By Anjola

I lived with my tattoo artist. And every day for 2 years, he gave me a new tattoo.

Before he became my tattoo artist, he asked me if I’d ever get a tattoo. I smiled because in my mind I knew I already had more than I could count. And they were not there by choice. Only he couldn’t see them, but I felt them. Everyday. They were the most painful parts of my life. Until him. I could never imagine he’d proceed to add more tattoos and I’d willingly allow him to.  All because of this stupid need to feel loved and maybe in the process, forget the tattoos that already pre-existed before him. 

My first ones from him seemed like they were only semi-permanent. I wish those ones became the permanent ones, but wishes are truly an illusion. He promised that the permanent ones would change me, which they did at the end of the day. I never took him seriously, after all we’d spent most of the time joking and playing around. Until it was too late.

Every time I told him I wanted more than what he offered, that I deserved better, he would pause and laugh in my face, only to draw another gut-wrenching tattoo on my heart. Stepping back to admire his artwork, he’d laugh again and remind me, ‘I’m the only one that would ever want you. And when I’m done, no one ever will. I own you’. I used to think my ugliest scars were those littered all over my arms. I know better now. He’d drawn my ugliest tattoos, given me my ugliest scars. And then asked me to thank him once he was done.

Second-hand was boldly etched all over my flesh.  Worthless was his favourite word to draw. My personal favourites were: Never Enough and Unwanted. In the middle of the night, he’d lay awake, head propped by his elbow, stroking and admiring his art, excited at the prospect of tattooing me all over again in the morning. 

Tattoos are meant to be a beautiful form of self-expression that transcend time, ones meant to last forever. In a way, the ones he’d done on me were. They spoke of how he felt about me, how he wanted me to always remember him anytime I saw them. But there was nothing beautiful about them. I could never move on from them as they had become a part of me. A reminder of the many ways I had put my foolishness out on display for him. A reminder of the worst decisions I’d ever made. Most importantly, they bore a reminder of the person I was always going to be, the potential I could never have, no matter how badly I wanted it.

My favourite author once wrote, ‘the broken pieces are the prettiest ones and the demons, the proudest scars’. I desperately wanted to hold on to the hope from her words. I wanted to believe that somewhere in the dark, murky unknown waters of the future, someone would want me, broken pieces and all. I needed to know that my scars wouldn’t define me and that someday, I would be able to deal with them, live with them. So I told him, with hope-filled eyes, ‘the people with the most scars are the most beautiful’, he shook his head, pitying me whilst laughing and replied, ‘but baby, you are the exception. Because there’s nothing beautiful about you or your scars’.

And he was right. Because scars weren’t supposed to be beautiful. They are ugly, ragged and horrific to look at. That’s why they were scars. And because I was full of scars, so was I. Since then, I stopped believing in the magic of the world. Because no one uses or loves what is broken; instead they toss it out and get a newer, more beautiful piece.

Broken. Shattered. Scarred. Tattooed. That’s my current reality. 

And the truth is? What hurts most is he was right.

And since I left my tattoo artist, nobody has ever wanted me again.

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