The Year in Stupid Tattoos I’m Sure I Won’t Regret

I’m the first woman in the world to get a tattoo because she’s sad! I invented it!

Scaachi Koul is a senior culture writer at BuzzFeed News and the author of One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter....

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It started after two of my friends and I saw that dumb Nicolas Cage movie last spring and then went to a pub after and each had one single, solitary dirty martini with extra olives. Everyone else in my life thought we were drunk when we made this decision but we weren’t. We are all simply miscreants at heart, which makes us a great combination for chaos. Near the bottom of our drinks, my most miscreant friend had a suggestion. “Let’s get tattooooos,” she said. At the time, she only had a few little dots on her forearm. Me and our other friend had never gone near a needle in that context, and we were both raised by immigrant mothers we were still afraid of, ones who would surely disapprove. It was midnight on a Tuesday. We shrugged. “Okay,” I said, and an Uber was ordered to take us to Manhattan’s shittiest tattoo parlor in Greenwich Village, where we got little tattoos while drinking mango White Claws.

We were right to be in grief even if our outlet for it was idiotic. We all work in media, so as is annual tradition, our company was doling out layoffs and buyouts that week. One of us would end up without a job by the end of the month. The other’s father had just died. I was getting a divorce and had recently moved into a new apartment so empty it looked like Moe Szyslak’s devastatingly barren studio. Summer was nigh but we were depressed. We each got little skulls, a matching trio; mine is on my left arm, just above my elbow. It’s not a great tattoo—in fact, it faded so significantly that my niece recently told me she thought it was a temporary tattoo I got from a gumball machine. I love it. It is a memory of agony.

I don’t like to be dramatic—actually, just kidding, I love it—but this has been the worst year of my life. Divorce is a bummer, but so was my mother’s knee replacement, or the second time I got a particularly brutal COVID strain, or the hand-foot-and-mouth disease I somehow got three weeks later. Everyone seemed to have a bad year and I didn’t have any solutions. So every time I felt bad, I got a tattoo.

I got a little heart with a sword diving through it on my arm in Toronto, a matching tattoo with my sister-in-law in Calgary, several painful little stabbings on my fingers in Brooklyn. Next is something to cover the back of my neck, hopefully by a Pakistani artist I’ve been admiring, and my hands will be covered by some lady I found on Instagram with great hair. I’m still in pain so I’m still doing this to give myself somewhere to put it.

At first, I thought this would be a big rebellion in my family, but turns out, divorce is the greater one. Nothing scandalizes my mother anymore, not really. She merely sighs in resignation every time I show her a new tattoo; I’m not in trouble with her, I am just a slightly more potent disappointment now. “These are stupid,” she said, looking at my fingers a few months ago before gently swatting me on my head. “You’re a stupid girl.” I never disagree with her when she says it. I know she’s right, and I think that’s just swell.

I don’t really know what I’m doing or why I’m doing it, and I am certainly spending an inordinate amount of money on decorating myself. I know this story has been told before—tragedy transformed by physical adornments. Some people buy jewelry or clothes or nest aggressively in their apartments. Others get a lot of dogs (too many dogs, if you ask me, even one betrays a kind of mental breakdown), and others still work out too hard and start saying the word “paleo” like it means anything. It doesn’t. No one gives a shit that instead of bread you’re eating green peppers. I hope you and your children develop pestilence.

I suppose my outlet became these stupid tattoos because they required nothing of me. All the pieces I have are kind of thoughtless; they’re ideas I get in the middle of the night and can make real, which is its own kind of magic. I’ve never really felt like a grownup, but there’s something so adult about creating a vision in my head, and then paying someone several hundred dollars to make it happen. My body doesn’t have to change for them. In fact, I like my body more when I can pour time and money and foolishness into it.

Most days, still, my grief is the most consistent thing I have in my life. I can always find something new to devastate me. But I do love having an excuse for making needlessly permanent decisions. I thought my marriage was one of those too, but I was wrong. The tattoos on my fingers, the ones I got months ago, are already more faded than fresh. Nothing lasts. Everything can be reverted, everything can mutate, everything can one day just disappear.

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