“Alright, let me just grab the door.”
I step into the studio and my eyes dart all around at the framed art on the walls. I unbuckle my jeans as the door clicks shut behind me, Alex gives a friendly smile as he steps into view.
“I basically just need to see the coloring,” he repeats himself from the lobby, “and figure we don’t want your clothes comin’ off in front of everyone.”
“Yeah,” I laugh and shimmy my jeans down to my knees. I use my thumb and forefinger to outline the scar I want covered and Alex bends down to inspect my leg.
“How old is it?” He asks. He doesn’t touch my thigh even though I think he might.
“Eighteen to twenty-four months,” I recite.
Alex’s jaw shuts with a snap and his eyes flit up to me, then back to the scar. It is not very big, but I give him time because if there’s something I don’t want to go wrong it’s going to involve a permanent tattoo.
After a moment Alex rises again and crosses to the desk. I pull my pants back up and he jots something down, he won’t look at me.
“Y’know,” He says and flips the pen in his hand. “Covering things up – from scars to freckles – is a lot of what I do as a tattoo artist. I mean, people get tattoos for fun or because it’s important to them or as a joke and that’s all cool, but a lot of people also want to cover stuff up. Which I get.”
He is quiet a moment and I shift on my feet. I begin to worry he will say something like don’t cover up your scars with a tattoo because scars are beautiful or something equally stupid.
Instead his words blindside me, “I’ve worked with a lot of scars, Grace. And I’m not a medical professional, but that scar is only a few months old.”
I swallow and suddenly there is a dry spot in my throat. Neither of us have touched on what the scar is clearly from, neither of us has voiced the term self-harm screaming in the air between us and etched into the horizontal lines on my legs.
My words stumble over themselves when I speak, cheeks growing warm: “I haven’t – the last time I did – this happened – it was -”
He stares me down so I finish weakly, “September twenty-sixteen.”
Alex sighs, “Look, I’m not trying to get you in trouble or call up your best friend or your therapist or anything.” He backtracks quickly, “It’s just, to do the tattoo right the more I know about the scar the better. And a big part of that is knowing when that happened.”
We are both silent and he adds, voice low and almost like maybe I’m not meant to hear, “And that didn’t happen two years ago.”
My hand traces my thigh over my jeans. I think of January when my nails were grown out. When I was ten pounds lighter and my head did not always hurt. When I was excited about school and was not irritated by my friends. When I was not constantly tired and thinking of sex did not make me feel sick.
Finally I say, “It’s from February.”
Alex prompts: “Two-thousand eighteen?”
And we are both silent a moment. He fills the space with a series of questions about my first tattoo and I think asks more than is actually necessary. We both speak fondly of the artist who did it, who no longer works at this studio, and he offers over-optimistically to do touch-ups on it if needed when he does my leg.
I did not think the first person to know about my relapse would be a man with plugs in his ears and a grill in his mouth. I had sort of thought maybe no one would ever have to know. That my friends would just think Grace had a shitty February and we could leave it at that.
Finally we circle back to the tattoo I’m requesting, “so we can make this work.” He says, “It might need touchups in a year or so given how recent the scar is, but we can cross that bridge when we come to it. This should work really well and I think it’ll be really good.
“However, we should probably do it next month, give it a little more time to heal up and let the body do it’s thing. And also …”
He trails off, he doesn’t look like the type to skirt certain topics. But I’m glad he takes pause and consider his words. “Y’know, Grace. Neither of us want you to spend a bunch of money on a tattoo that might be … messed with down the line.”
“Oh!” I start a little at the implication, but of course can’t blame him. My thoughts go to my desk drawer, to the little pouch filled with toilet paper and bandages and a tube of Neosporin and four thin razor blades. I can’t tell you why I keep it around, I just do. It occurs to me that if I didn’t have it available, the relapse probably wouldn’t have happened. But I also tend to think better clean razor blades and Neosporin than something I find in the spur of the moment. Case in point, September 2016 involved a rusted screw.
“This won’t happen again,” I promise, and as far as I know I mean it.
Alex takes me back to the lobby. We set up an appointment, review my budget. I promise to email him some pictures to finalize the design. I leave thinking how much I’ve enjoyed this studio and the people I’ve met there, people who have always been friendly and accommodating.
As I walk back to my dorm, my stomach is buzzing with anticipation for May and my second tattoo. But more than that, there is a lightness in my step. My chest sings relief from a weight I hadn’t realized was there.
-Grace T, April 2018
-Frequent readers will know my posts/titles frequently include musical references. This title refers to a lyric from Bastille’s Glory “Not everything had gone to plan / But we made the best of what we had, you know?”