Reprinted from ELLE Canada
By Amber Nasrulla
I’ve seen exquisite tattoos. The vertical trails of a Buddhist incantation etched in Khmer on Angelina Jolie’s left shoulder blade rank high as does the treble clef on Rihanna’s right foot. My tattoo is a horror.
My sweet husband says it resembles a USDA stamp (but not as elegant). The kind you see on Prime Grade-A slabs of beef. It wasn’t supposed to be that way.
In the summer of 1995, I was working at The Globe and Mail, had a decent salary, great friends, and a funky apartment. Life was sweetness.
One afternoon a friend and I wandered into a tattoo parlour on Queen St. West in Toronto. The dude behind the counter had blonde dreadlocks and was smoking a joint. We had two choices a) share the joint or b) leave. We eschewed those options and asked him to ink us. He did and smoked up the entire time. My friend selected a magenta-and-emerald green lotus from a stencil catalogue and he tattooed the flower on her back.
I flipped through books and magazines and looked at the customer photos on the walls. There were dragons on backs, Chinese characters on wrists, and Haida whales on ankles. No patterns appealed to me.
Then, I had a Da Vinci moment and sketched azaadi or “freedom”, in Urdu script. I speak Urdu but it’s not my first language so my penmanship is at a Grade 2 level.
The pothead jackhammered the fleshiest part of my left arm just below the shoulder. I wanted swirls. When he was done, my freedom tattoo was trapped in a circle of red and black flames and not by the lustrous Moorish flourishes I’d envisioned.
I hated it immediately. At home I scrubbed the tattoo with a Brillo pad. It bled. One week and many tubes of Polysporin later, I pulled the bandages off and looked through my fingers into the mirror. The wretched tattoo was still there.
It’s one of the worst things I’ve done to my body. (Eating bricks of Lindt chocolate doesn’t count.) First, getting the tattoo done by a stoner, and second, the utter lack of design.
In 2002, I went to the laser clinic at Women’s College Hospital. Doctors use lasers for hair removal, to remove port wine stains (visualize Gorbachev’s stately stained forehead), and other cosmetic procedures.
I paid $100 for the tattoo and in the last seven years have spent more than $3,000 trying to get it to disappear. It still hasn’t faded completely. I suffered a second-degree burn during a recent treatment. Apparently the skin on my upper arm is very sensitive now. Seven years of laser will do that.
I want to go on a national speaking tour to educate young women. It’d be dramatic: “If you think it’s cool to get a tattoo on your coccyx, jog into the future. You’re in labour with your first child. You need an epidural. You’re freaking out as the needle goes through your tattoo and into your spinal canal. Oh, and if you ever need an MRI your tattoo could sizzle if it’s made of dyes that contain magnetic metal.”
Sometimes I have a glamour fantasy. I’m sitting at LA Ink with my artfully tousled hair flowing over my shoulders as Kat Von D creates an extravagant tattoo that completely covers the USDA stamp. Reason slaps me awake.
The writing in my tattoo is gone but a shadow of flames remains. It is a mistake that will stay on my Prime Grade-A skin for a lifetime. And leave me gazing with envy at the exquisite tattoos on others.