While in India, I stared at the Sanskrit symbol of the Om hanging on the wall behind my teacher as he would teach philosophy from the front of the room. I found myself daydreaming more often than not with a pen to skin and drawing that same symbol – on my foot, on my ankle, on the pages of my notebook. I learned that tattoos below the waist is considered dirty and disrespectful in Hinduism. Therefore, those drawings on my foot and ankle were null and void. But by the time I left India and headed back to Chile, I knew what the tattoo was going to be; I knew the color; And somehow, I finally knew where.
There is a legend that people wear their wedding bands on their left hands because of a vein that goes from the left ring finger all the way to the heart. So after all that self discovery inside an ashram in Northern Central India, and seeing that I saw my wrists every time I did tree pose, the pose that you ground down and root into the earth and what you came from as you reach up into the sky, the unknown and the future. I would put my hands above my head and look up, I would first see my wrists, then onto my fingers and beyond into the possible. I knew my left wrist was the best place to get it. My heart and I had a connection like never before after my time at the yoga school, I wanted a symbol that I would get on my body for the rest of my life to symbolize that very connection. The heart chakra, I learned, has a color green assigned to it. Though the symbol of the Om is not the symbol of the heart chakra, it was the om, the universe, that I saw come alive in my heart. Only naturally, would I color it green.
A few months after moving back home to Chile and through a broken heart after a sad breakup, I found my groove again in going out with friends. One night at a party at a house of who’s I did not know, I stood in the kitchen talking tattoos with people I had met only hours earlier. Turns out, the guy with a full set of “sleeves” was the owner of the house, who grew up in Brooklyn but got the majority of his ink done right there in Santiago. I mentioned I wanted to get my first one and he offered to hook me up whenever I was ready.
2 weeks later, I got his number from our mutual friend and sent him a text. He responded immediately and made an appointment for me, saying he would meet me at the metro station on Thursday and take me there. It seemed surreal, I was nervous, but the universe said I was ready.
A few days later, at the Manuel Montt and Providencia Metro Station, this new acquaintance greeted me with a big smile and a kind hug. His exact words were “There are two guys that work here. I made your appointment with the guy who has the most attention to detail.” I mean, could you ask for a more gentlemanly gesture in getting your first tattoo?
We walked into this tiny two roomed dimly lit parlor and I admit, I hesitated, my heart was pounding, who knew I would be so nervous. But alas, I trusted this was the right place to go and the right time to do it. I was introduced to the two artists, noticing one barely before noticing a very distinct feature in the other. I thought, tell me it is the guy on the left, because I cannot stop looking at the guy on the right’s what once was his eye. No patch, no glass eye, it was the eye that no longer was. It was hard not to look and as you can imagine, it was hard to see. And that’s when my new acquaintance reassured me that the guy on the right, the one with the one functioning eye and the one deflated one, was going to do my ink. “He has the most attention to detail” kept going through my head.
Thankfully, I learned that artists first draw what they are about to needle into your skin to make sure it is what you want and where you want it. I brought a picture, the exact one from the Ashram with me, so he would get it just right. I picked out the green I wanted and I held my breath. We argued a bit on how artistic it would be as I wanted simple, classic, and flat. He wanted it 3D, bold, with a thick outline. We settled on what I want, because truth be told, I didn’t care about his opinion and if he thought I was boring. Let me tell you that one eye was great for detail, but where he faltered was depth perception. 4 different times I had him redraw it, to get it more centered, at one point I put my hand on his shoulder and gently leaned him to his right to be more aligned with placement.
As he was about to get started, my new acquaintance lifts his shirt to show off the artwork currently being done on him. The entire skyline of Trinidad and Tobago covered his whole torso. I then learned he was born there and he wanted to show it off. I remember thinking if he ever decided to have the excess skin removed from his recent weight loss journey, he was losing either Trinidad or Tobago. But the work was stunning and detailed and I felt comfort in seeing it.
Much to my surprise, he puts his shirt back down and opens his bag to pull out a bag of weed to hand to the artist. My eyes got huge as I looked up at him. I now learned that my new home owning, executive, fully tatted acquaintance was also a grower and dealer in Santiago. I also learned that I am really, really naïve and trusting. I declined the offer for my own bag and asked that the artist hang back for a minute before smoking it. I wanted this sacred symbol needled on to my arm with purity and complete sobriety.
15 minutes later, after they piled into a broom closet to pass around a celebratory, freshly grown joint, I paid my sixty-thousand luca (roughly thirty USD) and I looked at my saran wrapped wrist with pride and a huge smile on my face. I walked across the street and met some friends at a pub, feeling more settled into my adulting, even after living abroad, owning a house, traveling the world and paying all my own bills since graduating from college 15 years prior. I think it was because I did something I knew my parents wouldn’t like, but I didn’t have to ask their permission anymore nor risk getting grounded for it too.
Plus I was living abroad, what could they do. Until the few days leading up to moving home, I started to worry. What would they do?
A few days after getting back to Texas and settling in at my parents house, so far it had gone unnoticed. Then my sister facetimed me and while my mother was in the room with me but not in camera shot, my sister asked the very loud question “did mom and dad see your tattoo yet?”. I looked up, over the iPad at my mom who looked up from petting the dog and said just as loudly back “Tattoo! What tattoo?”. Thanks sis. But to my surprise, my mother asked me questions. What did it mean? When did I get it? Why did I decide where, and what and that color? And then she just shrugged and offered me lunch. Well that was unexpected, I guess the real wrath will come from dad.
Later that day, I had borrowed his truck and he asked that I pick him up from work. As you can imagine, he was sitting to my right and my left hand on the steering wheel, I did what I could to avoid it being seen. But then, just as I was turning a corner, he looked, “what’s that on your wrist?”. I smiled and said, “oh it’s just a little color” and he said “Oh, one of those henna tattoos?”. I had forgotten I got one of those in college too. He about dropped a heavy pan on my foot when he saw it out of shock. I said “well, it lasts a little longer than that” and my father said to me, “well, it’s your body”.
I spent some sleepless nights leading up to coming home, because I wasn’t sure if he would find my choice repulsive or if he would say hurtful things because of it. This man who loves me unconditionally, has conditions about his idea of etiquette and what is considered ladylike behavior. Of course he wouldn’t be shocked that his daughter who belches like his fellow Navy sailors, who once got her eyebrow pierced and skipped off to India for 5 weeks would get ink. He was proud of me, and all I had done on my own in my life, a little bit of permanent color wasn’t going to erase that. Plus, they did a pretty good job raising me, so much so that my real rebelion years didn’t start until I was financially independent.
A few years later, my father took some inspiration from my ink and made me a beautiful table with the image inlaid