20 December 2016

20 (part 1): And none the worse for the wear [UPDATED]

If they asked me, I could write a book
About the way you walk and whisper and look
I could write a preface on how we met
So the world would never forget

And the simple secret of the plot
Is just to tell them that I love you a lot
Then the world discovers, as my book ends
How to make two lovers of friend

I got my first tattoo 20 years ago, during the last week of December in 1996, at a now long-defunct place in east Flagstaff called The Blue Dragon.

It wasn't easy.

Not because it hurt.  It didn't.  Not at all.  And not because it took a long time or a number of sessions to complete.  It didn't require that either.  In fact the whole deal only took about 20 minutes, from start to finish.

No. It wasn't easy because the owner of The Blue Dragon tried to kick me out of his tattoo place when he heard what I wanted to ink onto my body and, most especially, where.

That all sounds pretty scandalous, and potentially salacious, too.  But again, it wasn't.  It was neither of those things.

You see, back on that December day in the late 1990s, I had entered that now long-forgotten tattoo shop with what was then a fairly novel idea.  I wanted to tattoo my wedding ring onto my hand to demonstrate to my new wife, and also the whole wide world, my abiding, enduring commitment to our marriage.  I wanted an indelible mark etched permanently onto my hand, as a reminder to me, and to everyone else, that I got married for a lifetime, 'til death do us part, as the saying goes.

I thought it was a beautiful idea.

The owner of The Blue Dragon, however, did not.

"You need to leave." he told me bluntly, and more than a little too aggressively, after I'd explained to him that I wanted to get a tattoo on my hand.  "It's our policy to refuse to tattoo hands, feet, or ears.  Go somewhere else.  Goodbye," he said, matter-of-factly, pointing at the door.

"Can I ask why first?" I protested, genuinely curious to learn the reason my reception had been so cold.

"Because only criminals and gang members get tattoos on their hands, that's why.  And tattoos on hands and feet never last. They're a waste of time, so we don't do them.  We don't want any part of gang culture."

"Gang culture? I'm not in a gang," I explained.  A point I felt rather stupid making.

"Don't care.  I'm not doing a tattoo on your hand."

"Come on.  Just let me explain what I want."  I forged ahead, "I'm getting married in, like, a week.  I want to tattoo my ring on to my finger because a tattoo can't come off and it cannot be revoked.  That's all I want.  Just three little letters, a Hebrew word.  It means lovingkindness... my commitment to forever behave that way toward my wife.  See?" I said, holding out the small piece of paper on which I'd written the letters חסד, copied carefully from the pages of Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to the Bible.

"Still not interested," said the owner, stoic, arms crossed.

"Hey, let me see that," said a well-tattoo'd woman from the back of the shop.  She stood, parted the dreadlocks that fell over her forehead to both sides of her face, walked forward to the counter and took the note from my hand.

"I'm Jill," she told me, smiling.  "Gypsy Jill, usually.  But before I was Gypsy Jill I was Jill Greenberg," she said, carefully examining the letters I'd written on the paper.  "I went to Hebrew school when I was a kid.  I know this word.  Hesed. Right?"

"Yep. Hesed. Lovingkindness. Instead of a wedding ring." I repeated.

"That's cool!  I'll do your tattoo!"  The owner glared at her but said nothing.

"You don't care about the gang thing?" I asked.

"If you're a gang member, you don't exactly look the part.  And I don't know that I've ever known a gang member who cared much about Hebrew.  Come on back."

Jill's hands were pretty shaky that day and I had the sense she was probably a little stoned.  But I didn't really care.  I was getting tattoo'd.  That was it.  The fact that my tattooist was maybe a little more than a little bit inebriated was not going to deter me.

So I sat in her chair, an old repurposed white vinyl dental chair, and she got out her tools and a little jar of dark ink.  Everything looked decently clean and 'claved.  Her cat jumped up onto my lap.  She switched on the TV.  And we watched a scene from Pulp Fiction together, the one where they stab Uma Thurman in the heart with adrenaline, as she gave me my first tattoo.

"He's right about hand tattoos," Jill admitted near the end of our session.  "You'll probably need to come in for a touch-up sooner or later.  Probably sooner."

But I haven't.  And I won't.  Not because Gypsy Jill's inking that day wasn't wobbly and imprecise.  It most definitely was.  And not because the edges of my tattoo haven't blurred some over time.  They certainly have.  Nor will I because my tattoo has faded a bit, turning from black to dark blue-green, even though this is most certainly the case.

My tattoo has aged and changed.  Sure.  It's weather-worn now, gotten bumped, been bruised, and seen cuts, has bled, and been scarred over the course of the last 20 years.

So has our marriage been.

But like my tattoo, our marriage has survived.  Changed.  But intact.  The bruising and scarring, laughter and elation, and long stretches of simple, mundane, day-to-day living-in-partnership with someone you can stand most of the time, are all just parts of our narrative now, the course of time and the turning of events that have conspired to make us us.  Older, most definitely, wiser, indeed, and yet here we find ourselves on our 20th anniversary still together and none the worse for the wear.

So I'm not getting my tattoo touched up.

Just like we're not getting our marriage touched up.

I love what both of us have become.

I like us just the way we are.

Update: 04 January 2017

Last night at dinner, Lisa announced to Bekah and I that she intended to get a tattoo of the Hebrew word hesed on her hand to match mine.  She's always worn the rings my mom and grandmother gave her for our wedding and engagement, but her work this school-year has made her reluctant to do so on a daily basis because of the risk of injury they might pose to the kids she's working with.

So right then and there, she got on the phone and made and appointment with Jefé, our friendly neighborhood tattoo artist who keeps shop at Birch Avenue. About an hour later, he'd put this lovely fresh ink on her.

I am truly touched by this gesture, especially since it comes on our 20th wedding anniversary.

I'm also a little envious.  Her tattoo looks amazing, sooo much nicer than mine.

Read 20 (part 2): Well, I am not going to sing


Anonymous said...

What a lovely story of your first tattoo with Jill. I knew Jill I used to do her hair in Phoenix Arizona and miss her and her style!

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