*this picture is from our YPO group’s Spain trip after the first tattoo. I'm on the right and Sabrina has the hat on
I’ve never written about the entire journey I’ve taken my body through when it comes to tattoos, so let’s see how this goes. It’s been a long messy journey, which kind of seems to be the theme of my life.
On day 7 I shared how I allowed my second beautiful small back tattoo to get invaded and redesigned by a short-lived college boyfriend named Rodney, and then on day 34 I shared the story of how and why I chose to literally excise my back and ankle tattoos, which left me with 1/4th of a tattoo on my back that was blurry from me trying to laser it off, and a scar that ran the length of my back. But let’s back up to where it all began...the summer of 1994 before my family moved from Dallas, TX to Park City, Utah.
Tattoo #1: the friendship vine
My father is a very smart business man and from what I remember about growing up, he was always working and trying to improve life for our family of 5 (financially). He had a law degree and practiced tax law and owned a property management company, which I didn’t know much about, I just knew that he was often occupied, even when home. He was part of a worldwide organization for business owners making a shit ton of money before the age of 40 called “Young Presidents Organization” (YPO), and there was a sub organization for the kids of the members, and they organized leadership development trips for kids & teens all over the world. I went on two of these trips, first to Switzerland and the second to Malaga, Spain. The first leadership trip was before my car accident, and before we landed in Utah and the second trip with this YPO kids group came after my accident. I believe that my parents first sent me to Switzerland because they didn’t like the values & mindset I was reflecting, and they sent me on the second trip because I was essentially a blank slate after my accident, so their intention was to help me rebuild my self anew. It was a wonderful intention but I had to get in the way.
On these leadership trips our international group of travelers, all who spoke different languages but came together speaking English, would do activities and exercises to help us feel vulnerable and connect; such as trust falls, team building activities, waterfall repelling and nights of journaling and campfire sharing. The group was under 10 people and my roommate was Sabrina, a gorgeous tall bilingual blond from Salzburg, Austria. We’d talk late into the night and we connected deeply, and this was new for me. We’d talk about subjects related to life and things that we struggled with at home that I’d never talked about with anyone my age or older. It was so refreshing and I found myself feeling a little broken hearted that we had to leave each other. When we were on our last day in Switzerland, Sabrina and I went for a walk together and passed a tattoo parlor. There was a picture of a gorgeous flowery vine wrapped around a woman’s ankle and we both stopped and stared at it. Maybe she was joking, but we talked about how it would be so cool if we were to commemorate this trip by both of us getting this tattoo on our right ankles when we got home. We talked about the next time we’d see each other and how we could show each other our tattoos. I was excited about this bonding activity that would take place in Utah and in Austria. Sabrina and I agreed to do our best to keep in touch, but that would also take a lot of effort, because the internet wasn’t a thing at that time, so us keeping in touch would be through letters and long distance phone calls. To me our little chat meant we had a deal re our tattoo, so one of my first stops after we got settled in Park City was to go to Salt Lake City and find a tattoo parlor and get my flowery friendship vine tattoo. I couldn’t get it out of my head; I was on a mission.
When the day came for me to get my tattoo, I of course didn’t tell my parents what I was doing. Instead I made up a reason that I needed to go to Salt Lake City, and I went to the parlor that was closest according to the Yellow Pages. When I arrived I saw that the available pre-designed tattoos from this shop didn’t resemble the gorgeous one in the window in Switzerland. So I did my best to describe the image from my memory to the artist and he nodded in acknowledgement and sketched out something sort of similar on a piece of paper, telling me he’d continue the vine around my ankle, and there would be my friendship vine with Sabrina. I thought he’d draw the vine on me at first, but he didn’t. I’d never had a tattoo before, so I didn’t know differently, but he assured he knew what I was going for. So I said yes and sat down in the reclining chair Nat looked like it was from a dentist’s office, and stared at the random old records and posters that were pinned all over the ceiling. I think they wanted people to have something to get their minds off their pain, and it worked.
My vine took a suspiciously short amount of time to create, and when I sat up to admire the art, I think I audibly gasped. This vine didn’t look anything like the window in Switzerland OR what the tattoo artist had sketched out. When I communicated that he shrugged, and said I’d signed away my rights when I came in. But it was done and I couldn’t do a thing about it. I was angry and confused; but on top of the ugly design, I was using a fake id saying I was old enough to get the tattoo, so he kept calling me Elizabeth, the name on my I’d. So “Elizabeth” left with let’s just say it, an ugly vine around her right ankle, with a few sad looking flowers, looking like they were drawn on by an 8 year old.
To make matters a little more annoying, two summers later, when I reconvened with this YPO group but this time in Spain, I saw that Sabrina didn’t have a friendship vine tattoo and she was never going to get one because her parents wouldn’t let her. So now my ugly tattoo didn’t have a sweet friend connection anymore and I wished I’d told my parents what I was up to so that they could have told me no as well. I did my best to hide the evidence, but eventually, a little over a year later, my dad realized I had an ugly ankle tattoo, and yes, he was pissed. But there was nothing he or I could do about it, so we continued on with life and he told me someday I’d regret it. But I was too proud to tell him I already did. He asked me not to do something like that again, and I nodded.
But I obviously didn’t listen, because I’d be back at the tattoo game in the Fall of 1995 with the first installment of my lower back tattoo, which began as the size of a silver dollar. It was inspired by an unforgettable experience I had at an Ani Difranco concert in Denver that I road tripped to with my math tutor and my friend James.
More on that tomorrow.