Olathe & Southwest Joco

This tatted woman found the art to match her stage of life

Finding the right tattoo artist is the first step to a great piece of art.
Finding the right tattoo artist is the first step to a great piece of art. File photo

It was 1989. I was at that sweet spot of young adulthood when anything seemed possible and long passages of time were still theoretical. I had a college degree, my own apartment, enough direction to feel confident and enough freedom to feel empowered.

I also had a very dear friend who lived all the way across the country and an airline ticket to go see her. I was going to stay at her apartment for a long weekend, we were going to go see the Rolling Stones — twice — and had plans to go get tattoos to commemorate this special stage of our lives. Months before I had sketched out the small flamingo that I wanted on my hip; my friend scouted the city and found a tattoo joint for us to get them done.

And then I met her cat.

I have this theory that you can always tell who’s allergic to cats by who the cat is rubbing themselves against. Cats are jerks and I’m convinced that they know when they can literally take someone’s breath away. My friend’s cat was a huge jerk. Within a day, dancing and singing at the concert was exhausting; within two, I was sucking on an inhaler dreaming of a time when breathing neither hurt nor made a rattley noise.

I had no energy or desire to get a tattoo — I was booking an early flight home.

A year later I met the man who would be my husband. I was still harboring plans for that tiny flamingo on my hip. Maybe one day I would get it, I thought.

“I really don’t like tattoos,” my new husband said. I couldn’t agree but told myself that the flamingo was a souvenir of another time in my life — and that time had passed.

Twenty-eight years later, I still think back with wistful nostalgia for a tattoo that I never got. For 28 years I’ve wondered, “What would I get to commemorate this time in my life?”

I’ve had a lot of ideas over those years and, like the suburban mom that I am, I filled a Pinterest board with them. Like the thoughtful wife of my husband, I kept putting off getting the ink.

Then my daughter came home with one. A flower that had special meaning to her.

Then my older son came home with one. A simple cross.

Then I decided that 28 years of putting something off because of what my husband wanted was enough: My daughter and I decided to get a mother/daughter design.

We went to one place a friend had recommended but my middle-aged self didn’t feel very comfortable in there. It was dark and loud, and the walls were filled with designs that didn’t match my pretty, flowery aesthetic.

At all.

Maybe I was too old.

But a shop opened in my tiny town and I stalked them on Facebook. Sure, the guy did serious pieces, but I loved his line work and designs. When my daughter and I stopped by to check the shop out, it felt comfortable and he sounded excited to design something for us.

So he did.

With a set of similar temporary tattoos and a Sharpie, I tried to figure out where I wanted it. When my husband didn’t notice for three days, I knew I had the spot.

In 1989 I decided to get a tattoo; in 2019 I did. It isn’t the flamingo that I would have gotten to mark that specific time in my life. It’s something to mark this one: a sweet spot between having kids and sending them off; a time when what I want out of life is inching ahead of what others want out of me.

Susan is a Kansas City based writer and podcaster. To listen to the women’s history podcasts that she co-hosts or to read more of her work visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com.