Monica Dyess

My Little Secret

“Oh, sorry Cas,” I mumbled as I tripped on the dog lying halfway beneath the bed.
        Seeing the clocks angry red lights proclaiming the time:  5:30 A.M., I thought, Great, one of my days off, and my mind won’t let me sleep in! Feeling guilty for bothering my husband with my restless movements, I moved to the living room.
        As I sat in the pre-dawn twilight, watching the Discovery Channel, my mind churned with anticipation.  I had never been tattooed before, and the sting of the needle grew sharper in my mind as I fretted.  I wonder if getting tattooed on my ribs really is the most painful place to be tattooed or if people were just saying that to scare me?  In the hours before my eleven o’clock appointment my stomach tormented me, refusing to allow any food to settle.  As I carefully selected a black tank top and old jeans, my hands shook.  What if I can’t take the pain?  What happens if I get fatter or when I get old?  Will the piece still look good?  What if my mom finds out?  What if I should get pregnant and – nope, not going there.  What if . . . My brain pinged with questions while my practical side fought for balance. You’re going to be fine.  Other people get collagen implanted in their lips and eyeliner tattooed on their eylids—Monica,, you can do this. 
        Getting into my Mustang, my hands and feet chilled with anxiety.  More thoughts flew around in my brain until I exhausted myself with trying not to think during the short drive.  Parking, I thought, Maybe I should have taken Lee’s car instead of mine.  What if my mom drives by and sees my car at the tattoo shop?!  What if she comes inside and makes a scene while I’m getting tattooed?!  Realizing I was growing short of breath, I stopped feeding mental cocaine to my vivid imagination, took a few deep breaths to calm myself, turned off the ignition, and walked into the tattoo shop.

Although I had been in Craig’s shop several times before, it had always been to watch someone else, usually my husband, getting tattooed.  This time, it was my turn.  “Hey Monica.” Heath, the friendly receptionist, greeted me with a hug. 

“Hey Heath,” I smiled shakily.  My smile must have betrayed my trepidation because Heath kept his arm around me as he steered me into the artists’ work spaces.
            “Hey Monica! What’s up?” Craig cheerfully called, walking out of the back room, arms laden with supplies.  “Ready for some pain?”  Though Craig joked, I knew he was serious.  He prides himself on making others cry with his unique shading techniques.

 “I’m ready!” fell from my mouth as I refused to think about what he said.

            “Awesome!” Craig replied.  He patted the Saran-wrapped table.  “Have a seat.  I’m almost ready.  I just need to finish setting up and get the outline on you.”
            Here it is, I thought.  It’s about to happen.  Shaking, I lay down on the table and pulled up my shirt.  Craig took my artwork and copied it onto a special paper that acted as a temporary tattoo.  Once the image was transferred onto my skin, I stood up and looked at myself in the full-length mirror.  Wow!  It is beautiful—I’m beautiful. 
            “Look okay?” Craig inquired.  “Want it higher or lower?”
            “It’s perfect,” I gushed.  Seeing the promise of beauty to come bolstered my courage.

Once I approved the positioning, I lay back down on the table, tucked the hem of my shirt into my bra, and took another deep breath.  Let’s do this, I thought.
            Waiting until I settled, Craig shaved my side to create a clean, sterile surface.  Being prepped as though for a surgical procedure underscored the seriousness.  I heard, but could not see, Craig sit down behind me and snap on his black rubber gloves.  I wish there was a mirror on the ceiling so I could see what he’s doing.  I don’t like not knowing what’s going on!  My anxiety resurfaced.   Next, Craig affixed the rubber bands holding the connectors down on the tattoo gun and tested it—bbbbzzzzzttttttt.  My bowels clenched.  Anticipation overpowered me!  I felt like I was at the top of an amusement park ride, waiting for the inevitable plunge. 
            Craig then filled little plastic caps with black ink to begin the outline. “All right Monica, are you ready?” he asked.  I giggled nervously.  He put his gloved left hand on my side, stretched my skin, then rested his right hand down, holding the gun just off my skin.
            “Here we go. It’s not too late to turn back,” Craig chuckled, clearly enjoying my torment.
            “Just do it!” I snapped. 
            The gun’s staccato buzz filled the air; I squeezed my eyes shut and exhaled as I felt a slight burning, like the tip of a recently extinguished match dragging over my skin. 
            Feeling me exhale, Craig stopped and asked, “You okay?” 
            Surprisingly, I was fine. Wow, I barely feel a thing!  Why was everyone telling me it was going to hurt like hell?  “I’m great,” I replied, shocked.  “It’s not so bad!” 
            Craig chuckled, “That’s what you say now.” He continued to graze my skin with the ink-filled needle.

