I run from Happy Yoga down my Happy, bougainvillea carpeted path. Because this is the day I am getting my Bali spirit tattoo. At Ubud Nesia, in the Penestanan artists village where we are staying. I have interviewed the artists and seen their work. I know it it theirs, because there is a picture of an arm with a sick skull tat, and then there is a picture of them standing next to the whole actual real person attached to the arm. I have seen their cleaning machines, their supply of brand new needles, their certification from the department of health. Or whatever the equivalent. And I have ok’ed the idea with Surya, who approves. He won’t let us buy coffee unless it has been carefully selected and less carefully pooped out by a wild mountain cat. He certainly wouldn’t let me endanger my self and well being. (You maybe don’t think that follows, but it does…)
How did I find Ubud Nesia Tattoo? We were doing a walking tour of the Penestanan row shops. Which took like five minutes, really because the shops were the two blocks adjacent to our hotel. Kathleen, walking in front of me, points left and says, “Tattoo!” We have already discussed that it is a part of my master plan. Ok. Not really master. But yes, plan. And there it is. Unyil has listened to my story, and probably understands about a third of it. But the important part is not for him to understand it, but for him to draw it. And yeah. They are both like twelve as so many people are starting to look these days, and I wonder if he is earning an ‘A’ in coloring inside the lines. He says he’s been doing it for nine years. As I do numbers for a living, I quickly deduce that he must have begun as a three year old tattoo artist prodigy. Interesting. But I explain it, and he draws it, and it is beautiful. I love it.
It was originally for one of them. One of my spirit guides, a memorial for the one I have recently lost. It was going to be one flower, on my breast. The most beautiful flower I found in Bali. To commemorate the ones we had talked about doing on hers, to cover the violent scars of her double mastectomy. Now it is a bouquet, a picture of them all. Gunilla- the Lotus, Mary O-the Frangiapani, and Aunt Dons- the Bird of Paradise. Now it is not a memorial, but a tribute. An offering, perhaps. To thank them for their contribution to what is turning out to be me. I know it will take three hours. I know that it will hurt. But not as much as Cancer.
I wonder how this will be done modestly, as part of the tattoo will kiss my left breast. Yeah. It won’t be. Soon I am standing bare-breasted with two twelve year old male tattoo artists. In Ubud. Bali. Indonesia. And this is not a problem at all. You see, in Bali, breasts are not really erotic. I know, I don’t really get it either and I wouldn’t pay $1000 rupiah for the theory (that’s like less than a cent). But Surya says so, and there are statues with bare boobs everywhere, and you drive over bridges and people are bathing naked in the rivers, so maybe the prolific availability of so many bare breasts over time eventually kills the buzz? Can’t imagine. But I digress. So I’m there, shirtless, bare, laying on a table in a spotless white room. I’m glad there is a purple hospital pillow on my table, because I’m going to be here for a while. Maybe I can nap.
I hear the dental drill buzz of the pen, and I grit my teeth. Here we go. If you can control your breath, you can control your mind, I hear the Dragonfly say, as the pen (pen?) starts to rip up my soft, smooth, unblemished, baby like (:)) flesh, right underneath my rib. Pranayama. Could I really use it to control the silent yet horrifically deafening screaming that is going on in my brain? I remain skeptical, as I remember Lamaze breathing, and frankly found it to be pretty much bullshit. Well, I’m going to need to do something for the next three hours, and it is clear to me at this point that it is not going to be napping.
I look down the curve of my body, at the purple stenciled outline of the image that will be etched permanently into my skin. It is a big old mess. For a minute I wonder how they will make it beautiful, and what the hell I am thinking. I am contorted, rolled on my right side- right arm down, left side up, with each area of concentration moving and positioning slowly in a one woman game of sadomasochistic Twister. I can’t move. I can’t writhe in the agony of my own choice. Or scream- that would be bad form. I remember that I paid pretty good rupiah for this pleasure. So I must Breathe. Pranayama.
Deeply, says the Dragonfly, Deeply into the pose. Deeply into the pain, I think. I inhale into the raw cutting piercing sting of the needle- through my nose, into my chest, deeper into my core. My breath rises with the pain, like a wave cresting with foam, the movement and momentum keeping it from sinking below the surface. I exhale as he refills the ink, and deposit it on the shore. It fucking hurts. But not as much as Cancer.
This is my mantra, for the next three hours. But not as much as cancer. In my mind, in a controlled thought (see?) I see Gunilla. Baring her arm for a blood draw/platelet count, her arms riddled with bruises and needle punctures, her veins so worked that sometimes it takes five, six tries with the tiniest needle they have to get a good draw. Stick. Can’t do the left side anymore, let’s try the right. Stick. Doesn’t look good, I’m so sorry. Face like a stoic, voice good-natured, she offers her wrist. Stick. And then (controlled) I envision the holes in her back, where the tubes go in to drain her lungs. Weekly. I see the liters of fluid that come out of each lung, each week so that she can breathe at all without the crushing weight of the fluid which she will later take pictures of to show us, describing what is not-so-slowly killing her as a brewer would describe a beer. This week-light, more a honey ale. Another week- dark and robust, a full bodied blend. Breathe. I tell myself. I see her distended, ‘pregnant’ stomach, full of yet more fluid that also now needs to be drained weekly. I hear the woman ask her when she is due, and I hear her reply, a few more months.
I think of Aunt Donna, her own struggle with the breast cancer that will take her life as well. Aunt Donna’s struggle has been so silent to me, and yet I feel it now. This tattoo shit is a fucking piece of cake. “Do you want to take a break?” Tino keeps asking. No. I’m good. Do your worst, I think. Nothing you can do to me with that pen can compare. In the grand scheme of the art of pain, this is just a paint by number.
“You are strong,” he says. No. They are strong. I’ve never had to be, really. If we’re being honest, we are about two and a half hours in, and I am losing my mind control. Literally both my mind and my control. I am gripping the pillow, gritting my teeth, gripping Tino’s arm. I am relieved, of course when he says we’re almost done, and we just have to add the white. I might have wimped out and needed a break, if he hadn’t said that. He was going over the open wounds with color, it was raw, sore, stinging, burning. It fucking hurt like a rabid, crazy feral evil vengeful Bitch. At that point. But. Not as much…