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To the World, It's Just a Really Bad Tattoo

To me, it symbolizes the end of my abusive relationship.

I had $120 left in my bank account when I broke up with him.  

My neck felt sore, I felt weak, and I guess I just really needed a nap.

It was summer time and I was wearing a long sleeve shirt because there were bruises on my arms.  It was about ten AM and it was already hot outside. I had been awake since seven o'clock. It was a Tuesday morning.

I went to five tattoo parlors that morning and asked each one of them how much their cheapest design was, and if they could start right away.  

I was basically laughed out of four tattoo parlors before I made it to the fifth one. I either needed to put down a deposit or I needed have an appointment, or they just didn't want to waste their time.

When I finally made it to the fifth place, I was on the verge of crying.  I walked into the tattoo shop, and a guy looked up at me from his desk in the back.  

"How can I help you?" he asked as he looked back down at his work. He was a young, muscular guy, covered in colorful tattoos. He wore thick framed glasses, and his jet-black hair was slicked back. There was a guy getting tattooed by another artist right next to him, 

"I need a tattoo today, and I just need something really simple. I don't want to pay too much for it, but I do need something."

The people in the tattoo parlor looked at me, snickered to themselves, and shook their heads. I carried the judgment and embarrassment on my shoulders and I just wanted to leave. My face turned red, and I was already mentally prepared to walk back to my car and find another tattoo shop.

"You need a tattoo?" He laughed. "Right now? Why are you in such a hurry?"

I wanted to tell him that I needed a tattoo because I saw my abusive ex-boyfriend two hours ago and that I barely escaped with my life.  

I wanted to tell him that my ex-boyfriend was covered in tattoos, and he told me that I would never be desirable to anyone if I ever marked my skin.

I wanted to tell him that I desperately needed this tattoo, because it was something I needed to do for myself.  I wanted to be marked so my ex-boyfriend would never want me again.

I wanted to tell him all this, but instead, I could just feel my eyes welling up with tears, and I couldn't get the words out.  I just stood there in a tattoo parlor, 20 years old, trying not to cry.

He looked at me and walked over to where all the designs were displayed and pointed to an infinity sign.  

"This one is really popular these days. I can add some birds or flowers or some shit. 60 bucks. Just let me know if you want it or not. I can start as soon as I'm done sketching it out."

"I'll take it," I said.

I pulled $80 out of the ATM and sat down in the waiting area, thinking about the fact that all I had left in the world was $40. He came up to me with the sketch when he was done and he asked me if I liked the three birds he added.  

"They're great," I said.

He gestured for me to sit in the chair next to him. I put down my things and thought about where I wanted my tattoo. I couldn't get anything on my arms because he would see the bruises, and then I would have to explain myself. I didn't want anything on my legs, so I decided to get it on my lower hip, where I could hide it.  

I was always hiding things on my body.

I showed him the placement and he asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this.  

"I'm sure," I exhaled.  I closed my eyes. I knew this was the right decision.

"Have you ever been tattooed before?" he asked me.

"Never. This is my first time."

"Awesome. Have you ever been stung by a bee?" he asked.

"Yeah, once, when I was in the second grade," I said.

"Okay, well, it's kinda like that, only like ten times worse."

"I'm ready," I said.

He got to work, and he was right.  It was like getting stung by a bee, only I was getting this done on purpose, and I was paying for it. I was trying hard to breathe, and he told me to just relax. I guess he could tell I was nervous by the way I was gripping the sides of the chair I was in.  My knuckles were turning white and my eyes were shut.

"Why are you getting this done again? Most people come in with at least a rough sketch or something. Or they show me something from the internet. I've never had anyone come in with a request like yours."

I wanted to tell him that I snuck into my ex-boyfriend's house that morning while I thought he was at work so I could collect the rest of my belongings, but I didn't know he had called in sick right before his shift and that he would be home when I got there. I wanted to tell him that he grabbed me by the throat and shoved me down a flight of stairs after I told him I was just there for my stuff. He took my keys and drove off with my car while I was in a pile on the floor, and all I could think about was how my wallet was in the passenger's seat as he drove away, and so was my cell phone; how I knew he was going to take all of my money, and how he was going to read all of my messages that I had been sending to friends and family, many of whom he didn't let me to talk to when we were dating.  I knew when he came back that it was going to be ugly.

I kept my eyes shut tight and lied to my tattoo artist about how my friends bet me that I would never get a tattoo. I told him that they thought I was too weak to handle something like this.

"Well, I guess you showed them," he said as he carved a tiny bird into my skin.

"Yeah, I guess," I said.

I inhaled sharply and gripped the sides of my chair just a little bit harder as he was forming the curve of the infinity sign with his tattoo gun.

"Yeah, I could tell that part hurt," he said.  He lowered his voice a little and said, "That part hurts so badly because that's where your stretch marks are."

What he didn't know was that I had lost almost 20 pounds when I was with my ex-boyfriend. My ex-boyfriend told me that no one would ever love me if I gained any more weight.  He told me that girls like me could only weigh 110 pounds max, or else everyone would just think I was overweight. He told me makeup made me uglier, and he wanted to know who I was trying to impress if I put on eyeshadow for my shift at Victoria's Secret. I wanted to tell my tattoo artist that my ex-boyfriend would take money from me so he could buy weed, and that he would leave me with $20 for the week, so I couldn't really afford to eat all the time.  

I was in the best shape of my life, but it hurt when the needle dug into my stretch marks.

We sat there in silence for a while until my tattoo artist started telling me about his cat. I guess he could tell I was uncomfortable, so he was just doing the best he could to put my mind at ease. 

When my tattoo was finally done, I stood up and looked at it in the mirror. A crooked infinity sign with three little birds right above it, that I was pretty sure would become disfigured as I got older.  I didn't mind though. Like I had told him in the beginning, I just needed something, and he was the only person who could give me what I needed, when I needed it the most.

"How do you like it?"

"I love it," I said as I glanced at him through the mirror. I was lying through my teeth, but there was nothing I could do to change that.

He put a bandage over my tattoo, which was bleeding pretty heavily. I was fairly certain that it was going to bleed through the bandage, and then through my shorts. He said the blood was normal.

"Alrighty, well, that'll be $60."

I handed him $80, thanked him, and walked to my car. It was hard to sit down and drive without my hip being in pain, but I made it home eventually.  My mom and dad were already at work, and my younger brother and sister were at school, and I just sat down on my couch and cried.

I cried because blood had soaked through my bandage and I knew that wasn't normal. I cried because I was covered in bruises and I had to cover myself strategically every day so no one would ask questions. I cried because I had $40 left, and because I had spent $80 on a crooked tattoo that was probably going to get infected. 

Eventually, I stopped crying, because I realized that I had survived.

I had survived my ex-boyfriend trying to run me over that same morning as I sat on the curb waiting for him to come back, all because I wanted to get the rest of my clothes from his house. I had survived being with a monster, and thanked my lucky stars that I had escaped with my life at the end of it all.  

Four years later, I am still standing.

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To the World, It's Just a Really Bad Tattoo
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