I’m calling this post Tattoo Journey, with apologies to the Lummi Tribe, whose Canoe Journey is big news in my neck of the woods these days.
Most of you know how I came to be a person with an invisible disability. Almost 9 years ago, I was hit by a car while riding my bike. I had 15 fractures—all 9 ribs on the left side, my skull, 3 spinal fractures, my scapula, and my left humerus (upper arm bone) was shattered so badly, they just vacuumed out the chips and connected the ends with a metal rod. To do that, they had to separate my bicep (much like one sections an orange) and insert the rod through the opening. The resulting scar healed as a keloid—a raised scar with an overgrowth of scar tissue. It’s faded over time, the keloid “deflating” inch by inch. You can still see the big stitch marks, a zigzag where the surgical wound met with the compound fracture wound, and some surrounding scars from wounds sustained in the crash. You can see a current X-ray of the hardware beneath the scar (I thoughtfully cropped out my breast from the X-ray).
I have a more noticeable scar surrounding my right wrist where my hand was almost completely amputated and reattached. I was self-conscious about that when I worked for a week in the Macy’s fine jewelry department—who wants to see a scarred hand presenting a diamond watch? And once on a public bus, the man next to me grabbed my wrist and said, “Suicide is not the answer, my friend. Do you know the Lord?” I jerked my hand back, folded my arms over my chest, and said, “Don’t touch me again.”
Still, that scar never bothered me as much as the one on my left arm. It’s gory and startling, and I gave away almost all my short-sleeved tops and wore ¾ sleeves in August.
On social media, I became aware of a whole subset of tattoos designed to hide scars or use them in the design. I saw hilariously inventive tattoos; my favorite being of a fire-breathing dragon, the scar forming the breath of fire. (Google “scar tattoos,” you’ll see some wonderful ones.)
I’ve never particularly cared for tattoos, but I saw some real-life scar tattoos at the rehab center and gained an appreciation for them. I had an idea of tattooing a cat at the bottom of my arm scar, claws extended as if the cat had scratched her way down. I mentioned it to a local artist, who said he would love to draw the tattoo. Knowing I was in for at least $300, I placed it on my financial priority list. Every time I got the money, it had to go for something like dental appointments, new glasses, and vet visits.
Finally I was able to sell my condo and move into the tiny house of my dreams. All the money from the sale got conscripted quickly, but I insisted on getting my tattoo. I made the appointment with Bellingham artist Richard Bulman (https://www.bulmanfineart.com/) and he did the drawing based on his cat, Matilda.
The next step was to find a tattoo artist who could apply Rick’s picture to my arm. That took a few weeks, using word-of-mouth recommendations and researching tattoo artists. Fortunately, they all advertise photos of their work on social media. I was biased toward Sabbath Tattoo because of their support of the animal shelter I volunteer for—they hosted a tattoo night where all proceeds went to the shelter. I got an appointment with Kris Stencel (his real name) at Sabbath. Kris advertises “Left-Handed Wizardry.” I don’t know why his being left-handed pleased me, but it did.
I went to the appointment prepared for anything—not knowing if this was a visit to get a quote or if I’d be leaving with a tattoo. Kris was able to do it right away, and he photocopied Rick’s design onto special transfer paper in several sizes. We settled on the right size and he wet the paper to transfer the design to my skin like a temporary tattoo. Then he drew the cat with the needle. The whole thing took less than an hour and barely hurt at all. (I imagine someone with less experience with needles and chronic pain would mind it more than I did, but it was barely on my radar.) Kris charged so much less than I expected that I tipped him 40 percent.
Last weekend at Rick’s anniversary party, I debuted the tattoo, wearing a short-sleeved cycling top. I felt proud of my arm. My disfiguring scar was transformed into a celebration of survival. My friends responded warmly to it—they understood its meaning and they were thrilled to see it making me smile and show off my arm.
Do you have a scar tattoo? Is it something you’d like to do? Tell me about that.