Monday, August 3, 2015

The Exquisite Pain of the Needle

Last week, I laid down on a table and grimaced in pain as local artist Lana Gooding etched yet another tribute to Peyton into my skin.  This time, it was on the back of my right calf.  This is the fourth such tattoo that Lana has done for me since Peyton's death.  I chose these permanent reminders not only as a tribute to my son, but as a reminder to me that I need to stay strong, keep his memory alive, and most of all to help others, so that they never have to know the emotional pain that draws me to this physical pain.

Growing up, the only people I knew with Tattoos were the fathers of my friends.  This was the early 70's, so most of these men had earned their ink while they served our country during Korea, Vietnam, and in one case, World War II.  They told about getting them in far away places like Saigon, Tokyo, Seoul and Manila.  The ink had faded over time, and Dads were somehwhat hesitant to tell us the full story behind the tattoo as it usually involved a large amount of local beverages leading to their decision.

Fast forward to high school and college.  I knew a few people with tattoos, but they were the ones on the fringe, the ones whose butts wore grooves on the chairs in the principal's office, the wannabe musicians, the "artists" and what not.  Tattoos themselves never seemed to be part of the mainstream, or accepted in society.  Tattoo parlors were the domain of bikers and criminals, not respectable citizens.

Fast forward to the new millennium.  Suddenly, tattoos were being accepted more and more.  You could go to the local tattoo shop and find CPAs, teachers, and doctors getting inked alongside every one else.  Tattoo artists were now being considered true artists, and their work being sought out.  People would travel miles and save their money to have work done by a particular artist.  Even reality TV started to see the attraction in this business and began not only to profile the artists, but to talk about the backstory behind many of the tattoos themselves.  They talked about the meaning and memories that people were choosing to have forever etched into their skin.

I had the itch for many years to get a tattoo, but never did until I was 39.  My first tattoo was the Longhorn emblem on my right ankle.  Unfortunately, as I would later find out, orange ink fades faster than all others.  Now there is nothing in the original spot.

A few years later, after being baptized, I got a cross with "2 Corinthians 5:17" on my left shoulder.  It symbolized my rebirth as a Christian, but also a new me had been born.  I wanted the tattoo, not only as a symbol of being reborn, but a reminder of who I had been, not wanting to ever be that person again.

My third was on the back of my right shoulder:  a small cartoon Charlie Brown ghost with Peyton's birthday 6-16-01.  I got it the same summer Peyton and his mother moved to Round Rock.  I had always called Peyton "Boo", but I thought the comical aspect of the Charlie Brown ghost matched his personality.

Shortly after Peyton's death, I wanted to modify the ghost tattoo to memorialize him.  My wife Lisa's hair stylist Brain introduced us to Lana.  We had told Lana about what had happened, and what we wanted.  We also sent her a picture of the current tattoo.  When we arrived for our appointment, Lana had me show her the original.  She took a sharpie, and drew a set of wings and a halo on it.  They went perfectly with the tattoo.  She then prepped the area and began to go to work.  My God it hurt like hell, but in a strange way, there was something almost peaceful about it.  As she put the ink in my skin, I almost felt a bond with Peyton.  Maybe by feeling the physical pain, I was able to empathize with the emotional pain Peyton felt.

Since that time, Lana has done three more tattoos for me.  Each one connects me to Peyton, and each one serves as a permanent reminder of the son I will never forget.