I Belive in Tattoos

Joe - Iowa City, Iowa
Entered on August 23, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

“It’s a stick-on,” I say. “It’s not real.”

Or, “Her? She’s just a girl I met one night.”

Or, “It’s a symbol of my love for my wife.”

Or, “It’s a symbol of what a tough guy I am.”

Truth is, I don’t know exactly why I got the tattoo. I walked into the tattoo place and an hour later I walked out with a brightly colored tattoo on my forearm.

“That’s the lamest tattoo I’ve ever seen,” says the plumber at the supply house.

“I’ve got a heart too,” says the carpet layer on the construction job, rolling up his sleeve, “but I didn’t put my wife’s frigging name on it!”

“What’s the dagger for?” says the HVAC guy in his truck.

“That ain’t a real tattoo,” says the line cook in the kitchen, rolling up his sleeve to reveal what looks like five or six Arabic letters having an orgy. “That’s a real tattoo. I designed it myself!”

“Were you drunk?”

“Did it hurt?”

“Why’d you do that?”

“What if you guys split up?”

When the war in Iraq threatened, I was afraid to put up the black and white sign in my front yard that read “NO WAR!” I knew that my neighborhood was full of people who supported the war. Some of these people had children who would be participating in it.

I have never hung a flag of any kind on my house. I have never had a bumper sticker on my car. I have always seen myself as a practical guy. I wear a baseball cap in the summer because it keeps the sun off my face. I wear work boots because I work. I have a tattoo because . . . I’m not exactly sure why I have a tattoo. There is no simple answer.

There’s nothing I can do about my balding head. Or my skin tone. The heart and dagger may be the only true thing about my body. Because it’s the only thing I’ve chosen.

They say once you get one tattoo, it’s likely you’ll get another. That’s how, over time, people end up covered in ink. It’s the graffiti-type sleeves that interest me most. The ones that tell the story of a series of impulses. Like the backside of a billboard where the tags have never been painted over.

Already, I’m thinking about my next tattoo. I’m wondering why, for all these years, I’ve been in hiding.

I believe there is something to be said for reserve. No one wants to be bombarded with everything from everyone at all times. But I do question the value of hiding away the brightest parts of ourselves from the world like secrets that must be taken to the grave.

“That sure is . . . out there,” says the maintenance guy from the college. “Why’d you get it down there?” He taps his forearm. “Why not up here?” he taps his shoulder.

“I don’t know,” I say, shrugging. “I guess I wanted people to see it.”