Saturday, April 16, 2011

The girl with the golden gate bridge tattoo

We contemplated leaving San Francisco for a career move a few years ago. Faced with the prospect of leaving my beloved city, I decided that should I leave I would get a tattoo representing it somewhere on my body. Though we ultimately ended up staying here, the idea of making my city a permanent part of me remained. Years passed, San Francisco remained my beautiful home, but I never found the time to actually get the tattoo.

Every now and again I would catch a glimpse of skyline in my rear view mirror, a picture postcard on a taqueria wall or a cityscape screen print on a T shirt, and a tattoo started to take shape in my mind. I began to look at my body in the mirror and think about where best to put it. I like the way my body looks. Like most women, I haven't always felt this way about my face or figure but after having two children and approaching forty I developed a new appreciation for my compact, slightly sturdy yet pleasantly curvy frame. A tattoo felt to me like a stamp of approval. An outward expression of the way I feel on the inside. A gift from me to my body that says "you and I have been through a lot, and I like you". After all, at forty years old the worst that can happen is that I may really regret it when I'm eighty. Maybe I'll get some funny looks in the nursing home.  Maybe I'll struggle to find one that admits tattooed octagenarians. Of course my parents might be a bit baffled by my decision, but given that I have a PhD, a fine husband and two lovely kids, I think they will forgive me.

I've always been the good girl type, but I secretly wanted to be a wild child. I did very well in school and in university. I wasn't the kind of teen who got into any kind of trouble. I even went to church every Sunday when I lived with my parents. I have smoked about four cigarettes in my entire life. (I have had quite a lot more alcoholic drinks though!) Still, ordinary as I was, I always loved to create original outfits from second hand clothes, and tried to look interesting without being brave enough to deliberately cross over the fine line into freakish.  For a while in my mid twenties I had a striking platinum streak in my long, straight hair, and had my navel pierced with a sparkly stone. Hardly exotic in San Francisco, or even in England in the 1990's, but it was the "look" I liked the best of any that I have had, and is still the way I see myself in my minds eye.

If I actually look at myself objectively now I am a tidy, respectable looking woman who favours conservative pant suits or plain jeans and T's. Work doesn't give me much opportunity to show my personality in my outfits. I gave my short leather skirts to Goodwill sometime ago. Feeling the need to get back a bit of the girl I used to be, I decided last year that I would commemorate my midlife crisis 40th birthday by finally getting that tattoo, and thereby putting some of that inner freak back on the outside.

I've talked before about the wonderful parent community we have here in our neighborhood, and how useful its email group is. So, much as if I needed a plumber, accountant or jewelry repair recommendation, last fall I posted an "off topic" request to the group asking for tattoo artist recommendations and I got several glowing referrals. Our parent community is truly an amazing resource.

Getting a tattoo is traditionally thought of as a spontaneous, madcap decision. The result of too much tequila and a bad dare. I treated it more like choosing a wedding dress designer or buying a house. I did extensive internet research, met with artists, and eventually I made an appointment. The artist I selected was so sought after that the appointment was eight months in the future. Finally, last night, six months after my actual birthday "T day" rolled around.

My dear friend Stan, companion on so many San Francisco adventures, came along with me for this one. Way out by the beach in a quiet, bohemian neighborhood that smelled of coffee and of the Pacific Ocean I finally sealed my love affair with the city in ink.

When I returned to my car, sore and saran-wrapped I turned on the radio. The song "Save me San Francisco" by Train came on. I love this song, and in the warm endorphin haze created by the past two and a half hours of needling, I realized that San Francisco has saved me. I'm not sure what from, exactly, but when I think of all the other lives I could have lived and all the fates I didn't meet I'm pretty sure that by coming to San Francisco I sealed for myself the very best of them all.

And now, with my love for the city written across my body, If I ever wash up on a boat with complete amnesia, a la Jason Bourne, my rescuers will at least know where I should be returned to.

If you want to see the result, go here.