            Three hours later, feeling light headed, I fantasized ramming my foot into Craig’s face; the once subtle pain had grown into torture.  Oh my God, why doesn’t he stop?  How much more can I take?   I clenched the table and gritted my teeth.  How much has he done?  Why am I so dizzy?  I thought I was stronger than this.  I can’t let him see me cry, I can’t let him see me cry!  Despite sweating profusely my hands were as cold as the dead. 
            At one point, the pain of my bladder overshadowed the pain on my side, and I asked for a break. As I stood up, I stumbled. 
            “Whoa, you okay?” Craig steadied me.
            “Yeah, just a little dizzy.”  Why is everything spinning?  I feel so weirdAm I supposed to feel this way? 
              “That happens sometimes,” Craig reassured me as he helped me to the bathroom door.  “Just take your time.  Sure you don’t need any help in there?” he winked.
            “Thanks, but I’m okay,” I laughed shakily.
            I looked in the bathroom mirror and didn’t recognize the sickly pale creature staring back at me.  My mouth was dry, my stomach felt weird, and my hands shook.  What is wrong with me?
            After I finished in the bathroom, Craig was waiting for me with a mirror so I could check our progress.  Looking at my new addition horrified me at first.  The skin along my right side swelled and puffed, and red splotches spread around my torso.  Blood oozed from the wounds inflicted by the tattoo gun, but the outline of my artwork shone through.  Pleased with the progress, I turned around, searching for something to drink.  Craig met me with a soda, but furrowed his brows in concern when my hands shook as I took it from him.  “Are you okay?” he asked worriedly.
            “Yeah, I just think I should have eaten something this morning.”
            “Wait, you haven’t eaten anything?  Monica, you can’t get tattooed without eating!” Craig rushed me over to a stool and quickly found me a couple of candy bars.  “Here, eat these and drink your soda.  Your blood pressure dipped.  You may even be going into shock.  I can’t believe you didn’t eat anything!”
            “I’m sorry,” I mumbled.  “I’ve never been tattooed before, so I didn’t know.”
            After about thirty minutes, the sugar hit my system, and my body calmed.  Craig only had a little bit left to do, so I lay back down and resigned myself to another round of torture. 
            When Craig put his hands back on me, I shuddered and jerked away.  Once I had my body under control, the tattoo gun resumed its metallic beat.  This time, I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to cope with the pain.  After my little break, my skin seemed more sensitive.  Although Craig worked on the lower part of the tattoo, my entire side felt like it was being shaved with a hot knife.  A strange, hot, fetid smell crept into my nostrils, the smell of my own blood mixed with endorphins.  I tried to concentrate on the throbbing music of Gym Class Heroes blasting from nearby speakers and imagined myself counting beats like an autistic child counting floor tiles, attempting to distract myself from the pain. Despite my best efforts, tears leaked out of my tightly clenched eyes.  Just imagine how beautiful it will be when it’s done.  You will be beautiful.  Focus on the artwork; focus on the beauty; the pain will be over soon
            Finally, Craig set down the gun, scrubbed me down with sandpaper (in reality he gently wiped off the blood), took my hand, and helped me stand up.  I walked to the full-length mirror and saw, for the first time, my new body.                                                      
            The beauty of it struck me, and tears washed my face.  Craig wrapped my side in plastic wrap to keep it clean as the wounds scabbed over and hugged me.  “Sure you don’t want to go ahead and do the color today?” he inquired. 
            Sudden laughter erupted from the entire shop as I glared at him. 
            Over the next year, I visited Craig four more times, getting a little bit of the colors done each time.  Although the wings, face, and body of the fairy hurt more than other parts of the shading,  they did not compare to the excruciating pain of the first visit.  I passed a test, a ritual of the modern age.  I was tattooed.

                Though I now possess an incredible work of art, I am selective with whom I share it.  It is my art, my secret.