From the Department of Bad Tattoos

You know what’s silly? The idea that you shouldn’t get a tattoo because the picture will sag and soften with age. I mean, it will—that much is true. But so will the rest of you. You’ll wrinkle and pucker and get spider veins. You’ll go soft and wobbly, and you’ll shrivel like a prune. You’ll have grey hairs and dark spots and knobbly joints—also, scars and calluses, and bags under your eyes—and somehow, you’re meant to be bothered by a patch of faded ink?

As lifetime commitments go, tattoos are like…laser eye surgery. You get it, and it’s brilliant. Exciting, sort of thing. You can see, and you couldn’t before. You go round rubbernecking like a tourist, thrilling to dewdrops and blades of grass. You marvel…and then you don’t. You stop noticing the details, even the ones that aren’t so commonplace, the ones that ought to stop you in your tracks. You pass by birds’ nests and flowering bushes. You ignore skeleton leaves. You register them, but you don’t see them, and maybe you never will, again. Not the way you did, when your eyes were new.

Tattoos are like that. I got one when I was fifteen—well, two, actually, but one’s on the back of my neck. I only see it in photos. The other’s on my foot, and I’m sure I see that every day…but I can’t remember the last time I noticed it. It’s precisely the sort of thing one would expect to regret—an ugly jailhouse scrawl, pricked on in someone’s basement—but, twenty-five years later, I’d still call it ten bucks well-spent.

It was a nice afternoon, that. I was meant to be in school, but we caught a ride to Thorold, me and five of my friends. They all smoked pot. I got a tattoo, because I don’t smoke. After that, we sat by the pond, passing a bottle of voddy round the circle. I only pretended to drink, on my turns, held it up to my lips and kept my teeth clenched. It was too good a day to be drunk, one of those sunny September ones, where it still feels like summer. There were turtles in the pond, sleeping on their log. Someone put a waterbug down my neck. I walked two miles to find a payphone, so I could tell Mother I was tutoring, and stay out even later.

We didn’t really do much, just sat out talking till the shadows got long. I could’ve not got a tattoo, and still done that. But maybe I wouldn’t remember so well, if there hadn’t been blood seeping through my sock. Everyone kept wanting to see it, kept calling it badass. I never got to be badass. It was fun, just that once, being the kid who really crossed the line—like your mom’s gonna kill you, crossed the line.

(She didn’t. My mother, I mean. She didn’t notice till I was well into my twenties.)

Anyway, get a tattoo; don’t get a tattoo—by the time you’re old enough to wish you hadn’t, you’ll have way worse regrets.

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