“It’s like my body tells the history of me,” she explained, “Of me and my family, who we are and what we do. My whole life is on my skin.”
I took in the tattoos cascading across her arms, thinking that if it took this much of her to chronicle her first 30 years or so, she didn’t plan to live very long. But those tattoos were beautiful, and intriguing.
I met her at in Tillamook last weekend, on a visit to my friend Becky’s family beach house. Getting to Becky and Len’s place is a bit tricky, and I “can get lost going around her own block,” as my old boss used to say, so Becky suggested I meet her at the Tillamook Farmers Market instead.
Three cyclists were sitting on the curb just inside the market, adjusting their bikes, and as one of them reached for a wrench her tattoos caught my eye. They splashed vividly across her arms and chest, and she smiled when I asked if I could photograph them.
She and her friends had flown up with their bikes, from Texas, and were cycling down the coast to San Francisco, on vacation. The tattoos, it appeared, had so far them made a lot of friends. “They’ve been on the cover of magazines.”
She’s chronicling her personal history a bit at a time with a Texas tattoo artist. She picks a strong memory, stages it in her mind, then describes it to the artist. Together, they work through sketches and trials until the final scene is etched onto her skin and colored in.
It can be painful in more ways than one, she admits, and it’s a long process. And now she wears her heart on her shoulder and her grandma on her forearm.
The heart–with the slogan “Cut it out and keep it”–isn’t your average valentine, it’s got an aorta and everything. It’s there partially for Texas, about her strong attachment there, and partly about other stuff.
She represents her grandma through a spilled cup of coffee on her inside forearm. “My grandma was Armenian, and she was also a psychic. She could read your future in coffee grounds.”
“Well, that’s what everyone said. She’d have you drink this Turkish coffee, really strong and thick and grainy, and then turn the grounds out onto the saucer. Then she’d read them.”
She pointed out the cup on her inside forearm. “So there’s the cup, and the grounds, and around it are all the things she foretold.”
“Your history and your future, right there in tattoo…” I mused.
And she grinned a wide and sunny grin. “I never thought of it that way, but yeah!”