It’s unbelievable to me that people still think tattoos and body piercings — no matter how minimal — are “counterculture” and a symbol of rebellion.
I’ll admit that when I started daydreaming about getting a tattoo in my early teens, it had a pretty strong element of rebellion — just talking about it was guaranteed to get a rise out of my mom. I had to bargain for weeks to get a second hole in my ears — piercings, by the way, that I never utilize. Earrings aren’t very interesting to me. I use those holes so rarely, both the first and second, that I have to punch through with the earring when the mood to wear them does occur.
By my late teens, I’d pretty much stopped thinking about a tattoo. Sometimes I’d joke about it, especially when I lost something material, like jewelry (“I should just have it tattooed on!”) or forgot some piece of necessary information (“I should get a post-it note tattooed on my wrist!”). By and large, though, I considered the idea of a tattoo to be a passing whimsy of my youth.
Ditto for piercings. Body piercings had never much appealed to me, when I thought about them. I didn’t think people who had them were repellent — I just couldn’t see myself having them. Then, when I was 19, my best friend wanted to get pierced. We went to Metro in downtown, and picked each other’s jewelry. I got my tongue pierced (her suggestion), and she got her belly button pierced (my suggestion).
A few weeks later, I caught a flu. I became badly dehydrated and had forgotten to get a blood draw to check my lithium levels. The combination of flu + dehydration + lithium created a really bad situation where my lithium levels were so high, the doctors said they were lethal. During the time I was hallucinating and delusional — also, unable to eat or drink, because I was throwing up everything that went into me — my dad told me my tongue stud was causing it. So I took it out (remember, I was delusional), and it healed over. A few weeks later, back to my normal self, I realized it was gone. That made me pretty angry, to have that sort of personal decision on how to present myself taken away.
After a while, I decided it was fate. I was pretty upset about it, still, but it didn’t seem worth holding a grudge over forever.
Then my mom and best friend died in 2003. I started thinking more and more about getting a tattoo — mom had always said, “Over my dead body,” and it seemed apropos to her sense of humor to memorialize her in that manner.
Additionally, my best bud had once bought me a beautiful necklace, which I promptly lost. And she kindly replaced. And I lost. Rinse and repeat . . . about three times. We started joking that I should just get it tattooed on me, and after she died, I kept remembering that joke.
By 2006, I was spending so much time thinking about it, I’d actually found a copy of the necklace and was trying to design a tattoo. None of them were quite right. My husband and I went to Hawaii in 2007, and we both got our first tattoos — partly to remember Hawaii, partly to signify our family. He got three turtles, I got three plumeria.
Something else happened in 2006, though. My husband and I were under a lot of stress as a couple, and we actually separated for a brief time. When we got back together, it didn’t take long until we decided to go get pierced. He chose a tongue stud for me (knowing the significance it already had), and I chose a cartilage (ear) piercing for him. These piercings and tattoos were like wedding rings, re-committing ourselves to each other.
For my birthday in 2008, I finally got my memorial tattoo. A tattoo artist drew a design based off the necklace, and I put it on the back of my neck, so I could tell anyone who asked about how awesome my mom and Kristen were.
So each of my piercings and tattoos has a deep, personal meaning to me. None of them are about rebellion or “counterculture” — they’re about moments in my life that really meant something to me, whether positive or negative. Moments that changed how I relate to the world.