My grandmother started to ask me which pieces of jewelry of hers I liked. I am not a big jewelry wearer. I removed most of my piercing a couple years ago, mostly out of utilitarian purpose. I find jewelry beautiful yet cumbersome. Jewelry also has this interesting status of financial investment and emotional heirloom. As my grandmother kept naming off her different pieces and respective prices of each, I looked at what she was wearing¦a simple necklace and wedding ring. It’s what reminds me of her. The rest of the stuff she keeps locked away; some of it was stolen last year when their house was broken into, and the rest is still in dusty boxes.
I started my second tattoo last week\’a small portion of a very large back and full sleeve piece that I’ve been planning it for the last two years. Twelve different flowers from hip to wrist, a game, a month, a birthday, a loved one\’interconnected across flesh, referencing a tradition that my family has passed down and continues to play at drunken holiday gatherings. Four and a half hours of outlining; starting at my left hip, moving up to my right shoulder blade. This was the first of at least six sessions, up to two years of one-a-month sessions. I think of my grandmother’s pearls, which have appreciated to about the one-third of the value this piece will cost me; perhaps a bit less. It’s an investment, an aesthetic modification to my body, however it is proving to be a bit more complex.
My tattoo artist is intensely precise. She moves a like a hawk, deftly kiting then striking its prey. I appreciate her light hand as she works from bottom to top. It takes a moment to acclimatize to the buzz, then sting, of the needle. Most experience the nice whirl of adrenaline that eases the needle’s repetitive punctures. The insulated adrenaline blanket makes the first two hours tolerable, sometimes even pleasurable. I watch her hand move with my eyes closed, the stroke of each petal, my wife’s torturously intricate blossoms etched across my spine, my lovers leaves stretched across my neck, the delicate petals of my iris wrapping around the bones in my elbow.
My brow furrows and eyes squint as she moves on to the tender inner flesh of the inside crook of my arm. She digs in, wrapping the ink from soft inside to the meatier outside of my forearm and my eyes go from squinted to upward rolling. In that three-inch stroke, something wonderful happened. Perhaps the second wave of adrenaline finally kicked in, or she hit some magical nerve bundle, but this was different than the initial, typical high after the hour mark. The endorphins had worn off. I was grimacing with small knee jerk responses. The repetitive sting ceased for a couple of seconds, culminating into an unexpected buzz-induced smile.
I remember my first, formal, BDSM experience in a dimly lit club in London. It was relatively early. People were mostly displaying their wears, but not using them. I was extremely shy and new to everything, which is probably what drew the seemingly sweet couple to me. She asked me if I was corruptible. I nodded my head and followed her to the standard crucifix. We discussed that I was new and she asked me what I might be interested in. My back, riding crop, and flogger all came up. Her and her partner stood me in front of the cross. I removed my shirt and held on to the ropes on both ends of the plank.
They started off slow and melodic, taking turns with the flogger. It was like a warm massage that worked the fleshy part of my shoulders. Progressively, the tempo increased. Strikes became more frequent. They checked on me. Instructed me to breath deeply. I focused on my breath, moving deeper into the warmth of my shoulders. My knees gave out. I didn’t notice that they were shaking. They sat me on a chair. I continued to hold on to the ropes. They switched from flogger to a crop then wet bare hands. My arms were shaking.
There comes a point where the endorphin-padded threshold breaks and every stroke, repetition of the needle, sounds, breath becomes incredibly jarring. The results are a jerk, a spasm traveling down the base of the skull to the tips of the toes. I call it my breaking point. This is where my teeth meet and grind, nostrils flare, eyes water and nails dig into palm flesh. This is when I tell my tattoo artist to stop because I am afraid my twitching will fuck up her work.
Sometimes I break. When there’s an unrelenting slap across my face, knuckles dug into fresh bruises, teeth buried deep into my chest with small rivulets of spit, sweat and blood¦I let go. That breaking point splits right open. These are the some of the few moments where I cry in a mixture of pure rage and surrender. Lying there motionless with a blissful smile and gritted teeth. My brain is no longer spinning with thoughts of project deadlines, bills that need to be paid, dates and numbers. I try to remember to breath deeply, watching sharp vivid colors trace against the backs of my eyelids. Usually, I see yellows and reds and in rare cases greens. I am staring intently at the back of my mothers couch, light blue with orange floral pattern. The teeth are removed from my skin, the thumb has relieved pressure from my bruised sternum, and the last stroke has been made. I open my eyes again.
“Are you Okay?
“I am perfect.
My present moment experience has now become embossed into purple splotches across my ass, face and chest, dark lines across my arm and back, a swollen smile. When I look in the mirror through a slightly bruised eye, I remember that and who I am. Here is a body; an ephemeral vessel that can be broken.