The young woman bent at the waist, camera held to a squinted eye as she turned the lens for better focus on a pink hollyhock. On this sweltering sunny day, Dave and I had taken refuge under a shady trellis in the Edgefield Inn's garden, and had noticed her, a colorful blossom herself, amid the profusion of flora.
Her head was partially shaved, the remaining hair dyed magenta and pulled in a ponytail. Her arms, chest, and shoulders were a swirl of tattoos. While her look was exotic, her partner appeared scholarly. Dark-haired, bearded, and be-spectacled, he, like us, sat beneath a trellis, and was absorbed in the large book open on his lap.
We’d seen the couple in passing before, and now, as we had then, as everyone did at Edgefield, we nodded and said hello as we left the garden.
That afternoon, it was studious John and tattooed Clarissa who settled in at the steamy river pool, close enough to us that conversation was a given. We were not surprised to learn John was a physicist, a scientist like his father, and Clarissa, a tattoo artist. We reminded them of our brief encounter earlier in the garden and Clarissa said, “Lots of people like flower tattoos, so I keep a portfolio of possibilities. I like to offer a wide range.”
While floating idly or sitting neck deep in water on seats carved into the sides of the pool, we covered John’s degrees and aspirations, but found we had more questions about Clarissa’s field. What was your favorite project? How deep does the needle go? How do you control the depth? How do you promote speedy healing? And how do you handle a drunken request for a girlfriend’s name inscribed on a butt?
“I never tattoo someone who’s been drinking. Alcohol thins the blood and there’d be too much bleeding,” Clarissa stated firmly.
Huh. I’d never thought about blood as a complicating factor in tattoo art, but of course it is. Not easy to “paint” with a needle and ink while swabbing up gore.
“Plus, the image can change some during the healing process, so I include a follow-up to make any adjustments necessary, “ she explained.
Dave asked, “What do you practice on?”
“Humans,” said Clarissa.
“Husbands,” corrected John. We laughed as he lifted the leg of his swim trunks to reveal a graceful, flowing image of a bear and two ravens on his upper thigh. Wow. Truth is, although I’d heard the term “tattoo artist” before, I confess I’d not given much credence to the “artist” part; meeting Clarissa and seeing her work convinced me. If she lived in Connecticut, I’d get a tattoo.
When Dave asked her, “How’s business?” Clarissa mentioned the spike in requests for tattoos around mastectomy scars. I have not sought that route, but told her I’d had the surgery.
She was thoughtful a moment and said, “Do you mind if I ask about the length and process of your treatments?”
I did not and gave her a run down.
“My father had a brain tumor,” she said, and described his surgery and chemo, and the gallows humor he employed to keep the family’s spirits up.
“How’s he doing?” I asked.
“He passed in December,” she said. Her sunglasses masked her eyes, but she was quiet and still in the water. She was about 28 years old and had just lost her father. I was tempted to tell her about Mom’s recent death, but I’m never sure when “I know how you feel because I…” builds a bridge of common experience, and when it’s an intrusion into someone else’s story. I decided to hold back, but I knew her pain, and oh, how I felt for her.
Tattooed, retired, or trying to be trans; liberal… or even more liberal; aware of the fear of a dread diagnosis; bereft of a father or mother: all of us are doing our best in the hot tub of life. If everyone were required to strip to near-naked and spend time together in a warm, salty pool, maybe we’d be gentler with each other.