I got my first tattoo when I turned 18.
I had wanted one ever since I was 16, but in keeping with my mother’s rules, I waited until a) I was 18 and b) I paid for it myself.
My college roommate Jen and I went to Way Cool Tattoos, here in RVA, traveling from Longwood together. We each had $40 and asked for whatever butterfly that amount would buy us. It was one of many memorable experiences Jen and I had together.
She went first and passed out halfway through, woke up, and finished the tattoo. I was slightly terrified after watching her pass out, but I got my tiny butterfly anyway.
Looking back on it now, it seems a very stereotypical “college girl” thing to do. But my choice of a butterfly was deeply symbolic to me. I was away from home for the first time ever, morphing into the adult that I am now. That freedom, that adventure, was all new to an 18-year-old from a small town with admittedly limited life experiences.
I felt so excited riding in a new friend’s Jeep with the top off at night going to “The City” to exert my right as a now-legal adult to mark my body. The tattoo shop was dark and mysterious. The owner had a gun strapped to his side. And the dudes working there seemed intimidating. It was thrilling!
25 years later, and I’m still getting tattoos.
People get tattooed for a myriad of reasons. Some appreciate the artwork. Some love the aesthetic. Others have cultural reasons. Since my very first one, each of mine has been commemorative in some way marking milestones, achievements, or significant themes in my life.
I had tattoos done after the birth of each of my children. I have pieces representing literary works, my Mexican heritage, my love of nature, and tribute tattoos for loved ones I have lost.
That amazing college roommate who went with me for the very first one became one of the most important women in my life, and sadly, she died last year. I now have a memory of her inked on my left hand; She is with me every day.
My latest tattoo is my tribute to my grandmother, Joyce.
My grandmother took great pleasure in watching the dozens of hummies that flocked to her feeders. Inspired by her, I tried for years to attract those tiny birds to my house to no avail. Nothing I did worked.
But on my birthday last year, my first birthday after she died, I was drinking a cup of coffee, staring out of my kitchen window, and a hummingbird zoomed right up to the glass. She hovered there at eye level for about 30 seconds, looking directly at me. I was frozen with tears flowing down my face. I knew that if there were ever a “sign” that happened in my life, this was it. This felt like my grandmother stopping by to wish me a happy birthday.
Tattoos may or may not be your thing, and either way is cool. But for me, they are deeply personal and rich in meaning. I’m sure I’ll continue to get them throughout my life to mark those times in my life that I want to commemorate.