Monday, June 11, 2012

Identifying Marks

I love tattoos.  Especially on men, I should say.  Not especially on women, unless the tattoos are really pretty. (Dani, you’re beautiful, and I especially love your ink.  I’m not talking about you.)  I guess I find tattoos to be masculine, and that’s part of why I like them on a man.

Sawan had two tattoos. 

His first one came about during the age when it was popular to have cartoon tattoos.  It seems like everyone in that era had a Tasmanian Devil on their ankle or some such nonsense.  He had lost a bet, and had to get a tattoo.  So, he chose Tigger (the one with the cape and the mask).  He had chosen it out of his then four-year-old sister’s coloring book.  It was on his right hip.  I didn’t find that one particularly masculine.  I never told him, but I sort of hated that tattoo.  I think he maybe did, too.  When asked on a questionnaire once if he had any major scars or identifying marks he replied, “Yes, a tattoo.”  They needed to know where (at that point he only had the one).  “My right hip.”  What is it?  “A tiger.

His second one was awesome, though.  It was a huge trout, reaching up for a fly on a fly line.  The guy who did it had experience doing lots of koi fish (something Sawan loved having grown up in Hawaii) so he did the river water in that style.  It was in super bright colors.  It took up the major part of his left shoulder.  It was beautiful.  I loved it.

He told me that when he was looking for someone to do it, he talked to lots of different artists, but most of them didn’t know much about what he was talking about when he would talk about trout.  The one he chose, though, had asked him, “So, you want like a rainbow trout or a brown trout?”  Then he asked him, “What kind of fly are you looking for, like a copper john?”  Sawan was like, “This is the guy.”

A year before he died, we were out running errands and we stopped by Phantom Tattoos, the shop where he had had it done.  Sawan showed me the photo of his own tattoo in the guy’s photo book, and we looked in to when he could get an appointment to get the color retouched a bit and maybe add on to it, but he never actually made the appointment.

Masculine or not, pretty or not, I want the fly line and fly tattooed on the inside of my left wrist.  I don't want to put his name on my body, but I want to have a mark.  Maybe this is my scar that I've felt I've needed.  He profoundly impacted my life, and I want it marked on there forever.   For some reason, it’s important to me to have the same artist, that the guy ask me what kind of fly I want.  I've felt that just anyone wouldn't do:  if he wasn't good enough for Sawan then it didn't feel good enough for me.

So, last year around the end of July, I started thinking about what I was going to do on Sawan’s birthday, and I called the place.  It turned out that I couldn’t get an appointment until the end of September, so I quit thinking about it.

This year, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.  I called last week, and they said I had to make an appointment in person.  I went down to talk to them and they knew what tattoo I was talking about (it was that cool), and they were pretty sure that a guy named Nick did it, but he wasn’t with them anymore, I had to go to a different shop.  They gave me the information and told me that if I needed any more help they’d be glad to.  They were so sweet and awesome.

So I called the other place.  They confirmed that Nick worked there, I told them my story, that I’m a widow, I want part of my husband’s tattoo on my wrist, and there are certain dates that I wanted to do it.  I was able to get an appointment for August 24 (his birthday wasn’t available, the guy is booked).  The girl on the phone said, “I just want to say that I think that this is a great way to honor your husband’s memory, I love this idea.  And I want to tell you that I’m so sorry for your loss.”  Wow.

I had to go down the next day to put down a deposit, and while I was there I met Nick.  He came out to talk to me and I told him the story, too.  He immediately remembered the tattoo.  I had only mentioned that it was a trout.  He said, “It was a brown trout, wasn’t it?”  I knew I had found the right guy.  He asked me if I could remind him of my husband’s name, he knew it was something unusual.  I told him and he was like, “Oh, yeah, how could I forget a name like that.  I’m so sorry that this happened to you.”  Then, he asked me if I remembered what kind of fly it was.  I told him that it was a copper john, and that’s how Sawan had picked him in the first place.  He liked that a lot.  Phew.  I think I’m in good hands.


  1. I used to think the same as you about tattoos. My late husband also had two tattoos, one I drew for him in memory of his Mom (loved) and another hideous one on his thigh of three skulls crying. I even told him it was hideous, but he didn't care :) Before he passed, we were thinking about getting matching tattoos, but didn't (I was apprehensive). I got my first tattoo in memory of him though on what would have been our one year wedding anniversary. Best decision I could have made.

    Reading that you found the guy who did your husbands tattoo gave me chills. Sounds like you're in good hands to me.

  2. I got a tattoo for the exact same reason that you want one- "I want to have a mark. Maybe this is my scar that I've felt I've needed. He profoundly impacted my life, and I want it marked on there forever."

    I say almost the same thing on my blog (

    It's only been a couple of months since I got the tattoo, but I haven't even thought about regretting it... it's my symbol that I am changed from the person I used to be... when you get married you get a ring and taking off that ring just looks like you have gone back in time- something needs to be added... something that is permanent. Or at least that's how I feel and it's good to know other widows think the same. :)

  3. I understand's my tattoo blog post:

    It's interesting, I'll say, almost two years later. Sometimes I forget that it's there and am surprise when someone asks me if I'm Irish. Sometimes, when I don't want to get into the story of my life with a stranger, I just let it pass as a Chicago Bears tattoo and don't explain, and sometimes it opens the whole conversation. Still, it is my "scar," the mark left that is permanently on me from the man I loved (and still love) so.

    I think what you are doing is a beautiful tribute to Sawan.