When I turned eighteen my mom asked me to wait one year before I got a tattoo because she knew I would get one just because I could. She was partially right. So to prove her wrong I waited, and on my nineteenth birthday I got my first tattoo.
The tattoo itself is a concept I dreamed up with my childhood best friend and I had been visualizing its every detail for years. It was to be a map of Neverland, from Peter Pan, incorporating all of the story’s significant locations: Mermaid Lagoon, Skull Rock, Savage Camp, Pirate Cove, the Lost Boys’ tree house, etc. I did not want a Disney cartoon simply printed from the internet. My interpretation of this map was based on my Neverland, the Neverland I saw in the moments just before sleep where everything goes fuzzy and through the shimmer I can just make out the shape of it. I also wanted it done in such a way that the elements sort of came off the page, like the map was alive.
Dan did the tattoo and I paid $100. It hurt. Tattoos hurt. But I felt badass because I had a tattoo and remained oblivious to the fact that people around me snorted pills. Dan really got into it and even offered to add his own touch, Tinkerbell flying off the map to give it that animated quality I wanted. He was all, “I’ll make it real cute”.
I didn’t know at first that it was a shitty tattoo. First of all, this tattoo is on my back in a spot that is really fucking hard for me to see even with a mirror. I now realize that was kind of stupid, especially because it was an intentional move. I actually said, “I want it somewhere you won’t be able to see it in a wedding dress”. Kids, if you don’t want people to be able to see your tattoo, you probably should not be getting a tattoo. The nineteen year old idiot getting this tattoo wanted to be spotless in a strapless dress one day, so the bad tattoo is made worse by being in a bad spot. I also happened to be very busy that day, it being my birthday and all. You see, I just started drinking alcohol for the first time at a few high school parties that summer and there were no limits to how much attention I could get with a sweet new tattoo at a house party. There was very little time for me to examine my new ink closely with all of the beer pong and taking my shirt off to show other people the large, awkwardly placed tattoo I so recently acquired.
But everything eventually comes to light and I learned of my shitty tattoo from a Facebook comment. On my compass rose the “E” and “W” for east and west were in the wrong places. At first I didn’t believe it because when I look in a mirror the whole thing is backwards, but thankfully even in my shock I was able to think fast and claim intentional whimsy. That was the moment it dawned on me that perhaps Dan’s hands were not the capable tools of the artist I assumed he was. He was careless. And kind of dumb. And then I realized, so was I, because this was a permanent mistake that I would be lying about for the rest of ever. Fuck.
Soon it became apparent how indescribably deformed my sweet Tinkerbell was. I can’t even describe what was wrong with her (it’s indescribable!). She just looked, wrong. She looked as high as Dan probably was when he tattooed her. There were other issues too. The lines were inconsistent. The color didn’t stay. It was a mess.
This tattoo is how I learned two very important things that I have carried with me ever since: 1) people are probably not at all who I assume they are, and 2) tattoos are permanent. You might think that this sounds obvious, but some things you just have to figure out on your own. I wish I had taken more time to think about it, I wish that I had done a lot better job of explaining myself, I wish I had been more aware of who I was dealing with. After Dan and his $100, I spent the next two years having my map “touched-up” and “covered-up”, and learned that “good” tattoos are expensive. Nearly a thousand dollars later and there are things I like about my first tattoo, and things I will never love about it. Turns out nothing could be done about the compass rose. But overall I am thankful that it is, 1) on my back where I can’t see it very well, and 2) there to remind me not to be a dumbass now that I know better.