My tattoo is done. Jackie and I met up at Ritual Tattoo in Denver. We both had appointments with the same artist, Jake, who was covered in tattoos all the way up his neck and onto the temples and sides of his face. He had a buzzed haircut, a big beard, bright blue eyes, shriveled and droopy earlobes from the gauges that weren’t currently in place, a gold-rimmed tooth and a nose ring or two. He was kind, meticulous, a self proclaimed germaphobe and not a big fan of feet. I apologized and mentioned that I had just come from getting a pedicure.
Jackie went first. She got a variation of the Om symbol on her forearm, which she insisted read ‘breathe’ in Tibetan script. It was in memory of her mom who died of a pulmonary issue in 2015. I took photos while she got hers done. She was silent and focused with the occasional leg move, scrunched brow or request to pause, I could tell the pain was hard for her to handle. It made me more nervous than I already was. Hers was done pretty quickly – about 15 minutes and it looked great.
When my turn came I decided I would do a guided meditation while he was working on my feet. I sat up while he did the little traced imprint to make sure we got the positioning of the words right. We had to do it three times until we both agreed it was perfect. Then I lied down on the massage table with my knees bent and my feet flat, I put in my ear buds and started the 29 minute meditation titled ‘Rise of the Phoenix’ by Dakota Earth Cloud Walker. I felt the pain, I did, like someone was inserting a scalpel into my skin and making a shallow incision – but I kept returning my attention to the woman’s guiding words in the mediation, the drums beating, the rhythmic breathing in the background, the imaginary world in my head, her instructions to enter the underground world through a portal at the base of a tree, to go down and meet my spirit guide. My attention would then be pulled back to my feet where I became aware of the pain again, but I quickly directed thoughts back to her voice – where I was led to a circular fire burning large, where I walked in the directions of a compass – East, South, West, North, I thought of the existing tattoo on my pinky toe and back to the pain, and then back to the center of the fire. I was surrounded by my spirit guides, this time a pack of wolves, circling and howling, there to support me. Left foot done – wander.
He had me turn around so the LED lamp could shine on my right foot. I closed my eyes and returned to the fire. Her words instructed me to find something I wanted to let go of, something that I was holding on to that was not serving me in this life. Let it go, let it go, let it go, she had me chanting silently. The idea of body issues popped into my head. I chose to let go of my ties to this earthly body. I reminded myself that I am more than this body, this vessel that happens to be experiencing extreme pain right now. I am more than this body that society constantly makes me feel isn’t good enough. Let go of body issues, remember that I am more than that… this body will turn to ashes some day not too long from now. That’s why I feel okay with this tattoo and why I understand the desire for others to cover themselves in art as a form of expression. We are more than these bodies that we inhabit. That’s what I let go of in the fire. Then I transformed into a phoenix with wings expanded, a large bird prepared to take flight, free.
I opened my eyes and looked at Jake knowing he was getting close to being done with the second tattoo – wonder. “Are you cool with me finishing my meditation even if you’re done. It shouldn’t be too long.”
“Sure. We can just let it bleed for a while.”
I had six minutes left of the meditation so I lay back down, back into my underworld… the drumming slowed. I was led back up to the upper world, back into the studio, I heard the voices of men discussing which tattoo they wanted. The pain was gone. Completely. I felt elated.
Jake did an amazing job even getting the distressed negative space in the typeface. The tattoo was exactly how I pictured it for 9 months. I love it.