I Got My First Tattoo

Empty Bamboo Girl: A Love Letter to My American Born Chinese Life by Lillian Lee
Empty Bamboo Girl: A Love Letter to My American Born Chinese Life by Lillian Lee

Who wears a long sleeve, hooded sweatshirt in 95 degree weather?

Well, that’s exactly what I did when I got my first tattoo at the age of 30-something. I’d been wanting to get one since I was in my 20’s. I just didn’t know of what or where on my body. But, faced with turning another year older, I made the leap to go for it.

I researched all styles of tattoo to narrow down what I liked; I had bookmarks of local tattoo shops and artists; and, I tested out placement all over my arms with temporary tattoos from Tattly which I can’t stress enough how helpful that is.

I found Russ, a tattoo artist at a shop just a few blocks away whose style matched up with what I wanted – grayscale floral work for the lotus flowers which I chose because (1) they’re beautiful, (2) they represent perseverance and, most importantly, (3) it’s the Chinese name my grandfather gave me. And where would it go? My forearm, of course.

The actual process of getting tattooed was semi-painful for me. It’s different for everyone and also different depending on placement. But, for me, there were times when I needed breaks because I just couldn’t go on with the sensation of a knife slicing along my arm. So, Russ would alternate between line work and shading to ease the pain.

It took about a week for it to heal up. During that time in the heat of summer, best believe I was rocking my hoodie. When I finally built up enough courage to show my mother, I made sure that my then boyfriend/now husband was sitting right next to me.

The look on her face when I showed her my arm still sends shivers down my spine. She didn’t scream or yell. Instead, she quite calming and chillingly said, “I am going to cut your arm off.”

K freaked out and I was expecting her to slap me.

She didn’t slap me – she just looked really sad. Eventually, she got over it…which is why I have tattoo number two on my other forearm.

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