One more pin in the roadmap of my life

by Abby Riese

“I’m busy, is this important?” This is how my mother answers her phone.

“No. I just wanted to tell you I’m getting a tattoo.”

“Ugh. Of what, this time?”

“A Motion W.” The logo for the University of Wisconsin Madison. The source of my pride, my mother’s pride and her pride in me.

“Oh,” she says, the edge in her voice dissipating. “You know, I’ve always told Michael [my stepdad] that if I were ever to get a tattoo – I mean I never would – but if I did, it would be the Flying W.”

“Motion W.”

“Whatever. I guess there are worse things you could have called to tell me.”

I wake up Monday morning already stressed. I have been dreading this all weekend. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a second tattoo, even recently discussed it with my friend, Nathan. Perhaps I jumped in too quickly. Volunteering to be the one to get forever branded for this project was easy; I was the group leader, and so it was my responsibility. But now, I’m not so sure about this. The last thing I need is a permanent regret.

Cultures have historically used tattooing, branding and adorning as a way to establish social status, cultural expression and individuality. I can’t fathom degrading the tradition by inking my body with something unnecessary or unmeaningful. Yet, education is important to me. Where I went to school defines me. My mantra is “once a Badger, always a Badger.” I love my school, my city. Wisconsin is my home. Madison is my home. I bleed red and white. But how will I convey this pride to those who might not understand? Should I care what anyone else thinks?

Inking myself for a journalism project makes me a total badass. Revered. It is a tangible representation of the intense determination I have to be successful. It is a reminder that success is within my reach. To never give up. To give every project my all. It’s something that binds me to my new friends. To Kent State. To journalism.

My stomach is in knots as I walk to Crucible Tattoo.

I had previously decided to get the tattoo on my wrist until I had an early morning conversation with Anna Jacobson from Florida in the hallway before I went to get my coffee. She said she loved the idea of the wrist tattoo because it was meaningful in terms of the Christian faith, as Jesus was likely nailed to the cross through His wrists. As I have been rediscovering my place in Catholicism, I felt sacrilegious for even considering getting a college logo – no matter how meaningful it is to me – in a position of such importance.

We arrive and meet Jay Miller, the co-owner. Music blares and he tells us to hold on a minute, he’s almost done doing the mock up. We agree on a size and a placement: my foot. Once he puts the placeholder ink on my foot, though, the tattoo looks bulky and out of place.

“I can’t do it,” I say, rethinking the whole endeavor. “At least, I can’t do it there. It has to be somewhere else.”

We then decide on my hip, far enough away from where my future children will create stretch marks. At least I hope.

I wince in pain and grab Katie Hagan from Baltimore’s hand as Jay begins. Then I realize he’s only begun tracing the outline with a ballpoint pen. This is going to be harder than I thought.

After he actually begins, I feel a plethora of emotions, but mostly pain and determination. I alternate between grimacing in pain and trying to relax my body when the needle is nowhere near me. Jay frequently checks in to see how I’m faring. “I’m fine,” I tell him every time, gritting my teeth and hoping I am.

“I think we’re done,” Jay says. I lean over, look at the tattoo, and fall in love with it. I stand so Jay can take a picture, but I feel weak in the knees.

“I don’t feel well,” I say.

“Lie back down on this chair,” Jay says.

“I’m going to be sick. I need to go to the bathroom.”

“Just lie there,” he says, sliding the trash can over to me. “I can’t have you in the bathroom alone.”

“Fine. Everybody out. Now.”

I promptly empty my stomach of fruit punch Gatorade into Jay’s trash can. Soon, Jay peeks his head around the corner, holding a cold Pepsi in his outstretched hand.

“Here. This has sugar and caffeine. It will make you feel better, I promise.”

After about five minutes, he is right.

I pay him, tip him and leave, sore and exhausted.

Since I left Jay, I’ve been admiring my tattoo in the mirror every chance I get.

I’m glad I went through this process. My education is the source of my pride. It defines me. It shaped who I am. If I hadn’t attended UW-Madison, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. The fact that I got a tattoo for a journalism project might sound crazy to some people, but it is symbolic of an important facet of my personality: my determination to be successful at everything I do. To go above and beyond.

My body, like a canvas, is a vehicle for conveying who I am. This tattoo is a pin on the roadmap of my life; it is symbolic of the roads I’ve traveled thus far. While I’m not sure I’ll ever get a third tattoo, I hope that at the end of my journey, I have too many pins to count.