Many essayists use tattoos as metaphors, often in cringe-worthy cliches. But I love this one from Shonna Milliken Humphrey in The NY Times today called "When a Former Life Beckons." The author who is my age, 37, looks back on her first tattoo and who she was then compared to the woman she is now as her tattoo is reworked and revitalized. Here's a taste:
Instead of walking unsteadily along a dimly lighted Savannah side street, I found the tattoo parlor door in the bright afternoon outside a familiar area of my Portland, Me., home. The tattoo artist, a woman named Danielle, wore a Bettie Page hairstyle and carried a vintage leopard print bag, and I knew immediately that I'd like her.
I made a joke about Danielle's face being between my legs as she inspected the old tattoo, and she was very matter of fact: "I'd rather have my face in your crotch than work every day in an office."
Danielle fixed the tattoo for me. The plan was to ink a new tattoo over the old one, and to incorporate any shadows of the previous design into something bigger and brighter. Rather than choosing carelessly and based on what I could afford, I considered what I really wanted and why.
I breathed, and then I breathed more, enduring the kind of sharp, mean and intense pain that had been impossible for me to feel in my 20s. I cried, acutely aware that only now was I capable of feeling this pain, and remembering my young recklessness. If this current pain was so intense, what, I wondered, might I be vulnerable to feeling after another 15 years that I can't yet imagine at 37?
I also found in Danielle's tattoo chair, in a way that is unknowable at 22, a comfort in being still.
Get a hardcopy of the article in this Sunday's The NY Times.