Amy Roberts: ‘Oops’ isn’t the most comforting thing to hear from a tattoo artist
The first tattoo I got was supposed to be my last. I was 20 at the time and in Mexico for spring break, defying a number of my father’s rules and wishes — one of which was to not get a tattoo.
When I had left for college two years prior, he laid out a number of instructions I was to follow if I wanted him to continue paying my tuition. I had to promise not to fall below a B average, that I would not apply for a credit card or get pregnant. But above all, I was told, “And whatever you do, no tattoos!”
I managed to obey three-quarters of his imperatives, the last one being the one to knock me off the ledge of compliance. I had it for two full years before I forgot to cover it around him and he saw it, at which point I was exactly 34 days away from graduating. Thankfully, the semester had already been paid in full. My dad still managed to punish me though. He told me he was cutting me off financially for my last month of school. My mom argued with him, explaining I would still need to eat. He sent me back to school with 102 packages of ramen noodles — three for each day until graduation.
More than two decades later, that permanent souvenir from Mexico has no real meaning or value. It’s a small cowboy boot on my ankle, originally conceived because I thought it made me seem “Texan.” For the most part, whenever I’m asked about it, I just chalk it up to a not-so-sober moment in college and the reason I rarely crave Asian food. Or, as my dad would say, “That time she failed an IQ test.”
So I surprised myself this weekend, when, on a whim, I strolled into a tattoo shop and ordered some ink. I was in Vegas with a friend, and for those wondering, I had not been drinking. But I had been thinking. Thinking quite a bit about my sister, Heather, who passed away 18 months ago. Sometimes my thoughts are still rooted in grief, and I have a good cry. But more often than not, I just feel her presence. It’s as if she’s made the rounds wherever she is, has settled in, and is now ready check in on me regularly. And mess with me.
Heather was always the funny one in my family. She was outrageous and witty and entirely inappropriate, but it always made people laugh. Her sense of humor was pee-your-pants shocking and the things that happened to her and with her were filled with hilarious disbelief. She also loved a good practical joke. So it came as no surprise that the tattoo I got to remind me of her came with a comedic error.
For as long as I can remember, people called my sister “Heather Feather,” and sometimes my family just called her Feather. After she passed, I began to notice feathers randomly in my path. They would be in illogical locations and they’d often be hard to explain — like a peacock feather stuck to my windshield. And they seemed to show up in moments I needed them most — when my grief was overwhelming, or I had a big decision to make, or I was questioning myself. A feather inked on my wrist seemed an appropriate way to honor my sister.
About 10 minutes after rolling up my sleeve, the tattoo artist stopped and looked up at me with worry. “Oops, I think I made a mistake,” he said.
There are probably two people in the world I don’t want to hear “Oops” from — a plastic surgeon and a tattoo artist.
Fearing the worst, I took a peek at my wrist and saw he had accidentally flipped the stencil and ended up tattooing the feather upside down. Thankfully feathers aren’t position specific, so it doesn’t look like an obvious mistake, unless compared to the design I approved. And now, my permanent inked reminder of my sister is even more meaningful — because it will make me laugh, just like she always did.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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