Things I Never Thought I’d Do: Part 1 of a Series

I Got a Tattoo

If it happened to me, people, it could happen to anybody. At the age of fifty, I got my first (and only) tattoo. Now, getting a first tattoo at that age may seem a bit silly, especially to fellow baby boomers, or, I don’t know, maybe to everybody. The age at which I decided to do this was not really even the surprising thing to me, though, when I step back and consider the whole enterprise. I am, after all, slow at many things in life, as I have stated here before. Getting a tattoo at all, at any age, was the real shocker. I nearly rendered my best friend speechless when I told him on the phone after my first appointment. My numerous siblings and in-laws, as I recall, lovingly hid or masked any negative reactions they might have had. Or perhaps it was just overwhelming shock, which I misread as loving acceptance. I was never a tattoo kind of guy, after all, and everybody who knew me knew it. Including me.

Nearly all my life, I never would have dreamed of getting a tattoo. I would have laughed in your face at the mere suggestion. The thought of me, mister quiet introverted nerd-geek of the highest order, even being seen in a tattoo shop, would have been enough to make me suspect that the fabric of space-time itself had begun to come apart due, perhaps, to a nearby black hole. Imagine Mr. Spock sitting in a tattoo shop looking through the artist’s portfolio of photos of just about every imaginable tattooed body part for ideas for his own ink. Raised eyebrow, anyone?

My attitude toward tattoos started to gradually change when I was about 48 years old. The timing was not incidental, as it happens. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but this time in my life was soon after my known world had collapsed in on itself (think aforementioned black-hole-sized collapse). Not my fictional world, which I’ve talked about here before, but my real one. That was my perspective on matters, anyway. Many things contributed to the planetary destruction, the clichéd perfect storm of events that can lead to personal tragedy. In my case, it was years of mysteriously declining health and accompanying misdiagnoses, which lead to problems with me holding onto jobs, thus leading to financial problems, thereby compounding growing problems with a marriage and a spouse I loved dearly, all of which precipitated episodes of severe depression like big thick globs of coffee-ground icing splattering over everything . . . I think you get the picture. It’s not an unfamiliar kind of story. I just never thought it would happen to me.

After all this, as you may now more easily understand, my attitude toward tattoos began to change.

I started to think about tattoos every once in while. I started to research them a little (the nerd part of me ever-present . . . I have a picture in my head right now of a gang of rough bikers walking into an internet café with their laptops to do some research before getting their marks). Then I started wanting one. It was an ancient way, but yet brand new for me, to express myself. I didn’t care so much anymore what other people would think about it. Only when I look back on it now do other words come to mind about what getting the tattoo may have meant to me – words such as empowering, cathartic, rebellious (against my previous self), even transformational. I don’t know that these are the best words to use to describe what I felt, but some mix of them may be close.

As I mentioned above, I told my best friend about my tattoo for the first time only after my first appointment at the tattoo shop. Yes, first appointment. Of several. I’m not talking about a little inconspicuous black outline tattoo of a broken heart on my ankle that I got over a lunch hour, or even a skull and crossbones on my shoulder or barbed wire inked around my upper arm. I’m talking big, bold, and colorful. I’m talking work of art. I had a message to send. And I defied anyone to scorn me for it.

Well, okay, it’s on my upper arm and mostly hidden most of the time, but I was sure sending a message to myself. And to those with whom I wanted to share it and to those who might get a glimpse of part of the message and ask to see the rest . . . well, I show it with pride.

I love my tattoo. Going on two years now since I first felt the needle, and I’ve never regretted it for a second. It’s a constant reminder to me, and a thing of beauty to me, something I carry with me everywhere. Something that I’ve purposely made an indelible part of me. And I won’t mind growing old with it, and I won’t care how faded it becomes or what it will look like on me when I’m ninety years old. I won’t mind taking it to my grave. All these things are not the unfortunate consequences that I neglected to consider when getting the tattoo. They are the reason for it.

Joe’s Tattoo


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  1. #1 by OracularSpectacular on October 15, 2011 - 4:44 AM

    That’s a beautiful tattoo.

    Every time I go on holiday I think “this time I’m going to get a tattoo”, but I haven’t been able to come up with one I love enough yet. The one I was closest to getting was a phoenix rising from the ashes to symbolise death, rebirth and eternity – I thought that was a nice theme. But then I told someone about it who responded “you’re getting a Harry Potter tattoo?” and that kind of killed it for me.


    • #2 by Joseph M Kurtenbach on October 15, 2011 - 6:01 AM

      Thank you, and thanks for commenting! Yes, deciding on an idea or design can be daunting, I think. And the more important or meaningful just having the tattoo itself is to a person, the more daunting it can feel. Kudos to you for giving your tattoo the consideration it deserves. In my case, after thinking about a totally different design around my wrist for a while, this design virtually popped into my head fully formed. I was momentarily inspired or lucky, one or the other.


  2. #3 by Joe McCarthy on October 15, 2011 - 6:31 PM

    Now that you have a “Tat”, are you too tough to hang around with me? You were always older then me and smarter then me to begin with and now you’re more of a bad#@% !! I choose to feel meek if challenged by you now. Don’t take away my bubble gum cigar tattooed bully,
    OK,,,after all of that talk’n smack, the Tat suits you well cousin.


    • #4 by Joseph M Kurtenbach on October 15, 2011 - 11:07 PM

      Thanks, Cuz. Don’t worry, I’ll never be tou — I mean, I’ll never be too tough for you to hang with me. Ooooh, bubble gum cigars…I can almost taste one right now. I wonder if they still make those. I kinda doubt it. Anyway, I wouldn’t take it away from you now without making sure it’s gluten-free first. Wouldn’t want to expend that energy if I couldn’t enjoy the fruits of it. Gotta conserve my bully energy these days.


  3. #5 by Martea on October 16, 2011 - 12:08 PM

    Who are you & what have you done with the Joe I use to know? Talk about a late bloomer. I regret not being around to witness it for myself, because seeing it with my own two eyes would have been a treat. I wasn’t sure this day would ever come and I couldn’t be happier for you. Enjoy every minute of your self discovery. I’m sure you’ve heard “it’s never too late”, you have a lot of catching up to do, your off to a great start.


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