Positively Kick Ass

Please don't tell my grandmother

I flirted for a long time before my cancer diagnosis with the idea of getting a tattoo. If you haven't yet taken the plunge, deliberating what you'd get and where you'd get it has some of the same fun and frisson that trying out baby names does for the never-been-pregnant. Fortunately for tattoo flirts like me, Portland is a walking gallery of skin art. I've been adding for years to a mental inventory of images I like for their beauty, wit, or personal import, but I only got serious about getting inked last December.

Facing a double-mastectomy and the question of how I might be forced to revise my ideals of "natural" and "whole," I first assumed (as many do, including many surgeons and physicians) that the answer would include silicone. But Pete and I both found "reconstruction" a depressing prospect. In the best case scenario, I would undergo months' worth of additional surgeries and potentially a lifetime (however long that might be) of discomfort, all for the privilege of carrying around a couple of memorial domes: Here lay my breasts, RIP.


As soon as we gave up looking at San Onofre-style racks and started looking at tattoos, our spirits lifted. I decided I'd take full advantage of the flat canvas that would be left to me and reached out to a local artist, Alice Carrier, whose gorgeous work is primarily inspired by old botanical drawings. She's in extremely high demand and opens her schedule to new bookings only a couple of times a year. Furthermore, she let me know that she likes clients to wait at least a year after major surgery to ensure that the scars and surrounding skin have fully recovered and settled. So I'll need to wait awhile, but some gray morning next spring, I'll be one of those in line outside the doors of Wonderland Tattoo Studio, hoping for a date with Alice.

You might think that a needle-phobic gal like me would have been happy to take as long a break as possible from injections of every kind; you might think it would be nuts for someone who's been getting poisoned for months to run out and welcome a brand-new variety of foreign weirdness into her body. And maybe it was nuts, but the day after my final chemo treatment found me at Scapegoat Tattoo, scheduling a consultation with John M. Wilson. I liked his portfolio, liked him even better when we met. On Friday he showed me the original design he'd created from photos and other bits of inspiration I'd sent, then inscribed it on my skin.


It's still healing and shedding, and I'll be going back to get some darker shading on the tail, but it already feels at home to me. The quotation, which wraps around to my inner bicep (that was the most sensitive and twangy bit for me), comes from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." (Astonishingly, we were able to use a font that someone has created to mimic Whitman's script!) The surrounding stanzas read thus:

Long enough have you dream'd contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes, 
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore, 
 Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me, shout, and laughingly dash with your hair.