Last year in this spot, I wrote about my toes. I thought perhaps a short update was in order. My toes are fine. I’ve logged many, many miles in the past year and the toes are holding up just fine. Very few toe troubles—no blisters, no missing nails, no black toes (knocking on wood as I type this). Most of my toes do have a touch of callous on the top, little caps of tough skin to protect them, but nothing that would keep me from putting my feet in a pair of flip flops or Chacos, no deformities that would cause the pedicurist to run screaming.
How to segue from toes to my new tattoo? There’s no smooth transition, really, so here goes: Four weeks ago yesterday, I strode purposefully into a local tattoo parlor and announced I wanted a tattoo, please. The guy eyed me suspiciously, made a show of checking his calendar and told me I needed to make an appointment for the following Tuesday. The shop was virtually empty, but I didn’t argue. I put down my deposit and entered the date and time in my phone calendar. I left him with the artwork I knew I wanted engraved forever onto my right shoulder.
When I returned at the agreed upon date and time, he looked at me with raised eyebrows, but set about readying his station and preparing the artwork. I flipped through tattoo industry magazines while I waited, patiently. What was taking so long? Did he think I would lose my nerve? Did I not appear to be the tattoo type? IS there a tattoo type? I mean, seriously, everyone has a tattoo these days: grandmas, grandpas, hipsters, nerds, athletes, moms, dads. Now it was my turn.
Finally, he signaled that he was ready and he put a stencil on my shoulder and had me look in the mirror. “Bigger,” I said immediately. “I want it about fifty percent bigger.” He raised his eyebrows again, but went ahead and swabbed the stencil off with alcohol and schlepped back to the printer, returned with a much larger stencil, and handed me the mirror again.
“That’s it. Perfect,” I said and lay down on the chair/table/tattoo bed. That’s when I noticed the razor on the counter. “Hopefully you won’t have to shave much hair off my back,” I remarked with a nervous laugh.
“Oh, I already got it,” he said. “Can’t have any hairs getting pushed in by the needle. Even baby fuzz can turn into a nasty ingrown hair.”
Ew. I turned my face away and pondered how I might deal with an ingrown hair on my shoulder. I wouldn’t be able to see or reach it on my own. How much hair was there on my back, anyway? Ew. I didn’t want to know, but I thought it was a good sign that I hadn’t noticed him shaving my shoulder. Maybe this tattoo thing wouldn’t hurt too much after all.
I have been thinking about a tattoo for a few years, but never quite hit on what I wanted permanently inked onto my skin. My life has been about words and technology, but nothing I could think of in those realms seemed worthy of a tattoo. I considered Scrabble tiles but couldn’t come up with the right words. A crossword puzzle crossed my mind, but again, the words to accompany it eluded me. I definitely didn’t want any sort of computer rendition on my skin.
Then, sort of out of the blue, this symbol jumped out at me. The Choku Rei. I came across the choku rei over a year ago when I made a book/prayer flaggy thing for a Christmas gift. I needed a symbol for health, healing, and spirituality to go with the quotes I wanted to use in the art project. Google turned up these:
I carved two stamps to use in the project, which turned out really cool if I do say so myself. And then I pretty much forgot about the symbols. But when I thought about where I wanted the tattoo—on my right shoulder—the Choku Rei made perfect sense for a couple of reasons.
First, I have been having weird and annoying sensations under my scapula for the better part of two years. Recently I discovered that the source of the discomfort is radiculopathy—nerve pain from my messed up thoracic spine. What better symbol to put on my shoulder? The choku rei symbolizes healing and power. The points where the spiral meet the staff indicate the chakras, and the symbol says “put the power of the universe here.” It is used in Reiki, a form of healing massage.
Secondly, the choku rei is not a tattoo everyone else has—it would be a conversation piece and unusual. Plus, I imagined it would look badass when I wore a racer back tank top on my runs.
These were my thoughts as the tattoo needle stabbed and jammed the ink into my shoulder: I will look badass. I will look badass.
“How ya doin’?” Tattoo guy asked, pausing midway through the interminable process.
“Hurts like a mofo,” I said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
“Yep,” he nodded. “You get used to it though. Once you have one tattoo, you’ll want another. It’s addictive.”
He was right. While I haven’t quite forgotten about the pain completely, I am already considering another tattoo.