The thing about tattoos is that once you get one, you get the “itch” and forever more, once that line has been crossed, when you get the “itch” nothing but another tattoo will serve as scratching instrument. I have 8 tattoos. I’ll probably have another dozen by the time I die. If it were more socially acceptable in my work, I would be carpeted with them.

I remember the first time I saw a tattoo on another person. It was on Mrs. Chang who lived down the street. She and her husband were a very private Chinese couple in their 50’s. Mrs. Chang was beautiful, regal, and quiet. No one knew anything about her or her husband. She kept to herself. I only ever saw her outside when she gardening.

One day while playing in the woods with friends, we happened across the back fence to the Chang’s property. Peeking between the slats in the fence, we spied on a magnificent water garden that you would never guess existed by looking at the front of the house. Even more amazing, they had a small hot tub, which I had never seen before, and an outside bathtub surrounded by what looked like a hundred different type of flowers.

Mrs. Chang came outside dressed in a robe and slippers, turned on the hot tub, removed her robe revealing an Esther Williams inspired swimsuit, and climbed into the tub. As she turned her back to us, we saw a tattoo that covered nearly the whole of her back.

My friends immediately ran away at the intimacy of the moment, but I stayed. I was transfixed. I had never seen a tattoo on person and I had always assumed they were the domain of truck drivers, former military men, and they were dirty. Tattoos did not belong on a 50+ year old Chinese woman who could have been my grandmother. But the colors, the exotic writing, the overall scope of the piece, and the sheer mystery of “who is this woman and why does she have this?” enthralls me to this day. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. And I wanted one.

I got my first tattoo in my teens. A small rose on my ribs, at Red’s Tattoo in Detroit. Nothing like sitting in your bra around a bunch of bikers while they watch your virgin skin be defiled. My sister was appalled. Appalled like nothing I had ever done in my life. So appalled she didn’t dare tell my parents. Which was just as well, because I was hardly finished. I had the “itch” and the “itch” would not be ignored.

I re-worked the rose into something else a year or two later. Larger, more intricate, more personal. I had decided that if you’re going to have a tattoo, you should make it a real effin’ tattoo. That was followed by one on my hip, another on my stomach, and one on my shoulder. The itch monster then hibernated for about five years, but when she awoke, she woke with a vengeance. 

I had my tattoos at this point zig-zagging across my person. I liked the idea that they balanced each other out. They’re visible, but no too conspicuous. And you certainly don’t see all of them unless you’re looking for them, but precious and privilege few get that honor.

I moved onto my arms when I turned 30. One on the inner right, re-worked again a year later, then onto my left. I found an artist I adore back in Maine. I’m working with her over email on the next design. I toy with the idea of getting a full sleeve.

People constantly ask: How can you do that to yourself? Well, rather easily if you have the money and a good artist to work with. My tattoos are my bling, my jewelry, the map of my world as I see it. They are beautiful to me and I couldn’t possibly imagine the person I would be without them.

I work in a professional environment and I am upfront with all my employers about them. I have them, I will not hide them, and if you want me as an employee, then you must also have my tattoos. Package deal. Interestingly enough, I have never had a problem, nor been denied a job because of it. In fact, I wonder if the people I work with even notice them anymore. They are so a part of me, I’m sure it’s no different than the presence of a favorite ring or scarf.

Sailor Man has two tattoos. His last one is similar in characteristics to the one on my right arm. Same artist. She took elements of mine and wove them into his. I think his is the most gorgeous and romantic tat I have ever seen. 

I can not wait for another.