Photo by cottonbro on


I have permission to post this true story. Names have been withheld.


Electric shaver buzz hums along my scalp.  Hairs trickle and prickle down.

When I am shorn short, writing a check, I ask the stylist, “What’s the story of your tattoo?”

She has a Native American woman’s portrait in full fur and feather headdress from shoulder to elbow.

“Oh, I’ll tell you the story,” she says, sitting in one of the styling chairs. “When I was twenty, I decided that I wanted to be a permanent make-up artist.”

“Like tattooing eyeliner and eyebrows?” I ask.  “A friend of mine did eyeliner.”

“Yeah, but you can do a lot more than that.  Lip liner and shading, and blemish erasing.  It’s awesome.  So, I went to a training school.  And as part of the training, we had to practice on each other.  I chose a Tree of Life for my back.  Each of the students got so many minutes to work on my back.”

 I’m already thinking, this is not going to turn out well.

“Of course, I couldn’t see what they were doing.  They put all these stupid things hiding in the tree branches, like an emoji happy face, cartoon characters, and some joker tattooed a penis on my shoulder.”

At this point, I’m wondering why she didn’t look at her back while they were doing the tattoos.  I don’t ask, though.

“This happened ten years ago.  I didn’t let anyone see my back for ages.  I never wore a bathing suit or a sundress.  I was so embarrassed and angry.

“I took them to court, and I won.  They paid the fine, but they never showed any remorse.  They still thought it was a big joke.

“Finally, I showed the tattoo to my boyfriend’s friend who was a tattoo artist.  He didn’t laugh.  My boyfriend paid him to fix the Tree of Life.  And this one, the woman on my shoulder and arm? That’s my grandmother.  I’m part Romanian and part Native American.  See—she covers up the pee-pee that was right here.”

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