I’m not sure why, but there seems to be this notion among many people that wheelchair users aren’t into the more party-related or trendy things able-bodied people do. For example, going to dance clubs, singing karaoke, drinking alcohol…or getting tattoos. I supposed I can understand why, but many of my wheelchair-bound friends have done all of the above and then some. In this post, I’d like to talk a bit about my own tattoo experiences, and in particular my most recent one in Raleigh, NC.
Everyone who has tattoos gets them for different reasons, with some perhaps being more reasonable than others to people without them. They’re not nearly as taboo and counterculture as they used to be, being relegated only to the bodies of bikers, gang members, musicians, and soldiers/sailors. Now it seems harder to find someone without ink, and the tattoos themselves are appearing more frequently in visible places rather than hidden under clothing. For years I had to keep my tattoos hidden since I was on active duty and they couldn’t be visible while I was in uniform or Special Agent attire. Even now I’m conscious of keeping them out of the camera frame when I do television interviews.
I got my first tattoo when I was 18 and in college. The design itself wasn’t significant – just a small gecko – but it signified a happy time in my life as I started enjoying my college years. I got my third tattoo when I graduated from the Air Force’s Special Investigations Academy, and my fifth tattoo in September 2001 to memorialize the work I was doing during and after 9/11. I took a long tattoo hiatus after I got married out of respect for my husband at the time because he didn’t want me to get any more. I fought – and won – in 2013 to get a small one on my wrist of the atomic symbol for titanium, one of the strongest substances on Earth, to remind myself I’m strong in my fight against MS.
In 2015 I got divorced, and my love affair with tattoos was rekindled. When I went to Dubai in February 2016, I met a friend of a friend who had a fascinating tattoo on his forearm – the three-letter ISO codes for all the countries he had been to. It went about ⅔ of the way up his arm. I asked his permission to steal the idea, and with it I was at the tattoo parlor a few weeks later with 19 codes inked on my right forearm in six lines. By the end of this year I’ll have four more lines added on. I refreshed a 22 year-old Star Wars tattoo I have on my hip, and a few months later I got another design of a combination compass and clock inked on my left forearm.
Fast forward to this past weekend, where my two best friends and I reunited in Raleigh, North Carolina. The three of us hadn’t all been together in almost two years since Erin’s mom passed away, and since we didn’t know when it would happen again, we started planning something long in the works – getting matching tattoos to cement our 17-year friendship. While we were on active duty together at Patrick Air Force Base (where we met c. 1999), we started being known as the “Fearsome Threesome,” which would be represented in the design as F3 in an Art Deco font. We then decided to give each design a personal touch, and mine would be a girl in a forward-flying wheelchair.
Next, Erin found a wheelchair-friendly tattoo parlor for us in her hometown of Raleigh, the top-rated Blue Flame Tattoo. Erin’s husband joined in on the permanent-ink fun, and we all headed downtown that Saturday for our appointment. I got into the building using a wheelchair ramp at the side entrance, and the lobby was very large and easy to move around in. Erin, Alana, and I were assigned to Nate Hatfield as our artist. Each artist has a private room, and I was able to easily get into the room with my scooter. I was the first to go, so we quickly discussed my designs (which Erin had submitted several days earlier during a consultation) and the placement. I had gotten the OK to get a second smaller tattoo of a small crown on my wrist (to represent my Ms Wheelchair USA title), so we started with that one.
I stayed in my scooter for the crown tattoo, and just rested my arm on a padded stand. The whole thing took about 20 minutes. For my F3 tattoo, we had chosen our right inside ankles for the placement, so I had to get some help to get up on the padded table and on to my side. Once Nate got started, it only took about 30 minutes to complete the design. Both of them looked amazing!! I was super happy with how they looked and Nate’s work. Then it was time for Alana to get hers done (she actually fell asleep!) and finally Erin. They were both thrilled with the outcome, as was Erin’s husband with his guitar design in the room next to ours.
Now that we’re all back to our normal schedules (back home for Alana and I), we’re just closely following our after-care instructions and enjoying the visual representation of our amazing friendship. I’m also so happy with my little crown to remind me of all the amazing experiences I’ve had – and will continue to have – as Ms. Wheelchair USA 2016. If you’re in a wheelchair and think you could never get a tattoo, think again! Just make sure you think hard since the design will be yours for life.