Regretting a Tattoo is a Complicated, Nuanced Thing

Originally published in Catalogue Magazine, September 2017

I was 12 when my dad died; too young to get a sense of him as a three dimensional person, although the more I learn the luckier I feel that that was the case.

I vividly remember getting the news that he was gone. It’s so clear in my mind because my family – Mum, my step dad, my sister and I – were sitting on my bed talking, laughing and joking; an uncharacteristically Brady Bunch scene. Call me crazy, but I telepathically knew he was dead as soon as the phone rang.

I was 16 when I got his signature tattooed on the side of my thigh. More than a decade later I can’t think of a single reason why I wanted to brand myself with my absent and late father’s name. I could say it was a desperate memorialisation of a father I never had, but more likely, the cursive black ink was the perfect blend of slutty and ‘deep’ for my 16 year old sensibilities. I coquettishly declared my new ink at school on Monday and pulled up my tartan skirt to reveal black cursive framed with lacy red underwear from Bras n Things (the home of teenage eroticism).

I started deeply regretting my tattoo around the same time I learned, or maybe acknowledged, more about the kind of person my father was: violent, selfish, emotionally and financially unsupportive, to start.

Wild stories abound: a botched attempt to smuggle ancient stolen artifacts that ended in an FBI bust and a jail term, fighting pirates on the high seas, allegiance to the IRA, and ratting my mum out to the cops for dealing weed despite the fact she was using the money to single handedly raise his children.

Somewhere amongst these tales were my own blurry memories.

The string of young girlfriends he had after him and my mum (mercifully) separated. Most were super sweet, one was less so; one particular liaison ended with my father being chased around the house by a lady in skin tight jeans and aggressively high heels wielding a knife. In her defence, he probably deserved it.

Then there was the time he kidnapped me. I set off with my miniature suitcase to spend a week in whichever hellish backwater Victorian town he was calling home at the time, only to end up in South Australia, on the phone to my enraged mother.

Dad had another family before us, who he unceremoniously abandoned to go and sail around the world. The funeral they held was a strange and stilted affair, although I appreciated that no one pretended he was a good person after the fact, bar one sentimental daughter who was tersely scolded for her selective memory.

I looked up laser tattoo removal years ago, but was scared off by “price on request” which is really never good news, and conceded that I’d just have to wear boyleg bathers for the rest of my life. When you think about it, you can’t put a price on erasing a toxic father and getting your teenage ass back.

The other day I read an article about a young kid who got DEVAST8 tattooed across his entire jaw while drunk on moonshine in prison. I don’t have the excuse of being intoxicated when I got my regrettable tattoo, but I guess being 16 years old is kind of like being drunk on hormones. Lucky for that guy, who was bemoaning his dire career prospects (especially, one can only imagine, in client facing roles) there have been huge developments in the tattoo removal field in recent years. I guess regrets are a big industry.

The tattoo removal establishment I eventually fronted up to was also a tattoo parlour, which struck me as both hilarious and poetic; the circle of life. I had to walk through a room full of people getting tattoos to get to a little section at the back, and made sure to send them subliminal “don’t get your toxic father’s name tattooed on you body” messages along the way.

The heavily tattooed tattoo eraser explained that the road to my old ass wouldn’t come easy, but because the damage was small and a single colour, our chances of expunging it in just a few visits were high. She ominously handed me science lab style glasses and instructed me to play whatever music I thought would best distract me.

While Mariah Carey dolphined away in the background, she zapped my cursive atrocity. The pain was overwhelming; close to vomiting, my mind boggled imagining the demons that would drive one to endure the removal of a full sleeve.

In the weeks that followed, the skin around my father’s signature turned an angry red, then began to scab and fall off. Now I’m left with just a faint outline where a falsehood used to be.