At 6:30 pm, on one the last nights of a long December, with my husband out of town, I picked up one of my college besties. We drove together to the best tattoo parlor in town and had one of the best artists there tattoo the words “I’m fixing broken things” on the inside of my left forearm. I had the lettering done in my own handwriting. It cost me sixty dollars. It didn’t hurt. And the tattoo inking took approximately ten minutes total.
Then we went to the bar downstairs for drinks.
I’d been serious about getting a tattoo for at least a year, ever since a girls’ weekend when we’d made plans to get one together, but the artist hadn’t had time to fit us in. Before that, I honestly hadn’t thought much about it. But as I got older, there were so many words I loved, so many phrases and sayings I wanted to keep forever, so many important enough that I wanted to remind myself of them every day.
So, like a middle schooler, I started sharpie’ing my arms. I wanted to make sure I was serious. I sharpied lines from David Bowie and Queen’s Under Pressure. I sharpie’d a line from Hamilton. I sharpied a Wilco lyric. But the one that stuck out was from former Talking Heads lead singer David Byrne: “I’m fixing broken things.” It’s a song about how easily things and people break and how much we ourselves need to be fixed.
It was short, which meant the lettering wouldn’t be gigantic. Over time, your tattoo will eventually fade and bleed; this is the nature of tattoos. The smaller the lettering and the closer together it is, the faster that will happen. I wanted my tat to last. If I’d picked the lines I wanted from Under Pressure, they’d have taken up most of my arm. I also knew I wanted those lines on my forearm, because I was worried about how much it would hurt. I have scars on my wrist I’d like to cover, but I’ve heard that tattoos over bone are some of the most painful and that wrists can hurt most of all. Your forearm is one of the least painful places to get tattooed.
And it was. Once I had signed the paperwork, paid up, handed over my ID, and assured everyone I was not, as the tattoo artist said, “knocked up or fucked up,” I laid my arm on a small cushioned table designed for the purpose. Bearded Matt, as the tattoo artist is affectionally called, said he’d try me first with a dry needle to make sure I could stand the feeling before he started.
“What’s it feel like?” I asked nervously. It knew it couldn’t be that bad; I’d experienced back labor for hours and almost had my second son in a restaurant because I didn’t think I was really in labor.
“Think of a cat scratching the same spot over and over,” my bestie said, who’d coincidentally gotten a tat the night before. “It feels different for everyone,” Bearded Matt explained. And he started in with the needle.
Honestly? At least on my forearm, it felt like being pricked with a very, very tiny hollow needle over and over, which is exactly what it was. I laughed at him. “Fill that fucker up with ink and get this started,” I told him.
After a lecture on after-care, I was free. But then I had to figure out how to tell my husband. He’d taken the kids out of town for a few days, so I had time to get my tat without worrying. But he hates tattoos. Hates them. We had, in the past few weeks, had several fights about my getting a tat, with him adamantly opposed. “I just don’t see why anything would be important enough to scrawl on your body until you die,” he’d said.
I rolled my eyes and told him it was my body and my choice. He had to cave to that one.
Then I made a big mistake. My husband isn’t on Instagram, so I immediately posted pics of my tat on Insta with the tag “Don’t tell my husband.” Three of my friends decided to tell him immediately, and the next morning, I got a call asking how my “deviant” night out went. Oops. My husband was very sweet, said he liked the nod to David Byrne, and warned me to keep up with my aftercare.
So why’d a 37-year-old mom of three decide to get a tattoo in the first place? Because I wanted one, that’s why.
I wanted some words to live by etched on my arm, where I can remember them every single day. I wasn’t trying to recapture some bygone youth. I didn’t want to rebel. I didn’t want to make some bold statement. Most of the time, my tattoo will probably be covered with sleeves, at least in the winter. But it’s something that’s all mine, and since it’s in my own writing, it’s uniquely mine. It belongs to me. It reminds me of something important: I’m put here to fix things that are broken, but that in the end, all of us are broken, and that includes me.
And bonus: It looks really damn cool.