Think Before You Ink: From Crayons To Needles, How My Obsession With Tattoos Brought My Body To Life

Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated with ink. Crayons. Coloring paints. Markers. Tattoos. Wait, hold up, tattoos? You’re damn right, tattoos! I had been exposed to tattoos at a young age through athletes, musicians and skateboarders. For some reason, I was always drawn to the ones that stood out. I didn’t want to be like everyone else. I wanted to stand out too. Just like I’m doing with my writing lately, I want to stand out.

I want to be heard and known. Seen and understood. Thought of and wondered about.

When it came to watching athletes, though, I liked the outspoken ones. The ones who carried a big stick, and whose bark was as loud as their bite. Growing up, Dennis Rodman was the original bad man. The wild hair, the tattoos, the physical play in the game of basketball; I liked that. He was among my favorites, despite me never liking his teams. I could respect his way of thinking and being. Just do you, work hard and you can do whatever you want. That’s what Dennis did. He did the dirty work. He was a defensive standout and rebounding savant.

Rodman

How bad ass was he? Well, he would lead the NBA in technical fouls every year. And rebounding. He would also go on to win 5 NBA championships, two with the Bad Boy Pistons of the late 80’s and three with the mid nineties, three peat, Chicago Bulls dynasties. It wasn’t just about the grit and grind playing style. It was how he did it, in spite of his looks. It was the multiple times dyed hair. It was the tattoos. It was everything.
That was the start of me playing with a chip on my shoulder. I didn’t take all of my motivation from just wanting to win. I took it from also trying to win my way. I wasn’t old enough to have tattoos, so I would dye my hair. I would grow it out and wear headbands when I played. I stood out, and was generally among the best on the court. My teams didn’t always win, but I’ll bet the opposition walked away wondering how a long haired punk outplayed them. Petty things like that mattered, as I allude to here as well, from my playing days: Hoop Dreams and a Final Shot.
I also did something that seemed foolish and just straight up ridiculous. I would marker my body as if I had tattoos. I just wanted them. I wanted to adorn my body with colors, designs, attractions. I wanted to stand out.
I was always an artist. I was always coloring, with crayons, pencils, anything. I could sculpt, I could draw, and I could create. I still remember being in art class and not only completing my projects, but doing so for a few friends because they wanted an A in the class. And so, I would, to do something else or just to fill the void of only having mine to do. I would even do this years later, in my mortuary class of Restorative Art, creating a few student’s modeled head appendages for money (Sorry Gabe, but a guy’s gotta eat). Model Head.jpg

My projects would always be showcased or used as examples in class, and then kept back home. My mom’s basement is full of all of my old projects, collecting dust. Once in awhile I go back home and look through everything, still being reminded of how I created something or what I did to portray the look on a canvas. I can even remember who was in what class or a few moments in time of laughter and just having all these ideas go through my head. I just wanted to create, and live in a world where my ideas were encouraged, not frowned upon.
As you could expect, growing up in a small, suburban town, that type of look or creativity didn’t fly. My dad hated the idea of tattoos and long hair on guys. He didn’t like piercings or anything that didn’t scream of a buzz cut topped with a white shirt and pants. I have literally never worn that look and never will (suit with white dress shirt notwithstanding). I actually mention this little bit here, as well: The Rockstar Mortician vs. The World.

Tattoo

Once I turned 18, I was free. I was able to do what I wanted with my body and look how I wanted. The hair dye kept flowing. The piercings grew. And now, finally, the tattoos could be had! I could get as many tattoos as I wanted and wherever I wanted. Only… tattoos cost money. Oops. That part I didn’t think about. So, naturally, I had to wait until I put some money away for my first one. I was unusually great with money in high school and before I headed of to college for the first time. I saved a ton and spent very little on unnecessary things.

Which is weird, because paying someone to color your body permanently is about as unnecessary as it gets, but I digress.

Not only did I have to save money up, but I also had to think of what I wanted to get tattooed on me! Suddenly, I was confused. I didn’t know what to think. All this time, waiting to be 18 and now I had no idea what I wanted to be put on my body forever. Strange things, indeed. Regardless, I was going to start getting tattoos.
I would finally settle on something that I have always had an interest in, Egyptian Art. Ancient, Egyptian hieroglyphics, to be specific. I would choose one that had meaning to me, once again pertaining to my first love, basketball. It all comes full circle with me, doesn’t it!?

The tattoo I had chosen stood for three things: POWER. FAMILY. FERTILITY.

Rasheed

My favorite basketball player, Rasheed Wallace had it on his arm as well. The man who would play with fire and such a passion that he reminded me just like Dennis Rodman before him. Except, with this tattoo, I wanted to go a step further and get it tatted by my own drawing. My own hands, creating this Egyptian meaning into my own life. My arm, my life, my curse. I would be branded forever.
I wanted the power to do what I wanted in life, and now I was given it, by virtue of turning 18 years old. I wanted my family to understand and know that they would ride with me forever. And fertility, well, I’m a dude with one thing on my mind back then, so that speaks for itself.
My and my friend, Matthew, went when he turned 18, so we could go together. It was going to be great. I was getting my Egyptian piece, and he would be getting his Irish cross. In case you are wondering, he is Irish. We would go to a local Tattoo Shop (Homeward Bound Tattoo), that had just been opened. We had no idea how to act, or talk or to convey what we wanted. We had seen tattoo shows and what they looked like on TV, but up close and personal, we just didn’t have an idea about what the process was REALLY like.
Getting tattooed is intimate. It’s painful. It gives you a sense of urgency. It also has you questioning what you are doing in life and with your body. Am I really about to get this skull tattooed on my leg? Am I really about to get this song lyric forever inked on my back? These are the normal reactions, and everyone goes through them.

