makes your nerves, your physical nerves, tingle and jump. My arms felt like they were buzzing with currents, and my shoulders shook uncontrollably for a few minutes. But I mastered myself, my body, and the pain. It became bearable – even enjoyable in a perverted way, because it was pain that was marking my body with a beautiful design, one I’d chosen years ago.
But it did hurt. It felt like someone using an excruciatingly sharp marker on my skin – I could feel the tattooist coloring in the lines, the needles going back and forth on my skin. Again and again he wiped away ink and blood with a paper towel. Again and again I breathed in a sigh of relief when he loaded the needles with ink again and let my skin breath and relax for a few moments before beginning again.
When it was done, I had my design. I had my tattoo. I had my ink.