I Hate My First Tattoo

Cancer’s permanent marks

I’m twenty-five years old and getting my first tattoo. I have finals coming up in a few weeks. At the end of every law school class is a semester cumulative exam which is the only grade for the class. I had taken time off earlier that term for unexpected surgery and I was nervous that I wouldn’t have enough time to study. I had been healing well and now getting my first tattoo.

The technician Troy is really nice and welcoming. He takes me to a metal table in the middle of the room and I lie on it, shirtless, exposing my stomach to the bright white light of surgical-type fixture overhead. Troy chats with me about school and I answer his questions while he pulls on some blue gloves with a satisfying snap. I stare at the light and take deep breaths.

I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never been a fan of needles but more recently I’ve had blood drawn and I’ve become accustomed to the pain. I wasn’t scared to get a tattoo but I didn’t know what to expect from a pain level. I know dozens of people who got tattoos in high school and college and they never said the pain is unbearable. I assume that the needle didn’t penetrate the skin very far, just enough for the ink to seep in, which didn’t seem like a process that would actually work.

The metal table felt cold at first, but now it’s warmer and my skin was sticking to it. The room smells antiseptic but sweet, like the ceiling and floors were washed down with a chemical cleaner that the manufacturer tried to mask with mint or apple, but it didn’t work. The room hums from the various machines as if the whole room is resonating a sound that is always present but you wouldn’t notice it unless it stopped.

Troy slides the machine over my torso and I see a pattern traced out on my abdomen. The machinehas five articulate arms stretching out that he positions all around me, pointing at me. Each one is emitting a green laser, a tiny beam that points directly at my belly. One by one he walks around the room and angles each little ray of light at my stomach, where the tattoo will go. The adjusts them over and over to make sure he gets the right position and tells me not to move. I take shallow breaths.

I recognize the harsh smell of the Sharpie marker before I see it. When he’s satisfied with the positioning of the lasers he walks around and marks each green dot with the permanent marker. He presses hard into my skin to mark it well. I flinch though it doesn’t hurt.

“Do I have to get all five?”

“Sorry, buddy, we just need to make sure we radiate the same place every time and this is the only way.”

Troy gets a bottle of black, thick ink from a tray. He pulls the glass wand from the ink bottle and drops a tiny amount of ink on the permanent market stain then takes a syringe and exposes the needle.There’s a tiny prick but it’s gone so quickly I’m not sure if I imagined it. He repeats this four more times until I have five tiny black dots on my stomach, permanent black dots. He wipes away the ink remaining on my skin and examines each until he’s satisfied it took. When I start my radiation treatment to make sure the cancer didn’t spread, they will line up the lasers with these dots. The cancer will hopefully stay away, but these tattoos will stay forever.◾️

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