I’m 18 years old and, in an attempt to find an identity, I decide to become a hippie. I smoke a lot of The Pot, travel to Grateful Dead shows and pair patchwork dresses with corduroy pants and Birkenstocks. Never mind that I am also on summer break from NYU and have a trust fund; the strangers I meet over whip-its in the parking lot don’t care.
When Jerry Garcia dies in August, three months into my trustafarian tryouts, I make my way into a tattoo shop with $150 and a picture of a “Jerry Bear” in my pocket.
Thank the Lord Jesus in Heaven I don’t end up getting a tie-dyed dancing bear tattoo; instead I settle on a chain of purple and blue daisies around my ankle with a red and yellow sun in the middle. By Christmas of that year, I’ve traded psychedelic rock, floral dresses, and marijuana for drum and bass, raver pants and, well, other stuff that is decidedly *not* marijuana, but the tattoo remains. As tattoos are wont to do.
It’s the summer of 2010. Jason Terry, a guard for the Dallas Mavericks, is at a shindig thrown by his teammate for anyone who wants to get a tattoo -- the guy version of a Botox party! Jason decides to get the Larry O’Brien trophy (awarded to the team that wins the NBA finals) on his right bicep. Neither Jason nor the Mavs have ever won the NBA finals, but this doesn’t bother him. Rather, he sees this tattoo as a motivational tactic to get his team the one thing they really want: an NBA championship title.
Ten years later, my ankle tattoo starts to feel less cute and more Stephanie Seymour circa when she was dating Axl Rose. I’m self-conscious in cocktail dresses at fancy weddings and embarrassed when people ask me what it is. Turns out that if you make the daisies purple and blue and not in the shape of actual daisies, no one can tell what they are.
Life lesson: it’s hard to assign meaning to a tattoo when it looks like something you’d find drawn on a 6th grader’s binder.
It’s just days before Game 1 of the NBA finals. Jason Terry and the Mavs have made it this far. Only four wins stand between them and the championship title. But suddenly Jason is backpedaling on his tattoo. If the Mavs can’t beat the Miami Heat, Jason says he’ll get the tattoo removed. If they fail to win their first championship, he reasons, the tattoo will become bad luck.
"I definitely know that it will hurt worse if I have to take this thing off than it did putting it on," Jason says.
He has no idea.
Tattoo removal feels like hot grease hitting my skin. Like a deluge of needles stabbing me repeatedly. Like a 6 out of 10 on the pain scale (and not in the good way). It can also result in second-degree burns, swelling, and blistering.
I manage to avoid the burns (at first), but am not lucky enough to escape the blisters. Dark, ugly blisters that are big enough to house a plain M&M (when everyone knows I prefer peanut!).
As of today, the Dallas Mavericks have overcome the odds (their star forward playing with a 101 degree fever and and a torn tendon in his finger, not to mention the fact that the Miami Heat were heavily favored) and are ahead 3-2 in the series, just one win away from their first championship.
If they win, Jason Terry's trophy tattoo will be vindicated. He'll keep it for the rest of his life as a reminder of what he and his teammates accomplished. But if the Heat battle back, looks like a call to the tattoo removal laser center will be in order.
Every six weeks, I show up for my tattoo removal and some of the most excruciating pain of my life. But that's the thing about pain; our brains forget it. (Thank God, otherwise I'd never date or show up at my mom’s house for Christmas.) The pain extends to my wallet in that $1,100, seven sessions, and over a year later, my tattoo has faded, but is still visible.
During my most recent visit, the tattoo removal guy tells me it’s going to be at least four sessions and $1,000 more, but what can I do? I either stick with it or go get my tattoo re-inked. So I shrug, squeeze the stress balls, and put my leg out.
If faced with defeat, Jason Terry will erase a totem he got to motivate his team and showcase his confidence. A symbol that would remind him of his failures. Faced with growing up, I'm attempting to erase one silly night, a fleeting identity, and a constant reminder of how hard it was for me to be a teenager.
Of course, we can remove the physical reminders: burn the photos, hide the evidence, laser off the tattoos. But the stuff we're really trying to erase is not going anywhere.
But hey, tattoo removal means that at least I'll feel cuter in my cocktail dresses. And Jason Terry won't look stupid in his jersey if his team doesn't go all the way.