Hi! I had my birthday last week! Did you remember? Did you send me a loving Facebook message that read HBD? Did I get a text from you with ample emoji? Or were you too wrapped up thinking about yourself and not celebrating that glorious day when my mother ever so delicately pressed me out from her puss?
My birthday is December 29, which is not the best date for a birthday if you’re hoping for a lot of undivided attention. There is just a lot going on with family, Christmas, New Years, and the whole world coming to an end thing. People are busy.
This year I had very little vision about how to best commemorate me. I usually prefer to hike a mountain so I can proudly stand at the top and yell, “Hey world, Ummmm what’s up? I kinda hope this year is better than last year or whatever? Thanks!” It’s a moment where I show a lot of personal strength and conviction.
Sadly for me, New England is currently experiencing the effects of climate change. I now live in the depths of the Tundra where we endure days on end of negative temperatures, warming ourselves in vats of animal fat cuddled next to a burning fire made from random, flammable, household objects in the living room. Wait a minute…. Maybe Trump is right after all? It’s colder than ever, so “global warming” is OBVIOULY a myth! PHEW!! Pass me the fossil fuels to mainline! Mama’s getting high tonight!
Because of this pesky weather we’re having where my friend got frost-bite sledding down a hill too fast, I decided that maybe I should get a tattoo on my birthday instead of braving the potential of gangrene. This tattoo idea was extra seductive because much like I have a family healer, tarot reader, and acupuncturist – I also have a family tattoo artist that will ink me up in my kitchen. Truly, the only way to get a tattoo is in your own home where you can relax, put your feet up, and smoke weed. Whoops I’m sorry. I meant, eat weed. Then smoke some later. Tattoos hurt.
This whole event got me thinking about why I get tattoos in the first place. Not everybody wants drawings drawn on their body. My mom tries to make me promise with each one that it will be my last, but her and I both know that’s ridiculous – especially when my next tattoo is going to be her face on my chest. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW MOM?!!!!
For me tattoos aren’t just about the image I’m printing on my skin, but more the emotional imprint made while marking that period in my life. Each tattoo is a stamp of a memory, a version of the Toni I was when I got it. When I stare at the pictures that have been pierced into me over the years, I am then transported back to that time. Who I was in that moment, what was going on with me, what I cared about, what I was working towards – the actual sensation of being Toni back then compared to the Toni I am now. These designs are a portal to my past. They provide significant access to those memories because I can tap into the feelings I felt as another human etched into my membranes with a needle. The right of passage the pain provided is a unique opportunity to time travel through my skin’s excursions.
So let’s go on the voyage of my personality through the stories of my tattoos!
1) Age 13: Toni’s best friend Bitty came over with a needle, thread, and some “Indian Ink.” Is that okay to say? It was just the brand of the ink at the time… I know it should’ve actually been called, “Native Americans who we mercilessly murdered through genocide” Ink. Bitty had given herself a tattoo of a sun, so Toni decided to get the moon to complement her friend’s. They went into the bathroom of Toni’s house and Bitty free-hand poked a crooked crescent moon into Toni’s ankle. This 13-year old Toni had not yet tried pot, and did not like boys. She ate a lot of steak and cheese subs after school, had yet to get her period, but was known to drink a glass of wine in the bubble bath with her friend’s from time to time. She wore Adidas sneakers and GAP jeans. This Toni’s greatest fear was that somehow her head would get detached from her body in a freak accident, and then she would only be a severed head people would be forced to carry around. Her favorite movie was “The Little Mermaid.”
2) Age 16: This Toni was living in Washington DC. She was going to summer school to please her parents and hopefully get her into a better collage. Toni was also working as a hostess at her grandfather’s restaurant, and ate a brownie sundae everyday after work. 16-year old Toni just got her heart broken, and was VERY depressed and HYPER emotional about it. She had two other boyfriends at school mind you – her official boyfriend and her secret boyfriend – but this 3rd boyfriend that didn’t go to Toni’s school was the one she was most in love with – mainly because he had a grey tooth that intrigued her. This boy broke up with Toni because he “didn’t see her enough” since he was in boarding school, and he also “wanted to hook up with other girls and not feel bad.” Retrospectively this makes sense, but also confused Toni because he could have been a cheating liar like 16-year old Toni, which for whatever reason, made more sense to Toni. Toni had never been dumped before and felt out of control. Toni cried a lot, but there was also this hot kid named Brad she would stare at during some class. Brad had invited Toni to go with him and some friends to get a tattoo in some guys’ kitchen that gave underage kids tattoos. He was sweet. That tattoo man, not Brad. Brad was a dick, which was why Toni liked him. When Toni was in the kitchen, she had no idea what to get so she called her dad. Toni’s dad was working on his computer, distracted, and told Toni to get Tinkerbelle. Toni complied, but when she came home to show her best friend Bitty her accomplishment, Bitty then informed Toni that Tinkerbelle’s dress was green not blue. Toni contorted her spine to look at the blue dress that was now permanently on her lower back and said, “Shit. I think you’re right.”
