I never thought I'd be someone who gets a tattoo. And still somehow, on Wednesday morning, 24th January 2018, I find myself in Old Street, cash in wallet and heart in throat, on my way to my very first tattoo appointment.
'Come unaccompanied,' the artist's last email stated, and I can see why: the studio is cheerful, but relaxed. There is a bit of chatting, but mostly it's music and the buzzing of needles, and a sense of intimacy.
I'm after something abstract, so my consultation is on the day of the appointment. We spend about an hour going over shapes and textures, rotating printouts and holding them to my body. My artist compliments my decisiveness, but really I love everything, and my intuition does the rest. (This whole process has been driven by my gut rather than my brain, which is nice for a change.) At 1pm, I'm lying down; my upper right arm is sterilised and ready.
The darkest point of my new tattoo is right over what my flatmate tells me later is a pressure point in Tai Chi, on the lower inside of my elbow. That's where we start. The pain is worse than I had imagined. I quickly learn that if I watch, I'm present enough not to flinch, especially during the shading. So I watch for two hours, so focussed on keeping still that it barely occurs to me that what is happening is a permanent life change.
For years I'd thought that while I liked tattoos on other people, I was way too indecisive to get one. I'd read blog posts by people who regretted their own tattoos; who said that you should sleep with your ideal picture over your bed every night for a year, to make sure you really, really loved it. I thought I could never commit to something on my body for my entire life.
As I'm getting older, it becomes more and more clear that my entire life and forever are different things. My entire life is no longer a nebulous concept, like the number Pi or infinity – I'm more than a third through already. I have scars now, and lines on my face that will become wrinkles. Those will stay with me, and they aren't necessarily features I chose to have on my body. This one, I can choose.*
As I write this, I'm only a few days into the healing process. It hurts, and I worry. I haven't been comfortable since Wednesday morning and I'm grumpy from the pain and lack of sleep. For now, I'm just looking forward to being able to bend my arm again.
*This comic articulates how I feel much nicer than I could.