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Davis, California

Friday, April 19, 2024

On skin

If tattoos tell a story, then I guess you could say that mine started this past Saturday.

It was my first tattoo. Getting ink done was something I’ve always considered, but chronic indecision and a seemingly permanent deficit to my funds stood in my way. After almost two years of this passive (if not lazy) quest for a tattoo, I decided to take action.

Like the way I go about doing most things, I began with the process of elimination. At the time, I had no clue what I wanted, but I knew what I definitely did not want – and this list was extensive. No crosses, no names, no butterflies or fairies. No Asian symbols unless it pertained directly to the fatherland (but even that concept was iffy to me). No tramp stamps, tribal bands or portraits, no matter how commemorative.

Having watched countless hours of “Miami Ink,” I felt almost guilty that I didn’t have some sort of close relative or beloved pet that I could commemorate. The only pet that I’ve ever had was a rabbit named Jerry who I thought was a boy until “he” and my sister’s pet made sweet rabbit love. I could go the deceased grandparents route, but my relationship to them bordered more on fearful respect than darling ol’ Gangy and Pop-Pop.

I contemplated, I went through phases. I tried drawing my own designs, I tried recruiting others to do come up with something for me. It was a seemingly endless search.

Not surprisingly, my parents had their objections when I first expressed interest. My mom’s reaction was a sad attempt at reverse psychology: “I’ll get one, too – stars on my wrist! We can be tattoo twins!” Why, my dad asked, and he tried to bribe me out of it. But I was a girl on a mission.

An embarrassing number of overdraft charges later, I began to think that my tattoo dreams would never be realized. It was only by coincidence that I finally got the money together to pay for it. Once I had the money, I took measures to ensure that I wouldn’t spend it and set an appointment at Primary Concepts Tattooing and Body Piercing on E Street.

Pain wasn’t something I factored when I decided to go ahead with getting a tattoo. I figured that if I really wanted it, I could handle it. I really had no clue what to expect. Would it be a searing, insufferable agony, or would I get used to the pain? (It turned out to be more of a bothersome prickling than anything else.)

Permanence was also a concept that I probably took a bit lightly. It had been almost two years since I first entertained the idea of getting a tattoo, but somehow, I’d always try to push the idea of foreverness out of my head while I looked up designs.

Maybe it was a combination of the colorful studio, the music playing or the oddly soothing buzz of the machine, but it was a surreal experience. Sitting in the chair, I realized that in the beginning, had no good answer for my father’s question of why I wanted to get a tattoo.

When you think about it, they’re entirely impractical. Unless it’s for cosmetic purposes or as a form of identification, they are pure decoration with no function at all. A lot of money would have to be invested in it. Not only is the tattoo (theoretically) permanent, but you’re leaving this task of permanent marking in someone else’s hands. Funny that these thoughts only came to me about halfway through my session.

Nevertheless, two-and-a-half hours later, I left the studio bandaged and entirely happy.

To any curious readers, my tattoo ended up being a loosely based reference to a book from one of my favorite authors. It’s more visually allusive than a direct thematic reference. Although I didn’t have some sob story behind my tattoo, for me, it wasn’t about memorializing anyone or making some sort of personal statement. More than anything, it’s a reminder, my own inside joke of sorts. And when I’m old and possibly wrinkly (because who knows what sort of advances in dermatology may occur), I can look back and remember the time when I was 21 and got my first tattoo.


RACHEL FILIPINAS would like to thank Kai Smart at Primary Concepts for her tattoo. Next on her list is a potato on her ankle. Send your own suggestions to rmfilipinas@ucdavis.edu.


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