3) Age 18: Toni had just graduated high school and was moving in with that 3rd boyfriend that broke her heart! HA! GOTCHA PUNK! They got an apartment in Newport, Rhode Island and decided to get tattoos together. It’s humiliating to admit, but Toni and her boyfriend chose tribal band themes. (Note to reader: Please have compassion for this deep embarrassment. You must remember this was 1998 and when you’d get a tattoo back then, you’d have to either pick something from the wall, or peruse through a binder filled with images of Yosemeti Sam holding a hockey stick. There weren’t a lot of options for creativity). This Toni was excited for her future, independence, and trying to procure a fake ID. She had run a marathon, was an experienced weed smoker, had tried acid MORE THAN ONCE, and already outgrown rave culture. She was very mature and her favorite film was “Dumb and Dumber.”
4) Age 18: Toni was moving to Seattle to commit a year of her life to social service. She was going to do a program called City Year, and was ready to have meaning in her life through giving back to society. Toni felt an immense sadness for the state of the world and deeply craved personal purpose, yet she also wanted to do whatever her boyfriend wanted to do. This Toni decided to get a tattoo of a toe ring with her friend because she liked toe rings, but thought they were uncomfortable inside her sneakers.
5) Age 20: Toni was mourning the death of her best friend Bitty. She had died in car accident after Toni’s first year of college, and Toni was needless to say, devastated. Toni went with Bitty’s sister to get tattoos for Bitty. They each got the same sun that Bitty had tattooed on her ankle when they were kids. This Toni was entering into a state of grief and depression that would last for years to come.
6) Age 27: This Toni was really struggling. She had spent her 20’s fruitlessly trying to save the world from George W. Bush, and failing at starting a business. Toni had wanted to start an organic fast food restaurant that rivaled McDonald’s, but a variety of circumstances (mostly self inflicted) inhibited Toni’s dream. This Toni felt that her Tinkerbelle tattoo had become a self-fulfilling prophecy – that she’d spent her life and time sprinkling her fairy dust around, saving nothing for herself, and perpetually in love with man-boys that didn’t appreciate her. Toni decided to cover her Tinkerbelle tattoo to commemorate Bitty, who in the Chinese zodiac was the year of the monkey. Toni didn’t think of the irony of having a monkey on her back and still doesn’t thank you very much.
7) Age 28: Toni had just returned from living on bus for a year that ran on veggie-oil. She had traveled the country with that same 3rd boyfriend that had broken her heart, then put it back together, and then broke it a few more times. On that bus they did things like went to Burning Man because of course they did, and traveled up and down the California / Oregon coast. This Toni had come to reconcile the history of her being a failed female entrepreneur, and felt the soul searching done while living on a bus had changed her fundamentally. Toni was on a spiritual path of holistic healing because she had a brain tumor in her pituitary gland and was convinced she could heal herself holistically. Toni didn’t really know what the word holistic meant though, but holistically liked the sound of it. Toni decided she wanted to get the “tree of life” tattooed on her inner arm. The tattoo man drew a tree and Toni didn’t like it. He drew another tree and Toni didn’t like it. The tattoo man then looked Toni in the eyes and said, “Draw your own fucking tattoo.” Toni did. She liked it.
8) Age 29: Toni had just completed a 10-day silent meditation retreat. She was in a state of rewiring her brain, and shedding the skin of who she thought she was. Toni decided to get a tattoo at the same parlor that gave Bitty her underage tattoo when they were 16. (Bitty was very jealous of Toni’s Tinkerbelle, and the only way to rectify this trauma was to find a man at “Mom’s Tattoos” that would pretend it was reasonable that Toni and Bitty “forgot our ID’s at home”). Toni went to Mom’s and got a lotus flower on the front of her heart, and on the back. It was the only tattoo Toni ever got that didn’t hurt.
9) Age 35: Toni was in a bad place. There was drama with her family, she felt like her life was meaningless, and nothing she ever tried to do professionally had ever materialized the way she wanted. But she had her kid!! So that was cool, especially because Toni was told she could never have kids due to her brain tumor. Also, said kid was pretty cool and Toni liked her. Toni decided it was time to cover up her tribal band because holy shit how did she live with that for so long? THE SHAME! The family tattoo man came to Toni’s kitchen the evening of Thanksgiving to do the cover up. Toni wasn’t sure what she wanted to get, and suggested it has something to do with trees as she herself was smoking trees. The tattoo man decided it might be easier to do the cover up if he just drew on Toni’s leg with the tattoo gun. Toni agreed that this was the best idea and two hours later Toni had an epic motif of trees around her ankle. Then Toni took another hit of weed and realized, “Oh wait, I totally forgot. I already have a tattoo of a tree” and lifted the sleeve of her shirt to reveal her arm. Toni and the tattoo man had a good laugh.
10) Age 37: Toni realized that her daughter drew the exact same spiral-heart shape design that Toni used to draw as a kid. Toni had her daughter’s spiral-heart tattooed precisely as her daughter drew it on her arm because Toni loved the shit out of that kid that reminded her so much of herself.
Here I am getting my 38th year tattoo… and obvi being a role model for The Munch. If you’re wondering what I got, it’s the constellation “cancer” and a moon for my moon child – the light of my life, and the person who makes me make her sandwiches.