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My Second Tattoo

Photo courtesy of my brother

Photo courtesy of my brother

The first tattoo artist who permanently inked my body was right. It wasn't long after getting my shooting star that I was ready for another tattoo.

I often imagined my skin, exposed to the summer sun, an artistic map of my life up to the present moment, but I never thought it would actually come true. I worked a corporate job and back then, open-toed shoes weren't even allowed. If I was going to have tattoos, I would need them to be easily hidden, like obvious secrets scattered across my skin, underneath my business casual attire. And I was still young enough to worry what my tattoos would look like with age and potential weight fluctuation, so I chose placement and size carefully. I don't care about those things anymore. 

Elizabeth Dawn Gurley

My second tattoo was my initials, in my own handwriting: a feminine design of three letters woven together with scripty swirls so you couldn't see the letters unless you knew to look for an E, D, and a G. It was placed in between my shoulder blades. I can't get fat there, can I?

My dad's signature is what inspired me to create my own initial mashup. Rather than spell his entire name out - with the most beautiful, tiny cursive slant that did not pass genetically to me - he would position his initials, one letter over the other, essentially forming a logo. That was also my first subconscious lesson in personal branding. I remember asking my dad to show me how to write his initials the way he did so I could think through the formation of my own. I'm a visual, hands-on learner; knowing how to sign my dad's initials came in handy when I'd "forget" to ask for his signature on "important" school-related paperwork.

Tattooing my initials seemed to be a good idea at the time. I was 20, so most of my ideas were that exact level of good enough, meaning: only barely thought through. Besides, if I was gruesomely murdered, at least I could be identified. But that meant I'd need to tell my parents about my tattoos, and I wasn't planning on doing that any time soon. Instagram has certainly made it easier to tell them without actually telling them. I may be 36, but I still hate breaking the news that I've further secured my spot in hell.

Mom knows.

The first time my mom saw my shooting star tattoo, she cried. She had flown to Washington from Alaska to help me move. It was a whirlwind of a weekend. I had just started dating Mat, I was being kicked out of the house I lived in by someone I thought was my friend, and I was scheduled to have surgery, which meant I'd be recovering in a hotel room because I had nowhere to live. I was mostly concerned about Mat thinking I was too dramatic to date.

When my mom saw my tattoo, I was bending over a box of my things. She lifted the back of my shirt up to make sure her eyes weren't playing tricks on her. I remember saying something to the effect of, "Before you freak out, you might as well know I have another one, too." I think she collected herself so we could finish packing, and I made a mental note to buy longer shirts while we avoided the conversation.

Days later, when my mom had internally processed the thought of my tattoos long enough, she was ready to know more. "What else are you getting yourself into?"

That was the first time I realized that my tattoos told a story all on their own that wasn't true. Promiscuity was an assumption I'd have to learn to deal with. My mom shook her head when I pleaded with her that no, I wasn't doing all the drugs and having all the sex. With a chilly response that finalized our discussion without ever landing us on the same page, she put the fear of God - the fear I'd spent two years trying to forget about - back in me.

"You're going to have to tell your dad. I'm not telling him for you."

“Wear your heart on your skin in this life.”
— Sylvia Plath

I don't think I ever did tell my dad; I just waited until my tattoos became more difficult to hide and let him bring them up. I'll always carry a sweater or jacket to throw on when I visit my parents. It's never fun to feel the sadness behind their eyes when they see my skin.

From the start, my second tattoo was destined to be my first cover up. Gurley wouldn't be my last name forever.

To be continued...

Tattoo Shop: Spidermonkey in Olympia, Washington
Artist: Unknown

A Nontraditional Celebrant

My First Tattoo