The only people who had tattoos back in the early 1990s were rock stars, bikers and heroin addicts. That’s it. No exceptions.
No one I knew had, or even wanted, a tattoo.
That was part of its charm. I thought about getting one for a while, weighing the pros and cons.
In political science classes, classmates called me a bleeding heart liberal. I guess they weren’t paying attention when I defended the death penalty or supported Affirmative Action only for socio-economic factors, rather than gender or race.
Still, despite those two issues, it was a pretty accurate assessment.
One day, during my summer out west, I found myself in Venice Beach, California. Beaches alongside mountain views were a sight to behold and the whole town smelled like essential oils. I wandered street markets, listening to musicians and spoken word performances.
I even did a spoken word performance of my own:
A seat in hell awaits you
It is all that you deserve
Burning hot and painful
Eternity you will serve
For all the pain you’ve cost me
Deceit, tricks, and lies
I’ll laugh when you are punished
Just look into my eyes
You laughed at me so many times
When tears were on my face
But when time ends, and I’m in joy, you’ll be in your proper place.
Not exactly Walt Whitman, put several guys in Faith No More shirts LOVED it.
When I wasn’t wowing passersby with my prose, I could be found chatting up vendors and sampling natural facial creams because I still objected to makeup. I shopped for crystals, holding them in my hands with my eyes closed, hoping to find the right ones to wear around my neck, wrists, fingers, ears, and ankles, or perhaps to use for healing, calming fears, or sleeping peacefully.
These were the days before Lexapro.
Somewhere between meeting the lady selling black onyx rings, which I desperately wanted as an engagement ring but had to make do with a more traditional diamond instead, and the dude selling sandalwood oil for rock bottom prices, I decided it was time to get a tattoo.
I visited a few parlors on the strip to get a feel for the artists and designs. I knew to get it somewhere less visible on my body because successful lobbyists or organizers had to look like ladies. I also knew to ask for certification and have them open the new needle in front of me. It took all afternoon for me to find him.
Dusty at Venice Rock Tattoo was the perfect match. He had done several rock stars and after a full discussion including his views on women’s rights and the patriarchal nature of sports, I trusted him to decorate my virgin skin in a most permanent way.
He inked the perfect little bleeding heart just a few inches away from my lady parts. No one but Marc, and few special friends, would see it.
These were the days before Snapchat.
It hurt like hell, but I was a trooper.
Dusty told me stories about grown men who’d cried and begged for mercy during their sessions. I won’t betray his confidence by divulging who, even though it is more than two decades later and the musicians in question are long gone.
But it thrilled me to know I was one of the tougher ones.
Dusty did a beautiful job.
When I returned home at the end of the summer, my classmates were aghast.
“Katie,” one said, no doubt speaking for all. “We never meant bleeding heart liberal as a compliment.”