When Tess Morgan’s son came home she was griefstricken. She knew her response was OTT (he’s 21) but it signalled a change in their relationship
Put out the bunting, crack open the beers, stand there at the kitchen smiling from ear to ear, because hes house our student son is home and the family is together again. And after dinner, after the washing up is done, the others his sisters drift off to watch television, and he says: Would you like to see my tattoo?
I say, Youre joking.
He says, No, Im not.
But still I wait. Any minute hes going to laugh and say, You should see your faces because this has been a joke for years, this concept of having a tattoo the hard man act, iron muscles, shaved head, Jason Statham, Ross Kemp. Hes a smart boy. Maybe during his school years he believed academic achievement’s glory could balance.
His father says, Where?
He says, and touches his bicep.
His shoulder that is lovely.
In the silence, he says, I didnt think youd be this upset.
After a time, he says, It wasnt a whim. I thought about it. I went to an expert. It cost 150.
150? I think, briefly, of all of the things I could purchase with 150.
Its just a tattoo, he says, once the silence goes on that we have nearly fallen into a pit of nothingness over its edge. Its not like I said and came home Id got somebody pregnant.
It appears to me, unhinged that this could have been the better option.
His father asks, Does it hurt?
Yes, I say, cutting across this male bonding. It does. Very much.
For three days, I cant speak to my son. I can hardly bear to look at him. I decide that this is rational. The last thing we need, I think, is an explosion of white-hot words that everybody carries around for the rest of their lives. In any case, Im not sure what it is I wish to say. In my minds eye I stand there, my black-gloved hands being wrung by a bitter woman with lips. Hes done the one thing that Ive said for years, please dont do this. If you did this, I would be upset by it. And its happened. So theres nothing left to say.
I understand. Why would you want to, anyway? If you controlled what they did, youd just pass on your rubbish tip of imperfections. You hope the next generation will be better, stronger, more generous. I understand all you can do as a parent is to pack their luggage and wave as you watch them go.
So I cry. I have a lump in my throat which stops me from eating. I feel like someone has died. I keep thinking of his skin, his skin that is precious, inked like a pig carcass.
My neighbor says, Theres a good deal of it about. So many teenagers are currently doing it. I stare at images of David Beckham with his sleeves, Angelina Jolie all veins and scrawls. Tattoos are everywhere. They seem no option than piercings these days. But I still dont know. Sam Cam with her dolphin that is smudgy, the heavily tattooed at Royal Ascot these people are role models?
My niece had tattooed on her breasts, says a friend, And her father said, you wait, in a couple of years time theyll be vultures.
Its makes me weep. As if the Joker had made face paints from acid. Your youthful passion for ever on screen, like a CD of the Smiths stapled to your forehead. The British Association of Dermatologists recently surveyed just under 600 patients with tattoos. Nearly half of these were inked between the ages of 25 and 18, and almost a third of them regretted it.
I look up laser removal. Which is a possibility, I think in case you want a tattoo removed, miserably, that only works. And Im not in charge here. My son is.
My husband asks, Have you seen it?
My head shakes. Like a kid, I hope that if I keep my eyes the entire thing will disappear.
He says gently. His choice.
But what if he needs to be a attorney?
Or an accountant.
Hell be wearing a suit. Nobody will ever know. And he doesnt want to be a attorney. Or an accountant.
I know. I know.
I meet a colleague for lunch. He knew how much it would hurt me, I say, tears running down my face. For years Ive said, dont do it. Its there for ever, even after youve changed your mind about who you are and what you want to look like. Youre branded, like meat. It can harm your work prospects. People may turn before youve even opened your mouth.
She says, Tell him how you are feeling.
But I cant. To begin with, I know Im being completely ridiculous. This level of despair is absurd. Hes not dying, he hasnt killed anyone, he hasnt volunteered to fight on behalf of a dictatorship. But I feel like a knife is currently twisting in my guts.
I get angry with myself. This is nothing but snobbery, I think latent anxiety about the trappings of class. As if my son had deliberately turned his back Victoria sponge and stuffed his face. I’m aware, also, that I associate tattoos on guys with aggression, the kind of arrogant swagger that goes with vest tops, dogs on chains, beer glasses that are broken.
Is this? Or perhaps, I think, with an lurch of realisation, just what women feel. I stand, a tyrannosaurus that is lone, bellowing in a world I dont know.
Tattoos are the preserve of toffs and offenders. And sailors. In the 1850s, the corpses of seamen washed up on the coast of north Cornwall were strangely adorned with blue, according to Robert Hawker, the vicar of Morwenstow initials, or drawings of anchors, flowers or spiritual symbols (Our blessed Saviour on His Cross, with on the one hand His mother, and on another St John the Evangelist). It is their object and intent, when they assume these signs, says Hawker, to procure identity for their bodies if their lives are lost at sea.
Tattoos, then, were practical.
Perhaps even this was a fashion statement. Or just what you did after too much rum. Later, body art was flirted with by the aristocracy. According to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich (they know a whole lot about tattoos), Edward VII had a Jerusalem cross on his arm while both his sons, the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of York (later George V), had dragon tattoos. Lady Randolph Churchill, Winstons mum, had a snake on her wrist.
But you can do what you like if youre rich.
In a fog of misery, still on day three, I say to him, Shall we talk?
We sit down with cups of coffee. I open my mouth to speak and end up crying instead. I say, You couldnt have done anything to hurt me more.
He is cool and detached. He says, I think you will need to re-examine your prejudices.
I think, but I have! Ive done nothing for three days! But I dont say that since we arent talking to each other. These are rehearsed lines insults flung across the box. (This is what comes of not exploding in anger in the heat of the moment.)
I say, Why couldnt you have waited until left home? Why now when youre living here?
Its something Ive been thinking about for a long time. There didnt seem any reason to wait.
Which makes it worse.
Im an adult, he says. I paid for it with my money. Money I earned.
But supported you too, I think. As far as I know, you dont have separate bank account for your various income streams. Who knows? Perhaps we paid for it. ” he says, if you thats fine. When Im at home, Ill cover this up. Your house, your rules.
Inside my mind, I think, I thought it was your home.
He states, Im upset that youre upset. But Im not going to apologise.
I dont want you to apologise, I say. (A lie. Grovelling self-abasement might help.)
He states, Im still the same person.
I look at him, sitting there, my son. I feel Im being interviewed for a job I dont want. I say, But youre not. Youre different. I’ll never look at you in precisely the same way. Its a feeling that is visceral. Perhaps because Im your mother. All those years of fretting about sunscreen and green vegetables and cancer and looking after your body allow you to drink milk and taking the dentist you. Then you let some stranger inject ink. Like self-mutilation, it feels to me. If youd lost your arm in a car accident, I would have known. I’d have done everything to make you feel better. But this this is desecration. And I hate it.
We look at each other. There seems nothing left to say.
Over the next few days, my son always covered talks up to me like the row had never occurred. I speak to him, also, but warily. Because Im no longer sure I understand him.
And this is when I realise that all of my endless self-examination was pointless. What I think, or dont think, about tattoos is immaterial. Because this is the point. Tattoos are fashionable. They might even be beautiful. (Just because I hate them doesnt mean Im right.) But my son took a meat cleaver to my apron strings. He might not have wanted to hurt me. I hope he didnt. But my feelings, as he made his decision, were completely irrelevant.
The stars aren’t wanted now: put out every one; dismantle the sun and pack up the moon.
I am redundant. And thats a legitimate cause for despair, I think.
Tess Morgan is a pseudonym
Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us