That rush is what makes you come back for more: Every. Single. Time.

Homeward Bound

When we finished up our tats, we were in awe. They were so clean, fresh and just awesome. We couldn’t believe what we just did, at such a young age. And now, we would forever be linked. We both knew that would not be our first and only tattoo. Right then and there, Matthew and I knew that was only the beginning. We were addicted. And to think, before we would ink, would not be something I was about to do.
I would have a hundred ideas or things I wanted to get done, racing through my mind. Now that the first one was out of the way, I wanted to go full speed ahead. The only issue, once again, was money. And now, a new issue arose, my mom.
She was always the type who didn’t necessarily want me doing these types of things, but also knew she couldn’t change my mind or stop me. At this point, if I wanted to dye my hair red, and get a lip ring, it was happening. If I wanted to get R.I.P. (my homage to a wanted funeral directing career that would come 10 years later) tattooed on my right wrist, it was happening. The only thing that she would ingrain into my head, was placement.
I had to make sure that anything I got, was not offensive and did not show if I had to wear a dress shirt. I had to be able to clean up, for church, family gatherings and I knew back from that high school field trip, if I wanted to become a funeral director, I would have to hide them from families. I had to still be able to look respectable at the drop of a hat. And this was all fine with me.

I wasn’t about to get that teardrop tattoo by my eye and ruin any chance at doing the one thing I thought I could be great at.

So, no hand tattoos. No head tattoos. And anything else was fair game. And someday, it will all be filled. There will be no end in sight. Once you start getting tattoos, you can’t stop. At least that is how I feel. And once me and my friend got our first one, at that local shop, we remained loyal to that shop. From then on, every tattoo we would get, would be at that shop. Still, to this day, I have a ton of love, affinity and respect for that place. I just think the world of it and its artists.
I’ve gotten so many tattoos by now, and had so many different situations come up at that shop, that I want to share a few of my favorite ones with you: For Mom

My absolute favorite tattoo, is the one that took the longest (two separate sessions, at 6 hours each), hurt the most (it is on my chest after all) and has the most meaning (for my mom, of her, praying for me, as a snake, in the background). It signifies all the wrong I’ve done and how the one person who always stood by me, has always prayed for me and been my reason for getting through everything. Your classic mom tattoo, am I right?

Mermaid

Another one that has deep meaning to it is of a mermaid. Yes, I have a mermaid tattoo. It was drawn by my youngest sister, who, at the time, I said to her, “Whatever you draw, I will get tattooed!” So, she drew herself as a mermaid, and that’s exactly what I got.6114

I also have my funeral director’s license number, in front of a wooden coffin with my college fraternity skull logo tatted on me. That one, of course, is for the career in which no one can ever take from me. It’s all the hard times and years I put into becoming what I am today, and no matter what the future holds, at one point, I was doing exactly what I wanted to in life.
Along the way, I’ve gotten some music ones, from songs, and bands. I’ve gotten some videogame tattoos, and even a poker related one. I also have your usual “take on the world types;” money symbols, a graffiti styled YOLO and even, unfortunately, the words Young Money across my back shoulders. So it’s not all glamorous or meaningful.
Which brings up, the age old question of; “Do you have any you regret?” And sadly, I have a couple I sort of regret, only because I didn’t need to get it put on my body forever. But at the same time, that is what I loved or how I lived when I got that tattoo. It may have been a saying, or a band that I was obsessed with. And I still have what I have, so there’s no going back. If I did go back, I would still get tattoos, but maybe some would be placed differently, or I would have stuck with a certain theme on various parts of my body. I would have finished my left arm before starting on my right, or finished my entire front body before starting on my back, things like that.
So no, I do not regret getting my tattoos, in that sense, because they are who I am. Each tattoo tells a story, albeit a funny one or sad one. Every tattoo conveys a part of my life that I can’t get back or change, so why would a tattoo be any different? I can’t take my body with me when I die, just as you can’t take your physical possessions to the after life.

Our bodies are not for us. Our souls are what matter. And I know I have a good soul, with a good heart, and good intentions.

Life
My body does not define me. My words don’t even define me. What defines me are my actions, and how I react to situations in life. What I learn and what I teach. Tattoos will always have a stigma attached to them. My hope is that by telling you my version, that you can understand that judging a book by it’s cover, is not the way to go about life. The way to go is to live the way you want to live, by doing what makes you happy. If never getting a tattoo makes you happy, awesome. If getting tattoos until you’re 90 makes you happy, wonderful. I know what my choice is and where I will end up, eternally.
I got my first tattoo at age 18, and I’m now 32 years old. I don’t have a clue how many I have (I stopped counting at 30 something, and that was years ago). I don’t know what my next one will be or where it will be. The only thing I do know, is that I will never stop. My body is my temple, and my temple, is like my life; adorned with enthusiasm and creativity.
-Noah Watry
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